Bob was the first born child to Robert and Kate Bell of Jolimont, WA on 6th May 1920. Bob was eldest brother of four sisters and two brothers.
Bob’s parents moved to Lake Biddy to a Soldiers’ Settlement farm when he was approximately 4 years old. The depression caused his parents to leave the farm as so many families were forced to do. The family returned to Perth in 1932.
(Bob’s father Robert John Bell was a WWI veteran having enlisted at barely 18 years of age in March 1916. Bell (Snr) served with 11th Battalion in France. He sustained a fractured skull from a severe gunshot wound to his head and was evacuated to 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham. In December 1917, Bell (Snr) returned to Western Australia and was discharged. His WWI records show on 4/7/1918 his income (invalid pension) was reduced to 30/- per fortnight! DVA were as mean and miserable tthen as they are today!)
Robert John Bell enlisted 28 March 1916 to 57th Depot, Serial No. 6231, Aged 18 ½ years, 5’ 8 ½ “
About 9 May 1917 was admitted to 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham having sustained severe gun shot wound to head resulting in fractured skull & evacuated to England,
He was discharged Dec 1917.
4/7/1918 income (invalid pension) reduced to 30/- per fortnight.
Bob attended Claremont Primary school for one year then Perth Boys School, where he passed his Junior examination. The headmaster told his father the land was the only place for Bob!
In 1937 the Bell family again left Perth and went to Pingaring onto another virgin farm.
Bob loved farm life and had a great love of horses and when he was older and sufficiently strong, he became a good teamster.
He enlisted in the army in 1941, travelling to Northam Camp and joined the re-enforcements of 2/4th MG Battalion. Bob travelled to Darwin to further his training. Returning to Fremantle on the “Aquitania” in February 1942, Bob was amongst those who succeeded in reaching shore and visit his two older sisters. He left the next morning and managed to rejoin the “Aquitania” heading for Singapore. The Allied forces were soon taken PoWs. Bob remained at Selarang Camp Changi before joining ‘A’ Force, Green Force No. 3 Battalion.
On 14th May 1942 Green Force No. 3 Battalion as part of ‘A’ Force embarked at Singapore on ‘Toyohashi Maru’ and with another ship ‘Celebes Maru’ sailed to Victoria Point. Green Force was broken into 2 groups. One was located to about 7 miles from townsite to work on the airfield and the other group was based at Victoria Point where they were to unload aviation fuel drums and rice from ships and stacking/loading fuel drums onto trucks for the airfield and roadwork.
From Victoria Point they travelled on one of two small ships to Tavoy. Bob was trucked to Ye. They worked on the final and most northern of 3 airfields which was completed by mid September. Over 25th and 26th September, the Battalion marched out of Ye to Thanbyuzayat via Lamaign. They arrived 28th September.
The two groups leap frogged each other until joining forces at Kendau, 4.8km Camp – the first construction camp on the Burma side of the rail link and started work early October remaining here until early December.
Green Force moved to Thetkaw 14km Camp, employed mainly on bridge building from early December 1942 to end of March 1943.
In Burma the forward camp at Meilo (75km Camp) was home to over 2,000 Australians (including Bob) – moving the combined Green, Ramsay and Black Forces further into the jungle.
“The 75 was a bad camp: it was at the peak of the speedo, the work load beyond endurance, the food ration cut to near starvation point and the never ending harassment. Time had degenerated into just a blurred sequence of pain when there was no beginning and no end to the day. Anywhere must be better than this” wrote Les Cody, ‘Ghosts in Khaki’.
Having put in a full day’s work at Meiloe the entire force began a march to the next camp, Aungganaung 105km Camp and from about 11 May to December 1943 the POWs soon learned 105km was no better than 75km. There was more rain, mud, less food and medicines, more disease and longer hours. They were to be diverted from the rail to be employed making a road which required trees to be chopped with blunt axes, stripped and carried long distances to lay on the road.
This was followed by quarry work; smashing and carting stone for ballast for the roads and stockpiles for the line from dawn to dusk. The POWs were bootless and dressed only in ragged shorts or gee strings. Their unprotected bodies and limbs were covered in cuts and abrasions from flying chips of stone. The cuts and abrasions were then prone to tropical ulcers.
Bob survived serious injury and was amongst the men of Green Force to gather at Tamarkan. All the POWs from Burma were cleared by March 1944, mostly to Tamarkan Camp, Thailand. Many sick died en route, their train journeys often delayed and in appalling conditions.
Tamarkan Camp was heaven! The men were here to rest and eat up. The Japanese planned to send thousands of health POWs to Japan to work in war related industries. The men had already heard stories of the US torpedo attacks and knew some of what was happening in the war via secret radios. They were aware of the risks ahead.
Bob was one of 64 men from ‘A’ Force chosen by the Japanese to make up first group of 900 men to sail to Japan on “Rakuyo Maru”. The “Rakuyo Maru” was hit by a US torpedo whilst sailing with a convoy in the South China Sea. The ship took quite some time to sink because of the load of rubber being carried, however Bob was one of the large number of POWs who did not survive the appalling conditions in the water. He died on 14th September 1944. He was 24 years old.
BELL, Private, ROBERT JOSEPH, WX16389, A.I.F. 2/4 M.G. Bn., Australian Infantry. 14 September 1944. Age 24. Son of Robert John and Kate Bell of Pingaring, Western Australia. Panel 18.