‘D’ Force Thailand, S Battalion (incl. T Battalion)

Apart from the group that left Singapore with Major Charles Green on ‘A’ Force Burma, ‘D’ Force S and T Battalions, i.e. Group 4 contained the largest number of men from 2/4th who worked on Thailand end of the Railway.

‘D’ Force Thailand included 2,220 AIF plus 2,780 British and Dutch totalling 5,000 POWs.

These POWs were placed into Battalions A to Z to work on the Hellfire Pass region of railway between Wampo north to Kinsaiyok – the demarcation camp between ‘D’ Force Group 4 Battalions and V Battalion Group 6.

Under the command of Major Cough, V Battalion’s camps would run further north from Kinsaiyok to Takanoon.

Australians made up S, T, (O, P, Q) U and V Battalions while the British and Dutch formed the remaining Battalions.

Lt.-Col McEachern ** was to command the four Australian Battalions – S, T,U,V – with his HQ incorporated into S Btn by order of the Japanese.

Battalions O, P, Q and R Battalions had already arrived to work on railway in late January 1943 from Java – they were under command of Weary Dunlop, and became known as ‘Dunlop Force’.

The AIF components from Singapore were also given Company Numbers.

S Btn .   No. 17 Company (under command Major G. Schneider from 2/10th Field Regt)

T Btn.    No. 18 Company (under command of Major E.J. Quick, 4th Anti-Tank Regiment)

U Btn     No. 2 Company (under command of Capt. Reg Newton, 2/19th Battalion).

The above Battalions were assigned to the Thailand Administration Group 4, however V Battalion was separated from other Australian formations (which was to prove disastrous for them) and assigned to Thailand Administration Group 6.

This complex administration system developed by the Japanese created many problems associated with essential supplies – mainly FOOD.

Each Thailand Administration Group was run separate from each other, as were the Burma Administration Groups – there existed jealousies between groups – there was certainly little or no communication and they certainly did not ‘help-each-other-out’.

The ‘D’ Force Group 4 area was the busiest and most congested along the entire length of the rail link.  The terrain was mountainous and rugged, making excavation of cuttings through rock face and bridge building extremely difficult.

In this area of dense jungle, mountains, escarpments, hills and valleys between Kanu III and Hintok River Camp there were:

  • six cuttings including four major cuttings – two at Hellfire Pass, one at Hintok and lastly the Compressor Cutting,

 

There was also:

  • 9 bridges including Three Tier and Pack of Cards bridges,
  • 2 major embankments.   The Seven Metre and another embankment that would replace Pack of Cards Bridge once the railway line was rerouted.

 

  • Additionally, there were 8 ledges from Hellfire Pass to Three Tier Bridge that had to be built up to compensate for the sloping terrain.

 

On 14 March 1943, S Battalion departed Singapore by overcrowded train trucks under the command of Major G. Schneider of 2/10th Field Regiment and arrived at Non Pladuk on 18 March 1943.  The POWs stayed overnight at the transit camp at nearby Konma.

The next day S Battalion travelled by truck 49 kilometres to Kanchanaburi for a brief stopover. It was here S and T Battalions then moved out to Tarsau via Tardan.

At Tarsau S Battalion was engaged for the next few weeks clearing the path ahead for the rail laying gangs.  This work was described as being not particularly arduous (compared to their next camp at Konyu II) and the conditions and food at Tarsau at that time were reasonable.

T Battalion moved out of Tarsau 12 kilometres to the south where a camp was set up on a creek bed near the junction of a river where an embankment was being built up.

After two weeks T Battalion moved further south downstream of an established British POW Camp at Wampo.   The Wampo Camps were 114 kilometres from Non Pladuk and 16 kilometres south of Tarsau. There were 3 Wampo Camps – North, Central and South. It is difficult to confirm where T Battalion was exactly camped.

The Australians had been brought into the Wampo area to assist the British with earth moving for an embankment. The path for the railway alongside the River Kwae Noi had been progressing slowly in preparation for construction of viaducts at 103 km and 109 km points. The pressure was on to complete the job and POWs worked shifts around the clock. The final shift produced a 30-hour spurt of energy – no doubt a measure of the Japanese Engineer’s stand-over tactics that would see the embankment job through to the end.

One of the viaducts was known as the Double Viaduct – a wooden bridge probably not unlike the Pack of Cards Bridge at Hintok, that was at least 400 yards long and built around the side of the cliff face and supported 25 feet above the River Kwae Noi. There was a gap of about 600 yards followed by another viaduct in the region of 150 yards long – hence the name double viaduct.

On completion T Battalion now marched north for 2 ½ days to join S Battalion in the area of Kanyu II Camp. The date is believed to be about early May and when S and T Battalions amalgamated. S Battalion is known to have arrived at Kanyu II on 25th April 1943. On 8 May 1943 Capt. Reg Newton of U Battalion was at Tarsau 1943 when T Battalion passed through, dropping off 50 sick POWs before continuing north 20 kilometres.

Within half a day of T Battalion’s arrival they were again back working on the Hellfire Cuttings, i.e. before the new camp was established half of T Battalion was sent to work!

 

‘D’ Force S Battalion

Kanu II Camp 24 Apr 1943 to 16 July 1943

Located 152 km north of Non Pladuk the camp was on top of a plateau and above Kanu I River Camp. The camp was under canvas except the atap structures for the hospital, Japanese Headquarters, guard’s and store huts.

On 28 April, 200 men from S Battalion were sent to assist ‘D’ Force O and P Battalions who were at Hintok Road Camp.

For the POWs at Kanu II their task was to make a cutting, with very basic tools, through the monolith rock face for the railway line. Achieved by a method of hammer and tap, their task required the labour intensive process of drilling out holes in the rock, inserting explosives and blasting. Other POWs would immediately follow up and clear away the rock and debris in baskets.

Initially this procedure may appear to be simple, however it was far from that.

In the heat and rock glare men slaved away whilst their Japanese engineers and Korean guards watched over and never missed a moment to show their POWs their lack of mercy and their sadistic nature. The men mostly wore Jap happys, very few had shoes and no protection from the sun and glare from the rock face and worse the POWs suffered frequent cuts and abrasions mostly on their legs but often other parts of the bodies, from the flints of rock. The wounds were highly susceptible to infection resulting in painful ulcers that grew rapidly in the tropical climate sometimes covering an area from ankle to knee. Their camp doctor, Phil Milliard worked tirelessly without any medicines or medical equipment.

Cholera was expected with the wet season approaching. Several tents were pitched away from the main camp, 350 yards into the jungle to provide isolated accommodation for cholera patients from Kanu II and III Camps. Men suspected of having cholera were isolated from the others for up to 6 weeks medically cleared.

From Konyu 2, the men were split into smaller groups to work in various Hellfire Pass Camps including Hintock, Kinsaiyok, etc. until the railway was completed by end of 1943.

POWs from Burma were brought south to one of the large major camps, and the same for most of the POWs working in Thailand (there were exceptions – various work and repair parties remained as did the very sick hospital patients in Burma).

POWs were graded into ‘fit’, sick, very sick, etc. – and sent to Tamarkan, Chungkai and other hospitals.

The ‘fit’ were assembled at Tamuang and it was from here the Japanese selected POWs to work in Japan, in this instance with ‘Rashin’ Maru Party.

The work party was entrained from Tamuang Camp, Thailand about 21 June 1944 for Singapore.  They arrived five days later 26 June and sent to River Valley Road Transit Camp.

They did not have a long wait  – many work parties destined for Japan waited weeks and weeks.  POWs were loaded onto ‘Rashin’ Maru at Keppel Harbour which departed 4 July 1944.  The ship was an old coal burner and would require making stops.  She was carrying a cargo of rubber and 1660 POWs which included 900 Australians.

8 July 1944 – anchored off Miri, Sarawak and weighed anchor 10 July continued sailing close to coast of North Borneo.

11 July – anchored off Palawan Island, continuing sailing next day close to west coast of Mindoro Island, Philippines Islands.

16 July – at sunset ‘Rashin’ Maru sailed through Bataan Peninsula between Bataan and fortified Corregidor Island,  anchoring in Manila Bay, Luzon.

A Lengthy and very uncomfortable 15 day wait occurred as coal  and supply  barges were unable to move close to unload.  The ship was moved into a protected area of the harbour where it was calmer and where Japanese could be load coal and rations.

8 August 1944 – sailed in a convoy with 17 other ships.  ‘Rashin’ Maru had spent 22 days anchored at Manila.  

Suddenly the ‘Rashin’ Maru was under attack (roaming US submarine wolf packs patrolled the area) – and during the chaos the convoy was broken up with ‘Rashin’ Maru sailing for shelter of coast of Lingayen Gulf on opposite side of landmass which juts out on west side Luzon Island.

13 August 1944 – the ship nosed out of the Lingayen Gulf under a threatening overcast sky and into seas further fraught with danger.  The little ship was now being tossed about on the sea, the war damaged and old ship was groaning with strain.

Realising ‘Rashin’ Maru was in danger from the typhoon, the cautious Captain steered towards land.  ‘Rashin’ Maru to the POW’s relief, was now on the leeward side of Mabudi Island and had sought the sheltered anchorage provided by the triangle of three Bataan Islands.

It had been a truly terrifying experience being locked down in the ship’s hull.    POWs recognised and were grateful for their experienced Japanese Captain who had first sailed his old and groaning  ‘Byoki ‘Maru away from the convoy being attacked to the safety and shelter of the nearest landmass then survived the fury of the typhoon.

14 August – 0800 hours they set sail and on 15 August arrived Takao, at southern end of Formosa.

Their next port of call was Keelung on the northern end of Formosa.

There were several attempt to depart Keelung but were forced by by US submarines. 

30 August -reached Naha, Okinawa.

Sailed from Kagoshima, on southern end of Kyushu Island and sailed along west coast of Kyushu.

7 September 1944 – finally, after 70 days the ‘Rashin’ Mau put into the port of Moji, southern Japan.  POWs knew they had reached their destination because in the Captain’s haste (or relief) he slammed the ship alongside the wharf.  He had alone captained the ship the entire journey and was probably well relieved!

The POWs were herded down the gangway, lined up on the wharf and stood utterly amazed they were now in Japan.  The were soon split into kumis of 150 men and sent to their destined camps.  A large group of men from 2/4th travelled to Nihama on northern coast of the Inland Sea of the island of Shikoku.

 

Below:  Photo of ‘Rashin’ Maru as it was originally – when POWs boarded ‘Rashin’ Maru at Singapore 1944 at Keppel Harbour, the ship had had its bridge blown away and other battle damage, to the POWs at the wharf it appeared barely seaworthy.  ‘Rashin’ Maru was quickly renamed ‘Byoki’ Maru – the ‘Sick’ ship.  Once onboard POWs were to endure a 70 day sea journey to Moji, Japan.  They endured a typhoon and on several occasions survived  American submarine patrols – especially as ‘Byoki’ Maru tried to sail from Philippine harbour and resume the journey to Japan.
The conditions in the hell were horrific – ‘Byoki’ was one of many recognised “Hell Ships”.

 

 

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  • **Lt- Col C.A. McEarchern of 2/4th Anti-Tank Regiment deployed to Malaya (Malaysia) with 8th Division. The unit saw action against Japanese from 27 December 1941 until the surrender on 15 February 1942. McEachern’s superior was Brigadier C. A. Callaghan.
  • McEachern assigned to command the Australian part (2220 men) of ‘D’ Force, sent March 1943 to work on Burma-Thailand Railway. At Hintok Road camp, Thailand, he commanded the whole formation plus Dunlop Force (Lt Colonel Dunlop needing to concentrate on the growing number of sick readily handed over administration), some 5000 Australian and British troops. His men worked on the ‘Pack of Cards Bridge’ and ‘Hell Fire Pass’. He was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier with effect from April 1942. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, he was the senior Allied officer in Thailand. He took charge of repatriating approximately 30 000 troops.