The Soldier's Details

First Name:
Frederick Noel
Nick Name:
Regimental #:
'E' Company, Special Reseve Battalion, No. 1 Platoon.
Place of Birth:
Liverpool, England
Father's Name:
Not Known
Mothers's Name:
Elizabeth Matthews
Church of England
Pre-war Occupation:
Selarang Camp Changi, Adam Park, Johore Bahru, Selarang Barracks Changi
'D' Force Thailand, S Battalion
Camps Thailand:
Tarsau, Kanu II, Hintok River Camp, Kinsaiyok, Tarsau, Tamuang
Camps Japan:
Yamane, Nihama
3/8657, 8814, 1667
Rashin Maru Party
Return Details 1945:
Wakayama-Okinawa, USS Sanctuary, Okinawa-Manila, USS Bingham, Manila-Sydney, HMS Speaker Sydney, Sydney-Melbourne-Perth by troop train.

General Description

Matthews was a Kingsley Fairbridge Farm Schoolboy. Noel arrived in Australia 14/5/1931 on ‘Largs Bay’ aged 8 years.  Also on board was  Reginald Gerald Tooze WX16323.  They were housed in ‘Nelson’ Cottage.

Cowboy was with ‘E’ Force during the fight to save Singapore.  Most of ‘E’ Force was made up of reinforcements, too many with insufficient training.  Please read further details of the demise of ‘E’ Force from the writing of Saggers as they ran into a Japanese ambush at South West Bukit Timah, losing most of the officers and too many young men.  Only 88 of the 200 men survived.  Cowboy says he was lucky.  The men scattered for safety in all directions.  He ran into Don Company,  which was made up mostly of well trained machine gunners, most of whom trained in Woodville SA, and Darwin.  He remained with them during the last three days of fighting.  Cowboy said ‘I was lucky – during the ambush, everybody ran in different directions, some straight into the Japanese.  Where I ran was straight into ‘D’ Coy of 2/4th”.

Once released from his Japanese POW Camp, Cowboy’s journey home to Australia from Manila was via ‘Speaker’ sailing into Sydney.  The men were supposed to board ‘Dominion Monarch’ at Sydney, however Cowboy was one those who walked off due to severe overcrowding.   This large number of former POWs sought alternative transport.   The next leg was via train.  When Cowboy at arrived at Perth by train from Sydney the other former POWs and 2/4th boys all piled out, crazy with excitement (and probably anxiety) to meet with their families for the first time in almost 4 years – with no family to great him and no family home to go to, Cowboy was a little overwhelmed.

He had been waiting  4 years to “go home” – being an Old Fairbridgian and barely 18 years old when he left WA, he certainly didn’t have anybody waiting to meet him or a family home to make his way to.

From the few people left on the platform  an unexpected voice loudly called out “Come on Cowboy, you are coming home with me”.  It was the voice of Harold Jacobs WX10804.  Harold had realised Cowboy’s dilemma and acted with sensitivity and kindness.

Cowboy was to spend a few days with Harold Jacobs and his family before he headed off and made his way back to Fairbridge.

At Pinjarra he was to once again able to call Fairbridge his ‘home’.

The Old Fairbridgians Club house had been established to provide accommodation for the use of former students (female and male). The top floor of the 2 story building was a dormitory became  filled with returned servicemen and servicewomen who had survived the war.

Cowboy never forgot Harold’s act of kindness at that momentous time in his life.


Back L-R: Thomas Gibson, Bert Norton, Fred "Cowboy" Matthews, Ralph Hadfield, Front: George Chatfield, Norm Thompson, Claude Dow, Andrew "Mick" Lambie
Back L-R: Thomas Gibson, Bert Norton, Fred “Cowboy” Matthews, Ralph Hadfield,
Front: George Chatfield, Norm Thompson, Claude Dow, Andrew “Mick” Lambie


Cowboy Matthews & W Watt
Cowboy Matthews & W Watt
Hurst & Matthews
Hurst 2nd from right & Cowboy Matthews 3rd from Right. Both were Fairbridge boys.  Hurst was KIA 11/2/1942 aged 20 years.  It is believed the above were all Fairbridge boys, ie all reinforcements.


Cowboy enlisted at Claremont on 13th October 1941. At 18 years of age he was underage.  He was excited, no more milking cows, free from ties and responsibilities to Fairbridge and best of all, a chance to travel the world!  He soon joined the Northam Training Camp where he caught up with several Fairbridge boys! It was a rather exciting period of time – had they known what was ahead of them perhaps they would have absconded and forgotten about the few months training ahead of them!

Developments on the Malaysian war front changed the initial planned direction for those in Northam and elsewhere.   The Australian Government’s War Cabinet made the disastrous decision to redirect the well trained 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion then stationed in Darwin and destined for the Middle East, to Malaysia to support the ill fated Australian 8th Division which with the British was already in rapid retreat from the advancing Japanese Imperial Army.

Cowboy was one amongst 300 raw recruits ordered onto the parade ground at Northam Army Camp in December 1941. A senior officer divided the men into two groups of 150 each. The cut-off point was between Cowboy and his best mate from Fairbridge. With his group of 150 men Cowboy was informed they were going to Malaysia and the other 150 men were going to Middle East.

Cowboy, as one of the 2/4th Reinforcements was soon prepared to train from Northam to Perth. There was no time for marching and they were probably not sufficiently fit! Included were soldiers who enlisted as late as November 1941.

It was not until the reinforcements arrived in Fremantle and recognised the Aquitania anchored offshore did they realise they realise they were to board this ship.

It was now 15th January 1942.

The reinforcements boarded pontoons packed with supplies, sailed to the Aquitania where mayhem met them!   Large numbers of men on-board the Aquitania were attempting to go AWOL to see their families. It was a frightening experience as the pontoons bounced around on the water with those illegally climbing aboard from Aquitania’s portholes and other outlets whilst the recruits were ordered to climb on-board whilst supplies were being transferred.
The Aquitania sailed the following day, 16th January.   90 odd machine gunners failed to reboard, many of who were locked up and couldn’t persuade their goalkeepers to allow them to leave.

A month later Cowboy was a POW of the Imperial Japanese Army.

The fighting to defend Singapore barely lasted two weeks but in that time ‘E’ Company (made up of mostly reinforcements) suffered the largest number of deaths, including several young men from Fairbridge. It had been a terrifying ordeal amidst the mayhem of the Allied Forces fighting to defend Singapore.

Following capitulation in Singapore 15 February, 1942 Cowboy was sent to Changi (Selarang Barracks) initially, then to Adam Park.  His next camp in Singapore was River Valley.

Cowboy was selected to go to Thailand to work on the railway with ‘D’ Force, S Battalion. ‘D’ Force was made up of 5,000 Australian and British soldiers who left Singapore between 14-23 March 1943.  This Force was divided into 3 sections:  S Battalion commanded by Lt. Col McEachern; T Battalion commanded by Major E J Quick and U Battalion commanded by Capt.Reg Newton.  Overall joint command was Australian Lt. Col McEachern and British Lt Col GG Carpenter.

‘D’ Force worked over a large area of the railway between Tarsau and Rin Tin in Thailand.  Many of the men worked on the Konyu Cutting (Hellfire Pass).  The largest group of 2/4th men together were selected for ‘D’ Force.

The train journey from Singapore was a hellish one. POWS were crowded into small trucks squeezed in by their Japanese guards for what was to a 5-day 4-night rail trip to Bampong, Thailand.  The days were stinking hot and the men found the nights travelling in trucks very cold. Men were forced to take turns to lie down.  They stayed overnight at Konma transit camp and headed out the next day on a 49 km trip by truck to Kanchanaburi.

Initially they were trucked to Tarsau via Tardun where they worked clearing a path for the future railway line for a few weeks, after which Cowboy worked from the following camps: Kanyu II, Hintok, Kinsaiya and Tamurang. Cowboy arrived at Kanyu II on 25th April 1943. This camp became notorious for the harsh labour conditions and was also known as a cholera camp.

(It was at Tamurang during June 1944 and after the Railway line was completed that Cowboy was selected to go to Japan.)

Whilst working on the Burma-Thai Railway Cowboy lost many mates to illness and starvation. His mate working on hammer and tap at Kanyu II died of cholera within a few hours.   The men suffered beri beri, dysentery, ulcers and endless tropical diseases compounded by lack of food and medicine. The POWs were subject to bashings by the Japanese and Korean guards. They required no reason to lash out at a POW and struck with unexpected violence.

The men who made up ‘D’ Force S Battalion did not always remain together nor move to the same camps. Sometimes mates met up several months later. The Japanese ensured POWs were regularly split up.

Sickness often kept patients behind to recover whilst the remaining POWs moved on. Small groups of POWs were often ordered to move to other camps (leaving behind the main group) sometimes these camp sites provided minimal accommodation of sorts – often in poor condition and even no shelter. The POWs may be gone for a couple of days, or move onto another POW group Camp. Remember Camps and locations did not have signs to tell the POWs where they were – the Japanese Guards mostly did not tell them.

In fact many camp names were unknown to POWs.   Camps were given various names, pronunciations and spelling. And if there were Camp names (and there were not) who could read Japanese or Thai?

Cowboy left Tamurang on 21st June 1944 in a party of 900 Australians, travelling by train arriving Singapore 26th June and were marched to River Valley Camp. The POWs knew of the Allied attacks on Japanese shipping and also knew of the sinking of several POW ships.

Several days later on 1st July 1944 the group was marched to
Singapore docks from River Valley Road Barracks. They were shocked to see the ship they were to board to take them to Japan. The Rashin Maru had sustaining obvious damage from Allied bombing.   Worse it was a rust bucket and an old ship. The Australians quickly renamed the ship Byoki Maru. The sick ship. They boarded knowing there was every chance they may never reach Japan.

It was to be a 70-day very long and at times danger-filled journey to Japan.  The Rashin Maru sailed at 5pm arriving four days later at Miri, Borneo.  Two days later on 10th July 1944 the ship anchored off Miri and sailed 12th July headed for Manila and arriving 16th July.  This was a terrible time for the POWs with the extreme humidity.  They were allowed on deck for short periods of time, but it was so hot standing on the deck the men didn’t know which was worse – inside the hull expiring or outside roasting.

August departing at 10pm.  The Rashin Maru had attempted several times to leave Manila but was returned to harbour because of American submarine attacks. The ship finally sailed on 9th August 1944.

10th August they encountered a submarine attack. The captain took the ship close to shore anchored for 2 days.

13th August a terrific storm hit the coast and Rashin Maru was forced to leave the convoy again that night to seek shelter near a small island.

11th August Rashin Maru anchored half day off south Formosa.

16th August arrived Keelung, North Formosa.

27th August sailed from Keelung at 9am and returned.

28th August Rashin Maru sailed 9am.
30th August Anchored at Nowa.
1st September sailed from Nowa.
3rd September anchored off Isle of Keesu. 4th September sailed.
6th September Anchored Kokoshima. Arrived Moji 7th September.
8th September 1944 disembarked and marched to stables and divided into work parties. The POWs shocked they had actually arrived in Japan and by the differing temperature. Who knew what was ahead of them.  Japan was a country unknown to every POW who sailed on the Byoki Maru.


Cowboy & Marion

Cowboy & Marion

Cowboy Matthews obituary

Cowboy passed away aged 80yrs, December 3 2003, at Claremont, WA.

London to Fairbridge re Matthews
London to Fairbridge re Matthews


Cowboy Matthews notices
Cowboy Matthew’s notices




Camp Locations:

  • Adam Park Camp - Singapore
  • Johore Bahru, - Malaysia
  • Selarang Barracks Changi - Singapore
  • Selarang Camp Changi - Singapore
  • Hintok River Camp, 158k - Thailand
  • Kanu II, 152.30k - Thailand
  • Kinsaiyok Main, 170.2k - Thailand
  • Tamarkan, Tha Makham 56k - Thailand
  • Tamuang, Tha Muang 39k - Thailand
  • Tarsau, Tha Sao 125k - Thailand
  • Nihama, Hiroshima #2-B- Japan
  • Yamane, Hiroshima #3-D - Japan