‘A’ Force Burma, Java Party No. 4 Williams Force
When sailing from Darwin to Sydney and onwards to Fremantle in January 1941, the 2/4th had been away sometime training firstly at Woodside, South Australia and were then stationed in Darwin. Naturally the men were keen to see their families and loved ones at Fremantle before they headed off to war (at this time they were not notified of their destination) but a day or so prior to anchoring at Gauge Roads, Fremantle the Battalion were informed all leave was cancelled (Aquitania remained at Fremantle one night on 15th January 1942 – time only to receive further supplies and reinforcements).
There was a feeling of outrage and huge disappointment! When the pontoons taking supplies and reinforcements from wharves at Fremantle to Aquitania, a large number of 2/4th men scrambled overboard and took the opportunity to reach Fremantle wharf.
About 90 well-trained machine gunners were left behind when ‘Aquitania’ sailed next morning 16th January 1942. They had been unable to make their way back to ship without transport and some had been locked up on shore and unable to free themselves in time.
Eventually 88 men were to sail from Fremantle several weeks later with a small convoy to Singapore. They were to disembark at Java and it was planned the men would be transhipped to Singapore and join 2/4th Battalion. However news was received Singapore was expected to fall to the Japanese, and these 88 men were to remain in Java and reinforce the Allied Forces on the island. George joined ‘Blackforce’.
Japan invaded Java on 1st March with 45,000 troops landing at 4 destinations. The Allies were greatly outnumbered; there were short fierce battles and a great number of lives lost. The Allied Forces led by the Dutch, capitulated and imprisoned in various camps. The Australians were mostly congregated at Bicycle Camp Batavia where life was considerably more comfortable than what lay ahead.
‘A’ Force, Java Party No. 4 – under Command of Lt.-Col J.M. Willliams party departed the port of Tanjong Priok, Java on ‘Kinmon Maru ‘ on 8 October 1942, disembarking at Singapore on 12 October 1942.
At Changi Java Party No. 4 was reunited with Java Party No. 3 who had reached Singapore a few days earlier.
Two days later Java Parties 3 and 4 departed Singapore having boarded ‘Maebashi Maru ‘ to Rangoon, Burma arriving on 23 October 1942. They were transhipped to a smaller vessel called ‘Yamagata Maru’ which took the men up the Salaween River in Burma to Moulmein. They arrived late on 24 October and were accommodated overnight in the local gaol.
It was here Java Party No. 4 was organised into 2 groups, Black and Williams Force. There were approximately 43 men from 2/4th with Williams Force (and about 6 men with Black Force).
On morning of 26 October the two Forces marched 2 miles to South Moulmein railway station for their 40 mile train journey to Thanbyuzayat POW Camp and Japanese HQ at that time.
The following day, Williams Force was transferred to Tanyin Camp, 35 km from Thanbyuzayat. The Force then moved to Anakwin 45 km and remained from 24 April to 13 May 1943. From this point onwards, when they left Anankwin 45 km on 13 May 1943 the Japanese did not permit movement from one camp to the next during working hours so as not to interfere with railway construction work!
This meant the men would carry their tools and personal belongings to the job in the morning and at the end of the day, having worked a full day, would move on to the next camp, often in the dark and physically exhausted.
Williams Force was thankfully moved by rail motor to Taungzun 57km Camp on 13 May 1943. Here Williams and Anderson Forces became No. 1 Mobile Force.
The task of No. 1 Mobile Force now consisted of serious railway construction involving sleeper laying, ballasting and rail laying gangs; physically demanding and long hours of slave labour. This construction force kept apace of the ever forward thrust of the rail link towards the Thai border.
Included in No. 1 Mobile Force was the experienced engineering unit of 2/2nd, who had sailed from the Middle East to Java. The Japanese couldn’t believe their luck!
They were constantly on the move with the worsening weather (wet season), unreliable food supplies, little or no medical supplies/medicines and jungle conditions.
On 13 July 1943 Williams No. 1 Mobile Force moved by rail and marched to Mezali 72 km Camp. Here they remained until 1 September 1943. Next it was to Apalon 77km camp from 1 September to 11 September 1943.
On 11 September the men marched during the day to Kyondaw 85 km, with the numbers of sick being transported by rail.
On 17 September No. 1 Mobile Force left Kyondaw for a night march to Payathonzu 108km Camp. They were now 108 km from Thanbyuzayat and not far from Three Pagoda Pass and the border of Burma and Thailand.
Every day was the same. Walk to the railway, work and walk back. One miserly small meal of watery rice, with weevils if lucky. About every 10 kilometres the men would move camp. The food and conditions were the same – terrible. Punishment and Japanese brutality was an every day event. The sick would mostly remain behind with others to look after them, or be evacuated to so-called ‘hospital’ camps were there were no medicines for the tropical illnesses they suffered from. Malaria, beri beri, dysentery, avitaminosis, etc. and ulcers where hard-working and dedicated doctors such as Bruce Hunt and Albert Coates performed amputations, which often resulted in death.
No. 1 Mobile Force arrived Kami Sonkurai 116km Camp, Thailand on 21 September and remained just four days working. The native coolie cholera camp was adjacent to the POWs huts, both situated on the slope of a hill. The Burmese coolies occupied huts on top of the hill and with the consistent rainy season food and excreta was washed down the side of the hill through the lines. The camp was located a distance from the railway line which ran around the base of the hill on which the camp was situated.
After this, all camp moves for No. 1 Mobile men were made during the monsoon season. Work camps were often awash with mud and atap roofs and tents leaked rain onto the men nightly. They would go to sleep wet and wake up wet.
Kami Sonkarai was the worst camp occupied by any forces from Burma. At the nearby ‘F’ Force camp at Changaraya, the British had 200 men die of cholera (they had to share accommodation with 500 Burmese coolies).
122 Camp 25.9.43 to 26.12.43
122 Camp was in the vicinity of Sonkurai No. 2 Camp. It was here the 600 Bridge had been constructed by the British of ‘F’ Force. It was to the great cost of lives. No.1 Mobile Force marched from Kami Sonkurai 116km to 122km Camp with 80 sick men and baggage transported by rail motor. Fortunately this was a better camp than 116km, but overcrowded as was 116.
At least here the camp was not awash with mud, but the there were no palm leaves for roofs on the huts and the men had little protection from the weather.
Williams No. 1 Mobile Force worked as far south as Neikhe Camp in Thailand. They were forever on the move up and down the line and constantly pushed.
Nikhe-Nikhe 131 Wood Camp 26.12.43 to 11.1.1944
Located high in the ranges this camp was cold at night. The camp was a day’s march from 122 Camp. The sick were carried on stretchers and later that day transferred to 281.80 Nikhe Camp. On 11th and 12th January the sick were moved by train over a period of 24 hours to Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Some died on the journey. Those who survived were then marched 5km back to Tamarkan Base Hospital Camp No. 2!
Nikhe-Nikhe Wood Camp was near a series of small hills. Rail laying was suspended whilst cuttings were excavated. Once completed the rail laying gangs recommenced their work on 13 October 1943.
Nikhe 133 km Camp 11.1.44 to 25.1.44
Located just north of Nikhe Old HQ for Japanese Camp at 276 km point, this camp was last on the rail link for Williams No. 1 Mobile Force.
The two ends of the railway had been joined on 17th October 1943 at Upper Konkoita-Lower Teimonta at the262.87 km point.
On 25 January 1944 the Force moved north back to the border to Changaraya 303.95km Camp (113.97 km from Burma end). About ten days later the Force was moved back to Aungganung 105 Camp. It was here No. 1 Mobile Force met up with the remnants of Australian work groups still in Burma.
Augganaung 105km Camp, Burma 5.2.44 to 25.3.44
It was during March 1944 at this camp that the fittest POWs were being selected to work in Japan. Those selected were sent to Tamarkan., Thailand which had become a collection centre .
At about this time Williams No. 1 Mobile Force like so many Forces was about to commence the move south into Thailand. On 22 March 105km Camp, Burma was machine gunned by two B24 Liberator bombers. This resulted in the remainder of the men being evacuated 2 days later heading to Kanchanaburi.
Following ‘Speedo’ those POWs sufficiently well were assembled at four large work Camps in Thailand. The sick who were deemed to survive were also sent down the line to hospitals. The very sick remained at the hospital camps in Burma, cared for by doctors and very dedicated orderlies until they died.