The Soldier's Details
- First Name:
- Robert Ramsay
- Nick Name:
- Regimental #:
- 'C' Company, 10 Platoon
- Place of Birth:
- North Coburg, Victoria
- Father's Name:
- Donald McAskil
- Mothers's Name:
- Jessie McAskil
- Pre-war Occupation:
- Djakarta War Cemetery, Plot 2, Row B, Grave 17, Age 44.
- Java Party No. 20
- Camps Java:
- Bandoeng No. 4 Camp, Bicycle Camp Batavia, Makasura. Sent to Sumatra to Pakan Baroe-Moearo Railway.
- Cause of Death:
- Cardiac Beri-Beri
- Place of Death:
- Kampoeng 106km Camp, near Kota Baroe, Sumatra
- Date of Death:
McAskil enlisted AIF from Menzies 17 Aug 1940 and later joined 2/4th’s ‘C’ Company 10 Platoon under Commanding Officer Lt Wilson.
The 2/4th was sent to train at Woodside, SA later in 1941. The Battalion was located in Darwin when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, and on New Year’s Day 1942, they were hurriedly shipped first to Sydney (to pick up large numbers of reinforcements for the 8th Division’s depleted Battalions fighting in Malaya) and then to Fremantle (to pick up reinforcements for 2/4th and supplies) on their way to Singapore.
McAskil was one of nearly 100 men from 2/4th who missed returning to ‘Aquitania’ before she sailed for Singapore 16 Jan 1942. For most this, was was not their choice.
Bob joined ‘Blackforce’ in Java. He was officially taken POW of Japan 8 March 1942 and first imprisoned at Bandeong No. 4 Camp, Bicycle Camp and finally Makasura POW Camp, Java prior to being selected by the Japanese to work in Japan with Java Party 20.
Below is copied from ‘Java Parties’ via Mansell Website to this Dutch information: https://www.japansekrijgsgevangenkampen.nl/NN%20Maru%2017.htm
‘The NN Maru 17 sailed on 18-5-1944 with 800 POW’s from Batavia to Singapore. The group POW consisted of 194 British, 258 Australian, 42 American, 306 Dutch. This transport was known as Java Party 20, the 20th POW-transport from Java.
On 22-5-1944 the ship arrived in Singapore; the POW’s were taken to the River Valley Road-camp.
NOTE. Later on these POW’s were transported to Japan with Hozan Maru, Kokusei Maru, Hiyoki Maru and/or Miyo Maru (Japan Party 1)’
From the above information we know McAskil sailed from Batavia 18 May 1944 for Singapore on NN Maru 17 – one of 800 POWs (258 Australians). They arrived Singapore four days later on 22 May 1944 and were taken to River Valley Transport Camp.
McAskil departed Java with Java Party No. 20 – destination was to be Japan. On his arrival in Singapore the men were taken to River Valley Road Transit Camp. It was here assessment was made of the men’s their health before being forwarded to Japan. McAskil was removed from the draft of 777 men (we assume due to ill-health) The ship carrying this draft of men was later sunk off Nagasaki by a US submarine on 24 June 1944.
Because he missed this earlier draft to Japan due to illness, McAskil later joined Java Party No. 22 and was instead sent from Singapore to Sumatra to work on the Pakan Baroe-Moearo Railway.
Other 2/4th in this group from Java included WX13468 Annear, Booth WX8766 who died 15 April 1945 of beri beri, Squance WX16885 and Quinn WX9285, Magill and WX10343 Noel Banks (Banks and Harold Booth had sailed from Java to Singapore with Java Party No. 22) and were joined by McAskil with Java Party No. 20 (to Japan) at the River Valley Transit Camp – they all sailed to Sumatra on same ship.
It was whilst working on this railway McAskil died of cardiac beri beri aged 44 years at Kampoeng 106km near Kota Baroe, Sumatra. After the war his body was taken to Djakarta War Cemetery. (As was that of Harold Vernon Booth)
POWs were fed mostly with a diet of rice which did not contain adequate quantities of most vitamins and in particular thiamine. Cardiac beri beri commonly known as wet beri beri resulted in oedema or severe swelling. Body moisture flowed downwards toward their feet & legs until they looked like loaves of bread – their ankles disappeared. Sometimes necks swelled until the head became part of their shoulders.
POW life and conditions on the Sumatran Railway were appalling – deteriorating further towards the end of 1945, there were virtually no food supplies (even for the Japanese) – POWs desperately searched the already bare surrounding vegetation for leaves, small animal life, insects and anything edible. They were bullied and beaten working long hours to complete the rail track. There were no medical supplies for the simplest ailments.
When the war ended and the Army sent in recovery teams, they were horrified and the health and condition on the POWs.
McASKIL, Private, ROBERT RAMSAY, WX8261, A.I.F. 2/4 M.G. Bn., Australian Infantry. 28 March 1945. Age 44. Son of Donald and Jessie McAskil, of North Coburg, Victoria, Australia. Grave Ref. 2. B. 17.
Bob was the second youngest of 8 sons born to parents Donald and Jessie McAskil who married in Victoria in 1880. The couple also had four daughters. The McAskil had a farm called ‘Merri Banks’ Newlands, Coburg around 1900 which is recorded in the history of the district of Coburg.
We believe Bob was in fact born in 1899 and not 1901 as recorded on his enlistment. He would have found it necessary to conform to the age limit maximum of 40 years as so many enlisting men did.
Tragically for the McAskill family two brothers died in France WW1. Allan Douglas died 5 Feb 1917 aged 22 years and Angus Archibald died 17 Jul 1928 aged 33 years.
Bob’s mother Jessie died in Coburg, Victoria in 1913 aged 52 years. Bob would have been about 14 years of age, with a younger brother Alistair Gordon born in 1901 and younger sister Lesley Grace born in 1906.
Below: Bob played with the local Coburg football team but in 1926 found himself in trouble with the law several times. Alister too – perhaps it was their Scottish ancestry!
Bob had been living and working in Menzies (mining) prior to his enlistment. We believe Bob and his younger brother Alistair moved to West Australia from Victoria to work.
Alistair was recorded living and working in the Yilgarn mining area. He had married in Perth about 1935 to Winnifred Hale.
Bob’s father Donald died Victoria in 1938.
The family burial plot in Coburg, Victoria.
Bob died of cardiac beri beri at 106 km Camp on 28 March 1945 aged 46 years. He was one of 3 men from 2/4th to die of terrible illnesses in appalling conditions in Sumatra
- Bandoeng - Java ***
- Bicycle Camp, Batavia, Jakarta - Java ***
- Makasura - Java
- Pakan Baroe-Moearo - Sumatra **