CRUEL YEARS BURIED IN SALVATION
by Malcolm Quekett, The West Australian Newspaper
Saturday 14 August 2010
It was 65 years ago but Alf Worth and Jim Elliott remember it clearly. Hope and Salvation fell from the sky as their days of hell as prisoners of war in work camps in Japan ended.
Then hope came in leaflets US bombers dropped. Some said the Japanese had surrendered and WWII was over. Others told the prisoners to paint red crosses on the camp roof to signal where they were. Then salvation came in 44-gallon drums which burst as they hit the ground, spilling food.
Mr. Worth, 95, remembers a mate telling him: “Alf when the war is over I am going to eat myself sick.” He tried and failed but slept that night with a full belly.
Mr. Elliott, 90, remembers how the US bombers flew over the camp with their bomb doors open. “They were very low,” he says. “We were out watching and then realized they wanted us out of the road.
“They dropped parachutes attached to 44-gallon drums which hit the ground and split open. There were all sorts of chocolates, cigarettes, tins of beef, vitamin pills.”
“The Doctor in our camp said ‘take it easy boys, you can’t eat too quickly’. He was shovelling in food.”
The pair were in the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, formed from men across WA in late 1940 who found themselves in Singapore in January 1942, days before the Japanese attacked the supposedly impregnable Allied Forces.
The battalion had heavy casualties before Singapore was surrendered on February 15 and the survivors fell into Japanese hands. What followed was 3 ½ years of deprivation and cruelty.
Mr. Worth and Mr. Elliot were assigned to the notorious Burma-Thai railway and then had a nightmare voyage to Japan and to separate work camps.
Mr. Worth found himself in a coal mine at Ohama, hauling box cars and remembers hearing the war ad ended as the Japanese guards listened to a radio.
“When we got down the mine they told us to sit down and told us the war was over,” Mr. Worth says. “We refused to go any further.”
After one-hour-stand-off, the captives were allowed back to the camp where they told the rest of the Allied prisoners.
Asked about the mood, he struggles for words: “You just could not describe it.”
Mr. Elliott was taken to Nihama as a carpenter and remembers being bitterly cold in one of Japan’s worst winters.
The prisoners began to realize the war was turning when they saw waves of US bombers on raids in the weeks before the surrender. Then about midday they were returned to camp and told the news which they greeted with elation and relief.
“Some of us would not have lasted much longer,” Mr. Elliott says.
Tomorrow, on the 65th anniversary of VP Day for Victory in the Pacific though some prefer VJ Day for Victory over Japan, the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion will be honoured with a plaque dedicated at the PoW memorial in Kings Park.