The POWs originally selected for ‘Awa Maru’ Party to work in Japan had departed Tamarkan-Kanchanaburi-Non Pladuk area of Thailand by train travelling through Bangkok to Phnom Penh, and finally arrived in Saigon, French-Indo China on 15th April 1944. They were billeted in ex-French Foreign Legion barracks on Rue Jean Eudel, which ran behind, and parallel with the docks on the Saigon River. The Japanese plan was to sail their ship of human cargo from Saigon to Moji, Japan.
There were several unsuccessful attempts to depart Saigon however the American submarine blockade of this area of French-Indo China made it impossible to do so.
The ‘Rakuyo Maru’ Party which was hit by American submarines on 12 September 1944 and sunk with only a few of 707 POWs surviving, had earlier departed Thailand at end of March, 1944 and travelled the same route to Saigon intending to sail to Japan. They were also redirected to Singapore because of the blockade and finally departed on 3 September 1944.
During the four-month sojourn in French-Indo China the POWs were put to work either at the go-downs, wharves or on general labouring.
Finally on 15 August 1944 the Group were ferried back to Phnom Pehn where they were travel by rail back to Singapore – arriving on 22nd August 1944. Two 2/4th men who remained in Saigon were Leonard Greaves and Harold Clayden. Both were recovered from here when the war ended and it is thought they were too sick to travel.
Greaves and Clayden.
In Singapore the POWs were moved into River Valley Road Transit Camp to wait available shipping to Japan. Until they boarded ‘Awa Maru’ on 15 December 1944, the men were busy loading and unloading ships at Keppel Harbour. Some including Jack Maude, worked some time on the dry dock opposite Jeep Island.
The 11,249-ton passenger-cargo ship ‘Awa Maru’ loaded with 525 Australian, American and Dutch POWs at Singapore to sail to Moji, Japan. The POWs were crammed into one hold modified by the addition of two platforms to provide three tiers of cramped sleeping space. In addition the passageways were crammed with sleeping POWs.
‘Awa Maru’ moved out to the roadstead on 16th December 1944 to await the remainder of the convoy to arrive. The men were to wait 10 days for the convoy to set sail. They were aware American submarines patrolled the seas and knew several ships transporting POWs to Japan had sunk. A sense of fear would have prevailed throughout the hold until their safe arrival in Japan.
Fortunately ‘Awa Maru’ arrived unscathed at Moji on 15th January 1945. There were 17 men from 2/4th on this ship. At Moji the party was divided into several smaller groups with the majority of the 2/4th men sent to Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta except for 3 men sent to Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 24 Sendyu.
At Omuta the Australian POWs were sent to work in the Miutsui Coal Mine. The prison camp proved to be hell.
Please read about Omuta. It was here Norm Grant WX8828 was made an underground supervisor in the mine because of his past experience.
2/4th men who sailed to Japan with ‘Awa’ Maru party and who went to Fukuoka sub-Canp No. 24, Sendyu included:
WX9175 HAYWOOD, William (Bill)Thomas
WX10792 MURTAGH, Edwin John
W13285 MAUDE, Jack
Those who sailed with ‘Awa’ Maru party and went to Omuta included:
WX8228 GRANT, Norman Herbert (Norm)
WX7757 WELLS, Hugo Clarence (Clarry or Hughie)
WX10745 HAMBLEY, Albert James
We acknowledge Neil MacPherson’s more detailed contribution about the voyage of ‘Awa’ Maru and thank the Mansell website.