Kami Sonkurai 299.20 km Camp - Thailand
Kami (Upper) Sonkurai No, 3 Camp 229.20 km – Thailand
‘F’ Force Camp No. 3 CAMP
Under the Command of Capt. G. Allan, A.A.S.C., this camp was first occupied a party of 393 Australians on 25 May 1943.
It was at this time a good camp. Latter 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Haldane 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 the non-cholera patients. The only medical stores on site were those that had been brought up with the ‘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 newly established Tanbaya Hospital Camp in Burma and were 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.
On 10 August Cholera struck Kami Sonkurai. By September nearly 50 men, including 10 Australians had died of cholera.