Gloe Gloer Camp - Sumatra
On St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1942 the Japanese arrived in Padang, Sumatra and took over control from the Dutch. There was to be no fighting as the Dutch had declared Padang an open city.
POWs who had been quartered in the Chinese School at Padang were permitted to remain a few more days until their transfer to a Dutch Army barracks. Conditions at this camp were quite good with plenty of room, organised sport and lectures and although the food was rationed it improved when the Dutch took over the cooking duties.
After about 2 weeks at this camp the Japanese made it known that in 2 days, 500 POWs would be departing Padang. Included in this group was Lt-Col Albert Coates from 10th Australian General Hospital. On 9 May, Lt-Col Coates was ordered to fall in with this group of British from the three services who called themselves the British Sumatra Battalion.
Moving north to Belawan the Port of Medan on the north east coast of Sumatra they would board the England Maru on 15 May sailing to Burma to work on the rail link to Thailand.
Thankfully Lt-Col Coates was included in this draft as he will be remembered for his work and devotion to duty at Khonkan 55 km Camp in Burma during 1943.
Gloe Gloer Camp – Sumatra
The POWs were first accommodated in coolie labourer’s huts adjacent to the wharf. Here they loaded scrap iron and rubber onto ships destined for Japan. The POWs would later return to the wharves, but on 20 June they were ushered onto railway trucks and transported to their next camp. A Dutch Army barracks called Gloe Gloer No. 12 Camp which was located about 2 kilometres from Medan.
The POWs were accommodated in 6 long barracks buildings that ran side by side. These were behind an 8 feet high wall along with a parade ground, sports ground, Japanese Officers’ and guard’s buildings. They were soon assigned to daily work parties. Initially the POWs keenly completed their allotted daily quota of work and return to the barracks. Like all other POW Camps, the men soon realised that the sooner they finished the sooner they would be given additional tasks to complete!
For about 2 months they worked at Socony Oil Depot, filling drums of petrol. The Japanese then discovered the fuel being filled into drums was contaminated.
The next task was excavating a moat around a temple and shrine to honour fallen Japanese soldiers. As at Adam Park, Singapore when the POWs constructed the ‘Fallen Warriors Shrine’ at Bukit Batok, the Japanese prefer to have some form of water channel and bridge crossing approaching their shrines.
On completion of the Shrine, the POWs were given the task of constructing a racecourse! At about this time the Japanese guards were relieved by Koreans who were initially somewhat timid and even nervous. However it did not take the Koreans long to learn their trade of bashing POWs and brutal treatment became commonplace.
On 7th March 1944, following days of rumours, a work party which included about 50 Australians under the command of Lt. Tranter from 2/29th Battalion were loaded onto trucks and driven to the interior of Sumatra where they would remain for the next seven months. This group included several 2/4th men – George Quinn, Ted Hopson and Arthur Magill.
On the first day they travelled about 308 kilometres to Kota Tjane – located about 10 kilometres north of Laubaleng, in the heartland of Sumatra. The POWs were billeted in a schoolhouse for two days and then loaded again onto trucks. Surprise can hardly be the word the POWs felt when the trucks turned around and headed back to where they had just left.
The following day on 13 March 1944, the group were back on the road again this time on a 145-kilometre march to an undisclosed destination.
The first night was spent at Gunung, the second at Maloek. On 17 March after four day’s marching, the men arrived at their destination, Blang Kedjeren. They were accommodated in a former Dutch Army barracks known to the POWs as the Hospital Camp.
The sick and those unable to march any further were left here, some never to be seen again.
The next day the men were back on the road marching until they reached their camp at Tenal Gajoe – this was the territory of Atjeh or Achinise natives. Renowned as fierce head-hunters, these people had never been completely subdued during the Dutch colonisation of Sumatra.
There were two camps. One for the British and Australians and the second one for the Dutch. They remained here about 3 weeks as the road they were building progressed north and on 3 May 1944 the POWs moved to Kedjeren.
Ted Hopson had been left at Tenal Gajoe suffering with appendicitis. Because he was also ill with dysentery it was not possible to perform an operation for fear of infection. Ted died on 26 April 1944.
Ted was popular and well liked amongst the group. He was described as being ‘a good bloke’. His body was brought to Blang Kedjeren where a coffin was constructed. This popular machine gunner was laid to rest about 100 yards from the camp. Amongst the POWs was a stonemason who cut a headstone, which was placed at the head of Ted’s grave.
The road construction continued to the east in between their current camp and previous camp at Tenal Gajoe. By 6 October 1944 it was time for the POWs to head back to Medan. They set out in three columns as they had done on their journey north. As the columns passed Ted’s grave they all paid their friend a respectful ‘eyes left’.
The group arrived back at a rest camp on the outskirts of Medan on 11 October 1944 5 days after setting out from Blang Kedjeren. After a week’s rest on reduced rations the POWs were given the news that they were again on the move. They marched 3 miles to the railway station and following a short journey; they were detrained and loaded onto trucks.
Using the same route as they had travelled on the way to Medan, they headed back towards Fort de Kock on the west coast of Sumatra. The POWs were billeted 3 days in the old Police Barracks at Bukit Tinggi after which they were loaded back on the train for a lengthy journey to Mocearo, arriving 21 October 1944.
It was here that the POWs were informed they were to build a 3’ 6” gauge railway line between Pakan Baroe and Mocaero. A distance of 220 kilometres.
In addition to this main line there was a shorter 2’ 5 ½ “ narrow gauge 20 kilometre spur line which branched off the main line at 119 km point!
Harujkiku Maru – SS Van Waerwjick Party
When the above 50 Australian POWs departed Gloe Gloer camp on 8 March 1944 making up Atjeh Party, 49 Australians were amongst the remaining group of POWs – including Roy Semple, ‘Win’ Annear, ‘Squasher’ Squance, Alf Burgess and Harold Smith from 2/4th.
On 24 June they were alerted to be ready to leave for Singapore and the following day trucks arrived at Gloe Gloer camp to transport the POWs to the port of Belawan to board the ship taking them to Singapore.
The ship was SS Van Waerwjick, a 3,040-ton passenger-cargo ship captured by the Japanese on 3 March 1942. As was Japanese custom the ship was renamed Harukiki Maru.
The POWs arrived at the docks around noon and were crammed into the fore and aft hold of the ship. A Japanese corvette was to act as escort to this small convoy that included 2 tankers and 2 transport ships. The Harukijku Maru left Belawan about 1500 hours on 25 June, heading into the Malacca Straits to join the convoy.
The following day, 26 June at 1350 hours two mighty explosions amidships rocked the ship sending it into the depths of the sea. Two torpedoes had been fired from HMS/M Trucelent which was depth charged, causing Harukiku Maru to hit the bottom at 68 feet. There was no loss of life from the 2/4th but tragically 167 POWs went down with the ship.
Following four hours of treading water, the men were rescued by one of Japanese tankers from the convoy. The POWs then continued their voyage on board this tanker to Singapore where they disembarked and were taken to River Valley Road Transit Camp. Of the four 2/4th men, Annear and Squance would return to Sumatra to work on the Pakan Baroe-Moearo railway. Harold Smith was hospitalised with appendicitis on 21 July and Alf Burgess suffered a head injury from the Harukiku Maru sinking. Semple also suffered an injury and remained in Singapore.
Pakan Baroe-Moearo Railway, Sumatra
Three 2/4th men arrived at Singapore on Java Parties No. 20 and No. 22 between 21 May and 1 July 1944.
Between 7 July and 8 August 1944, these three from Java – McAskil, Booth and Banks along with Annear and Squance were transported to Pakan Baroe to work on the railway. The men would work mainly between Loeboeksakat 23 km point and Logas 140 km point on the railway.
The entire draft of 1,257 POWs who were destined for Pakan Baroe had been split into smaller drafts. They were transported from Singapore directly up the Siak River on an old ferryboat named Elizabeth, otherwise known as the ‘white boat’.
This small ferry unable to carry many passengers transported the POWs in several parties between 7 and 8 August 1944.
Pakan Baroe was a small port about 90 miles along the Siak River from its mouth. The river was sufficiently deep to accommodate ships up to 800 tons all year round.
With Japanese now losing many ships to the Allies it was decided that in event of an Allied attack on Western Sumatra, Japanese reinforcements could be brought in by sea utilising the shelter of the islands between Singapore and Sumatra. Japanese troops would then be brought straight up the Siak River to Pakan Baroe.
At this time there was no railway, however roads connected Pakan Baroe to Padang on the west coast and Oosthaven on the south coast. The Japanese still had sufficient POWs to build this railway.
513 POWs would lose their lives building this railway, as well as the many POWs and Romeshas (Netherlands East Indian conscripts) who would lose their lives when their ship Junyo Maru was torpedoed 18 September 1944 by a British submarine whilst in transit from Java to Sumatra.