Allan Charles Herd


                 Allan's enlistment photos                       

            Credit: Alexander C Heath, whose wife is the niece of Allan Charles Herd

 

Allan's statement regarding POW conditions:

 

SURVIVAL – A MIRACLE
 
This is an extract of a 1982 Narrative by former Lance Corporal Allan Herd, Second Sixth (2/6th) Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, Seventh Division, Army, 2nd Australian Imperial Force. Prisoner at Java, Changi, Burma-Thai Railway and in Japan.
 
I take up the story where the brutalized & emaciated survivors of the “Death Railway” are shipped to Japan, told by Lance Cpl. Herd.
 
“ After Saigon….we were sent back to Singapore to await embarkation to Japan. Of the first 2000 prisoners sent on the Jap Hell Ships, only about 300 were to survive, after being torpedoed by American Submarines “Barb”, “Queenfish”, “Pampanito” and “Sealion”. The full account of this hell at sea can be found in Return from the River Kwai.
 
Subsequent ships got through to Japan when the American submarines were withdrawn for the attack on the Philippines. Entering Camp 17 was like a journey through the Gates of Hell itself; it was freezing cold  with inches of ice underfoot and sleet ice blowing over the ice and snow into the camp 24 hours a day, week in and week out.
 
The camp was set up on a cliff edge, with electric wires and sentry boxes all around; with the constant sleet and ice adding to the isolation and desolation. . There were no birds, no grass, nothing alive, the fumes from the nearby zinc works had killed everything.
 
God had forgotten this place on Earth, for to know it was to know death.
 
The camp could have been Satan’s own; The Camp commander and Japanese and Korean guards were the most cruel and sadistic you could ever find, for they reveled in torture, and death was metered out for the most trivial things; the average person in Australia cannot comprehend and does not believe the suffering of the prisoners.
 
After the Japanese, the camp was controlled by the Americans, who had been there for some time, being survivors of the Philippines campaign at Bataan and Corregidor. Outside of a small minority, the bulk of them were the lowest form of white men you could find – treacherous racketeers ….who became like animals in order to survive. Men hardly spoke to each other, only snarled…….   The Australians found it particularly hard to be put into different rosters or shifts from their comrades who had supported each other under adversity since 1940.
 
I will not tell of the terrible torture, of death and sadism practiced by the guards and the Japanese Commandant, for this is told in such books as Slaves of the Son of Heaven.”
 
The Australians were put to work in the nearby Mitsui coalmine which eventually collapsed in the late 1950’s with great loss of life. “ It was the biggest and oldest in Japan …where death would reap a bountiful harvest ….among the miners.  Every man had his quota of trucks to fill before he could finish  ….. 12 hours each shift…..the last two where he would be belted and driven by his “Joe”  (Korean Guard) to finish on time. 
 
Men’s lungs collapsed from the terrible cold and they died in terrible agony and there was nothing anyone could do. Prisoners were fed a starvation diet of millet (birdseed), which passed through the body in less than an hour, and the hunger then worse than ever. There was no laughter, no joking or horseplay that characterized the Australian character, just terrible cold, and starvation, and work in the bowels of the Earth. After a while we did not even speak, we knew we were doomed, and death would be a welcome release.”
 
Lance Corporal Alan Herd had been too sick to go down the mine “I knew my days were numbered, for I was living in another world, the twilight world where there was no hate, nor fear of death, no wanting to go home, only a peace so complete that it cannot be described.  Then it came, on a bright clear day – thousands of bombers and fighters that the sky was black with them  …..   the ground and the buildings shook …the fighter escorts swooped so low and must have realized we were prisoners … no bombs fell on us.
 
A few days later no shifts went to the mines  … we realized the War was over. So terrible had been the suffering, so far gone were the men, so exhausted and spent  …  there was not one cheer  …  just nothing. If anyone spoke, he was snarled at and abused.
 
The Japanese disappeared after about a week and we were found by American War Correspondents, who parachuted into the camp and contacted MacArthur’s Headquarters; bombers then dropped food into the camp.
 
After about four weeks the Australians were moved by train. “We came to the site of the city of Nagasaki … the atom bomb meant nothing to us, but if the human race could all see what we saw … no life, be it human, bird, insect, no nothing, just desolation and destruction for hour after hour as the train stopped and started  … there would be no more war.”
 
We were put aboard a hospital ship, the USS Haven (a name so appropriate), in the harbour. The Americans cheered us and gave us coffee and donuts.  However they did not touch us or shake our hands, for we were not human to look at. We were more like animals, with lice and coal dust ground into our shaven scalps and eyes, with our starved bodies in rags”
 

Note: The story of Australians at Camp 17 is told in “Sappers of the Silent Seventh”, published by the Seventh Division Engineers Association, Sydney, 1982.

and "Slaves of the Son of Heaven"  by R. H. Whitecross, published 1951

 

                       Biographies Page     Main Page