Pakan Baroe was a small port about 90 miles along the Siak River from its mouth. The river was sufficiently deep to accommodate ships up to 800 tons all year round.
From early 1944 when Japan realised the tide was turning and they were losing many ships to the Allies it was decided that in event of an Allied attack on Western Sumatra, Japanese reinforcements could be brought in by sea utilising the shelter of islands between Singapore and Sumatra. Japanese troops would then be brought straight up the Siak River to Pakan Baroe.
At this time there was no railway, however roads connected Pakan Baroe to Padang on the west coast and Oosthaven on the south coast. The Japanese still had sufficient POWs to build this railway.
Little is known of this Railway Project in Sumatra. Of the 5,000 men who worked 513 POWs would lose their lives building this railway, as well as the many POWs and Romeshas (Netherlands East Indian conscripts) who would lose their lives when their ship Junyo Maru was torpedoed 18 September 1944 by a British submarine whilst in transit from Java to Sumatra. Just as important, we have no confirmation of local, coolie or native labour loss of life.
These figures fade into obscurity when compared to the loss of life and massive effort the Japanese put into building the Burma-Thai Railway. It is probably the reason the Pakan Baroe-Moearo Railway has been cast under the shadow of the Burma-Thai Railway.
Pakan Baroe Camp No. 1 000.00km
Tengkirang Hospital Camp No. 2 005.00km
Koebang Camp No. 2a 015.00km
Teratakboeloeh Camp No. 3 018.00km
Camp No. 4a/b 019.00km
Loeboeksakat Camp No. 5 023.00km
Soengei Pagar Camp No. 6 036.00km
Camp No. 7a 069.00km
Lipatkain Camp No. 7 075.00km
Kota Baroe Camp No. 8 111.00km
Logas Camp No. 9 142.00km
Loeboek Ambatjan Camp No. 10 160.00km
Pinto Batoe Camp No. 11 176.00km
Siluewah Camp No. 12 200.00km
Moearo Camp No. 13 220.00km
Tapoei-Petai spur line Camp No. 14 118.00/119.00km
Construction commenced 26 October 1944 – completed 22 August 1945, after the end of war.
Australian POWs worked at many as 11 of the 14 Camps, however they were concentrated in No.’s 2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 Camps and No. 14 Spur Line Camp.
The railway ran roughly north-south and slightly west as it crossed the equator near Camp No. 7 at Lipatkain.
Large bridges were constructed across rivers Kampar Right and Kampar Left. There was another large bridge further south which crossed Indragiri River near Moearo. From Moearo the rail line headed east along Indragiri or Koeattan River Valley for 70 kilometres until it joined up with the north-south line from Pakan Baroe.
POWs brought down from Medan on 25 October 1944 worked at Camp No. 14, Tapoei-Petai spur line camp. The first job was construction of a trellis bridge over a deep gorge. On completion the men were put to work excavating a 200 metre long cutting which lay between the recently completed bridge and head of the spur line at Petai.
When work was completed on 20 km spur line the POWs were put to work laying rails on the main line between Pakan Baroe and Moearo.
In about March 1945 they were moved to Camp No. 8 Kota Baroe where there were a great number of POWs of many nationalities. Work only started from Moearo end of line in March 1945 – when the Japanese decided progress was too slow. In addition to Australians from Medan now working at Camp No. 8 there were still POWs who were brought to Singapore from Java and then transported to Pakan Baroe.
Their first camp was No. 2 Hospital Camp at Tengkirang at 5km point. They were put to work on the rail laying gangs as most of the clearing of the jungle had ben done. This group proceeded south through. most of the Camps until they reached No. 8 at Kota Baroe.
It was here when some of the men proceeded up the spur line that they met up with some old mates from the original group from Medan. The second group from Java and Singapore continued to work their way south staying for a time at No’s 10, 11 and 12 Camps.
Korean guards formerly overseers on the Burma-Thai Railway had been brought in to speed up work. Soon the same cries of “Speedo Speedo” accompanied by the same bashings for the slightest misdemeanor were being repeated in Sumatra.
One can’t begin to imagine how the men were able to keep going.
Their health was poor. Physically and mentally they were exhausted. They had been POWs for more than 3 years. How did they keep their spirits alive?
By June 1945 the group from Medan was also moving south and it was around this time whilst at Camp No. 9 at Logas the POWs were moved to Camp No. 10 at Loeboek Ambatjan – it was here they would learn the war was over.
Although news of Japan’s surrender filtered through to the POWs the Japanese persisted with pushing ahead with the rail until the last link was laid on 22 August 1945. It was one week after the official surrender.
The POWs now made their own arrangements to move themselves north by train to Camp No. 2 at Tengkirang. It was here where there was a hospital and a nearby airfield from where they could be evacuated.
There were several men from 2/4th who worked on this rail.
Evacuation of the POWs from Sumatra is another story!