Meiloe, Meilo, 75km Camp - Burma
MEILOE 75KM CAMP – 28 March 1943 to 11 May 1943
This was the start of ‘Speedo’.
At Meiloe Camp Ramsay and Black Forces from Java and Green Force from Singapore joined forces. The main party marched out of Kun Knit Kway 26 km Camp on 18th March 1943. Green Force joined them from 14 km Camp on 28th March. Lt-Col Ramsay was now appointed the commander. On 1st April 1943 the last of the sick from 26 km Camp arrived.
This camp was located in a valley near the Mezali River and where the mountains started. There was quite a decent stream approx. 18 yards wide. Given the opportunity, the POWs were allowed to swim.
To accommodate the combined Forces Ramsay, Green and Black, upper bunks were built otherwise men would have been tightly packed shoulder to shoulder. There were approximately 3,000 Australians here.
From here on ‘Speedo’ was evident. With up to 18 hour shifts, the chances to keep clean diminished with the increasing work loads. Two shifts worked day and night with lighting provided by large bamboo fires and a hand-operated generator.
One of the hardest task at 75 Kilo was bridge construction. Timber had to be cut first and hauled from the jungle to the site. The timber was then trimmed and shaped ready for pile-driving. A rough bamboo frame was erected, then holes dug and the poles then placed in position. A team of men would raise the driver to about 10 or more feet, letting it go it would crash down onto the head of the pole. On average 24 piles were driven each shift. It was physically draining and monotonous. The men were starved, beaten and bashed and worked long hours. Many accidents occurred on the bamboo platform which swayed and rocked. The Australian teams would chant their own variety of words rather than the Japanese counting.
It was at this Camp that ‘Boy Bastard’ and his mate the ‘Boy Bastard’s Cobber’ showed their ability to hand out sadistic bashings of which there was no let-up. The Camp Commander was the drunken Naito who was also prone to bashing his own guards, in particular the Koreans.
The men working on earthworking had their task increased from 1.7 m per day to 2 metres per man per day! The POW commanders argued fiercely to the Japanese to no avail. The POWs themselves decided on a go-slow tactic. The astounded Japanese questioned the officers who replied the men were too weak with lack of food, hard work and long hours and their request for the men to be returned to Camp failed.
The men continued with their plan for a week. Skeleton crews kept working whilst quite a few sought rest in the jungle and at the end of the shift the Japanese remained at a loss to understand how less work was completed at 2m per shift as against 1.7m.
As the work load increased, the rations decreased causing sickness numbers to increase alarmingly. Tropical ulcers joined the list of illnesses the men endured and died of. The ulcers were mostly caused by a break in the skin on their legs. There was an increased occurrence of beri beri and lung diseases.
Cholera broke and men died from this terrible death. The POW leaders and doctors enforced strict hygiene conditions. Without drugs or medicines, the doctors managed to contain a possible epidemic.
For almost 10 weeks the Japanese did their utmost to force POWs to work at a furious pace to finished this section of the railway.
The very sick were evacuated to Reptu Hospital camp.
Thanbyuzayat Base Hospital became so crowded that the Japanese High Command directed a new hospital be erected at 30 kilo – to be known as Reptu.
The only improvement on other camps was the boarded floors. Reptu Snr. M.O. was Major Fisher and camp commander was Lt. Col. C. Black. It was a blow to have the drunken Lt Naito as the Japanese commander.
The death rate continued to climb as the April thunderstorms arrived.
The advance party made up of the fittest men moved from 75 Kilo camp on 13th May 1943. Included in the advance party of about 30 men was Wally Lynn, Green Force No. 3 Btn and one Korean guard. The POWs marched over 40 kilometres to their last camp in Burma, Ankanan or Aunggaung 105 km. Now the monsoonal rains arrived and the men worked and lived in torrential rain and mud. Their work load was increased to 2.8 metres. As the soil was now black mud it became 3.2 m.
The POWs had some satisfaction when they became aware of large numbers of Japanese troops moving through the same punishing muddy conditions and rain to the Burma front line, loaded with equipment and pushing carts. At least they had more food to eat!
They did not approve of Japanese officers often badly treating their own men. Many were very young.
(As the foundation for the line was complete near 26 km Camp, Williams No. 1 Mobile Force (made up of Williams and Anderson Forces) were now occupied with laying the railway. Their task also required ballasting.)
Three weeks after the advance party left 75 Kilo Camp the men of Ramsay, Black and Green Forces knew they would be moved too, but had no idea when. At about 4.30pm on 22nd May the guards ordered all men back to camp. There was hardly time to prepare for a tiring march to the next camp, 105 Kilo. They were informed only the very sick would be transported and the men were to carry everything they required. Their personal belongings did not amount to much, but there was plenty of other gear.
It was an unforgettable journey. It was pitch black as they followed the Japanese guards who managed to lengthen the march from a direct route of 30 kilometres to 42 kilometres as they wound their way through an almost impenetrable jungle. The surface was often rough for the shoe-less POWs, the moon more often than not was covered by clouds and weary men collapsed, others slipped in muddy surfaces, some fell down embankments suffering bruising and cuts on knife-like rocks and thorny bushes. During rest periods the men simply collapsed where they stood and slept.
75 Km Camp by Albert Coates
Soon after arriving at this camp of 3,000 POWs Higuchi ordered his inspection of the 1300 very sick men. The sick were ordered to march past Higuchi. He ordered all but 300 sick out of the camp to work at 105 km camp despite the protests of Lt. Col Ramsay and Coates.
Coates was the only doctor at what what he described as a ‘filthy camp’ with very sick men. They saw many native labourers drop dead. Cholera appeared, probably brought on the early rains and dying natives polluting the water. Coates cordoned off a hut for cholera patients and asked for volunteers from the less sick to man the wards. His own morale was lifted by the positive response from Australian and Dutch boys. Within weeks cholera died down and the Japanese took charge of the native cholera patients.
Coates himself became very ill with scrub typhus, suffering delirium and high fever. He was looked after by two sick patients who fed and bathed him during his critical phase. His usual 12 stone dropped to 7 stone.
Namagoto, Brig Varley and an interpreter visited 75 km whilst Coates lay in rags on his bamboo bed. The purpose of their visit was to see if Coates would take over the 55km Hospital Camp – a real hospital to take all of the very serious cases at the Burma end of the railway. Coates agreed to take over a real hospital. Nagamoto even expressed his concern over Coates health.
A few days later Coates was moved by truck and train whilst lying on his stretcher to 55 km Camp.
The following is from a presentation by Albert Coaters in 1946 in Melbourne.