Tavoy (Dawei) - river port - Burma
Tavoy (Dawei) – River Port – Burma
Tavoy was situated at the mouth of Tavoy River, quite a distance from the coast. It was at the head of an inlet and was reached after a long trip in steel barges towed by a tug.
Ramsay Force made up of about 1,000 men disembarked 24 May 1942 at Tavoy Point, Burma.
Ramsay Force was part of ‘A’ Force’s 3,000 POWs under the command of Brigadier General Arthur Varley which sailed from Keppell Harbour, Singapore on 15th May 1942 headed for Burma. ‘A’ Force was made up of 3 Battalions each with 4 Companies and about 1,000 men each Battalion.
Lt-Col George Ramsay was in command of ‘Ramsay’ Force
Major Charles Green commanded ‘Green’ Force.
Major D. R. Keer commanded ‘Keer’ Force.
On 20th May, following 5 days at sea in overcrowded cargo ships in appalling condition ‘Green’ Force disembarked at Victoria Point on the southern tip of Burma to commence work on construction of the airfield.
Three days later on on 23rd May the next group was off-loaded at Mergui to improve the capacity of the airfield. They were joined by members of the British Sumatra Battalion which arrived on another ship from Sumatra. Amongst the POWs was Dr, Albert Coates.
Brigadier General Varley and the remainder of ‘A’ Force were put off later that day at Simbin with orders to proceed to the city of Tavoy.
The POWs had just arrived at Tavoy when 2 IC POW Colin Cameron from 2/4th, intervened in an incident with a Jap guard. The Jap guard who stood 4’6″ tall, monkey faced and with the same lovable character as a yapping pomeranian poodle then turned on Cameron who was an impressively built man over 6ft tall. Colin remained unmoved as he was belted with a stick. The stick broke and sent the Jap’s frustration level around the bend! He began jumping up and down pounding Colin’s chest with his fists. It was an unequal contest and the Jap was losing yards of face!
Thank goodness the Jap wasn’t armed. Peace was restored when a Jap Officer ordered everybody off the barge. (from ‘Ghosts in Khaki’ by Les Cody)
They arrived to find their accommodation appalling and food scarce.
Shortly after their arrival 8 Australian POWs escaped, were captured and executed by a firing squad.
During the next four months ‘A’ Force’s ‘Ramsay’ Force rebuilt the airfield which had been destroyed during the battle for Burma. During this time monsoon rains arrived.
Tavoy was situated at the mouth of Tavoy River, quite a distance from the coast. The POWs were ordered off the ship and onto steel barges which were towed by a tug up the inlet to where Anderson Force had been working for the past three months on the aerodrome. The Green Force POWs were about to join them.
They arrived at the dimly lit HQ and saw what appeared to be foreign workers – wearing green European type uniforms with high peaked caps, talking in a language foreign to the Aussies! Initially they were thought to be Germans!
The next morning the newly arriving POWs realized they were Dutchmen from Java.
Below: Uniforms of Dutch East Indies army
Conditions at Tavoy were much tougher than Mergui or Victoria Point. Food was scarce, the work load increased, water was limited and the guards much more aggressive.
Tavoy was no more than a transit camp and on August 15th and 17th drafts of 277 and 258 men from Green Force moved to Ye, further up the coast. It was a truck trip and some managed a nightmare journey – all were packed in like sardines, standing of course, in an open truck hanging on desperately to each other as the truck swayed from side to side as their crazy Jap driver hurtled around corners and dodged pot holes.
The group Bert Wall was with were accommodated at a two-story school building. He says they didn’t work. Bert found generally Tavoy and Ye were not too friendly.
It was at the school that Bert tells the story of Jimmy Baggs. Jimmy had often said he could sing if somebody could find some music. They boys didn’t really believe him nor did they disbelieve him.
There was a Dutchman who could play the piano accordion beautifully – he had been a lecturer or professor of music. Well Jimmy began singing on the stairs of this two story school. Everybody stopped. Bagg’s voice was amazing.
He also sang with two Russians who were captured and POWs telling the Japanese they were Australians.
Thereafter the boys would request Jimmy sing for them. Baggs also wrote poetry, and in particular wrote a poem about Harry Cain being KIA at Singapore. Of course all this work went to the bottom of the South China Sea when Baggs lost his life when Rakuyo sank.
When the rains began to slow in late September ‘A’ Force was ordered to Moulmein and then to Thanbyuzat. Work on the Burma end of the Railway would begin in early October 1942.
Part of ‘A’ Force Green Force No. 3 Battalion were sent to Tavoy after completing the project at Victoria Point, arriving about 10 August 1942. Once again working on extending the aerodrome.
Wally Linn wrote the ‘food and housing condition were good and the guards reasonable although there were several attempted escapes resulting in the men being shot’.
This group then were sent to No. 4 km camp Kendau, where they would begin work on Burma end of railway. Linn wrote ‘conditions seemed not too bad at this stage, although no picnic, the group though began to realise being a POW might become unpleasant.’
Green Force No. 3 Battalion was next moved to Thetkaw 124 km Camp where the guards were found to be Korean ‘and their basic morality questionable’.