Cripps & Northampton enlistments – Rakuyo Maru

The story of Davey Cripps WX15783

Cripps David C

Peter Cripps, nephew of David Charles Cripps WX15783 wrote much of he following story of his Uncle’s life. Twenty two year old Davey Cripps from Northampton did not survive the sinking of Rakuyo Maru in the South China Sea in September 1944.

Peter Cripps wrote Uncle Davey knew all the blokes from around Northampton area who had enlisted with 2/4th including Bill Carlyon WX15785, Edward A. Cornell WX16260, Ernst E. Randall WX16356, Don Sutherland WX16967 and Ron Simkin WX8141. Of this group of six men, four trained together at Woodside, South Australia.

Davey Cripps enlisted on 13th August 1941, Taken on Strength to Woodside Camp, South Australia on 5th October 1941.   Davey was allocated to ‘A’ Company and following the Fall of Singapore was interned at Selarang Barracks.

Carlyon William

Bill Carlyon enlisted on 13th August 1941, Taken on Strength to Woodside Camp, South Australia on 5th October 1941 with Davey Cripps. Carlyon survived and RTA.

Don Sutherland WX15967 enlisted on 22 August 1941, Taken on Strength to Woodside Camp, South Australia. Tragically Sutherland was KIA on 15th February 1942 at Tanglin Hall, Buona Vista. He was 20 years old.

Randall Ernest E



Ernst Edward Randall WX16356 enlisted 3rd September 1941, Taken on Strength to Woodside Camp, South Australia along with Cripps, Carlyon.

Rght:  Ernst Randall

Cornell Edward A     Edward Cornell WX16260

Cornell was a young farmer from Northampton and enlisted 27th August 1941 joined the 2/4th as a Reinforcement with ‘E’ Coy, Special Reserve Battalion. From Selarang Barracks Singapore, both Cornwill and Cripps were selected in ‘A’ Force Burma, Green Force No. 3 Battalion. Cornell survived and RTA.

Ron Simkin WX8141 was the veteran of the group. He enlisted on 16th August 1940, was a Driver with ‘C’ Company Headquarters. Simkin survived and RTA.

The five men were interned as POWs at Selarang Barracks.  They would have grieved the loss of Don Sutherland.  The five mates, Simkin, Cripps, Cornell, Carlyon and Randall were selected to go with ‘F’ Force Burma, Green Force No. 3 Battalion. This group made a concentrated effort to stay together.

It was nearly impossible to remain together working on Thai-Burnma Railway with illness being an unknown and deciding factor in where a POW moved to and when – Randall was detached for hospital duty at Thanbyuzayat, then went to Kendau and Reptu as a medical orderly.

In 1945 Simpkin and Carlyon were recovered from Nacompaton having spent time at Tamarkan, Chungkai, and various separate camps. Cornell was also at Tamarkan and other camps. He was recovered from Singapore.

Simkin, Carlyon and Cornell were the three to survive and return to Western Australia.   Returning home without their mates.   Sutherland KIA Singapore and Cripps and Randall who lost their lives in the South China Sea when US Navy submarines torpedoed the Rakuyo Maru.

Between December 19432 and April 1944 the majority of POWs working on the Burma-Thailand rail link had been brought south to camps in Thailand such as Chungkai, Tamarkan, Nacompaton, etc. The POWs who had until then survived the brutality of ‘speedo’, life-threatening illnesses and meagre rations hoped to recover with the slightly improved conditions and rations.

The Japanese were hopeful too, because during February 1944 they began to make arrangements to send parties of prisoners to Japan. These ex-railway workers were now to fill Japan’s mines and factories, as there was a labour shortage. 10,000 POWs to be sent.

The Japanese did not select men with dark skin colour, freckles or anybody with a skin disease. They selected their numbers from the men who appeared to be healthy. Their criteria as in the railway camps was skin deep! It was no consequence if the men suffered from malaria attacks or other illnesses.

Those selected for Japan were inoculated twice against cholera and pestis (plague) and once against tuberculosis.

Davey Cripps and Ernst Randall were at Tamarkan when selected for Japan with Kumi No. 35. It possible Cripps and Randall met up with Simpkin and Carlyon as they were also at Tamarkan at some point in time.

717 Australians selected for Rakuyo Maru were organized into 6 kumis of approximately 150 men each. Brigadier A.L. Varley, 2/18th Battalion, was commander and was much respected as a senior officer with ‘A’ Force in Burma. Varley was well known by the men for standing his ground against the Japanese in particular to protect his men.

Cripps and Randall with kumi 35 were amongst the first group of POWs who would eventually board the Rakuyo Maru in Singapore, September 1944.   They were however, to first travel to Cambodia where it was initially planned they would sail out of the port of Saigon to Japan.

They departed Tamarkan for Kanchanaburi, travelled by train to Non Pladuk and were accommodated for several days at the Konma transit Camp until the remaining kumis joined them.

Once again the Kumis departed in stages through Bangkok on their way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From here they boarded a riverboat called Long Ho taking them on the remaining journey to Saigon (then in French Indo-China)

Following a brief stay at Saigon the POWs were taken down river to an estuary of the Riviere de Saigon at Cape St. Jacques and boarded a ship for Japan.

At this point the Japanese realized the danger of moving the POWs by ship from here because of the effectiveness of the American blockade. It would be safer to move the Rakuyo Maru party back to Singapore and sail from there to Japan!

The POWs were returned to Saigon where they worked on the docks, go-downs and various jobs at the Tan Son Nhut civil aerodrome located just north of Saigon.

On 24th June the first two kumis (including Cripps and Randall) set out on their journey back to Singapore. The last Kumi left Saigon on 28th June.   Several POWs were too sick to travel remained behind.

The POWs did not know their destination.

From the Non Pladuck rail terminus the men became aware they were heading south. On 4th July the train carrying the Rakuyo Maru Party crossed the causeway to Singapore where they were moved into River Valley Road Transit Camp. They were back in Singapore!

On about 3rd September 1944 it was finally announced the Rakuyo Maru Party was once again on its way to Japan. However between 27th July and 3rd September the men worked on  excavation of the dry dock opposite Pulau Damar Laut, known as Jeep Island.

Again several men were too ill to travel. Finally in late August 1944 when it was time to board the Rakuyo Maru Party it was found there was not sufficient room and Kumi No. 40 did not board. There were several men from 2/4th amongst this kumi who were rescheduled to board Awa Maru to Japan in December 1944.

On the morning of 4th September 1944 the 718 Australians included in the final draft, marched up the gangway and crammed into number two hold of three holds. Those fortunate prisoners who could not be accommodated below travelled as open cargo on the top deck.

Sailing in the same convoy was Kachidoki Maru carrying 1500 British POWs to Japan. Together they formed a draft of 2,218 POWs. The POWs felt apprehension about whether they would reach their destination. They knew of the strong Allied submarine presence in the seas between Singapore and Japan.

The two ships moved out to anchor for 36 hours at the roadstead. On 6th September two more passenger-cargo ships and two tankers joined Rakuyo Maru and Kachidoki Maru. The six ships were joined by their four escorts.

Finally the small convoy headed northeast.

The Rakuyo Maru was very cramped, carried little food for POWs but worse the ship had a drastic water shortage.

On the fifth afternoon at sea, on 10th September the convoy was deluged with torrential rain to the great relief and joy of POWs. The next day, on 11th September the small convoy was joined by a further three freighters and three warships.

At about 5.30pm on Tuesday 12th September three US Navy submarines attacked the convoy.

The Rakuyo Maru would take about 12 hours to sink . The POWs began their terrible struggle against all odds. Only a lucky few survived long enough in the water to be picked up by the very surprised personnel onboard the American submarines, who had been completely unaware their targets carried POWs.

Read further about the American submarines.