The above list has been compiled by Harold Cowie WX8641. Copy kindly provided by his wife Glad Cowie, 2017.
2/4th Men from F Force Who Returned to Australia
ANDERSON, James Lorimer B COY
BAXTER, Francis John C COY
COWIE, Harold John B COY Driver
DOCKING, Melville Roy A COY
EVANS, Benjamin D Coy
(aka Benjamin Tiley-Evans)
EWEN, Jack Clifford A COY
GORRINGE , John B COY
GREGORY, Ronald Keith A COY
GWYNNE, George Whittingdale D COY Wardmaster Tambaya
HAMBLEY, Ernst Edgar B Coy
HINDS, Francis B COY
HOLDING, Wally E COY
HOWE, Clifford Thomas AAOC Armourer
HOWSON, William Robert HQ
KENNEDY, Mervyn St John HQ Signaller
KYROS, Jack George HQ Signaller
MCGINTY, Joseph Michael HQ
MCKENZIE-MURRAY, Robert James A COY
MILLER, Edwin Ernest B COY HQ Driver
NELSON, Cecil Thomas HQ
PIERSON, Thomas William Btn HQ
PUMMELL, Ephraim Albert AAOC
SHIER, Arthur Roy A COY
STERRETT, Douglas Francis A COY Rangetaker
WAINWRIGHT, John William 88 LAD Fitter
WALLIN, Edward William E COY
WALLIS, Vincent A COY
WEBBER, Claude Vincent D COY HQ
WILLIAMS, George David HQ Driver
WILSON, John D COY
A total of 49 men from 2/4th were selected in Singapore to work on the Burma Thailand railway with ‘F’ Force.
30 MEN RETURNED
‘F Force consisted of 7,000 POWs of which 3,660 were Australians under the command of Lt-Col C.H. Kappe. The British commanding officer was Lt-Col S.W. Harris, 18th Division.
The Australians were mostly concentrated at Shimo (Lower) Songkurai and Kami (Upper) Songkurai. In these remote and primitive camps where cholera ravaged the POWs they had little access to trade with the local Thais for food and medicine. The death rate was devastating.
The first of thirteen trains left Singapore 16 April 1943. Each train transporting approximately 600 men crowded into rice trucks, 28 men to each truck. The horror journey took 5 days to Banpong.
The march north for ‘F’ Force took between 17 -25 days. There were many deaths during this time. Most other Forces working on the Burma-Thai Railway, were transported some distances between camps.
‘F’ Force was not deemed to be a working party. The Japanese had said food was running scarce in Singapore – they were being sent where there would be good conditions and abundant food. A large percentage of ‘F’ were already deemed sick, or recovering, many were from an older age group as well as those who were not trained as soldiers but entertainers, etc. and deemed not suitable for working parties.
The Japanese assured them the sick would be able to recuperate.
The POWs were informed transport would be provided and they could take with them whatever they wished. The men were allowed to take loads of equipment such as blankets, cooking utensils, gramophones and even a piano!
The ‘F’ Force officers believed the Japanese, in particular the British. In fact the Japanese wanted them out of Changi and away from Singapore no matter the consequences.
One who did not believe the Japanese was Dr. Bruce Hunt who had volunteered to go with ‘F’ Force. He addressed a group of ‘F’ Force men warning them that conditions and life ahead of them would be very hard and they should prepare themselves.
Worse still ‘F’ Force departed Changi without having their cholera inoculations – saying they would provide these on arrival at their destination.
On reaching Banpong the men were marched mostly at night, on very poor and sometimes non-existent tracks to various staging camps as far as 330 kilometres north. Conditions on the march were appalling. At night in the jungle the men were unable to see ahead, sometimes tripping, falling and injuring and fracturing limbs. The condition of their feet was such that many were unable to march. The march took between 17-20 days. The Japanese had made no provision for supplies of food, water and cooking facilities let alone accommodation at staging camps which were often occupied by Australians who tried to help ‘F’ Force men by providing what food they could spare.
It was during the terrible march that the men of ‘F’ Force became familiar with Dr Bruce Hunt who was a driving force, encouraging the men and taking care of them with his medical team.
Some staging posts had been used by coolies and left in appalling conditions. Probably the reason cholera broke out at Konkoita a few days after passing through one of these posts.
In May ‘F’ Force was divided into 5 camps of which 3 were Australian and were distributed to
No. 1 (Lower or Shimo Songkurai)
No. 3 (Upper or Kami Songkurai)
No. 4 (Konkoita).
‘F’ Force HQ camp was Neikhe.
On night of 14/15 May, 1,000 AIF men from trains no. 3 and 4 under Major Tracey, marched out from Lower Neike to their permanent camp at Lower Sonkurai, a distance of 7.5 miles. In this group was MO Capt R.L. Cahill, 13th AGH.
On the morning of 16 May all fit men were sent to work. The following day the second group under Major Johnston marched into Lower Sonkurai. After surveying the camp, Major Johnson pressed for immediate supply of atap for roofing the huts in view of the approaching monsoonal season. He particularly stressed the necessity of keeping sufficient men in camp to construct new latrines, kitchens, water sterilising points, etc. and reinforcing the huts. The floors of two huts had already collapsed under the weight of the men and further huts also showed signs of collapsing.
On the second day at camp, 2 cases of cholera had developed and were promptly isolated. A general hospital was also erected over the creek and north of the camp, known as “Cholera Hill”. The hospital received 40 patients within first 24 hours.
Lt. Fukuda intimated that the 800 men who arrived with Major Johnston were to be medically examined. He linked their arrival with the outbreak of cholera, and despite strong protests from POW Camp doctors, he persisted for several days that only this party was affected. (The same officer was to display the same lack of common sense during the second outbreak of cholera).
By the evening of 16 May there were 16 men suspected of having cholera.
Cahill was the only doctor when cholera broke out and became deluged with sick men and further cholera cases. A message was sent from Lower Neikhe Camp . It was eventually decided Major Bruce Hunt and Capt. John Taylor would proceed to Lower Sonkurai. They brought with them 15 orderlies and vaccine from the limited stocks they collected at Konkoita (brought originally from Changi).
Major Hunt and Captain Cahill inoculated 1400 men by 19 May, however this was extended to 20th May to include 163 men who arrived with Capt. Howells as they had not been inoculated in the lower camps.
There was complete apathy in the camp as POWs worked longer hours, sometimes to 2100 hours in incessant rain with cholera and sickness including malaria, numbers growing. The Japanese were hostile over falling numbers of men able to work. POWs falling asleep at work
Food supplies were poor and the jobs around the camp, including sealing the latrines, had not been tended to because there were insufficient men to do so.
The POWs were to receive a second cholera injection.
By the end of May there had been 22 cholera deaths with another 55 men diagnosed. Camp discussions decided Bruce Hunt approach the Japanese for immediate changes.
Their camps located in the centre of a known cholera belt the Australians lost 1,066 men not only from cholera but other tropical diseases during April to November 1943.
1700 sick ‘F’ Force were sent north to Tanbaya, Burma Hospital Camp a further 750 men died within a short time. Tanbaya had little or no medical supplies.
The linking of the railway line from north and south was completed in mid November 1943 after which the remaining ‘F’ Force moved to Kanchanaburi. From here most of the ‘F Force Australians were transported by train to Singapore in December 1943 with those who were sick returning later.
The Australians lost 1060 men – 29%, the British had 2037 men die – 61.3%. These figures are unforgivable! There are many reasons:
- ‘F’ Force had the highest rate of cholera deaths, (the men had not received their inoculations prior to leaving Singapore)
- Often their camps had no food, water or medical supplies – but plenty of work
The inhumane treatment perpetuated by their Japanese captors
and finally, and importantly
the poor leadership of POWs – too often the doctors and medical staff were the ones to step up, made decisions and were concerned for the welfare of the men. It is recognised some officers were well able to lead their men in battle, however they completely failed their men in captivity.