The ‘Both’ story – SAIGON PARTY, French Indo-China

The significance of French Indo-China’s location in relation to Singapore, Bangkok and Burma.

Below:  Japanese soldiers enter Saigon


Above:  Japanese march through Saigon.

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.


‘There were about 200 English already there, they looked well-fed compared to the recently arrived group who were bony and gaunt-looking. At that time there were no diseases in that particular Saigon camp, but when the Burma party arrive, numbering about 150 unfit men, they carried diseases which those already there soon caught. Food provisions were not increased, therefore the POWs who were the first to arrive in 1944 were to find their daily ration decreasing with every new intake of extra prisoners. To the ill-fed prisoners, the docks of Saigon looked like ‘Aladdin’s Cave’, and at great personal risk a good deal of thieving went on purely to enable them to survive.
They were in great danger the majority of the time – from the US bombers.   POWs in Saigon remember more than any other -was the constant bombing. During the last year of the war, US aircraft dominated the skies over French Indo China and incessantly dropped bombs over the enemy territory, stepping up its activity through the early months of 1945.
The Americans blew up docks, ports, towns and wherever they believed the Japanese were operational. During this active period hundreds of the prisoners were moved from Saigon to other areas to build airfields.
POWs were killed in this endless wave of bombing. Da Lat, which was a pre-war summer resort in the mountains for French holidaymakers, described as a much cooler and very beautiful location was included in bombing raids.  While on a train  heading for Da Lat to build another aerodrome, the train was bombed by the Allies. Only 27 of the 120 POWs on board survived, and those 27 were all walking wounded. The Japanese troops were all in the front enclosed carriages. The surviving prisoners didn’t make it to Da Lat on that first occasion and found themselves back in Saigon. A second attempt, however, was made and they eventually got to Da Lat in 1944. They worked for nearly a year constructing airfields, again being constantly bombed. Conditions were very harsh, POWs who survived admit it was not as bad as for those on the northern part of the Thai/Railway. As in all Japanese camps it was commonly known that the Korean guards treated them worse than the Japanese.
Before the war was over and with the airfields finished, they were sent back once again to Saigon. Some were billeted in the French Barracks of the Foreign Legion, and for many this was the first time in three years that they had a proper roof over their heads. The French people, themselves, had all been moved out of their homes and were forced to resettle together in the hills. Towards the end of the war, six POWs, managed to escape from the French Barracks and made it to the hills where the French people kept them hidden until the end of hostilities.
Back in Saigon, the docks were being badly hit every day and the planes dropped thousands of leaflets over the area, in several languages, warning the Japanese that they would suffer if any harm came to the POWs they were holding.
Several ex-POWs said that there was a considerable difference to their treatment and the supply of food after these leaflets were dropped.
Then came the day when the planes dropped leaflets saying “THE JAPANESE HAVE SURRENDERED, YOU ARE ALL FREE MEN.” It was a momentous moment for the long-suffering POWs when not long afterwards American planes with twin fuselages came sweeping over – no longer dropping the dreaded bombs.’
Must of this information has been taken from COFEPOW website for which we are most grateful.


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, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX222  Barnett, Thomas James –  ‘B’ Coy HQ, Transport Corporal, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX12335  Brown, Ronald Edmund – ‘B’ Coy 7 Platoon, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX16441  Crane, Thomas Daniel – ‘E’ Coy, SRB HQ, ‘D’ Force Thailand,  T Battalion
WX5221  Currie, Stanley Alfred – ‘B’ Coy HQ – Corporal, ‘D’ Force Thailand S Battalion.
WX8735  Curtin, John Goode – ‘B’ Coy, 8 Platoon, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX7236  Dunn, Cecil Henry – ‘B’ Coy HQ, ‘D’ Force Thailand, T Battalion & W.O.II John Dooley Party.
WX6506  Fraser James (Eric), ‘D’ Coy, 15 Patoon, ‘A’ Force Burma, Green Force No 3 Battalion
WX7607  Gibbons, Ronald Jack – ‘C’ Coy, 12 Platoon – Sgt, ‘D’ Force Thailand, S Battalion.
WX10693  Grundy, William Duncan –  HQ Coy, Signals, ‘D’ Force Thailand, T Battalion
WX18170  Hickey, Stanley Raymond – ‘A Coy, 6 Platoon reinforcement,D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX9290  Hicks, George Halley – ‘D’ Coy, 1 Platoon,  ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX9240  Hockey, Harold Gerard – ‘B’ Coy, 7 Platoon, ‘D’ Force Thailand, possibly Capt Harris Party.
WX8813 Jackson, Thomas Marshall ‘Snake’ – ‘B’ Coy 8 Platoon,  ‘D’ Coy Thailand,  T Battalion.
WX7467  Jamieson, Donald Keith ‘A’ Coy, 6 Platoon, Corp, ‘D’ Force Thailand, T Battalion.
WX7697  Jeffery, Ronald Ralph  – ‘B’ Coy, 9 Platoon, L/Corp, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX16332 Lind, James – HQ Coy, No 3 Platoon, Reinforcement,  ‘A’ Force Burma, Green Force.
WX5175  Mann, Eric Horsley – ‘D’ Coy, 14 Platoon, ‘D’ Force Thailand, S Battalion, ‘Rashin Maru’ remained Singapore joined ‘Both’ Party.
WX95634 Randall, John  – 88th Light Aid Detachment, Arrived Java, ‘A’ Force Burma, Java Party No. 4 Williams Force,  ‘Awa Maru’ Party remained Singapore ill and joined ‘Both’ Party.
WX6441  Smith, Alexander Julian  – ‘D’ Coy, 14 Platoon, ‘D’ Force V Battalion, Both Party.
WX10117  Thomson, Eric Gerard – ‘B’ Coy,  7 Platoon, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.
WX8753  Wheelock, Jack Logan – ‘B’ Coy, 8 Platoon, ‘D’ Force Thailand, Capt Harris Party.


Those already Saigon include: 
WX10354  Clayden, Harold Thomas – ‘C’ Coy HQ,  ‘A’ Force Burma, Java Party No. 4, Williams Party,  ‘Awa Maru’ Party remained ill in Saigon.
WX8373  Greaves, Leonard – ‘A’ Coy, 4 Platoon, Corp,  ‘Awa Maru’ remained ill Saigon.
WX6967   Howe, James – Btn HQ, ‘A’ Force Burma, Green Force No. 3 Battalion, originally ‘Rakuyo Maru’ Kumi No. 40 – remained Saigon due to illness.
WX78438  Manwaring, Brian Harry  – ‘C’ Coy, 11 Platoon, Sgt, ‘A’ Force Burma, Green Force No. 3 Battalion, originally ‘Rakuyo Maru’ remained Saigon due illness.


A happy WW2 POW story

Below:  Eric Fraser

Eric’s daughter Patricia Bell informs us she clearly recalls he father telling the family about the end of war and being in Saigon, French Indo China.  Thank you for sharing Patricia!
‘Dad and his mate from N.S.W. had heard the War had ended.  They were not sure but saw the gates open and a party going on down the street.  Typical of larrikins they thought they would go, but also that they maybe shot,
Well they did and met a lovely French family of 3 sisters and a Mother.  I think the Father had been killed as he was helping feed the prisoners through the fence.
That friendship with one of the girls lasted until her death as a Teacher in France.  Her and her husband came out to Perth and stayed with Mum and Dad.’





Above:  Includes the names of  21 Soldiers of 2/4th – however there are some errors – probably created whilst receiving message.
  1.  Dickie should read WX18170 S. R. HICKEY,
  2.  Dicks should read WX9290 H.G. HICKS
  3. Swanston should read WX10117 E.G. THOMPSON
  4. Wheeler should read WX8755 J.L. WHEELOCK
  5. Lyn should have read LIND
  6. OMITTED ALTOGETHER IS WX5221 CURRIE Stanley Alfred and WX95634 RANDALL, John who was with 88th Light Aid