The Soldier's Details

First Name:
Stephen John
Nick Name:
Regimental #:
Not Known
Place of Birth:
Boulder, Western Australia
Father's Name:
Stephen Joseph Gleeson
Mothers's Name:
Beatrice Elizabeth Gleeson
Church of England
Pre-war Occupation:
Brick Worker
Selarang Camp and Barracks Changi and from Kanchanaburi to Changi Gaol Camp
‘ H ’ Force Thailand, H Force Group No. 3
Camps Thailand:
Kanu II Malayan Hamlet, Kanchanaburi
Return Details 1945:
Singapore-Melbourne, 1st Netherlands Military Hospital Ship Oranje; Melbourne-Perth by train.

General Description

Gleeson’s right leg was amputated.  He remained at Kanchanaburi when ‘H’ Force returned to Singapore due to illness.  He  returned with other patients to Singapore after December 1943.

Please read further about ‘H’ Force Thailand.

Stephen (Steve) John Gleeson grew up on a farm at Mundijong. He enlisted 3rd September 1941 recording his birth as 29 July 1922. Born in Boulder in 1923 he was in fact only 18 years of age and underage!
Born in Ireland his father Stephen Joseph Gleeson made his way to the Western Australian Goldfields, to Boulder in the 1900s.   He served in AIF WW1.   Following his return he met widowed Beatrice Elizabeth Leonard and her young daughter. They married in Boulder in 1922. In 1928 the Gleeson family moved to Mundijong.
There were four girls Pat, Margaret, Eunice and Lillian and two brothers, Norman (AIF) and Dan (RAAF).   Steve attended Mundijong School for his primary education and then Perth Boys Technical School. Until his enlistment Steve worked at the local brick works and Rose’s Farm.
With the 2/4th Reinforcements, Stephen Gleeson sailed from Fremantle on the ‘Aquitania’ to Singapore in 1942. Amongst the reinforcements were his mates Bill Swann, George Leipold and Syd Darby. Read about the Five from Mundijong.
Steve left Singapore with H Force Group 3 on 8th May 1942. Initially this was an all-Australian force under the command of Lt-Col R.F. Oakes. This group later collected further POWs to make up 500 Australians, 200 British and some Americans.
H Force suffered some of the largest number of  death rates on the railway. Harsh conditions, little food and rains resulted in cholera, beriberi, malaria and tropical abscesses as well as ever-frequent bashings by guards.
Steve developed a tropical ulcer on his leg, which required amputation below his knee. His amputation would have taken place with minimal or no anaesthetic and under tenuous conditions including limited medical tools. His strength of character was essential to his recovery as was the dedication of the soldiers who acted as medical orderlies and the doctors.


Above: the official letter confirming POWs who remained in Kanchanaburi Hospital – Steve Gleeson’s name was included on the list.
When H Force returned to Changi December 1943 Steve remained at the hospital at Kanchanaburi returning weeks later with other patients to Singapore.  He would have initially been sent to Australian General Hospital at Roberts Barracks then to Changi Gaol Camp.
Whilst at Changi he overcame a bout of malaria, cholera and had his appendix removed. Steve also acquired an artificial leg made for him by other amputees under the guidance of WO Arthur Purdon, 2/30th Battalion. The leg was made from a crashed Japanese plane.
Please read further about Gleeson’s Changi leg
At war’s end, Steve left Singapore for Melbourne on Oranje, 1st Netherlands Medical Ship. Then Troop train from Melbourne to Perth. He was discharged from the Army in December 1945.
Returning to his family at Mundijong he learnt his mother had died whilst he was away.   In 1946 Steve’s father died and Steve undertook the role of caretaker of his two younger sisters.
In 1947 Steve married Ethel Coffee from nearby Serpentine. They made a home for themselves and their children at Inglewood whilst Steve trained as a limb maker through the Department of Post War Reconstruction.
Steve’s dreams of farming life or playing sport were lost on the Thai-Burma Railway.
In 1957 Steve and his family moved to Melbourne where he took up the position of Assistant Manager at the Post War Limb Association. In December 1958 he accepted the position of Manager in Adelaide. The family settled and remained in SA.
On retirement Steve volunteered his time to RSL, Limbless Soldiers Assoc. and St Vincent De Paul Society.   He also developed a passion for winter lawn bowling.   As well he was a keen gardener of vegetables and roses, maintained a small orchard and kept chooks. He was a handyman and enjoyed woodwork.   Steve also had an interest in racing pigeons which he raced and bred.
**One wonders whether Mundijong boy and mate George Leipold sold Steve one of his homing pigeons whilst they were at school! (See George Leipold WX16355)
Most of all Steve was proud of his children and grandchildren and took a great interest in their lives. In fact his retirement was so hectic his daughters joked they had to make an appointment to see him!
Steve and Ethel had also purchased a caravan and enjoyed short trips away until Ethel developed cancer in 1981. Ethel passed away in March 1985.
Devastated with his loss Steve decided to make his long awaited trip to the north of WA and to visit relations. He unexpectedly passed away in October 1985 at Overlander near Carnarvon, seven months after Ethel died.   His body was returned to SA to be buried with Ethel at Centennial Park.
The Gleeson’s had five children. Sandra, Patricia, Diane, Maree and Stephen.
He was a mate to George Leipold, Bill Swann, Syd Darby and would have known Hector Bishop also from Mundijong.
Syd Darby, Bishop and Leipold died during the battle for Singapore.
(Our thanks to Steve Gleeson’s daughter Sandra who provided much of the above information).
Stephen John Gleeson WX16736 (3rd from Left) 1945.

The famous photograph!


Camp Locations:

  • Changi Gaol Camp - Singapore
  • Selarang Barracks Changi - Singapore
  • Selarang Camp Changi - Singapore
  • Kanchanaburi, 50k - Thailand
  • Kanu II, 152.30k - Thailand