The Soldier's Details
- First Name:
- Noel Edwin
- Regimental #:
- 'C' Compay Headquarters
- Place of Birth:
- Mt Lawley, Western Australia
- Father's Name:
- James Albert Banks
- Mothers's Name:
- Celia Lydia Banks
- Pre-war Occupation:
- Java Party No. 22
- ‘Blackforce’, attached to 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion
- Camps Java:
- Bandoeng, Tjimahi, Bandoeng, Glodok Prison, Bicycle Camp Batavia, Makasura Java Party No. 22, to Sumatra to Pakan Baroe-Moearo Railway.
- 4444, 12562 & 11825
- Return Details 1945:
- Evacuated by aircraft to 2/14 Australian General Hospital, Singapore, Evacuated to Perth, by Duke of Gloucester’s aircraft 'Endeavour' on 24.9.1945.
Banks enlisted AIF Dec 1940 later joining 2/4th MGB’s ‘C’ Company Headquarters as did Sydney Clayden. Harold Clayden and John Robinson also joined ‘C’ Company No. 11 Platoon.
Noel Banks was one of several hundred 2/4th boys who went AWOL from ‘Aquitania’ when she anchored off Fremantle at Gage Roads on 15 January 194 having sailed from
Sydney. It is believed many soldiers managed to get back to their ship before Aquitania sailed next day 16 Jan 1942, however Noel was one of about 90 Machine Gunners left behind who would weeks later arrive at Java.
Banks was captured by Japanese on 8/3/1942 whilst travelling in an ambulance in transit to Bandoeng. From 11/3/1942 – 18/4/1942 with 2/2nd Casualty Clearing Station suffering from malaria. Attached to 2/3rd Reserve Motor Transport Company for period of convalescence until 5/11/1942.
Noel was too ill to be included in earlier selection for work parties to Burma-Thai Railway. He suffered frequently with Malaria.
He sailed to Singapore with 2/4th’s Harold Booth on 27 June 1944 with Java Party 22 from Bicycle Camp arriving 1st July 1944.
In Singapore they met up with a third 2/4th POW, Robert Ramsay McAskil who had sailed with Java Party 20 from Java arriving Singapore 21 May 1944. The men were housed at River Valley Road Transit Camp. McAskil had been health tested to work in Japan (by the Japanese) – but failed and was removed from ship’s list – the ship was later sunk by American Submarines off Nagasaki on 24 June 1944.
These three men were sent to Pakan Baroe, Sumatra where they caught up with a few other 2/4th men.
Sumatra: Worked on the Pakan Baroe-Mocearo Railway with McAskil, Booth, Annear.
It is believed Noel Banks is included in this photograph, now part of AWM Collection. He is second from left with just his face profile showing.
Whilst working on one of rail bridges, Noel Banks slipped and fell into the river below – he managed to grab a hold of one of the pylons – and eventually the POWs managed to lift him to safety. The Japanese and Korean guards looked on without interest.
The river was very fast flowing, had Banks not been successful in grabbing hold of the pylon, he would not have survived the torrents.
Building the Pakan Baroe Railway –
As POWs working in Burma, Thailand and French Indo-China found- the nights could often be extremely cold – there were no blankets and POWs had little clothing.
On one of those cold nights back at Camp, POWs warmed themselves beside a large fire (being fuelled at that time by the endless supply of local wood.) Feeling particularly chilled Noel squatted close to absorb maximum warmth and comfort. A nearby observant Japanese guard who obviously found this offensive, ordered him to jump into the fire! Now armed with his bayonet the guard moved closer.
Bewildered, Noel resourcefully jumped over the fire safely. When his feet touched down on the other side he found another Japanese guard with his bayonet who then gave him the same order. This terrifying scenario repeated its several times over – suddenly Noel heard the voice of one a nearby POW who yelled
“For God’s sake Noel, put your foot in the Fire” .
Knowing he could not physically keep up this ‘game’ Noel did exactly that. While jumping over he pushed his foot into the fire – this action was sufficient to satisfy the guard’s orders and ultimately and most importantly for them at this point, to ‘save face’.
By this time of the war food supplies were desperately short – Allied planes were everywhere over the waters in SE Asia and successfully sinking Japanese shipping.
The POWs were literally starving and whenever possible would look to scrounge food. Armed with the tin can Noel used to eat from, he came across a stationery cart and bullock. The large cart was loaded and Banks thought hew may have some luck. He quickly helped himself to a few handfuls of dried fish when suddenly he became aware a Japanese soldier was sitting on top of the loaded cart.
As he slunk safely away with his tin can and dried fish, Noel swore the soldier must have known this POW was stealing, he could not have failed to notice!
Sympathetic Japanese could never show leniency to POWs. The outcome for them was severe punishment. Noel was lucky the soldier was alone and took a risk.
The Banks family lived at Woorooloo. Noel’s parents James Albert Banks and Helen MacDonald married at Claremont in 1915.
When Noel enlisted 18 Dec 1940, his twin brother Wilfred also did so. Wilfred George Banks WX18179 served in New Guinea and after the war both Noel and Wilfred suffered with bouts of malaria.
Noel married in 1947 to Lillian Gillam. They had a family of 3 daughters and one son Geoff. Geoff confirmed his father’s skill in rifle shooting – he has one of his Dad’s winning cups.
He died 1988.
- Bandoeng - Java ***
- Bicycle Camp, Batavia, Jakarta - Java ***
- Glodok Prison - Java ***
- Makasura - Java
- Tjimahi, Cimahi- Java ***
- Pakan Baroe-Moearo - Sumatra **