Kami Sonkurai 299.20 km Camp - Thailand
Kami (Upper) Sonkurai No, 3 Camp 229.20 km – Thailand
‘F’ Force Camp No. 3 CAMP
One of the purposes of Sonkurai camp was because the POWs were building a very big bridge across the river. There was a large camp where the men were accommodated and a smaller ‘hospital’ camp further away for the very sick where the doctors and orderlies tried beyond their best to assist and provide care and comfort with little or no medical equipment or medicines.
Under the Command of Capt. G. Allan, A.A.S.C., this camp was first occupied by a party of 393 Australians on 25 May 1943.
It was the most remote of POW camps on the rail link.
Accommodation at this camp was similar to that at Shimo (Lower) Sonkurai Camp. There were two rows of atap huts however not in the same layout. The camp was located at the base of three steep hills where a swampy low-lying valley formed with water running into the camp from all sides and becoming a quagmire when raining and the rains did come!
The rail link, road and a river ran parallel to the camp with river about 200 yards from the road. Only a portion of huts were roofed with atap palm leaves.
By order of Japanese Engineers the camp water supply had to be drawn from a creek on the north side of the camp near a compound where the cholera infected coolies were housed, segregated from their remaining camps.
The stream, the major source of water for bathing, became foul and with the poorly equipped hospital camp, the sick and death rate increased.
When the Australians arrived, some Asian labourers or rõmusha occupied the camp. They were already suffering from cholera, which broke out in all the camps in this region of the railway in mid-May 1943. By 8 June 1943 over half the Australians were ill and seven had died, all from cholera.
Within a day of arriving with the exception of 35 sick and some essential personnel, the POWs were out to work on the rail link. By the end of the week the number of sick had risen to 160 of which some were cholera patients. A request was made to set up a cholera isolation hut but it was not until after a visit on 5th June by Major Bruce Hunt from Shimo Sonkurai that approval was given to set up a small hut on the opposite side of the road away from the main camp.
Rations were grossly inadequate, there were almost no medical supplies and there was very little kitchen equipment or containers. At least the water supply, cookhouse and sleeping quarters were close to each other.
There were many deaths after survivors from Chaungghla-ya or Changaraya No. 5 Camp 300.90 km camp moved in. (Changaraya No. 5 Camp had been occupied by British and 500 Burmese coolies. On second night, 2 cases of cholera were reported – however cholera had taken a firm grip within a week.) . The British lost 1/3 of their men to cholera.
Major Bruce Hunt reported the prevalence and grave concern of cholera up and down the line.
On 8 June 1943 Capt .R. Swartz, 2/26th Battalion was sent from Shimo Sonkurai Camp to take over command from Capt. Allan who had fallen ill. The number of sick had now soared to 216 and seven of the eleven diagnosed cholera patients had died; including WX8250 Frank Habert, 2/4th, who died on 4 June 1943, aged 35 years.
The average daily figure for the number of men for construction work on the rail link during June and July never rose above 90.
Capt. Swartz engaged in some camp reorganisation including setting up a hospital at the end of the huts for non-cholera patients. The only medical stores on site were those that had been brought up with ‘F’ Force column from Non Pladuk.
By mid-June the cholera epidemic had been beaten but not before 15 deaths from 35 diagnosed patients.
After repeated requests some medical supplies were obtained through the Japanese at the end of July. In addition, also by request, mosquito nets and extra blankets were supplied. Kami Sonkurai was eventually to become the best camp in ‘F’ Force group.
Food was better and more varied with no reduction in rations made for the sick. Japanese Engineers became less demanding and working hours were fewer. There were however, no rest days. Also there was no canteen supplies available to promote rapid recovery of the sick but this was supplemented by collecting edible jungle roots and shoots as well as an edible type of spinach.
‘It was the top camp at Kami Sonkurai. When the trucks could not get through because of the condition of road and bridges that had been washed away the stores could not get through. We then had to walk up via Three Pagoda Pass into Burma to collect rice from 105km camp for our men. They picked the fittest 20 blokes to go accompanied by a guard.’
(Written by Wally Holding, 2/4th MGB)
When evacuation of sick to Tanbaya took place several camps were closed down and POWs concentrated at Kami Sonkurai and Sonkurai with the new Headquarters Camp established at Nikhe. When Changaraya, Nikhe and Shimo Nikhe were about to close the order came through on 2 August 1943 to regroup at Sonkurai and Kami Sonkurai so as each camp could supply the same number of prisoners for the Japanese Engineers on the line. Patients who were too sick to be evacuated to the newly established Tanbaya Hospital Camp in Burma and expected to die, were ordered to remain with their carers until told otherwise.
On 28 July 1943, 7 officers and 295 other ranks of ‘F’ Force marched out of Shimo Sonkurai to Kami Sonkurai. They arrived 5 hours later and of 302 men, 173 had to be admitted to hospital immediately – some never leaving the hospital alive.
In addition to the four parties of about 650 men from Shimo Sonkurai there were approx. 310 British from Changaraya and 360 from Nikhe.
By 8 August 1943 Kami Sonkurai totalled 1,690 (incl. 670 British an 1,020 Australians). The British had lost 200 of their original 701 men from cholera at Changaraya.
An order came down the chain of command that no Englishmen were to work in the cookhouse or on camp duties. This left about 70 fit British. It placed a heavy burden on the Australians who had to substitute for the British until they were fit enough to resume construction work.
The Japanese insisted on enforcing segregation of British and Australians in hospital – resulting in duplication of wards and twice as much work for medical staff.
The POWs working on the line were driven relentlessly. They sometimes rose at 3 am and no later than 5.30am and well before dawn, ate their breakfast in the dark, fell into parade, trekked through mud to work and back again. Fell into parade and ate their evening meal in the dark. (This was the same for all Camps up and down the line, particularly during speedo, often not returning until midnight and early hours of the morning).
On 10 August Cholera struck Kami Sonkurai (again). By September nearly 50 men, including 10 Australians had died of cholera.
On 18 September 1943 the first train passed through Kami Sonkurai. POWs each received 10 cigarettes.
Work on the railway had finished – however the men were put to work the next day in a quarry right beside their camp! They were issued hammers weighing between 900g to 3.5kg. Up to 600 POWs were put to work to crush huge boulders which had been blasted out the side of the quarry.
James Boyle wrote ‘Railroad to Burma’ :
Most POWs knew little about breaking stones or the ease with which injuries could be cause by razor-edged chips of flying rock – these injuries were perfect for tropical ulcers to start.
They soon discovered it was not how hard one hit a rock, but where you hit it that counted.
The quarry was 140m long with one one face which rose to a height of 10m to 15m in places and fell away to almost ground level. With 600 POWs working here in the rain. The POWs were happy to be no longer working on the rail link, but the death rate continued from tropical illnesses.
The original Japanese engineers left the camp and their replacements were not anxious to continue ‘Speedo’
2/4th MGB deaths include:
WX8250 HALBERT, FRANCIS (FRANK) died 4 June 1943 of Cholera aged 35 years.
WX4921 TAYLOR, James Templeton died 11 July 1943 of beri beri and pneumonia aged 37 years at Kami Sonkurai.
WX10012 WORTH, Walter George, died 28 August 1943 cholera aged 31 years at Kami Sonkurai.
WX9287 OSBORNE, John Robert (Bob) died 27 September 1943 pneumonia aged 28 years at Kami Sonkurai.
WX14664 SMITH, Clifford Vaughan died 22 October 1943 cardiac beri beri aged 38 years at Kami Sonkurai.
WX18022 HEINZ-SMITH, Frederick Joseph died malaria, dysentery and tropical ulcers 23 October 1943 aged 40 years.
WX7234 JONES, Ivor William died beri beri aged 43 years on 14 November 1943.
WX8174 O’LEARY, Daniel (Dan) Martin died malaria and dysentery Kami Sonkurai 14 November 1943 aged 33 years. O’Leary had earlier survived a leg amputation by Capt. J.L. Taylor AAMC.
WX8435 MCCANN, Robert died beri beri 23 November 1943 aged 35 years at Kami Sonkurai.
MCINTOSH, Archibald James Livie died beri beri and dysentery Tanbaya Hospital Camp 10 November 1943 aged 23 years (evacuated from Simo Sonkurai).
SMITH, Montague Joseph died dysentery and tropical ulcers 13 November 1943 aged 27 years at Tanbaya Hospital Camp, probably evacuated from Kami Sonkurai.
THACKRAH, Cyril Bernard died dysentery & malaria 19 August 1943 aged 40 years, evacuated from Kami Sonkurai.