The significance of French Indo-China’s location in relation to Singapore, Bangkok and Burma.
There were a total of 2,030 Prisoners of War of Japan in this Saigon Party, the last group to leave Thailand for overseas. Originally destined for Japan, this party would travel no further than Saigon. Mostly British with a small proportion of Netherlands East Indian Dutch and 200 Australians of which at least 22 men were from the 2/4th .
A further four 2/4th men were already in Saigon – totalling about 26 men in Saigon.
Having returned from Burma-Thai Railway this group were entrained to Singapore and billeted at River Valley Road Transit Camp, Singapore the group was put to work mostly at docks loading and unloading ship until they departed Singapore on 2 February 1945 on 1,489-ton ship called ‘Both’. Built in 1890 and registered in Batavia it was one of the seven ships which carried Australian Troops from convoy “MS 2” into Singapore from the Aquitania at Ratai Bay, Java on 20 January 1942.
‘Both’ was part of a convoy made up of 4 ships plus two armed Japanese ships, a destroyer and a corvette. The holds of ‘Both’ were loaded with 30lb rubber blocks and on deck was an array of earth moving equipment destined for Japan.
On 6 February the 6,968-ton cargo ship US Navy submarine Pampanito sank Engen Maru. In the early hours of 7 February the 6,892-ton cargo ship Taigo Maru was also sunk by submarines and the following day the 3,520-ton passenger-cargo ship Eifuku was sunk by Pampanito.
By now the Japanese escorts had departed the scene – probably the captains believed it wasn’t worth risking 2 warships to save an old, slow coal-burning 3,000 merchant ship which would soon fall prey to an American submarine.
To save the only remaining ship in the convoy, ‘Both’ captain set course for Cape St Jacques, French Indo-China. As ‘Both’ sailed up the Riviere de Saigon 30 miles to Saigon, the Japanese crew saw at least 20 ships including an air-craft carrier sitting on the bottom of the river. There is no doubt the Allies had by this time, the upper hand in these waters.
The port of Saigon had a river frontage of 5 kilometres from the mouth of the Canal de la Derivation to just beyond the Arrovo de l’Avalanche. The wharves handling commercial traffic were located in the southern region of the port, which was divided by the Arroyo Chinois. The naval dockyards and arsenal lay to the north of the town.
The wharves were constructed of steel and concrete with numerous go-downs adjacent to the wharves that ran at right angles to the river. The average go-down was in the region of 150 feet long by 50 feet wide and behind these warehouses a railway line ran to the main terminus in Saigon.
The ‘Both’ docked at about 1500 hours on 8 February 1945 and once ashore the Australians were directed to a go-down where they remained for a few days.
It was now the Australians in this Saigon party who were split – with 30 incorporated into Group No. 8 and remainder into Group No. 10. Group No. 8 POWs continued working on docks until their recovery in September 1945.
Group No. 10 also remained, and were put to work at various jobs around the docks. A few weeks later they were moved to an airfield to drainage work. It is thought to have been at Long-Thanh, located approximately 20 miles east of Saigon.
After 4 weeks or so, on 8th April the party was moved to Phan Rang on the coast, heading north. Two groups left by train and one by truck. The second train was bombed and strafed by an American Lockheed P38 Lightning aircraft killing several POWs. Harold Hockey was lucky to only receive wounds to his left breast, left leg and buttocks.
The whole party eventually arrived at Dran on the Da-Lat Plateau; 1,500 metres above sea level Dran was a hill station about 100 miles east-north-east of Saigon. The group was put to work at an airfield about 2 miles west-north-west of the town. The POWs firstly had to erect buildings for the Japanese, followed by the cartage of stones to use as landfill for the runway. Group 10 remained at the airfield construction job at Da-Let until 20 July 1945 when they were marched to Dran. Here they boarded a train to return them to Saigon.
On arrival they were billeted with some British POWs who had been in Saigon some time, in a camp on the Rue Catinant adjacent to the docks. The accommodation was rated as very good – electric lights! After a week or so the Australians were transferred to the French Foreign Legion barracks on Rue Jean Eudel where they remained until war’s end.
About 20 Australians from Group No. 10 had been transferred to Phnom Penh whilst the remainder of Group No. 10 were to be sent 500 kilometres north of Phnom Penh. The surrender of Japan instigated return of the 20 POWs to Saigon and the cancellation of orders to dispatch the others.
There were 6 deaths in this Saigon Party with 265 Australians being recovered at the end of the war. The men were recovered by the Americans on 6 September 1945 and flown to Bangkok; and then by Douglas C47 aircraft back to Singapore on 20 September 1945.
Other men from 2/4th who finished up in French Indo-China and did not sail on the ‘Both’; included James Howe, Bryan Manwaring, Harold Clayden and Leonard Greaves.
Howe and Manwaring were with ‘Rakuyo’ Maru party headed to Japan. They both became ill in Saigon and were left behind when their Party unable to safely leave Saigon harbour area because of the American sea blockade, returned to Singapore to leave on ‘Rakuyo’ Maru. Howe and Manwaring were the ‘lucky’ ones! Tragically the ‘Rakuyo’ Maru was sunk and only a few fortunate men surviving.
Greaves and Clayden were selected to go to Japan with ‘Awa’ Maru party. Due to illness they remained in Saigon and did not continue to Japan. The ‘Awa’ Maru Party was originally moved to Saigon from Tamakan, Kanchanaburi and Non Pladuk Camps in Thailand where they had passed selection for Japan. They travelled by train to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. They arrived Saigon on 15 April and remained until 15 August 1944. The POWs were billeted in the former French Foreign Legion Barracks on the Rue Jean Eudel which ran behind and parallel with the docks on Saigon River (there was also an immigration building on Rue Jean Eudel that was used as a POW camp). There were several failed attempts to transport the POWs out of Saigon but the American sea blockade made this impossible and the Party was returned to Singapore where the POWs embarked on ‘Awa‘ Maru for Japan on 16 December 1944. The month in Saigon was spent working on the wharves, go-downs and general labouring.
Most of the 2/4th machine gunners were eventually flown back to Australia. John Randall returned aboard 2/1st Australian Hospital ship ‘Manunda’, several others boarded ‘Tamaroa’ and sailed directly to Fremantle and some boarded ‘Highland Chieftain’ to Sydney and returned to WA by train or aircraft from Melbourne.
Some of those included in the ‘Both‘ Party:
WX8729 Badock, Ronald Collett (B Coy, 8 Platoon)
WX222 Barnett, Thomas James
WX12335 Brown, Ronald Edmund
WX16441 Crane, Thomas Daniel
WX5221 Currie, Stanley Alfred
WX8735 Curtin, John Goode
WX7236 Dunn, Cecil Henry
WX6506 Fraser James (Eric)
WXC7607 Gibbons, Ronald Jack
WX10693 Grundy, William Duncan
WX18170 Hickey, Stanley Raymond
WX9290 Hicks, George Halley
WX9240 Hockey, Harold Gerard
WX8813 Jackson, Thomas Marshall ‘Snake’ (B Coy 8 Platoon)
WX7467 Jamieson, Donald Keith
WX7697 Jeffery, Ronald Ralph
WX16332 Lind, James
WX5175 Mann, Eric Horsley (‘Rashin Maru’ remained Singapore joined Both)
WX95634 Randall, John (‘Awa Maru’ remained Singapore ill and joined Both)
WX6441 Smith, Alexander Julian ‘D’ Force V Battalion.
WX10117 Thomson, Eric Gerard
WX8753 Wheelock, Jack Logan (B Coy, 8 Platoon)
Those already Saigon include:
WX10354 Clayden, Harold Thomas (‘Awa Maru’ remained Saigon)
WX8373 Greaves, Leonard (‘Awa Maru’ remained Saigon)
WX6967 Howe, James (‘Rakuyo Maru’ Kumi No. 40 – remained Saigon)
WX78438 Manwaring, Brian Harry (‘Rakuyo Maru’ remained Saigon due illness)