Enlisted at Colac on the 3rd March. 1940.
Enlistment Officer too busy. Come back later.
27 leave the Colac Railway Station for Caulfield.
Guards spent the night supplying beer at a good profit.
The next day was spent swearing in and getting uniforms and saveloy red boots. The Clothes were just thrown at you and you swapped until you got a uniform somewhere near a fit, then off to show Melbourne that you were a soldier. That night and the next few we slept in the GlassHouse at the Caulfield racecourse. The days were spent on kitchen fatigue and seeing the sights of Melbourne. On the third day we were taken to the troop train for the trip to the first camp which turned out to be the Shepparton Show Grounds, with billets in the pig and cow stalls, also the drill hall. I was lucky to get a billet in the drill hall but had to march half a mile to have a shower. After three days drill I was put on Guard Duty, but I couldn't tell the difference between a Sergeant and a Colonel, so, I saluted the lot.
After three months training-we were shifted to Trawool, just out of Seymour where we froze for another three months. While here I was picked to go to cooking school at Maribyrnong at remount depot. It was here that our "short arm" was done by a Vet, not a Doctor. This was closed down after fortnight and my mate and I from our unit were sent to Mooroopna cannery where the Army had turned the women’s hostel into a cookery school. After-three weeks cooking training we were sent back to our unit where we were promptly arrested and spent the next night in the boob, marched before the CO next, and charged with being A.W.L. for three weeks as the Army had forgotten to tell the unit that they had sent us to Mooroopna. We had missed out on our vaccinations and other needles, so they gave us the lot at once, which put me in the Hospital for three weeks.
After a few months, the Army thought we were trained enough to do a
short route march from Seymour to Albury. After seven days we hit
Bonegilla. The time was spent at Bonegilla building huts and serious
training with brown sticks -and wooden anti tank guns. The 2/21st
Battalion was formed here and I was put in charge of “R” Company CookHouse,
and later transferred to “D” Company. After some months we were put
on a train for our overland trip to Darwin to defend Australia’s front
door. But we were held up at Terowie for three weeks. This
place is the end of the earth as far as I'm concerned as we ate red dust,
slept in red dust and bathed in red dust.
After three weeks we boarded the “Ghan” for Alice Springs. We were on the “Ghan” for three days and nights. It was not the easiest to feed 200 men on the train as it only pulled up long enough to fill with water and coal. We arrived at Alice Springs just on dark and were taken to the sports ground by trucks and given tea. We were given a tent to six men but there was little sleep when we found the ground where we were to sleep was crawling with scorpions. We left Alice Springs at seven-thirty, the cooks going ahead to have dinner ready for the troops when they arrived. We were the first A.I.P. to travel overland to Darwin, so there were very few staging camps. We were held up by the Daly waters as they were a couple of miles wide, and the only way we could cross was by filling the trucks up with sand bags and the troops to walk ahead and anywhere the track was washed away we had to repair it with sand bags. The water was waist deep and flowing fairly fast. After five days we arrived at Mataranka, where the mosquitoes ate us alive and no one got any sleep. Only the Officers who had billets in the hotel did. Next day we were put into cattle trucks for the trip to Darwin. These trucks had not been cleaned too well and you can imagine the smell on the hot days. The truck we were in had a tarp roof and my two mates and I slept on the tarp at night to get away from the smell. After two days and nights we arrived at our new camp, later called “Winalli”. What a shock we got when they unloaded us from the cattle trucks, four miles from Darwin. There were no tents, huts, toilets or showers, only scrub and more scrub. Our first jobs were to put up the tents to sleep in and a big store tent. Cooking was done in the open and the troops ate in the open. Much of the time at Darwin was spent putting up barbwire entanglements. Most of my time was spent out in the busg cooking for the work parties or the troops out on “biviwac” with an occasional Saturday night at the pictures in Darwin. I was lucky in this respect, as my two mates were Bluey, the Company Storeman, and Jimmy, the Quartermaster Sargent, and when we had a day off Jimmy would get a truck and plenty of ammo and a few hand grenades and we would go down south to the Darwin River blowing up croc’s and fish; with the had grenades and shooting was with our 303 rifles which we had been issued with by then.
The unit built a fish trap across the mouth of Rapid Creek with gates
that opened when the tide went up the creek and closed when the tide was
going out. From this we were able to get quite a few ute loads of
fresh fish. I went to help to clean out the trap one day, the tide
had not quite gone out and the water was still knee deep, but we got in
for the caught fish until a four foot salt water croc came at us.
We left the water in a hurry and stayed out until the tide had gone right
out and we were able to shoot the croc.
After nine months at Darwin, we were told to start packing ready to return to Victoria for leave which would bring us home for Christmas but fate was not so kind as the Japs had to come into the war and we were given three days in which to be on board boat to go overseas. But again! We were held up when the wharf labourers went on strike and refused to load our gear. As it turned out later, this saved our lives, as the Japs told us after we were prisoners that they knew the day we were to leave Darwin, how many men went on the ships and the name of the boats, and also, that had we left on the day we should have, they had a Sub waiting for us and they’d have got the lot of us. The boats we were loaded on were three Dutch packets, the “Platrus”, “Both” and “Valentine”
"D" Company were given the “Both” which was no "Queen Mary”. We found that we were expected to sleep on the open deck with our heads against a pig pen with a couple of pigs in it and then there was a pen of ducks, past that was a pile of raw hides. Well we thought that the ducks and pigs were poor recruits so we gave them a swim in the Darwin Harbour, the hides followed the ducks. We the cooks had to cook for the troops in the ships galley. None of the ships were armed, and our only escort was a Corvette, the “Swan”.
After three days and nights we arrived at the Island of Ambon, a member of the Dutch East Indies. The name of the unit had been charge to “Gull Force”, an independent unit. Ambon was actually two islands joined together by a strip of land two miles wide. One side was the La Ha Airfield, and on the other, the town of Ambon. It was a change to walk into barracks already built. Ambon was a very mountainous country with just the one road running around the bay. It was a very pretty place and the people were very friendly.
Life on Ambon was fairly quiet for the first couple of months. But after that we were given our first bombing attacks by the Japs. It was not long before we were sent to the front lines with “A” and “D” Companies on the Ambon side of the Island and “C” and “B” Companies guarding the Air Force. Our kitchen was at the front “D” Company lines just off the edge of the road and just near the Dutch Search Light battery. On the 29th, January the little “Swan” arrived in the harbour with about 30 reinforcements for us when 37 Jap bombers came over and for three-quarters of an hour, they had the “Swan” more in the air than in the water. Although they scored quite a few near misses, they could not hit her. When the Doctor went on board after the raid, he found that there were only twelve of the reinforcements that were not badly shell-shocked, and the rest were only kids, the youngest 15, and the eldest 18. He sent the shell-shocked ones back to Australia.
In the meantime our Colonel had written back to Australia saying that
unless he had many more troops, he had no hope of holding the island.
Instead of taking notice of him, they recalled him to Australia and top
hatted him out of the Army and replaced him with CO “Lolly Legs” Scott.
Around the 31st January some Air Force chaps from La Ha called in at our kitchen and said that the Air Force were getting out and going back to Australia. They also said that they had flown out that, morning to have a look at the Japanese Force heading for Ambon, and if we had seen it we would start swimming for Australia.
On the 1st of February, the Japs did the dirty on us and landed on our rear which, according to our Army heads they aren’t supposed to do. The Dutch and the Ambonese were defending the rear, but the Dutch just threw down- their rifles and surrended without firing a shot. The first we knew that the Japs had landed was when some of our chaps who had been in the Ambon Hospital came up to the lines and said that they had escaped when the Japs had attacked Ambon Town
The next day I was getting dinner ready to send up to the troops, also with me were Jimmy, Bluey, one transport driver, a boot repairer and my assistant. Jimmy who had been watching the road sang out that he thought that there were a couple of Jap soldiers riding their bikes toward us. We had never seen a Jap soldier only pictures of them, we knew they wore green uniforms but so did the Ambonese soldiers. We waited until they were close enough to recognise them then we knocked them off and made for our lines. We had just, reached the lines when the Japs started to land mortar bombs. The five of us made a dive for a pill box for shelter but the door was facing the wrong way and when the Japs landed a mortar outside the door the blast came in killing the transport driver. The rest of us were lucky; I did get a bit of shrapnel in the back of my thumb, which I was to suffer from later on.
After the barrage, we had orders to go to the Company Headquarters at
the end of the line. All the rest of the day and night we were firing
at the Japs, not that we could see anything as in front of us was a deep
ravine full of jungle, and if we heard the slightest rustle or noise, we
would fire a burst from the rifle or throw a hand grenade. We were
in a bad way, what was to have been our rear line became our front line
and our barb wire defences were at our backs and all our supplies were
in what was now our war line. “A” Company, which was to have been
our front line troops, were now about two miles to our rear. The
next morning the Captain asked me to make hot tea for he troops.
I set out for the rear line where our supplies were, but not having been
in the trenches before, I kept getting lost in the Communication trenches,
in the finish I got to where I wanted to go, and after making the tea,
I thought, damn it, I'm not going to try and find the right communication
trench carrying two kerosene tins of hot tea, so I decided to go straight
up and over the top. When I got to the top I could hear whips cracking
around my ears and it took me a couple of seconds to wake up that a Jap
sniper was having a pot shot at me. Lucky for me he was a crook shot.
I eventually got back to our lines without spilling the tea even if I spilt
All day the Dutch Artillery had been firing, but they were only trying to sink their own ships in the harbour. Just on dark, some of these troops, from the Artillery, came in to our lines but when we asked them to give us a hand they said, “We have destroyed our guns and we have finished fighting.” They were promptly told where they could go to. At about 9.30, a patrol led by Lieutenant Anderson passed us on the way to try and get in touch with Headquarter Company, which was further up the mountain. They had not gone long when they ran into a Jap ambush and Lieutenant Anderson was badly wounded, so they had to retreat. The Japs were still giving us hell with their mortars and rifle grenades. We were trying to teach our reinforcements how to fire rifles while this was going on, as none of them had fired a rifle, and were just sent, into be murdered. At around three o'clock in the morning, the Japs broke into the trenches with us, and it became a case of fix bayonet and jab and jab. After a time the order came through to retreat but this was easier said than done as we now had to go through our own, barbed wire entanglements, which consisted of three rows of concertina barb wire. It was pitch black when we hit the wire and we had to climb over the top of it by hanging onto the iron posts that held the wire in place. The chap in front of me, “Jack Smith”, a First World War “Digger” slipped and fell between, the barbed wire, and did we have a job, getting him out, especially as we did not know how long it was going to be before the Japs learned where we were gone. We eventually got through the wire and had to travel to the lines, where “A” Company were three miles away. When we got to the lines we found that Jimmy was missing, and Bluey was all for going back to look for him, but we held him until he could see the sense that he stay put. Jimmy arrived three hours later saying that he had got lost getting out of the lines and ran into a Jap patrol, which he had to dodge. We had to go through “A” Company to Battalion Headquarters.
Here the Japs began to give us hell with the Jap planes strafing us and the Jap Navy sailing up one side of the bay and shelling the Air Force and turning around and shelling us on the way back. They were that close that we could hear them giving the orders to fire, and they were firing over open sights. Our little anti tanks were on the beach, and had a shot at them, but they only got one hit in. A few minutes later, they were blown off the earth. We spent the night hugging the ground and although the Jap troops had not caught up with us, their planes and ships were having plenty of fun.
The next morning we knew that La-Ha had surrended as all the shooting had stopped. At about eleven, the Company Sargent Major came to me and told me to give my rifle to Scotty, (Scotty was one of the troops who escaped from Ambon Hospital without his rifle), and come with him down the line to get water. I asked him what I was going to use of we met a Jap and he handed me a “Mauser Pistol.” I had never seen one before but I could see at a glance that there was no clip in it. I asked him if I met a Jap, was I supposed to say, “Bang Bang,” and the Jap oblige by falling over. And at any rate, I couldn't hit a hay slack with it. I spotted a mob of Dutch standing near a hut, (some of the so and so’s who refused to help us a couple of nights before), and I asked them if they had a magazine for the Mauser revolver. They gave me one so I slipped it in and said to the Sargent-Major if he was game to risk his life with me, so was I. We started down the line but where “D” and “A” Companies should have been but there was not a soul. We got the water and realised what had happened, that “A” and “D” Companies had gone to surrender and had left about forty of us to fight the Japs. When we reported what had happened, the C.O. came out of his dugout. It was only the second time had seen him since the action. The first time was when one of the troops’ nerves gave out and he stood on, top of the C.O.’s dugout waving a white rag. The C.O. popped his head up bellowing “Shoot that man”
One of the sights we saw was when one of their warships, after giving us a burst was turning for another run when it hit a Dutch mine just at the ships magazine, and sank in a few minutes.
The C.O. gave orders to destroy our rifles and equipment. I had
£50 in my money belt and shoved it into a hollow root of the tree
I had been hiding under. We went down to the road and along it until
we found the rest of the unit who had surrended before us and were under
Jap guard. We had to spend the night here as our engineers had blown
up a bridge across the river and we couldn't get across. We just
lay on the ground and slept like the dead. During the night a couple
of our chaps did escape. By next morning the Japs had put up a temporary
bridge and we were marched into the town of Ambon and down to the Wharf
where there was a large warship. We were stopped in the street near
the wharf and all the shops had been looted, but on the shelf in the shop
behind us were a few bottles of what we thought was soft drink. We
were dying of thirst so I told Jimmy to keep nit for the Jap guards while
I pinched a few. I got three, one each for Jimmy, Bluey and I.
Bluey and I drank ours, Jimmy's bottle was harder to open, but when he
did get it open and started swallowing in great gulps only to cough and
splutter for half an hour. He had drawn a bottle of mosquito repellent.
While we were waiting, the Japs marched out the Dutch Admiral, who was
in charge of Ambon. Was he fat! He had that big belly that
he needed a wheelbarrow to wheel it in front of him. The boys immediately
named him the “Battleship.” After half a day we were told that we
were to be marched back to our barracks at “San Tooey”.
Things were not bad at first as we were taken into Ambon to clear up the damage dome by the shelling. I became sick after three weeks and the only Doctor we had was the Unit Dentist as the Japs had kept our two Doctors in the Ambon Hospital to treat our own and the Jap wounded. I'd say it was either urinal colic or appendix. Our toilets were built out over the sea and there was a bridge built out to them. This bridge became known as the “bridge of sighs,” as of an evening we would gather there and look down the bay towards Australia, and give one big sigh. Another advantage was you could sit on the toilet and watch all the beautiful fish swim by. The main road ran through the camp and anyone wanting to go to Ambon had to pass and bow to the Japs in the guardhouse. When we went past them, we had to salute when we went to the toilets. It soon became unsafe to go to the toilets at night, as the Guards would say that you did not salute and would bash you up. It was interesting to see the women returning from shopping in Ambon as everything was carried on their heads with their hands swinging loose at their sides. I have seen women carrying heavy trunks that have taken two men to lift off their heads. What used to hurt our boys, was ta see the women carrying their husbands bottles of beer this way, they said no way would they allow their wives to do this.
One night we saw a women coming through carrying a three month old baby and when she stopped at the guard-house they grabbed it out of her arms and threatened to bash it’s head against the wall unless she told them who the father was. The baby was part white and they kept asking her if the baby was Australian. Well I know the Australian troops had a reputation but I doubt that they could produce a child that old in three months.
What Ambonese girls who had not cleared off into the hills, were forced into the Japs Brothels.
Work soon became harder and the food less. We were sent to the
Ambon wharf to unload boats of rice, copra and resin. The rice was
in three-bushel bags and the Japs took great delight in dropping them from
a height onto your shoulders to see if they could drop you to the ground.
After being a prisoner for a couple of months, the Australian Air Force
came over on a raid on the Jap ships and scored a couple of hits and a
few misses. The next day the Japs came in, driving our utes loaded
with tuna, which were that long, that they hung over the back of the tailboard
when it was down. These they said were a present from the Australian
Air Force to the Australian prisoners. Time passed slowly and the Japs
bought in more work for us in the way of coaling their ships.
Early in October, word came through that all of the sick and wounded were
to go by ship to a Red Cross Camp, where they would have plenty to eat
and be able to play games. Little did we realise that it was a Jap
game of passing the buck.
The Hainan Commandant had written to the Commandant at Ambon asking him to send 272 fit Australian and 272 Dutch troops for work on Hainan Island but the Commandant at Ambon only sent the troops that were unfit to work, this included the members of the band so as they could supply the camp with music. I was picked to go with them as cook and I fought against it as I didn't want to leave Jimmy and Bluey. These two got stuck into me and told me not to buck fate as if we stuck together, the whole lot of us could die. Little did they know the truth in what they said. Jimmy was out on a work party cutting wood when a tree fell on him breaking his leg, gangrene set in and although they amputated his leg, he died. Bluey fretted and died shortly after. Before this happened, Jimmy while out on a work party, made arrangements with the Rajah of a village for the escape of a few Officers and two Privates who were part Chinese and they were afraid that the Japs would behead them. The Ambonese rowed these chaps six hundred miles to Darwin and then turned around and rowed all the way back. I forgot to mention that the two chaps that escaped while we were marching in surrended to the Japs after being free for six months and living up in the hills with the Ambonese. Word had come through by the Ambonese that all of “C” and “B” Companies had been killed after they had surrended, except for two men that the Jap signals had picked to carry their gear around to our side of the island for them. On October 13th we were taken down to the wharf and then taken on board the “Tako-Maru,” an old Jap mine layer.
There were 275 Australians who were placed in one hold, and 270 Dutch who were placed in another hold. The hold wasn't that big and there was barely room to lay down. I was unlucky and fell for sleeping on the rail line that they ran the mines up on. There was no ventilation, only through the hatch that was kept covered most of the time. We were allowed up on deck for only an hour just on sunset to get our feed of rice, which the Japs cooked. For three weeks we were in this hellhole while we crossed the Indian Ocean. We knew what the convicts had to go threw on their trip to Australia. One night, we had just come up out of the hold and looked towards where we thought Australia was. We saw what looked like a line of warships, at the same time the Japs sounded the alarm to man the guns and ordered us back down below. We all thought, well this is it we will soon be feeding the fish. After about a quarter of an hour we were allowed up on deck again and to our relief, that what we thought were warships was only a cloud formation low in the horizon.
We pulled into Manilla for a couple of days but we were still kept in
the hold. This was beginning to smell, as quite a few of the boys
were seasick and all we had were a couple of small barrels, if you could
reach them. After three weeks of hell, we reached the port of Sanga
on the Island of Hainan, just off the coast of Vietnam. Here, before
we landed, we were vaccinated again. Before I go further, I will
fill in a few things that happened on Ambon after we left.
The Yanks came over and bombed the Harbour and had a plane shot down by the Japs anti aircraft guns, which were positioned in the prison camp. The next day a Yank plane came over and dropped leaflets, telling the boys to hide where they could, as they intended to bomb the anti aircraft guns the next day, which they did, getting a direct hit our Hospital, killing. 76 patients, one Doctor, our Padre and one Officer. Another time, there were twin brothers with us, and one of them used to get out through the barbed, wire and trade with the Ambonese. Evidently, the Japs caught the Ambonese that was trading with this chap and belted them to near death, and then bought them into the camp and made them point out the chap they were trading with. When his brother saw what was going to happen, he said, “You are sick and cannot take a belting, I’ll take your place.” But instead of belting him; with pick handles, they beheaded him. This drove his brother insane. Another time, we had two chaps, one whom we were to call the “horse,” (because he could eat like one), and the other his “groom,” as they were always together. They went out through the barbed wire in search of food and got caught and beheaded. All told, ten (10), were beheaded for being caught outside the wire. Of the 500 we left behind at Ambon, less than 200 got out alive.
In the meantime we were to get our first taste of living hell. When we landed we were marched three miles over sand dunes and got our first glimpse of our “Red Cross Camp,” which was really one of the camps where the Japs did their training for the war. There were four (4) big huts and a very big kitchen with eight big coppers for boiling the rice. The Dutch were allotted half of the kitchen and the Australians the other half. The huts had a platform on each side with an aisle in the middle and we slept head to toe on the platform on a mat made of raffia. Each man was given a mosquito net and two blankets, for a pillow you used whatever you could find. One hut was allotted to the Australians, and one for the Dutch, the other two huts were used as Hospitals with the Dutch using one platform, the Australians the other.
The work parties at first were mainly unloading ships and carting sand
to form roads. The ship parties were not bad as we always wore our
long pants and garters. The reason for this was that if we were to
“accidentally,” drop a case of tinned meat, and some of the tins should
fall inside our trousers, when Japs searched us when we returned to camp,
they would search the top of us, but never think of looking at the bottom
of our trousers. Other places they would not look, was under our
hats. And also, we would take a bag with us to conceal cow manure
for our gardens. We would put the dry materials and anything we wanted
to get into the camp at the bottom, and then look for some nice wet stuff
for the top. I never did see a Jap put his hand in to feel the bottom
of the bag.
During 1943 things began to get worse. Many men were dying from malnutrition and the beltings from the Japs more frequent. By this time we had given most of the Jape names such as “Heavy Hausy,” because when he hit with his “donkey walloper,”' he hit hard, “Gordon Coventry” because he was good at the drop kick, the “Black Snake,” because you didn’t know when he would strike, “Smiley,” because he grinned when he hit you, “Goofy,” because he was just that, “Joto Nay,” meaning ”no” in Japanese, because that was his stock answer, no matter what you asked for. Then, there was the “Sportsmaster,” a Commandant, who used to hold sports day between the Dutch and us, the prizes being our own rations. Also the “Boy Wonder,” who, when he was on a work party, we used to call him all the “B’s” we could think of never thinking that he could understand English until he lined us up one day and belted the hell out of us. It turned out that he had spent three years in an English Military College. We were flat out making roads and as we always said, we were filling in the sea so we could walk home. The Jap idea was to cart the sand dunes on a four-wheel trolley on rails, and tip the sand into the sea, reclaiming land to build houses on. These trolleys held three yards of sand and were pushed by twelve men, but let them jump the rails and the Japs would go mad using their “donkey wallopers ” and pick handles with glee. The work we had to do was varied. One job we did, was to build an embankment fifty foot high so as the trains could carry the iron ore right out to the wharfs. This embankment was half a mile long and was built under the human chain scheme with shovels alone. Another party, we had to build anti aircraft positions on the beach. Others were wood parties that had to go in the jungle and cut wood for the kitchens. I remember being on one wood party, and we were put to work to falling a tree with the ordinary jungle machete. Up the tree were a lot of green ant nests which were dropping on us and biting like hell and the Jap Guards were sitting in the shade yelling that they would “puti puti” belt us if we did not hurry up. So, we said we would fix these two “B's,” so we cut the tree so as it would fall near them. Ten minutes after the tree fell, the Japs were jumping around, and dropping their pants as the ants crawled over them. Then, we had the Jap “Barrack Party,” where we had to stack up the Japs stores. It was on these parties that we were able to get our war news. The Japs would paste their war news on the notice board and before the paste was dry, we would tear it off and take it back to the camp and translate it. After sifting the bull from the chaff, we knew just where the war was. These parties were not bad as we were able to scrounge quite a bit of rice and tinned food. It was on one of these parties that quite a few of us nearly got killed. There were 20 Australian and 20 Dutch on an open truck, all were standing with two guards standing up the front against the cabin. The Jap driver had spent the day in the canteen while waiting to take us back to the camp, and when we were crossing a bridge, the near front wheel ran off the bridge with the truck just balancing. The instant stop sent us all forward and tipped us into the creek fifteen feet below. Apart from killing the two Japs, the rest of us got off lightly with only two getting broken legs.
Food by this time was getting bad and we were forced to live on fourteen dessertspoons of cooked rice per day with grass snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, rats, and anything that looked to have meat on it. And the Japs thought they could do better and issued three pork chops for 200 men. Another time they sent in three little fish for the same number. What meat the Japs did send in was usually black and putrid by the time we got it and our Doctor refused to let us eat it. While on the subject of the Doctor, this man, proved to be a God send to us, as when the Japs went to the Hospital demanding more men for work parties he would fight them, and although they would belt him up he would defy them. He always told us not to eat anything new until he had tried it first, as he could treat himself with the medicine he had, but not twenty or thirty men..
The worst party we were on was a beach party-; here we were building pillboxes in the sand. We were supposed to dig a hole big enough to put a two-roomed house in. We could dig the hole alright but as soon as we tried to put the prefab house in, the sides would just collapse and the Japs would go berserk. Everyone got it with pick handles. Every night we had to cart someone home with broken arms, legs or heads. The boys started dying fast, and every week we would bury two or three. One day the Japs called for volunteers for a fishing party, and I thought, this sounds good, so I put my name down having visions of going out in the bay and dangling a line. We were a bit worried when they gave us a kerosene tin each and a shovel, but knowing the Japs, we thought, well the tins were to put the fish in and the shovels to row the boats with. Well off we went, but instead of going towards the bay, they marched us inland for about four miles until we came to a river. There we got the idea that we had to dam off the river and bail out a big hole below where we had it dammed. Well, after working all day with our bare bum facing the sun, we were ready to catch our haul, which amounted to one little fish three inches long.
It was coming onto 1944, and the Japs were going berserk, not only belting us, but starting on the natives and the Hong Kong Chinese. The Japs had bought ten thousand Chinese from Hong Kong when they took it, to work in the iron ore mines, and by 1944 they were dying like flies. On some of our work parties we had to walk between the Chinese Hospital buildings, and everyday, when we passed the morgue, the bodies would be stacked on top of one another up to the roof, and later on, we would see their mates take them up on the sand dunes, and cremate them with a couple of logs of wood.
On one party we were on, I can remember one Chinese laying outside the
hut for six days and nights before he died. It was also on this party
that the Japs stripped two Chinese girls because they did not bow low enough
as they passed, and made them stand in front of us for the full day.
What they got out of that, I would not know.
On another road party we had, with us as was usual, was Chinese women and children from five to fourteen girls and boys. They would be carting gravel under the endless chain system in a basket and dropping it for us to spread. This day, the camp Commandant was watching, and because one little girl was a little slow, he picked up a rock and threw it at her, cutting her eye out.
One morning we saw the Japs bring out quite a few trucks loaded with. Hong Kong Chinese, and unload them just outside the compound gate, then set them to work digging trenches. That night, there were three hundred of them bought back in trucks with four or five hundred Japs. The Chinese were lined up along the trench they had dug and the Japs used them as bayonet practice. The Japs excuse was that they were Chinese Communists, and that was why they were killed. But it was nothing for them to bring Chinese men and women into the camp, tie them up to the cross and belt them every day for a week. Others they would stake out on the ground and keep pouring water down their throats until they drowned, or when their stomachs swelled up, they would jump on them.
One day, our Major was caught outside the camp and had to stand outside the guard house for seven days and nights, but he was lucky because one of the Dutch lads was caught outside the wire, and when they bought him in, they were going to behead him. The only thing that saved him, was the Dutch Doctor who told them that the lad had Malaria, and did not know what he was doing. He did not get a chance to wander again, because they put a chain around his neck and tied him to the verandah post at the guardhouse like a dog and fed him with scraps from the kitchen for eight months. We got a little jealous of him as he got fatter and we got skinnier.
On Anzac Day 1944, we were working on a work party, forming a road up
to the iron ore mines, one party would go ahead one day, and clean the
trees, and the rear company would be forming the road. I happened
to be on the front party. One day the Jap guard held his rifle at
one of the Chinese women’s breast and shot her. The next day, the
front party which included 27 Japs and 27 Australians, had only travelled
about twenty miles when the Chinese ambushed the truck. After the
firing was over, there were- twenty-seven dead Japs and fourteen dead Australians.
One young seventeen-year-old Australian jumped out of the truck and. Ran.
The Chinese shot him through the shoulder, but he got away. Three
of my mates from Mildura played “dogo” in the bottom of the truck.
One opened hie eyes and was shot through the head, another, Freddy, was
bayoneted through the shoulder. Jack still played “dogo,” and although
they stripped him, and trod all over him, he did not move, and so got out
without a scratch.
The Chinese took ten Australian prisoners, three of them were wounded. The Chinese could not speak English, but one could speak Malay, and so could one of our chaps. The Chinese told the boys that they had to get away as fast as they could and could not take the wounded men with them, but would leave them at the nearest village and ask them to take them back to the Jap compound. This was about ten o'clock, and by eight o'clock the next day, no attempt had been made to get help for them. So Corporal Jack Nelson said to the others, “Seeing I'm the least wounded,” (He had been shot through the shoulder),“I'll see if I can get help from the Japs.” It took him six hours to get back to the compound, and when the Japs got to the village they couldn’t find the other two. The Chinese told the wounded that the reason for the ambush was to get the guard who had shot the woman, which they did.
Things in the camp were getting worse with less men being able to work. I myself, had spent a fair bit of the time in Hospital with Malaria, berri berri, paro typhoid, and having an operation on my thumb where the shrapnel had gone in. My thumb kept swelling up and the Doctor was afraid that the shrapnel would get into the blood stream. The only anaesthetic they had was orderlies holding me down. All of us were losing weight fast, one chap who was nineteen stone when he enlisted, was down to seven, and the Dutch "Battleship" was now a light "Corvette".
It was now early 1945, and more and more men were giving up the battle. As a matter of fact, the Doctor gave us orders that when we went over to the Hospital after work, we were not to tell them that they looked sick, but to tell them to pull up their socks, as we had neither the energy or time to cart then out to boot hill. This did more for them than telling them how sick they looked.
Berri-Berri was now one of our main problems. There were two types
of Berri-Berri, one which we called the wet Berri-Berri where the boys
bodies would swell up until they looked like Malayan Buddas. They
would continue to swell until the fluid drowned the heart. The other
type we called dry Berri-Berri, and this type caused the boys to loose
the use of their legs, and. I have seen them crawling to the toilets.
Some of them either became deaf, blind and dumb, also, from this type.
One chap had been in a very bad way, crawling to the toilet, rather than
put extra work on the orderlies, until the Doctor managed to trade with
the Chinese for a few vitamin tablets, and get him, back on his feet, but
only just. The C.O. saw him one day, and said to him, “Are you still
bludging on your mates Jackson?” That night, when the Doctor was
doing his rounds, Jackson said, “I want to go out on the work party tomorrow
as nobody is going to tell me I'm bludging on my mates.” The Doctor
told him that he would do so at his own risk, and he did so. We carried
him home that night, and he died during the night.
The Officers had long before given up going out on work parties after a couple of them were threatened with a belting, and left the work parties to the N.C.O. who I must say here, did a wonderful job taking many a belting trying to save the troops. Only one Officer had the guts to try and stop the beltings on the “beach party,” but he only lasted five minutes. The guards knocked him down and posted a guard with a rifle and bayonet over him for the rest of the day. The Officers were getting paid to sit on their bums, and with their money, they were buying pigs from the Chinese, but they never offered the grunt to the men dying of starvation In the Hospital
There were two bathrooms in the camp, one for the Dutch, and one for the Australians. All it consisted of was a long cement trough, which was filled with cold water from a well. The Hospital patients had to draw this water and fill this trough, and we would pour this over us with a tin, soap, being a thing of the past. The Officers had the use of the showers first, then the Hospital patients, leaving the showers clear for the workers when they came home.
One day a chap from the Hospital by the name of George happened to go into the showers a few minutes before the Officers’ time was up. The Officer abused George, but as he explained, no one in the Hospital had a watch, as everyone had by this time traded theirs to the Japs for food and cigarettes. Cigarettes were the main means of trade, although at times they were abused. Like one chap who used to trade his rice for cigarettes until the Doctor posted a guard on him until he ate his meals, but this did not work, as he used to trade his rice to the guard and he eventually died. To get back to George and the Officer, where words lead to a few home truths being told, and the Officer saying that he would report George to the C.O. The C.O. put George before the Court-Martial who sentenced him to Jap punishment, but the Doctor said that George was in his charge and until he was discharged from the Hospital he would not be handed over to the Japs. After a few weeks, the Doctor sent George out on a work party to see if he was fit to be discharged. That, night when we returned to the camp and were being searched and counted, the C.O. came over and asked George if he was ready for his punishment, to which he replied, “yeah,” and he was taken to the guard house.
There were three types of punishment, the first being, you were placed
on front of the guard house with a large dish of water held in front of
you, and if you let your arms drop a couple of inches you were belted with
a Pick Handle. You had to keep this up for a couple of days and nights.
The second was you were tied up to a horizontal bar by the thumbs and each
guard would belt you with a pick handle until he was tired. The third
was they would tie a wire to your fingers and toes and one down the eye,
of your penis, pour water over you, then turn on the electric current.
George chose the horizontal bar, and after getting fourteen or fifteen belts with the pick handle, he said to our officer who was watching, “You had better stop them Sir, they will kill me.” But the Officer only said, “You should have thought of that.” And to the Japs said, “Carry on.” I was one of those sent to bring him back to the barracks and to the Hospital. When the Doctor saw him, he said, “They have pulped him from the kidneys to the knees. I can't do much for him.” But George was made of tough stuff, and made it back to Australia, and after spending months In Hospital, he was sent to Royal Park for discharge. When they asked him there how he felt, he said he was sick so he was sent back to back to the Hospital where he died that night.
“Smiths Weekly” had this story when we got home, but at an Army Inquiry, the C.O. stated that he had to do this to keep up the moral of the troops, and the Officers backed him up. But to my knowledge, no Private was asked to the Inquiry.
About March 1945 no troops were fit to go on work parties as we were flat out trying to stand up, let alone work, and the Japs cut out the work parties. The men ware only walking skeletons and you could count every rib they had. And I may add here that since 1943 we had no clothes, only a gee string, and no boots either. For winter we would pinch rice bags and get the Battalion Tailor to make us a rice bag suit. For him to sew these, we had to scrounge the cotton from the tops of cement bags. There were some very flash suits being worn those seasons.
Rumours started flashing around the camp of an attempt being made by the Yanks to rescue us. There must have been some substance in this as the Japs had us dig a large pit between the huts for which we were paid six spoonfuls of salt. The Japs mounted three machine guns facing into the pit, and told us, that if there was any attempt to rescue us; they would put us in the pit and machine gun us. As it turned out afterwards, we were to have been rescued, but the sampans the Yanks and Chinese were using were wrecked in a gale. So lucky for us we did not get to use the grave we dug. The Japs had placed a double electric fence around the compound carrying 4000 volts, but before it was turned on, our Major and four other ranks escaped up into the hills and joined the Chinese.
July came and we were-all in very bad shape with only twelve or thirteen
fit to dig the graves and bury the dead. We had a fair idea that
the war was nearing its end when the Japs Painted P.O.W. on the roofs of
the huts, but we did not know until a fortnight after it finished.
Seven Yanks had dropped by parachute and the Japs held them prisoner until
they pulled down the electric fence and dug up the graves. I'm still
crooked on this delay, as I got one more belting than I should have.
How this happened was six of us were sent out on a wood party to the Air Force. We had to pull and push a Chinese ox cart with wooden wheels and axles along the sandy tracks. When we reached the Air Force barracks, the guard left us to see some of his mates. We had a look around to see what we could scrounge, and in one barrack noticed ten bags of rice, one of which was soon in the bottom of the cart, and we stacked the wood around it so that it couldn't be seen. But unknown to us the guard must have also counted the bags, because he searched the load of wood, and although he could not see the bag of rice, he lined us up and gave us a hiding just in case.
The day the Japs allowed the Yanks into the camp, and we were told that the war was over, there were tears in most of the troops eyes, and no one thought of sleep that night, but sat up talking of what they would do when they got home, and what food they were going to get their families to cook for them. The Yanks when they told us the war was over begged us not to start anything with the Japs as there were only seven of them and ten thousand armed Japs, also, that they had broken their radio and were out of out of touch with their unit who had landed on another part of the Island. They also told us to write a letter to our next of kin and they would get them out as soon as they could. I met one of my mates in the shower next day and he was saying that he had written to his Mother saying he was well and would be home soon. Three hours later we were told that he had died of Cerebral Malaria.
After a couple of days, we were taken to the Jap Hospital by Jap trucks. We got a royal reception there, as the Yanks had ordered the Chinese to bring lots of pork and chooks, which we cooked, and did we have a feed, and did we suffer after. I’ve never been so sick before. Two of the sick men died, whether from the rich food or not, I do not know. I was one of the four men sent out next day to dig the graves. Later, the bodies were brought out on Jap trucks with the funeral party under Jap guards armed with rifles. They refused to let us bury the boys because they were wrapped in Jap blankets for a shroud. We had to open the coffins, unwrap the bodies from the blankets, and bury them without a shroud, and there was not a damn thing that we could do about it. Another chap died the next day and he was buried in an Australian blanket.
After a couple of days, word came through that we were to go by train
to the Port of Hasho, where the main Yank Force were. The train pulled
up close to the Hospital, and consisted of two carriages for the seriously
ill, and open trucks for others. Here again we had trouble with the
Japs when the Doctor commandeered the mattresses from the Hospital and
carted them to the train in the Jap trucks, which he borrowed. We
struck trouble as soon as we tried to put them on the train, the Japs threw
them off until the Doctor cried out, “Don't let the bastards beat us this
time.” After this we threw caution to the winds and nearly smothered
the Japs with mattresses until they gave the game away.
The next day we set off by train for Hasho with two Jap guards sitting on the cow catcher, armed with rifles, and a Yank flag flying from the engine, also with Jap guards among the troops. The train was made up of the engine, then an empty truck, next, the truck in which myself and eight not so sick were, next were four more open trucks, then the carriages. We had left the Doctor and then ten men who were not expected to live behind in Sanga.
We travelled through valleys with hundreds of acres of bananas, sugar cane and rice, and wondered why we had been starved for so long. Around midday, we noticed that the telephone posts along the line had been cut down, and later on, a Chinese village was burning. By this we expected trouble which we soon received. We had not travelled far from the burning village when the engine took a nosedive and the next truck followed. Lucky for us, our truck stayed upright. As we looked around, we could see armed Chinese coming at us in all directions and we dived under the trucks, and said to ourselves, “Goodbye Australia.” Suddenly the Chinese started to disappear whether they saw the Yank flag or what, we do not know. We had to wait until an engine came from Sanga to pull us back to that Port. About a week later, we were again put on the train for Hasho. This time we arrived safely at Hasho, and there found the Japs different. They were bowing and scrapping to us, even though we told them what we thought of them in good Australian language.
A funny thing happened to two kids in the unit. I call them kids as we never did find out their real ages, but I can remember there being about five or six of us at Young and Jacksons when we came home, when a big Detective walked up to these two and demanded to know what right they had to wear five year service ribbons. We promptly told them; that if the two boys were not entitled to wear them, no more were we. As they walked away, one said to his mate, “Jesus Christ, they even took them from the cradle.”
Well these two lads somehow got the Chinese to bring them a couple of bottles of wine to an empty pillbox. Well evidently they blacked out, and the Chinese were carting water to revive them, but if someone had not seen the Chinese carting water into the pill, they would both had been drowned.
After a week, we were told that we were to be placed on a British Liberty
Ship for a trip to Hong Kong. Only the walking fit were to go to
Hong Kong, the others were to wait for a Hospital ship. The Japs
carted us out to the ship in motor boats, and started to get rough with
us, until the British sailors, as the boat was unloaded, tipped the ships
slops over the Japs.
When we arrived in Hong Kong, we were not allowed on shore as the Japs were still fighting in the hills. We were in Hong Kong for a week, and although the Padre went to see the British Officers, no one wanted us, or knew what to do with us. They finally sent us to Manus Island in the Liberty ship. We spent two weeks here, and were treated like kings by the Yanks and were fast putting on weight. After a fortnight, we were loaded onto the British Aircraft Carrier “Vindex” for Australia. We did not see any of the Officers until we were sailing up Sydney Harbour. There were quite a lot of small craft in the Harbour to welcome us. We of course were waving back when the “Mad Major” (who, by the way, had been brought down out of the hills by the Chinese, minus two of the chaps who escaped with him. These lads had died in the hills from Malaria), came on deck, and abused us, and told us we were acting like a mob of schoolboys and made us stand at attention until we docked. We were taken to a camp in Sydney where we were issued with a full set of clothing. After two days in Sydney, we were put on the train for Melbourne, and we were placed, in cars and driven through the streets where we were given a great welcome by the public. We were then taken to Heidelberg Hospital where we met our relatives for the first time in just on four years. Later, we were to meet the rest of the boys who had come home on the Hospital Ship “Jerusalem” and I'm happy to say, also some the boys we left behind at Sanga to die. One chap had died at sea on the way home.
|February 21, 1943
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Pte. C. Gile
Sgt. P. Byrnes
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