Shimo Sonkurai, 288.10 k - Thailand
Shimo Sonkurai No. 1 Camp 288.10km – Thailand
Shimo Sonkurai Camp for most Australian POWs in ‘F’ Force was the end of a route march of approximately 290 kilometres which took between 17-20 days. This march took place mostly at night and the men were subjected to sprains, feet and leg injuries, even broken limbs due to falls down embankments where they lost shoes and belongings because the men were trekking in total darkness (created by the tall trees and dense vegetation) on very poorly constructed tracks. Even boots fell apart.
Shimo Sonkurai was the No. 1 Construction Camp for ‘F’ Force which was made up of 3,666 Australians and the remaining British to make up a total of 7,000 men.
Within 7 months almost half of the 7,000 POWs had died. To begin with, approximately 1/3 of ‘F’ Force were classified sick and unable to work before setting out from Singapore. The POWs then had been ruthlessly marched north about 290 kilometres for 17-20 days into Thailand, starved, denied medicines and mercilessly worked to death.
‘F’ Force was to remain under Singapore Administration jurisdiction and not Thailand Administration. There existed a series of petty jealousies between the two Japanese groups which resulted in ‘F’ Force men being the ones to lose out mostly by the inconsistent deliveries of essential food supplies.
On the 28 July 1943 the first party departed Shimo Sonkurai to Kami (Upper) Sonkurai following the closure of the camp and evacuation of the sick to Tanbaya. The party consisting of 7 officers and 295 other ranks took five hours to complete. Of the 302 men, 173 men were immediately admitted to hospital on arrival, some of who never left Tanbaya alive.
In addition to the four parties of about 650 men from Shimo Sonkurai to Kami Sonkurai there were approximately 310 British from Changaraya and 360 from Nikhe.
By 8 August 1943, Shimo Sonkurai totalled 1,690 men of whom 670 were British and 1,020 were Australians. Generally the British from Changaraya were in a poorer state of health than the Australians (they had heavy losses from Cholera).
As the British and Australians poured into the camp they were greeted by the usual sight of roofless atap huts and less than adequate latrines. An insufficient number of Burmese had been employed to roof the huts and POWs were forced to sleep out in the open. Some sick were forced to sleep in huts where the floors were collapsing. The latrines had broken its banks and effluent was running through the camp and under the floors of the huts being used as the hospital.
Cholera Hill at Lower Sonkurai was a small collection of tents located at the northern end of the camp. Cholera reached epidemic proportions with great loss of life every day.