Taungzun 57km or 60 km Camp, Burma
Taungzun, 57 km or 60 km Camp – Burma
On 13 May 1943 Williams Force was moved by rail motor to Taungzun 60 km Camp.
It was at this Camp that Williams and Anderson Forces were designated as No. 1 Mobile Force.
Now that the clearing away and basic construction work for the line was completed it was time for serious railway construction with sleeper laying, ballasting and rail laying gangs. This Mobile Force was to keep apace of the ever forward thrust of the rail link toward the Thai boarder.
The Japanese couldn’t believe their luck – they had at their disposal a whole battalion of Australians which was engineering unit!
Dr. Rowley Richards who left Singapore with ‘A’ Force arrived at Taungzum Camp. It had been a native coolie camp and not only was it horrifyingly filthy but there were dying natives in the huts, dead bodies lay at the fringe of the jungle and a cemetery with about 200 graves was located nearby. The stench of death prevailed over the shallow graves.
Sergeant Shimojo and John Williams who arrived with the first parties each would have preferred to relocate camp, however the Force was now a large troop of men and could not be relocated. “Williams set about organising a clean-up of the camp, organising burial details and establishing sanitary facilities.The Burmese had just squatted wherever the call of nature came to them.” wrote Richards in “The Survival Factor’ by Rowley Richards and Marcia McEwan.
Originally the Japanese reported the native deaths as cholera and smallpox.
Within a few days of their arrival the incidence of diarrhoea amongst the POWs increased, accompanied by vomiting. This was suspected to have been initially caused by mouldy rice and green eggfruit. “After 10 days in the camp, cases of primary malaria commenced to appear with the men presenting with severe pains behind the eyes and pain in their knees, hips, back and other joints. These symptoms were accompanied by fever (101 to 105 degrees), sweating, shivering and in most cases diarrhoea. Most cases responded to quinine with 36 hours to 48 hours.”
There were 80 cases within 8 days. The Camp received new supplies of quinine and the men received 8 grains daily instead of the usual 4 grains.
With “speedo” demanding all men working long hours – Richards despaired that 49 sick from Anderson and 50 from Williams Force were sent to work for the same duration as the ‘fit’ men and were required to do same tasks. 4 Anderson Force men were returned by the Japanese and some 12-15 allowed to rest during the afternoon. On returning to Camp nearly 20 men were in a state of near collapse.
May and June were monsoon months, and until now the deaths of POWs was not too great. It was not too much longer before Richards diagnosed cholera. The symptoms varied from cholera, as he knew it. It was soon confirmed as cholera, but of a particularly virulent form. Cholera sicca or dry cholera. A Japanese engineer had died 3 days earlier. The Japanese were now terrified. Suddenly they were willing to do almost anything Richards asked instead of the usual lack of cooperation and no bargaining or argument attitude.
An isolation ward was quickly established for those ill and those suspected of being cholera patients. The medical orderlies who worked in the cholera ward were unable to leave. By 2 June there were 35 patients in the cholera ward.
Richards wrote “we all worked wonders in very difficult and unbelievable circumstances” and to his mind, Richards believed the medical orderlies did all the work. The orderlies working with Richards numbered between 4 to 12 men.
Richards received reports of cholera deaths from other camps in both the Burma and Thai section of the railway.
On 7th June the remaining fit of Williams Force were sent to work at the 40 kilo Camp.
Rowley Richards was left with 93 patients in the isolation hospital and main hospital. This figure included 50 of the sickest men from Williams Force.