Donald Kenneth Tweedie
WAR SERVICE HISTORY of Bandsman
Pte. DONALD KENNETH TWEEDIE NX 51579
2/20th Bn. 8th Division
DETAILS AND LOCATIONS OF BATTLES AND PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS FROM 1941-1945
Battle of MERSING (MALAYA)
Battles of KRANJI, BURKIT TIMAH, HOLLAND HILL (SINGAPORE)
Severely wounded at the Battle of Holland Hill (14th February, 1942)
This was the day before the Fall of Singapore.
PRISONER OF WAR:
River Valley Camp-Singapore
Awa Maru (Ship) from Singapore to Japan Mojo ( Omuta Coal Mines) at Kyushu near Nagasarki
MEDALS & Certificates
Pacific Star, 1939-45 Star, Defence Meda, 1939-1945 War Service Medal, General Service War Medal,
The Efficiency Medal (1946), Front Line Medal (1990), International and Australian POWs Medals (1992)
50th Aniversary Peace Medal, The Austrailian Service Medal 1945-1975, Prisoner Of War Medal 1992
Infantry Front Line Service Medal and Discharge Certificate
Certificate of appreciation from the Federal Government on the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.
Awarded the Rotary International Peace Award by the Rotary Club of Forbes and the Forbes Community in 2001.
Honorary Peace Ambassador for this year.
INTRODUCTION ~ BRIEF HISTORY OF 2/20TH BATTALION
The 2/20th Infantry Battalion opened its headquarters at Wallgrove Camp, west of Sydney, on 15 July 1940. The battalion’s recruits were drawn principally from Sydney, Newcastle, and the New South Wales north coast. It trained at Wallgrove, Ingleburn, and Bathurst before embarking for Singapore, as part of the 22nd Brigade of the 8th Australian Division, on 2 February 1941.
Upon arriving in Singapore on 18 February, the 2/20th moved to south-west Malaya, where it would train for service under tropical conditions. It spent most of its time operating around Port Dickson but was based at Seremban during April. At the end of August the battalion redeployed to the port of Mersing on the east coast. Connected to Singapore by a surfaced road, Mersing was a potential landing place for an enemy force and with war with Japan increasingly likely, much of 2/20th’s energy was devoted to preparing defensive positions.
The 2/20th stood to arms on the night of 6 December 1941, but over a month would pass before the first of its men were in action. On 7 January C Company was detached to form half of a special force that was deployed to delay the Japanese approach to Endau, a town further north along the coast. It clashed with the Japanese on several occasions from 14 January, until it withdrew to rejoin the battalion on 26 January. In the meantime, Japanese troops had also been engaged in the vicinity of the 2/20th’s main positions around Mersing, which were also heavily bombed. Once rejoined by C Company, the 2/20th withdrew from Mersing and on 31 January arrived on Singapore to take up a position on the northern flank of the 22nd Brigade’s sector on the island’s west coast.
The wide frontage it was required to cover, however, meant its platoons and sections had to be widely dispersed. When the Japanese launched their invasion on the night of 8 February the 2/20th was readily infiltrated, although the Australians were initially able to inflict heavy casualties on the invaders. Despite the confusing fighting, most of 2/20th was able to withdraw in reasonably good order, to form a north-south defensive perimeter along Lim Chu Kang Road. It soon became apparent, however, the 2/20th would be overwhelmed in this position. It was ordered to withdraw along the road to the south, in which the battalion was scattered and never fought as a formed unit again. In parties of varying sizes, its troops fought in the desperate fighting retreat towards Singapore city that ended with surrender on the night of 15 February.
Initially imprisoned in the sprawling Changi prisoner of war camp, it was not long before members of the 2/20th were allocated to external work parties. The first parties were dispatched around Singapore and southern Malaya, but members of the 2/20th later found themselves members of parties bound for the camps along the Burma-Thailand Railway and in Borneo, Japan, French Indochina, Java, Sumatra, and Malaya. These men endured the worst horrors of Japanese captivity and many died. The surviving prisoners were liberated in late-August 1945 and began returning to Australia almost immediately. The 2/20th Battalion was formally disbanded later that year. (AWM - Second World War Diaries – AWM52, Item 8/3/20 - 2/20th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary)
This is a true account of a dedicated Australian soldier who went off to war, thinking it was a great adventure and a great way to see the world. However this attitude changed over three and a half years of witnessing various atrocities, death, destruction, starvation, disease and inhumane acts, as you will see after reading this document, as told to me by my father Pte. Donald Kenneth Tweedie. (NX 51579) 8th Division, 2/20th Battalion A.I.F.
My father was born on 21st February, 1920 at Hornsby New South Wales, to Reginald Chabaud Tweedie and Mildred Tweedie. At the age of two his father passed away suddenly and his mother had to bring up two young children on her own. Times were tough coming into the Great Depression and bringing up a family without a partner was even harder.
I understand my Grandmother (Millie) always made sure her family respected the values of their morals and integrity in conducting their everyday lives. These values and principles I believe helped my father survive this horrific period of his life.
Christianity was important for survival for prisoners of war and my father believed, that the real meaning of Christianity was brought to the fore as each and everyone relied on each other for comfort, compassion, support and help throughout the whole ordeal. This appears to have created a strong bond between all diggers which still exists today.
The torture, torment, heartache for loved ones at home and living from hour to hour, was what they had to look forward to in their lives as Prisoners of War under Japanese rule. For the diggers that returned home, their was a lot of repatriating to be done to get them physically well again. However it was the psychological problems that affected a lot of these young Australians.
It was fifty years before my father talked about this period of his life. When he sat down and told me about the war and particularly the prison camps prior to writing this document, I could see in his face the pain and suffering that was inflicted upon him and all other POWs in Burma and Japan. Here was one of thousands of men spilling his thoughts out from deep inside after all these years of holding it within, because people could not understand or would not understand how another race could inflict such harsh treatment on our diggers.
I grew up with some understanding of what war was like. However after listening to my father over many long nights, I was not prepared for what he was to tell me. I felt depressed, empty inside and very emotional. Anyone that says they can understand what these poor wretches went through is having themselves on. No Australian had any idea what these soldiers went through as they were physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the war. It would be something that you have to experience to appreciate the real meaning of what had happened to these brave individuals.
My father is proud of the fact that he fought for his country and therefore has a better understanding and appreciation of what freedom is all about.
I am proud of my father and for a man to endure such hardships and still have a will to survive after all he had been through was a true reflection of what the tenacious Australian Diggers were like. I believe he survived because of his tremendous faith, courage and determination, that these people were not going to beat him. He was one of thousands of unknown heroes of war.
This record of my fathers life as a soldier has been told to my children as a special request by my father. He wants it to be told to others, because he feels the young people of today should be aware of the real meaning of war and what it can do to peoples lives. Particularly after the war when it is over, when they have to rehabilitate their lives and come to terms with what they have been through and how they will adapt to their new lives in the future. There needs to be compassion and understanding.
I recommend this to every Australian to read as it is written from the heart. It is best described as an emotional, depressing but sometimes jovial account of the Prisoner of War Camps.
I will always hold my father in the highest regard and appreciate his support and help in understanding life as a result of discussions we had when I was sixteen. It was at this point in my life that my feelings about war would change my whole attitude in trying to understand the harshness and gravity of a situation that not only affected Dad but also emotionally, affected those who cared and loved him.
Donald Kenneth Tweedie, was a proud, compassionate, caring man and was a small man in stature but a big man in heart. We respected Dad for his tenacity during the war to survive and not let the horror of war stop him from coming home and we are all proud to have been his children, grandchildren and family.
My father passed away on Christmas Day 25th December, 2007 at the age of 87.
WAR SERVICE HISTORY
I served with the 7th Field Brigade Artillery, from August 1937 to June 1940, this being a Militia unit. On the 14th June, 1940, I enlisted at Martin Place, Sydney, with the A.I.F. in the infantry and later became a bandsman. During the first two months of service I attended day parades at Warrane Road, Willoughby in North Sydney, prior to entering Wallgrove Camp in August 1940, where I became a member of the 19th Training Battalion Band as a drummer. In November 1940, the unit moved to Rutherford near Maitland in the Hunter Valley. It was from here that I was drafted to the 2/20th Battalion at Bathurst, in January, 1941.
On the 4th February, 1941 our unit sailed from Sydney on the R.M.S. “Queen Mary”, a massive liner converted to a troop carrier of some 81,000 tons. Also in the convoy was the “Aquatania”, “Mauritiana”, and the “Amsterdam”, the latter carrying New Zealand troops. The convoy headed 200 miles south to Tasmania before reaching Fremantle in Western Australia and then onto the Cocos Islands where the convoy broke up. The Queen Mary headed north to Singapore arriving on the 18th February, 1941. The balance of the convoy went on to the Middle East. We had been escorted first, by “H.M.A.S. Hobart” and then the “H.M.A.S. Canberra”, which was to be sunk in the defence of Australia in 1942.
The 22nd Infantry Brigade Head Quarters and its attachments was dispersed to various camps throughout Malaya. They comprised of 7000 men made up of the following: Infantry; 2/18, 2/19, 2/20th Battalions, (N.S.W.), Artillery; 2/10th Field Regiment, (Qld), Signals N.S.W. 8th Division, Royal Australian Engineers 8th Division N.S.W, Army Ordinance 8th Division, Australian Army Service Corps 8th Division, Field Post Office, 2/9th Ambulance Victoria, 2/10th Australian General Hospital N.S.W. and General Base Depot Head Quarters.
The 8th Australian Division was commanded by Lieutenant General H. Gordon Bennett. The 22nd Brigade was commanded by Brigadier H.G.Taylor. Both men had seen service in World War 1 in France and Gallipolli. The three battalions trained at Port Dickson and Seramban before moving to Mersing on the East Coast of Malaya, 100 miles North East of Singapore. All these places were in the states of Johore and Negri Sembian.
During the following months leading up to Japan entering the war on the 7th December 1941, we worked on the construction of weapon pits on either side of the Mersing River. This was to be our battle line in the defence of Johore. I was a member of the 2/20th bn band which had been formed into a Machine Gun Platoon in conjunction with the Pioneer Platoon and under the command of Lt. J.J. “Bill” Read. Lt Read was killed in action in the assault on Singapore on 8/9th February 1942. Sgt. B. Raven was then left in charge. Before Lt Read was killed he was throwing grenades into the Japanese barges making the japs scatter and try to swim ashore. Lt Read then stood up and fired the Lewis machine gun from the shoulder pouring bullets into the barges. However this gave away his position and he was killed.
The 27th Infantry Brigade arrived in July/August 1941, which comprised of the 2/26th Battalion (QLD), 2/29th Battalion (VIC), 2/30th Battalion (N.S.W.), 2/15th Field Artillery (N.S.W.), 8th Division Signals, 8th Division Engineers, A.A.S.C. 8th Division, Ordinance, 2/10th Field Ambulance (N.S.W.) and the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. This Brigade was stationed at central and west Johore.
In mid January 1942, the 2/20th Battalion came under heavy air attacks at Mersing and became involved in skirmishes with the Japanese across the Mersing River. Corporal Joe Wilson, a former primary school headmaster, was awarded the D.C.M. for his part in this action. During this time the 2/10th Artillery Regiment who were in support of our Battalion bombarded the Japanese position, after C company had pulled back to Mersing from Endau further up the coast, under heavy air attacks.
The band who were in prepared weapon pits were allotted the job of moving ammunition from trucks to a point in the jungle further south towards Singapore. During one of these trips, on our return we were attacked by a Japanese dive bomber and also machine gunned from the air. We managed to escape from the truck which was totally wrecked by shrapnel and machine gun fire. We only suffered two minor casualties, however we learned that morning, just how fast one had to move to survive.
The bombing of Mersing continued to near the end of January when the 8th Division was ordered to withdraw to Singapore where the final battle was to take place. In the meantime the 2/18th had encountered the Japanese in a battle on the Nithsdale Rubber Estate and the 2/19th took part in the big battle at Muir River and suffered such heavy casualties they were a sadly depleted unit and reaching Singapore, Lt. Col.C. Anderson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant leadership. In the withdrawal there was mass confusion and mayhem and the wounded had to be left. Unfortunately they were all bayoneted or shot by the Japanese. The 2/26th Battalion, 2/29th Battalion and the 2/30th Battalion had also seen action on the West Coast with some heavy casualties to the 2/29th, as they had fought in conjunction with the 2/19th Battalion at Muir River.
On the lst February, 1942, we arrived at our allotted area on Singapore Island. The causeway to Malaya was blown up by the British Engineers shortly after we crossed on our way to the Kranji River area which was on the NW coast deep in Mangrove swamps with no preparation against an invasion whatsoever. Our senior officers were very disgusted as the 22nd Brigade were given nine miles of swamp to defend. The 2/20th Bn. which comprised of 757 men and 32 officers had to protect approximately 8,000 yards from the Kranji River to the Seremban River (Wall D. 1985). The 2/20th Battalion had the impossible task of defending this area which was double the length of the 27th Brigade and were the foremost unit and were to take the full onslaught of the Japanese attack.
The 2/20th Bn. deployment was centred on the head of the Lim Chu Kang Road. Our Platoon was led by Lt Bill Read and included Pioneer Platoon, HQ Coy., and the 2/20th Band. However according to Sgt Cullen (Bandmaster) the band were a “sensitive and temperamental bunch of musicians”, trained only as stretcher bearers, but now are aggressive machine gunners, (Wall D. 1985). We had Lewis Machine Guns and were located along the foreshore waiting for the inevitable attack to occur. My job was to feed the bullets into the machine Gun.
We had just one week of preparation before the inevitable invasion came. On the morning of the 8th February, 1942, the 2/18, 2/19th and the 2/20th Battalions came under an artillery bombardment which lasted 16 to 17 hours. The Japanese used in excess of 500 field guns wheel to wheel and up to 80 shells a minute were registered by Col. Varley (2/18th) who saw action in France in World War 1. Brigadier Taylor (22nd Brigade) also said it was as bad a bombardment as they had ever experienced.
The bombardment kept up, hour after hour, till ones head felt it would burn. The overall average was at the rate of a shell a second. Amazingly we suffered few casualties. However, Bandsman Cpl. Ted McBroome was killed and two Bandsmen lay for two hours unable to move to our shelter when only twenty yards away. This creeping barrage lasted till near midnight when a silence fell on the guns. We all knew the invasion by the crack fifth and eighteenth Japanese Divisions was about to take place. The battle for Singapore, in which many hundreds of young Australians were to die, was about to begin. The 2/20th Battalion lost 334 killed in action and 200 wounded in the night and day battle of 8th to 9th February, 1942.
The invasion started around midnight with the landing of 13,000 Japanese troops followed by another l0,000 the following morning. The 22nd Infantry Brigade of 2/18 and 2/19 and spearheaded by the 2/20 Battalion, took the brunt of the Singapore attack. They held their ground till overrun by force of numbers and ordered to retire to form a perimeter to carry on the fight throughout Monday 9th February. The landing carried out across Johore Strait, by barge and also swimmers, cost the Japanese 5,000 killed in one night.
The 2/20th Battalion Band who had been active the night before, formed their own perimeter some distance from the Strait, where a Lewis Machine Gun was set up and used very effectively by the two members of the band, Wyn Rackyleft and Ross Currie (later killed in action). Other members of the band in this encounter were Wal Hanslow, John Mann, Mick Daley, Sid King, Nev Moylan, Clarrie Wilson (later died as a P.O.W.) and Don Tweedie. We accounted for quite a number of Japanese before we dismantled the gun scattering parts in the jungle and attempted to disperse as we were by then surrounded. Snipers were very active and effective.
The balance of the Band who had acted as guards at the Battalion Headquarters lost quite a number killed. About 50% of the band were either killed in action or died later as P.O.W. Our party was separated into two groups after being instructed by Major R.Cohen who was then Acting Battalion Commander. The Commanding Officer, Lt.Col. Charles Asherton, Adjutant, Quarter Master Captain Alex Betridge and several Lieutenants had been killed including Lt. Bruce Tipping our original Platoon Commander on the “Queen Mary”. Some time later I was taken into the band at Seremban from “D” Company.
We made our way for about a mile eluding the Japanese and came onto an old Chinese man sitting in a hut and he offered us boiled rice. This gesture was but one of many by the Chinese in the ensuring three and a half years, often risking instant execution to help Australian Diggers. On reaching a clearing we came across some of our own dead and then moved on before seeing what appeared to be Japanese in the distance. We made a hasty retreat, as we were by this time completely surrounded, and took cover in long grass and scrub off a track. Most felt it was the end and destroyed personal papers and photographs. Clarrie Wilson and Wyn Rackyleft were leading our party and we had picked up a member of the Anti Aircraft unit who had become separated from his unit.
We sat there all day hardly daring to breathe as the Japanese were establishing their first consolidating point, right around where we were in hiding. They spent the afternoon assembling tanks and having machine gun practice. As they walked past we heard them talking and one could have almost reached out and touched them. It started to rain and that helped to deaden the sounds. Just before dark our “Friend from the Anti Aircraft Unit”, accidentally fired his rifle. My heart sank and I thought, as all did this is it. We sat and waited, and waited and waited, but nothing happened and after a quarter of an hour we breathed a sigh of relief again.
As darkness fell, led by Clarrie Wilson we made our way around a swamp and away from their base camp as quickly and as quietly as was safe to do. During our trek through the Japanese lines we encountered many groups of the enemy gathered round fires cooking their evening rice and singing. Their positions were made easier to locate, from the periodical flares of the oil dumps at the naval base, which had been torched by the retreating British Forces. During the night we captured a Japanese dressed in civilian clothes, carrying a large wad of Japanese occupation money. As we moved along, his feet started to bleed, so Wyn Rackyleft carried him on his back for a while. We came across a car and a few dead Japanese and an Australian Digger sitting on the side of the road against a tree. We offered to let him join us, however he declined saying, “I am in no hurry”, so we left him.
Later we were advancing when we were suddenly challenged in Japanese. We all went to ground including our prisoner. We edged our way back some distance and were not challenged again, till we reached a road block manned by some of the machine gunners of the 2/18th Battalion. We were forced to take cover as they promptly opened fire but allowed us to cross their lines when realising we were Australians. This point was manned by Lt. Col. Varleys 2/18th Battalion or what was left of it. We related our experiences of the day before and he had the Artillery brought to base and their Japanese positions. We all felt we after all had achieved something. It was here that the Japanese prisoner escaped that morning.
We all moved together the next day. The 2/20th never fought as a complete unit again after the critical assault, having lost two thirds of the unit. The remnants of the three Battalions of the 22nd Brigade were formed into a “Composite Battalion” and fought as such for the remainder of the campaign. It was here that we learned that Major Cohen had been killed.
On Tuesday evening 10th February, 1942 we moved off as part of “Merrett Force”, (Major Merrett 2/20th Bn), and took up a position in the hills near Bukit Timah. At 3 am we heard “X” Battalion being attacked as they slept and we rested waiting for dawn to break. Some of the men from “X” Battalion were in their sleep and the casualties were very heavy. Just as dawn broke, Major Charles Cousins, 2/19th Battalion, gave the order “fix bayonets”. We were all into a bayonet assault on the enemy before we really realised what was happening, as we did not want to be trapped as the others had been. With blood curdling screams we charged their machine guns and one bandsman, (Ross Currie), was killed in this charge. The Japanese scattered taking their machine guns and that was when we became trapped and our unit once again badly mauled with very heavy casualties. This place was called Sleepy Valley and we were again hopelessly out numbered. Moving along the road one of the bandsmen was hit in the thigh with a burst of fire and called out, “I am hit, for Christ sake don’t leave me”. Vince Byrne of the Battalion Headquarters and I were close by and went to his aid, to make an effort to save him, as the Japanese had bayoneted and burned wounded A.I.F. Diggers on the Malayan mainland prior to this. We managed to walk and carry him across a space of twenty five yards, our only way of escape. The Japanese had their machine guns trained on it and all before had either been killed or wounded so we thought our chances were very slim, of making it to the safety of a shelter behind a disused house. We made the dash after a brief period, and the burst of machine gun fire came as expected, however we all made it safely, with bullets thudding into the earth behind our heels.
The party mostly walking wounded, set off for the road down the coast to Singapore City. Adjacent to the Alexandria British Military Hospital a British Officer met us and took charge of the wounded including our bandsman, who survived, and returned eventually to Australia. Vince Byrne died as a Prisoner of War in Borneo.
Two days later, on Friday the 13th February, the Japanese troops overran the Alexandria Hospital, massacring 400 hospital staff, Doctors and patients. One man was bayoneted as he lay wounded on the operating table.
On reaching Singapore City we were reunited with others who had survived the fighting in the past five days. Drum Major of the band, Cpl. Jock Wood, was amongst them. He had served his time in a Scottish Regiment in India prior to World War 2. Jock died on the Burma Railway as a P.O.W. in 1943.
After trying to locate our unit, or what remained of it we were assembled and taken by motor transport to Holland Hill just outside the Tanglin Botanical Gardens to make our final stand against the Japanese. We took up our positions on the lawns of a stately home overlooking a small valley. This house appeared to have been evacuated very suddenly as food was still in the refrigerator and clothes strewn about the floor of an upstairs bedroom, including a childs band uniform.
On Thursday February 12th, apart from shelling from both sides it passed uneventfully, as did Friday 13th. However the enemy did attack the Gordon Highland Regiment and our left flank. Saturday the 14th February saw a contingent of Japanese riding bicycles up the road leading past our position. Our chaps opened fire on them and shortly afterwards, just on dusk, they opened up a barrage of mortar fire on our position.
Our three officers were sheltering in a dug out beside the two homes which adjoined and we were, after two days, still on the lawn of the home. I believe an attempt to “dig in” was made here by some diggers. However several men of which I was one took cover behind the corner of the brick home. The first salvo landed on the tennis court and the next one across the road. The third one landed a shell just above our heads on a balcony and five of us were hit. Three were slightly wounded, but another chap alongside me, received shrapnel in the throat, and I received wounds by shrapnel in the head, thigh, left arm and above the right eye. The concussion left me dazed and bewildered as a long piece of shrapnel was embedded in my thigh and another piece had penetrated partially through my steel helmet and my head and thigh had no feeling now. Corporal Leo O`connor, told the two of us to try and find the Regimental Aid Post, before my leg gave out and the feeling returned. As we passed the officers they enquired if anyone had been hit. I informed them of the situation and kept going, calling out for the R.A.P. The shells by now were falling like hail as I passed Sgt. Frank Lawrence of 2/20th Battalion. For a time we were unable to locate them but managed, after some time, to see the ambulance in the distance. My leg gave out as I yelled to the stretcher bearers who came at the double as my mate was by now suffering weakness from loss of blood which, when he was hit, had gushed like a fountain from his throat. I did hear later that he died next day, but never had any definite confirmation of this.
We were both placed in an ambulance and conveyed with the sounds of the fight growing less as we travelled towards St. Andrews Cathedral in Singapore City, which had been turned into a casualty clearing station. I was immediately operated on for the removal of the shrapnel and head wound and woke up later in the Cathay Theatre which was now a hospital. On Sunday the 15th February, 1945 the Cathay Hospital was shelled by the Japanese and a large number of Australians (60) were killed in the ward above. Once more I was fortunate enough to survive. At 8pm that night we were Prisoners of War.
The silence, after a full week of action seemed unreal, and our spirits and feelings at rock bottom knowing all we had endured and experienced was all for nothing. Our feelings were that the bungling of the whole Malayan Campaign by the British Malaya Command, had let us down and sold out, the 8th Division, Australian survivors, who had fought so gallantly and suffered such heavy casualties, 2,000 “Killed in action” and thousands wounded was the result of four weeks of fighting in the true tradition of A.N.Z.A.C.
The Australian nurses of the 2/10th A.G.H. and the 2/13th A.G.H. had been evacuated on Friday the 13th February (much against their will) by the ships “Empire Star” and the “Vyner Brooke”. The first boat got through after being attacked from the air with some nurses reaching home safely. The ill fated :”Vyner Brooke” was sunk near Banka Island off Sumatra and all nurses were bayoneted and machine gunned on the beach and in the water. Sister Viv Bullwinkle 2/13th was the sole survivor who after three and a half years of captivity returned home. This atrocity by the Japanese has never been forgiven by the A.I.F. and feelings run very deep to this day.
The Australian nurses on these ships were caring for the wounded. When the air attacks started they hurled themselves across the Diggers bodies to protect them from further injury from the bursting bombs. No tribute was too high for the gallant efforts of these women. Women of which Australia can feel very proud.
PRISONER OF WAR: (CHANGI and BURMA)
While at the Cathay Theatre Hospital, life went on and I celebrated my 22nd birthday without any fun or fuss. A Japanese officer came through the ward inspecting the wounded. He stopped and saluted a lad next to me who had his right arm blown off and then left.
Before we were taken to Changi by truck I was able to go upstairs to look out over the city. The rising sun was flying from a flag pole in place of the Union Jack. I experienced a sudden feeling of sadness at this sight. We arrived at Changi about three weeks after the main body had marched out on February 16th, 1942. I spent a further three weeks in hospital there. I had been listed as “Missing Believed Killed” and when I was able to get a message to my unit and the band, I was visited by nearly all who had survived, I felt really happy for the first time in weeks.
Sgt. Jock Maclean (2/30 Bn), whom I worked with in Sydney prior to my enlistment visited me and was able to secure some clothes, of which I had none. All my clothes had to be cut off me at St. Andrews Cathedral. Jock visited me regularly and I was most indebted to him.
On leaving the hospital after a stay of six weeks I went to the Selerang Barracks where the A.I.F. were billeted on boards on a concrete floor. One of the cornet players, Bill Wilson, helped me to settle down as it was three months before I walked properly again.
During the three months I spent in Changi before going to Burma, I met Keith Lee who had been a bandsman with me at Wallgrove and Rutherford Camps in Australia and later at Seramban and Port Dickson in Malaya. To pass the time we attended lectures on a variety of subjects, including farming, of which I was very interested.
In the early days the Japanese left us to ourselves, guarded by Sikhs, outside the barbwire. However some men were going out as traders at night to aquire extra food from the Chinese and then sell it to anyone who had the money to buy. In the finish it became a racket. Sgt. Cook of the Battalion tried to escape, was brought back and executed the next day.
In May”A” Force was formed and unbeknown to us, was destined for Burma and the “Railway of Death”. A full brass band was formed, of which I was a member for five months. It was later disbanded during the building of the Burma Railway.
Don Tweedie, Bass Drummer 2/20th Battalion Band in Port Dickson (1941)
Rumour had it that we were going to all manner of places till our ship, the “Celebes Maru”, headed north out of Mallacca Strait and up the coast of Sumatra and onto lower Burma. We were 1000 strong under Lt. Col. G. Ramsay (2/30th Bn), and first landed at Mergui after taking on a further 500 British Prisoners in Northern Sumatra.
On this trip we received our first taste of “Japanese Hellships” and the brutality of our captors. Sick men were bashed and kept in stifling holds and only allowed on deck for twenty minutes each day. Food was both short and bad mainly consisting of rice. Few latrines were available hanging over the ships sides and dysentery had broken out. The suffering and stench was unbelievable. After a period in this school camp we were moved to a new place where we became overrun with bugs and body lice. Along with fleas they were to be our constant companions for the remainder of our time as P.O.W.
While at Mergui four men attempted to escape but failed and were executed, as were eight at Tavoy in Anderson Force. They were made to dig their own graves and then kneel by them while the execution was carried out by beheading.
Major Charles Cousins (2/19 Bn) who had led the bayonet charge at Bakit Timah, was taken away from us here. He was to be forced to broadcast propaganda in Tokyo as he was a radio announcer on station 2GB in Sydney. He had sold his gold watch, a wedding present from his wife to buy food for sick and dying men at Mergui. Major Cousins was an extremely brave and capable leader who was tortured unmercifully in Tokyo before he finally made the broadcasts to Australia. He personally told me he was sending information by code to our forces in his broadcasts, which was never deciphered.
On his return to Australia after the war he was branded a traitor, tried, and exonerated by the Federal Government. The 8th Division stuck to him all through the long trial as they were the only ones who knew the true story of it all. He was a broken hearted man after being acquitted and then stripped of his “Return From Active Service” badge. The R.S.L. refused him membership.
After working on an aerodrome we were taken up the coast to Tavoy where we were housed in a school. While we were here we encountered a Japanese Sergeant who had served in China by the name of “Ouriooshi”. He was the camp commandant and one of the very few Japanese who tried to help make our lives a little bit more bearable by his kind actions and the privileges he allowed. (After the war the 8th Division had the war crimes Trial Tribunal exclude him from any acts of violence or atrocities on Prisoners of War).
In October, after working on the Tavoy Aerodrome, we marched along railway sleepers after leaving trucks, for 90 miles to Thambayzat which was the starting point for the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway.
(Photo) Geoff Morrow (best mate). Great and true soldier died on the Burma Railway, 8th Nov., 1943
Before coming on this trip I met up again with a friend named Geoff Morrow whom I had known when I had first joined the 2/20th Battalion. We did not realise it at the time, but for the next eighteen months we were to become inseparable mates along with Jack Meek, whose brother, Cpl. Doug Meek, died as a POW in Borneo.
The first camp that we were sent to was at the 26 Kilo mark. The work consisted of moving earth in the cuttings by pick and shovel with the sole American 131 Texas Artillery driving the piles and working in teams like horses or elephants.
After a period of very hard work, little food and disease in the form of dysentery, malnutrition and berri berri, men started to become very ill and the deaths started to mount by the day. Added to this the continual bashing of ill men by the Korean Guards and Japanese Engineers to get more work done added to their misery. Sick men who could not work either had their rations cut by half or forced to go out on the three mile trek to the work site and bashed and bashed if unable to go on and had to be carried by their mates back to camp.
In July at Tavoy I had started to go partially blind and deaf through malnutrition, which made it extremely difficult to communicate with the Japanese. In November 1942, while at the 26kilo Camp I became very ill and was unable to carry on any longer through chronic dysentery. Geoff Morrow nursed and helped me in every possible way. I became so weak I was unable to stand or eat very much of what was available and I knew that everybody felt that I would die as I was becoming worse by the day. I crawled to a waterhole at the edge of the camp to bath, shared by the Burmese elephants. It took me half an hour each way but at least I felt clean and refreshed which I feel helped me to eventually survive.
Lt. Mick Macdonald of the 2/18th Battalion and Captain Dave Thompson of the 2/20th Battalion came to see me one evening with some eggs they had managed to aquire from the Burmese. They kept me supplied each day for some weeks and I was able to slowly get strength back and make a partial recovery. Don Walker of the 2/20th Btn. of Bombala N.S.W. also got me little extras and along with the help from Geoff I pulled through. Geoff by this time was also ill when Jack Meek 2/20th Btn. came to the camp.
Our first Christmas as P.O.W. was spent here, deep in the Burmese jungle. In January the three of us were sent by truck to Thambayzat Base Camp Hospital. It was hospital by name if nothing else. It was here that a bond of friendship was to form between the three of us which was evident between all P.O.W. Each one helped the other, each particle of food was shared equally, no greed or selfishness existed because we thought of and respected each other so deeply.
During our time here Jack Meek sold his gold watch so that the three of us might survive on a little extra food. Acts like this was what true comradeship was all about. George Strode 2/20 bn. was brought in from the 75k camp, but died soon afterwards.
(Photo) Jack Meek (1940) An inseparable mate during and after the war.
In May, Geoff was sent back to the 105k work camp followed by Jack soon afterwards. I stayed on till June when we were bombed out by the Americans using B17s. The airaids were very heavy and many Australians were killed by our own planes. At this camp I was to meet Sgt. Arthur Wright of the 2/18th who became a life long friend. Arthur was blown out of a slit trench and was very ill for many months, but survived. Captain Griffin of the 2/18th Bn. was killed in one of these raids when he got up to tell a man to get down as the bombs had not burst. Unfortunately for him, it was a delayed action.
Private Bell with Captain Mull and another man tried to escape. Bell was wounded in a running gun battle but the other two were killed. Bell although badly injured refused first aid before he was executed. I heard this execution in the cemetery by the camp. The memory of this event lingers in my mind to this day.
As the airaids became worse we were moved to the 8k camp and then to the 30k camp and this is where Jack Meek left me to return to the 105k work camp. I was to have gone too, however, I had a fall and injured my back and the M.O. pulled me out of the party and I eventually went onto the 55k hospital camp, one of the horror places of the whole Burma Railway. Geoff Morrow had been sent back there as he was a very, very sick boy, suffering from enebic dysentery which he had contracted at the 105k camp after he had left me at Thambayuzyat, five months previously.
The 55k hospital camp was set in a clearing by the edge of the “Line”, with a number of attap huts for shelter which leaked badly in the monsoon season. Unlike the 30k camp it had no pleasant stream running by and was a most depressing place. One hut was isolated from the next on the edge of the jungle which we called the death house. It was on my arrival that I found Geoff here, where men were sent into isolation to die, as this complaint was very infectious.
On being told of his condition, I went straight to him and he was so pleased to see me again. He was hardly recognisable from the mate I had seen a few months before. His frail body had wasted away to nothing, he was in terrible pain but nothing could be done as the Japanese were witholding medical supplies. I nursed him to the best of my abilities under the conditions. I could see by the end of two weeks that there was little hope although he still fought to live. The Doctors were powerless to help without the drugs so badly needed and watched men die in hundreds.
Two days before Geoff died he turned to me and said “Don, I do not know what I would have done without you, but oh God, I wish you were my mother”. This upset me greatly not to be able to give my greatest friend his one last wish. How I loathed our captors.
On the 8th November, 1943, Geoff Morrow died reading the 23rd Psalm. When I went to him the prayer book from his family was in his hands. The following day as we laid him to rest and the “Last Post” sounded into the jungle, everything seemed to stop dead within me. I went away into the Burmese jungle alone and threw myself down, my body seemed to shake in grief as I realised then that war had no end to what it could do to you. I returned to the camp some time later when I felt I could face everybody again.
Many of my mates who knew and respected Geoff came to me to try to lighten what I was going through. He was gone and I thank God the Japanese could not harm him any more. I buried Geoff Morrow in a rough cemetery beside the Burma Railway Line.
Colonel Albert Coates was an extraordinary Doctor who worked under extremely difficult conditions. He was a medical orderly in Gallipolli in 1915. He joined the AIF in 1941 and he carried out most of his work on the Burma end of the railway at the 30k and 55k hospital camps. All he had to operate with was a knife, two pairs of artery forceps and a saw. Everyday Col. Coates would sort out the sick from very sick and curette 70-80 ulcerated legs and in the afternoon he would amputate 9-10 legs with a crude saw and there was no anesthetics. I recall the Doctors, especially Col. Albert Coates (Later Knighted on his return to Australia) did wonderful work saving the lives of many an Australian. Many men who had very bad tropical ulcers had their legs cut off by Col. Coates with a butchers saw. It was their only means of survival and had to be done. The ulcers started with a small scratch and developed rapidly till the whole lower leg was eaten away. Gouging with a spoon was one way of endeavouring to save a leg from amputation. Men could be heard screaming in pain as this was being carried out, all over the camp.
Other Doctors who were there included Major Chalmers (Later lost at sea on a hellship), Major W. Fisher, Captain J. Higgin, and Captain Brereton. Also Captain Roley Richards who was attached to another camp. Death was the constant companion of all these Doctors. Their orderlies did marvellous work in caring for the sick and saved many lives, especially with the strictness of hygiene.
During the construction of the railway, men went without portions of their meagre rations so that their mates could survive. The comradeship displayed by these POWs was something unique in war and exists to this day, with friends within the association to help those less fortunate.
One bright spot in our lives was the occasional concert. The band before being broken up, took part, with the Japanese also attending. Lieutenant Harry Farmer and Sgt. Fred Morrison had done great work in endeavouring to keep the morale of everyone high, despite everything going on around us. The courage and the spirit of the AIF never faltered at anytime throughout our captivity as all felt we would someday, be free and victorious.
The railway line was completed in late 1943. The Japanese held a special ceremony in the cemetery near by and placed fruit on the “Cross of Remembrance” for the spirits of “Poor P.O.W.” who had worked so hard for their cause. This was hypocrisy at its highest level. We went because we were forced to.
In December 1943, we were moved by rail into Thailand, forty of us to a steel van in true Japanese style. Dysentery was rife and rarely were you allowed off the train and then only for short intervals.
We passed the thousands of white crosses in other cemeteries camps along the route, and one where an Australian was crucified and set on fire. We passed into Thailand near the Three Pagoda Pass and onto the Tamarakan camp on the River Kwai. Near the river was a monument erected by the Japanese not far from the famous bridge, in memory of the 17,000 British-Dutch, Australian and American P.O.W who died during the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway. In actual fact 70,000 had died counting the Burmese, Thais, Malays and Chinese from the labour camps. Cholera was responsible for the high mortality rate. The line was 270 miles long with a soldier lost for every sleeper laid. A high price to pay to get Japanese troops and supplies to the Burma front and bring back their wounded to Singapore.
Jack Meek arrived soon after my arrival at Temarakan and we spent the next three months together again.
Ever since leaving Singapore the Pardres had played their part, especially Padre Matherson of H.M.A.S. Perth, who assisted many a sick man along the railway. He was very popular and respected by all. Temarakan was like a health resort compared to our last twelve months on the line. Food was better, swimming parades and concerts were allowed. This was to be short lived.
During our times in Burma some humorous happenings occurred which are worth reflecting upon. One guard whom we nicknamed “Georgie” was an odd man out with his superiors and used to come to our lines for sympathy after receiving a periodical bashing. On one such occasion he was ordered to clean his rifle so he very promptly obeyed by going to a nearby creek at the 26k camp and thoroughly washing it. Another such occasion the Japanese Officer in charge was late for his evening meal so Georgie promptly gave it to one of our chaps who made very short work of it. This resulted in another bashing for him. He confided in us one evening and said, “he did not care who won the war as it was all the same to him, as he had been forced into the Japanese Army against his will. In the years afterwards we often wondered what became of this lost soul.
Another amusing incident was at Tavoy. A guard went to great pains one day to tell us that every city in Australia had been bombed and that a submarine had torpedoed the “Centre Pilon” of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, completely destroying it. At that moment a voice came from the group inquiring if they had bombed “Phar Lap”. He very hurriedly informed us that “Phar Lap” all gone boom, boom, boom. There was a roar of laughter and the Japs were at a loss to know why we would laugh at such destruction.
When in Saigon later an Officer was remonstrating with us at the amount of food disappearing while we worked on the wharves. He took a tin of bully beef, placed it on the ground, placed a chaps slouch hat over it and began pacing up and down threatening the punishment for stealing. He came back, lifted the hat, but the tin was gone.
While constructing the line in Burma various guards had their nicknames, such as “Boy Bastard”, “Boy Bastards Mate”, “The Undertaker”, and “Storm Trooper” and a notorious sadist called “Dillenger”. On one occasion Dillenger followed a P.O.W. into the jungle, who was very sick with dysentery, and attempted to force him to have sexual relations. When the poor fellow resisted “Dillenger” blew his brains out. (Dillenger was hanged in a street in Bangkok shortly after hostilities ended.) We spent Christmas in Tamarakan in 1943 and celebrated it with a concert.
March, 1944 saw a party of men preparing to leave for Japan of which I was included. We were to go to Saigon in French Indo China and be shipped from there via Bangkok. Owing to the number of U.S. submarines operating in the South China Sea this was not possible. We stayed two months in Saigon housed in the old French Foreign Legion Barracks. They were very rough. While here the French people assisted us as much as they dared. It was through them that we learned of the Normandy invasion on the 6th June, 1944. This gave us all great heart.
We received our first mail here, however, it was two years old. Those that were not lucky enough to receive any, read their mates. I managed two letters. One from my mother and another from my sister in Fiji. This made me extremely happy.
While at Tamerakan, I was befriended by an Aboriginal named Sid Williams from Bourke N.S.W. He assisted in the Japanese Officers Mess. He kept me supplied with eggs, stew and rice which he stole or should I say borrowed. I felt very grateful as he told me simply, “we have got to get you home.” I never forgot him for his kindness. He did not go to Japan after the Burma Line, but survived to return home. Sid Williams went back to Bourke after the war and I went to see him in 1978, however he was away on walkabout. Sid passed away shortly after I had tried to visit him.
Saigon was a very nice city and we were rather sorry to leave it. We travelled the 170 miles back up the river by barge to Phnom Phen where we were once again put in the steel salt vans for the 1700 mile journey to Singapore. The river trip was once again done in true Japanese style, packed so tight it was not possible to lie down.
The train journey across the plains of Indo China through Thailand and onto Malaya and Singapore took seven days and eight nights, 40 to a van. We took it in turn to lie down, half till midnight and the balance till dawn. During the journey a funny incident happened. Colonel Coates was on board and trod on a chaps leg, he politely asked, “whose leg is that”, and the quick reply came back, “its mine and its one bloody leg your not going to get”.
We were only allowed off the train at rare intervals during all that time to occasionally eat. Dysentery was severe and coupled with the Storm Trooper in excellent form with his rifle butt, life was quite miserable. We were all glad to arrive in Singapore and were taken to River Valley Camp. A friend not previously mentioned, Corporal Gordon Nelson of the 2/12 Engineers had not been drafted with us due to continual illness.
Everybody had hoped to go back to Changi as we always considered it “home”. It was considered the best place of all P.O.W. camps. River Valley was not.
RIVER VALLEY SINGAPORE TO OMUTA JAPAN 1944 (CAMP 17)
River Valley Camp consisted of the usual long huts and not in very good order, being very old. British, Dutch, Indian (Ghurkas) and ourselves were here to work on the wharves in Singapore, loading and unloading Japanese shipping. Arriving from Saigon in July, I was to remain here till the end of the year, leaving in December, 1944, for Japan.
The work here in Singapore became very monotonous but was relieved by the odd spot of humour. One instance runs as follows. A German submarine was at the wharf where Australians were working and a young German Sailor was leaning on the rail looking down watching proceedings, when a Jap guard raced up the gang plank, thinking he was one of our chaps, and with a hard blow hit him in the face. The result of this encounter was automatic. He floored the guard to the deck, picked him up rifle and all and hurled him into Keppel Harbour much to the delight and mirth of all present.
Later, some of the Germans crew managed to get a few of our boys aside in one of the go downs(Sheds) and fed them on what they could, before the guards once again, broke up the party. This incident was after “D” Day in Europe and only a few months before Hitlers downfall and “VE” Day in May 1945. The crew of this submarine that was refuelling in Singapore were disgusted at the treatment of P.O.W. They had witnessed this, but of course could do nothing, as they were our enemy.
On another occasion a rat ran over a pommie soldiers face one night in his sleep and in no time the hut was in uproar thinking it was another air raid. The nervous systems of all by now were becoming very tattered and the least thing happening could cause an incident such as the above. Scrounging anything at the wharves to help our survival became the order of the day. Men wrapped towels or any cloth material they could obtain round and round their bodies, sugar was poured into water bottles then topped off with water. Articles were concealed under hats and so it went on, just to avoid detection by the very thorough searches by the Japanese.
In Burma wireless sets had been concealed in all manner of articles, to hear the “Dicky Bird” as it was known. Detection was punishable by firing squad. News of the outside world meant everything. During my months at River Valley I was able to reflect on the past four years happenings. My time in training in Australia, the trip to Malaya on the “Queen Mary”, my period in 1941 in Malaya, the bloody action of the Malayan Campaign and then Changi, Burma, Indo China and back home as we called it in the Singapore area as a P.O.W.
I felt that I had witnessed a life time of happenings in that period, especially the past two and a half years. When each and every man depended on his mate to survive, many giving what meagre part of their rations they could to try to save a dying mate, some succumbing themselves in the process. To witness the day to day events, the courage, devotion and comradeship and the bashings and torturing, to protect one and other, was the real reason so many did survive. One in every three P.O.W. did not return. I had experienced all this yet, treatment equal to the worst was yet to come; JAPAN.
Jack Meek joined me at River Valley as he had come down to join the Japan Party, from Tamarkan in Thailand. This brought great joy to me as I thought so much of him as a friend. I had been able to dispose of my broken watch in Saigon and I was able to return a little of the kindness he had shown me in Burma. We lived a little better for a time on the proceeds of gift I had received in the form of this watch from my former employers, Robert Reid and Co., in Sydney.
During all our years as P.O.W. we never had a case of someone trying to commit suicide as we were all so hell bent on trying to survive and being positive whenever possible. Under the circumstances this situation seemed strange, however this was true fact. All one thought of was food and your loved ones at home, who you so badly wanted to see and hold once more.
During September 1944, Kumis 35-39 (sections) were told they would be leaving by ship for Japan. Fifty men from 40 Kumi were also told to be ready to go. This was my lot and I was No. 15. However, our party of fifty were pulled out at the last minute due to acute overcrowding and only 35-39 section went. The “Rakuyu Maru” left Singapore on the 4th September, 1944 bound for Japan. This ship contained about 1600 P.O.W. from Australia, Britain, Holland and America. At 2am on the 12th September it was torpedoed by an American Submarine in the South China Sea. A life long school friend, George Jeffrey, was lost along with 1350 others. My friend, Arthur Wright was picked up after four days in the water and eventually reached Japan.
Several days after the sinking of this ship the American submarine returned and picked up 80 to 90 Australians and brought them home to Brisbane. They returned to a heroes welcome as little did they realise the outcome of events at the time they left Singapore. Hundreds and hundreds had been left to drown and others machine gunned in the water by the Jap Navy.
In December 1944, we were notified that we would be leaving for Japan and did not have a great deal of faith in our chances of arriving on time as word had reached us of the fate of the “Rakuyu Maru”. On the 26th December, after standing in Keppel Harbour for ten days we joined a convoy off Singapore accompanied by Japanese Destroyers and headed for the South China Sea. Kumis 40-42 comprised 500 men.
The “Awa Maru” was a passenger ship of 12,000 tons and we were allotted the aft deck hold to cram in 500 men. On arriving at the wharf we were left without any delusion what our fate might be as the ship had a patched up bow that had been hit by a torpedo on its previous run to Japan. In fact it had been hit on two or three occasions but had managed to escape each time. (In September the “Boy Bastard” had told the boys as they filed onto the “Rakuyu Maru” that they be fish food). He of course was not going. The civilian workers in Singapore at the wharves were in an emaciated state, quite equal to us and gradually getting worse.
We had experienced Jap hellships before on our trip to Burma and this one was no exception. 500 were forced into this small hold, three tiers high with one steel door six foot by two foot six, as our only access. A small air hole was about 20 feet above through a piece of canvas, for air. The stench, heat and cramped conditions were beyond description as many men were suffering from dysentery. In the day time we were allowed out onto a small steel deck where six latrines hung over the ships side for 500 men. The Japanese cooks, prepared the rice in big vats on the opposite side of the deck. Many Jap women and children were in another section of the boat, but for some unknown reason were not occupying the cabins.
All went well and we arrived and anchored off Saigon in Indo China. On leaving there we headed north, hugging the coast line, at times being so close in we were just outside the breakers. We travelled by day and hid in small coves by night, in an attempt to avoid detection by American submarines.
One quiet sunny afternoon while I was laying on our small section of deck there was a loud CRASH! Everybody was up in a flash including the guards who panicked. We were under submarine attack as a torpedo had passed close to the stern where we were and burst on rocks on the shore line.
The “Storm Trooper” got to work immediately with his rifle butt herded everybody into the small hold and slammed the door shut. Depth charges from the “Awa Maru” and the destroyers were being dropped, the ship was heaving and shuddering with each explosion. During all this men stood quietly, no fuss, no panic, and shook hands or just looked at one another, but nobody spoke. The whole episode seemed so unreal, after all we had been through and fought so hard to live. We waited for that expected torpedo to tear this small liner apart. Jack Meek was by my side and that made me feel just that much better.
About forty five minutes later when nothing had happened, the submarine had evidently gone. We were all allowed on deck again. I had never welcomed daylight so much as then. All the convoy was gone and scattered far out to sea as we had left the coastline. We later joined up again and ran into a big storm which I think helped us to eventually reach Japan safely. The waves were reaching the top deck of the ship and many men were sea sick including me.
We crept up the coast of China which looked grey and most uninteresting. We had no more attacks and the invasion by General Macarthur in the Philippines also helped a great deal. We reached Moji, Japan in mid January, the only convoy to do so in twelve months. The submarines were mainly after the oil tankers to stem the Japanese war effort. The “Awa Maru” was finally sunk a couple of trips later near where we were attacked. We all considered ourselves most fortunate to survive.
Omuta Camp No. 17 Japan
We were now headed for the coal mines of OMUTA of FUKUOKA. It was snowing in Moji and our introduction to the happy land of the “Rising Sun” was anything but pleasant, having just had four years in the tropics. We sat and shivered all day in a hall without food, till in the evening when we received “one” bun each. We then travelled all night by train to reach Omuta next morning.
Camp 17 as it was known was one of the horror camps of Japan run by sadists. I was separated from Jack Meek at Moji as he had gone with others from here to Camp 9 at Fukuoka. We were not to meet again till wars end at Manila. Before separating we were able to share what money we had, equally. However this was not much.
On arriving at Camp 17 under the guidance of an interpreter named, “Riverside Joe”, who was a Japanese educated in New York before the war, we were soon to discover that we had not come on any picnic. The slaves from Burma were to become the slaves of Nippon in the biggest coal mine on the island of Kyushu in Southern Japan. This camp was mainly run by Americans from the Philippines who had been there since 1942. An Australian, Lt. Howell, met and briefed us on what to do and what not to do here.
Since leaving Tamarkin in March 1944, I had been with two brothers, namely Jack and Bob Holman of the 2/19th Bn. and 8th Division Headquarters respectively. They were to play a major role in my existence for the next nine months.
The camp was lit up at night by electricity, we slept in long modern huts on mats on the floor, and had a large heated bath house and also dining hall. We were also allotted more than our share of body lice and fleas to take over from bugs and lice in Burma. The vermin proved to be one of the worst legacies of POWs life from which there was no escape. The fence, about twelve feet high was also electrified. At the main gate was the Japanese guard house, a place of horror which many of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
I was ill with dysentery on arrival and spent about a week in the camp hospital. However I was pronounced fit and discharged still in the same state by the American Doctors who were medicos in name `only.
I was sent to work at the mine on the 22nd February, 1945. As I was partially blind and deaf I worked in the workshops at the pit head. During this first day the following happened to me. I was suffering badly from Dysentery and on Jack Holmans advice, went to the mine guard house and reported sick and unable to eat my “Bento” (food). Prior to this day new arrivals had been allowed time off if sick. However this did not happen in my case, as I had given my food to someone else and this was in Japanese eyes, a criminal offence.
I steadfastly refused to disclose his name as I knew in my own mind the sadistic treatment they would perform on him for accepting what I had given him. By this time the Jap guards were becoming quite annoyed and started to bash my head, bent me over and around a pole and bashing my spine base with a lump of timber resembling a baseball bat. I was covered in boils and along with dysentery was in a pretty mess as the pain increased with each welt. I was then made to kneel with my arms outstretched and toes raised, with the same wood placed behind my knees with them bashing my head and jumping up and down on the timber endeavouring to break both my legs and at the same time forcing me backwards to put pain on my back. The timber behind my legs snapped with their continued jumping up and down and I was then hit across the head with it. All the guards in turn came to have their turn to bash me, including the civilian Japanese miners. By this time all feeling started to leave my head and I started to loose all feeling in my legs.
I had forced myself to endure this torture because Jack Holman was a close and loyal friend of some years and only thought he was helping when I felt so very sick at mealtime. How could anyone, after all we had suffered in Burma together, disclose the name of a mate who had also helped me in the past?
As I was kneeling there in agony I prayed to God to give me the courage not to disclose what I knew, that he would not have to endure what I was going through, and possibly death.
Late in the afternoon they indicated without warning I could go. I was temporarily paralysed from the waist down and as I crawled along the concrete floor to the dressing room a guard ran alongside kicking me in the ribs and stomach. I crawled onto a form where my nervous system collapsed, never to fully recover again.
All this time Jack had been down the mine and knew nothing of what had happened till enlightened by his brother that evening. The Japs had ordered that I be carried back the three quarters of a mile to camp on a stretcher. As I lay in the hut Jack Holman came to me and shook me by the hand for what I had done for him. I felt very warm deep down inside and also that it was worthwhile.
The American Doctors sent me back to work the next day, but I was much wiser from then on, although still unfit for work.
Throughout our time as P.O.W. I had great faith in God and that somehow I would survive. This faith has remained with me till this day. Thousands of us clung to this slender thread of hope, as this is all we had to depend on, in that hell on earth.
As time went on we learned by experience Camp 17 was run by a sadistic monster where torturing was an every day event. My experience was mild in comparison to others who experienced a similar fate for up to three weeks. The cries of the unfortunates could be heard throughout the camp, twenty four hours a day. One man had an electric shock put through him just to give our captors the glee of watching his body convulse.
David Runge was made to kneel in the snow for four days and nights naked. His legs froze and had to be amputated at the knees, as were others for offences such as mine. I considered myself very lucky. So it went on month after month, as though a great unseen hand was there to pounce at anytime.
As the months dragged on into the northern summer the bombing commenced in earnest till one night half the camp was destroyed by Incendiary bombs. A high explosive raid on Omuta town saw a B29 hit by anti aircraft fire with some of the crew falling to earth with parachutes ablaze. Many raids took place in the final three months of the war and we spent many sleepless nights in air raid shelters. The Japs were becoming very agitated and highly nervous now.
Our Dr. Ian Duncan had tried to do so much to help us but had his hands tied more or less by the Americans with their hopeless approach to all around them.
During this period in Japan I met, worked and became friendly with a special “Character”, named Rex (Flo) Remington. He was 47 years old at the time and fathered me through those difficult months. He was a tough hard man, but underneath all that was a soft kind nature. He shielded and helped me survive it all, through his cunning and elusive ways to his captors. Rex Remington to me was a “Saint”, although he had no religion, had done time in prison in civil life and was as harder person as it was possible to meet. A person of this calibre are what you find them, and not what they are branded by others. He survived to return home, however many of the Japanese Guards did not.
The worse conditions got for Japan the worse it got for P.O.W. till all received their fare share of ill treatment whether it was warranted or otherwise. Some British soldiers arrived in June 1945. They were in far worse state than anybody we had seen for three years. They had left Singapore after us, had been sunk, picked up and crammed onto another ship which was very overcrowded. They lay in Manilla Harbour for three months in terrible heat in holds of the ship. Little or no water was allowed. When the ship finally sailed, men through extreme thirst went mad, severed their wrists and sucked the blood. In these cases which were not rare, the guards clubbed them to death with rifle butts and threw their bodies into the sea. These poor soles had come to work at Camp 17.
We had never seen Red Cross parcels till now. However the Japs had helped themselves to all that was body building before we saw them.
The war carried on and the bombing reached fever pitch in July and early August. On August 15th, 1945 I was working at the mine in mid afternoon when word came that “all men stop work”. We were hurried back to camp where we learned that all work back in the mine and elsewhere was to cease. We thought it strange but felt that either it was the awaited invasion or the end of the war had come. We gave little hope to the latter.
We learned later why machine gun positions had been built in four corners of the camp parade ground. In the event of the Allied Invasion all Prisoners of War were to be executed throughout the whole of South East Asia. We never worked for Nippon again as the war had ended with the dropping of the second Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945. Some of our chaps saw the glow in the sky, just 35 miles away.
We did not learn of this till some days later after the Camp Commandant addressed us to say “Allies and Japan shake hands no more war”. We were given the keys of a large air raid shelter crammed full of Red Cross parcels which we had been deprived of all those months. We were told to make them last as we would get no more rations for a month. These parcels lasted just four days amongst 1700 hungry P.O.W.
The night of the end of the war, we just lay in our huts not game to let ourselves believe we were going to be free again. There had been so many false alarms over the years.
General Macarthur sent instructions to all camps that all guards were to be relieved of all arms and that is when their panic set in. Japanese bosses from the mines came in, as working parties as practically overnight the boot was on the other foot and they were our prisoners. However, reprisals were few. One of these creatures who had the habit of bashing me at the mine with a square nosed shovel came and bowed to me. I felt nothing but contempt for him and all my well laid plans to retaliate against him and others did not eventuate. All I wanted to do was to distance myself from Japan and its people forever.
In mid September the American Marines arrived and on learning of the Camp Commandants treatment of P.O.W. took him away. We learnt later that they broke both his jaws, legs and arms. Chinese workers in a camp near by requested that he be given to them. The marines agreed but with instructions not to kill him. We never learned of the result of his fate.
The Biscuit Bombers arrived and dropped food day after day. Also a note, that said, “hold on boys, help is on its way”. Unfortunately one yank was killed by a carton of food. That was an incredible incident as was that of a soldier of the A.I.F. who passed away the day of the surrender. Our great joy had its sad moments.
We left Omuta Camp on the 15th September, 1945 for the long trek home to Sydney after five years of active service. We travelled by rail to Nagasaki from Omuta. The Japanese passenger trains in which we travelled were of very modern design and also very comfortable. Quite an anti climax to the P.O.W. trains we had been used to for the past three and a half years.
On reaching Nagasaki we were left spellbound by the complete destruction by the Atomic Bomb, dropped there five weeks earlier. For about four square miles, there was nothing but incinerated buildings, bare earth, chimney stacks from the hundreds of factories leaning in a drunken fashion or collapsed. Great steel buildings were twisted by the intense heat and mangled up as if a great hand had crushed them beyond recognition. The complete destruction of a once large city in just a few minutes from one bomb seemed beyond comprehension but there it lay in ruins before us. Nagasaki, which was the only Christian City in Japan which had never been bombed before. Little did we realise at this time, that what we were witnessing, was to change the course of history and save thousands upon thousands of lives of P.O.W. and those of allied forces, with the planned invasion of Japan in November, 1945.
Amazingly, the wharves and railway stations were intact on the very edge of the harbour, as the blast had flattened the city but lifted above these buildings to reach a range of hills on the other side of the bay. On arriving at the platform an American Naval Band welcomed us with all the latest hit tunes, some we had never heard before. The Red Cross took over and we received iced chocolate drinks. Milk had never before or since ever tasted so good. We were taken into rooms and “deloused” before receiving American issue uniforms and being WELL fed. After being examined medically we went through an interrogation. Later in the morning we were taken out to the U.S. Aircraft Carrier, “Cape Gloucester”. Tied up at the wharf was a hospital ship for men to ill to travel. Its name was “Haven”. How appropriate.
We received the edge of a typhoon further north in Japan and were forced to shelter in Nagasaki Harbour for a further four days till the weather lifted. On the four day voyage to Okinawa we received the TREATMENT from the ships crew who left nothing to chance to make us feel at ease, comfortable, and above all welcome and wanted again. Something we long since had forgotten. From ships Captain to the lowest rank was the same and we did so much appreciate this kindness. We left the ship and boarded a freighter”S.S. Bingham” which took a further four days to reach Manilla where we were placed in tents, but made very comfortable. We first encountered the good old A.I.F. at this camp. They were there to organise our final leg of the journey home. We felt like “celebrities”, as we were being looked after so well. There were also Japanese P.O.W. working in the camp but were kept at a distance and we were instructed to lay off. Manilla Harbour was dotted with sunken ships and the city was in ruins.
At this stage I received two letters from home, one telling me of my mothers passing away which came as a great shock. After all the suffering I had witnessed, the hope of always getting home, the comradeship during the darkest hours during our captivity and the incredible joy of being free, seemed to die deep down inside of me. This one last blow I could not accept, and it took some years to realise what happened to her just a few weeks before my return home. The faith and joy I experienced at leaving Japan and then this unbelievable blow, left me broken and sad and bewildered beyond belief. Jack and Bob Holman, Jack Meek and Arthur Wright did all possible to comfort me in my great sorrow and only for them I do not know how I could possibly have coped with it all.
On the 4th October, 1945 we left for home aboard the British Aircraft Carrier, “Speaker”. The journey home via the Admiralty Islands was pleasant but uneventful, and we reached Sydney on the morning of Monday the 15th October, 1945. A PERFECT DAY.
We left the ship and travelled through the city on a double decker bus after birthing at No. 13 Pyrmont. We had our first glimpse of Australia off Port Stephens the previous day and nobody at the time could visualise the tremendous and well planned reception we were about to experience. People were ten deep in places, yelling and clapping or running to the side of the bus to shake your hand and little children at the schools en route to Ingleburn Camp, running to feel and touch you. Streamers and confetti was falling from the office buildings and gifts were coming in the bus windows. Sydney had gone mad to welcome their 8th Division, and men of the H.M.A.S. Perth and airmen of the Royal Australian Airforce.
I was kissed by a young lady “who wanted to be the first in Australia to kiss a Returned Servicemen. I obliged much to the mirth of all the boys. All the way down the harbour every ship had given us a welcome, Cock a doodle doo, never to be forgotten and Jack Holman and I had our photos in the Sydney Sun that evening.
After being taken off the bus on Parramatta Road by my family, I travelled the rest of the way to Ingleburn by car. The scene on this occasion is something I will always cherish and remember, as I had waited so long for this day and moment.
I went on twenty eight days leave that afternoon and after a period in hospital, was discharged on the 26th February, 1946. On arriving home, many friends and relatives came to see me to say welcome home and to bring gifts. I really did appreciate it all and it was some days before I was able to believe I was really home and free.
In spite of all this, I was able to spare a thought for those gallant men who “Did Not Return” with us to celebrate this day of peace and victory. I learned on reaching home that my close friend, Cpl. W.(Bill) Hepple, 2/13th Btn. of the 9th Division had been killed in action in Borneo on the 25th July, 1945 just three weeks before the Japanese surrender. Bill had been wounded badly in Tobruk in 1941 and returned home in 1942. It amazed me to hear that he had ever been allowed back into combat again. In a final letter written to his mother he said, “While ever Don is in Japanese hands, it is my duty to get him out. He gave his life in doing so after only two weeks back with his old unit. The 2/13th Btn. What could I say, but feel proud, I had such a hero for a friend.
(Photo) Bill Hepple (1940) An old friend who was a hero. Served 9th Division, 2/13th Bn., Tobruk (Wounded in Action).
Later served in North Borneo where he was Killed in Action at Labuan in July 1945.
On my discharge I was granted the following medals: PACIFIC STAR; 1939-45 STAR;
Defense Medal; General Service Medal; and later THE “EFFICIENCY MEDAL” awarded Nov. 1946.
Other medals awarded since then were: Front Line Medal 1990; and the INTERNATIONAL and
AUSTRALIAN P.O.W. MEDALS 1992.
My period of 9 years in the army, including 6 years in the A.I.F.was an experience to be
remembered. The comradeship, humour, sadness at times, and character I hope it instilled within me, makes me feel proud now to have been part of the “AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE”, and and those who served with me.
(Photo right) Don In Canberra, 29 November 2007
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.
“LEST WE FORGET”
Prepared by Terence Donald Tweedie
For the Tweedie Family History ~ and shared for all former POWs, Descendants and Friends ~ 5th July, 2011
All photos in this document belong to Terence Donald Tweedie, Coffs
This document is published for the Tweedie Family History by Terence Donald Tweedie. However it is available for research and educational purposes to the general public on the condition that reference to this document is acknowledged.
No unauthorised copying of this document is permitted without the permission of the Author,
Terence Donald Tweedie, 1 Bicknell Drive, Coffs Harbour NSW
Biographies Page Main Page