Robertson Force, Java Party No. 5A
This was 3rd group to depart Java that contained men from the AIF. There were four men from 2/4th in this party.
WX10048 Ted Cosson
WX10049 Merve Wilkinson
WX8585 Cyril Vidler
WX7230 Les Lee
(Lee was with Java Party No. 4 to Singapore. He remained behind because he was ill then joined Java Party 5a, Robertson Force).
The commander of the Australian contingent of 385 men including survivors of HMAS Perth was Major L.J. Robertson of 2/6th Field Company, Royal Australian Army Engineers, attached to 7th Division, 2nd AIF. They departed the Bicycle Camp Batavia for the port of Tanjong Priok on 11th October 1942 bound for Singapore aboard ‘Nichi Maru’.
After arriving in Singapore on 16th October 1942 they remained at Changi for two and a half months. On 7th January 1943 this party departed Singapore by train for Prai on the Malayan mainland opposite Penang. They boarded two transport ships, Nitimei Maru and Moji Maru and departed Penang under Japanese Naval escort.
On the afternoon of 15 January two B24 Liberator bombers attacked these ships and their escorts. One of the transports, the Nitimei Maru took 2 or 3 direct hits, sanking in about 10 minutes. After loitering in the area for about 6 hours, 968 survivors mostly Dutch were rescued and the Moji Maru continued her voyage.
They reached Moulmein on 17 October 1943 where they met up with ‘A’ Force.
Between 24th and 28th January, Robertson Force Burma Administration Group 5, as it would now be known as, marched out to its first camp on the railway, Alepauk 18 km Camp.
Alepauk 18 km Camp, Burma 26 Jan 1943 to 23 Mar 1943
Anderson Force vacated this camp on 3 January 1943 and joined Williams Force at Tanyin 35 km Camp. Work for Robertson’s men began on 26 January mainly with excavation and bridgework.
85 km Camp (Lawa), Burma, 23 March 1943 to 6 April 1943
Robertson Force Advance party left for 84km on 22 March and was followed by the main group. The new camp was located in the mountainous heavily timbered hills in an area of partly cleared jungle. Water was supplied by a small stream that ran past the camp.
80 km Camp, (Apalaine or Aperon) Burma 6 April 1943 to 29 May 1943
Robertson Force suddenly received orders for a move to 80 km Camp. The entire camp aided by two trucks and many ox carts were used to carry baggage and men too sick to walk. This Camp was located about a bamboo hollow but proved to be very hot after 1000 hours. Work here consisted of bridge work and digging.
Anganan No. 2, 100 Kilo Camp, Burma 29 May 1943 to 26 Jan 1944
Conditions at this Camp can only be described as atrocious. POWs were engaged in arduous manual work with pick and shovels, guarded by Koreans who enjoyed ill-treating the POWs.
In January 1948 Ted Cosson prepared an Affidavit for War Crimes Commission regarding the brutal and sadistic Korean guard known as ‘Snake Eyes’ at 100 km Camp. ‘Snake Eyes’ was a first class private and had charge of the POWs on work parties. Cosson was at this Camp about 12 months until the Camp was disbanded and the POWs marched to Aungganung 105 km Camp on 26 January 1944. The sick were sent to Kanchanaburi.
‘Snake Eyes’ beat the POWs with his fists and thrashed men with his rifle-butt until senseless. The POWs often required hospital treatment after these bashings and some died.
Cosson recorded ‘Snake Eyes’ and another Korean would make POWs stand bareheaded in the sun all day and if the POW moved from his stand to attention position, he would be beaten with rifle butts. ‘Snake Eyes’ and other guards stripped the sick men too ill to work of their ragged clothes to wipe their shoes clean of mud.
About 20 POWs from this camp were detached to 83 km Camp but still remained part of the parent group. From 27 Dec to 29 Dec 1943 the first of the sick from Robertson Force Java 5a Party were evacuated south by train to Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
On 26 Jan 1944 the remainder of Robertson Force, 127 Australians and remainder of Americans and Dutch marched into Aungganaung 105 km Camp and were absorbed into Green Force. The remnants of Robertson Force were moved to Kanchanaburi by rail on 24 March 1944 and as of this date Group 5 was completely wound up.
Statistically the Australians fared better than the Dutch and Americans.
The total strength and losses in ‘A’ Force Groups 3 and 5 between 15 September 1942 to 20 July 1944 showed:
Australians lost 15.8%
British lost 27.5%
Americans lost 19.6%
Dutch lost 12.5%
There is no doubt the strong personality of their Commander Varley was instrumental in preventing further deaths. Varley’s strength and determination won the respect of the Japanese.
The same must be said for other leaders in ‘A’ Force. There was never any doubt they would not stand up for their men. Major Robertson must be included, his men always came first. Leadership of POWs stood out amongst those who served and worked in Burma.
In December 1943 Major Green was informed the rail link was completed and a small force was to be left behind under the command of Lt-Col Williams. Some of these men remained as part of a railway maintenance party. There were however several 2/4th men who continued with William’s No. 1 Mobile Force into Thailand. Amongst this group were Padre F.C. Corry, Lt. Kevin Boyle, Graham Wilson, Ken Lee and Private John Malthouse and From Java Party No. 5a Robertson Force, Ted Cosson and Merve Wilkinson were included.
History of 2/6th Field Company
Embarked from Sydney for Middle East on “Queen Mary” to Bombay whey they were transhipped to Dutch liner ‘SS Slamat’ sailing to Egypt.
- They were transferred with 7th Division to Palestine taking part in the successful Palastine-Lebanon-Syria campaign.
- The 2/6 Field Company was attached to British army during the defeat of Italian forces in the Sahara Desert prior to arrival of Rommel and German Afrika Korp.
The 7th Division was withdrawn to Australia for defence against the Japanese. ‘SS Orcades’ was separated from it’s convoy after debate between the Australian Government and Churchill. Churchill wanted to send 7th Division to Singapore and Curtin refused.
- ‘SS Orcades’ with 3,000 Australian troops, mostly support, landed in Batavia, Java, without their weapons, which were with the rest of the convoy, and continued home to Australia. Parts of ‘Black Force’ were poorly armed and short of ammunition.
- 2/6 Field Company was attached to ‘Black Force’ commanded by Brigadier Arthur S Blackburn, V.C., commanding officer of 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion – ‘Black Force’ comprised Dutch, Australian, British & American troops under the overall command of the Dutch Army.
- When the Dutch surrendered to Japan the remaining Alllied Forces, including British, Australian & American troops were also ordered to surrender. The 2/6th Field Company were incarcerated at “Bicycle Camp”.
- These POWs were later transferred to Changi and shipped to the Burma end of Burma-Thailand Railway.