13TH (AGH) AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL, 8TH DIVISION, SINGAPORE
Commanding Officer: VX39275
Col. Douglas Clelland Pigdon
Born Melbourne 6 December 1891
Died illness as POW, Mukden POW Camp, Manchuria
6 July 1945 aged 53 years
On departure from Australia 2/13th comprised 18 officers, 44 nurses, 3 masseuses and 146 other ranks – equipped to treat 600 patients. They arrived Singapore 15 Sep 1941 and firstly set themselves up at St. Patrick’s Boys School, south coast of Singapore, initially treating few patients. Many of its nursing staff were attached to other units or establishments, including the Singapore General Hospital, while those that remained spent much of their time training in the treatment of tropical diseases and modern military surgical practices.
‘Hospital ward of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital (AGH) during the evacuation of Singapore. The building was subject to bombing, sustaining hits to both its kitchen and a ward, and had to operate under complete blackout conditions at night. Mounting casualties soon outstripped the hospital’s ability to accommodate and treat them and patients had to lie on the lawns around the hospital. As the Japanese forces advanced, the nursing sisters of the 2/13th AGH were progressively evacuated on three ships.‘
Between 21 and 23 November 1941
The 13th relocated to the Malayan mainland and occupied newly-built, but not quite finished, mental hospital at Tampoi, six and a half kilometres from Johore Bahru.
The 13th was still at Tampoi when the Japanese launched their invasion of Malaya on 8 December. Their rapid advance soon forced the withdrawal of the 10th Australian General hospital from Malacca to Singapore, leaving the 13th as the only Australian hospital in Malaya.
As a result, it was ordered on 11 December to double its patient capacity to 1,200. At the time it only had 359 beds open; but by 18 December, 945 were in operation
12 Dec 1941
A Secret Memo was received ordering the 13th General Hospital to expand from 600 to 1200 beds. The current number was 359.
Staff set up two further wards and by 15 Dec the bed number had increased to 643.
17 Dec 1941
Major Gordon Bennett visited and inspected 13th AGH. There were now 945 beds.
Christmas Day: First away from Australia and home.
On New Year’s Day 1942
20 Nursing staff from 10th AGH, located at Malacca were attached for duty. Patients moved from Malacca because of the Japanese forces moving south.
4 Jan 1942
Hospital staff were given a warning re breach of Security. The message read “Information from patients admitted from the fighting Zone gained by Hospital personnel must not be passed on by recipients. Any infringement of the law in this respect renders the culprit liable to prosecution under the Security Act”
The Japanese were north of Slim River between Trolak and Bidor
6 Jan 1941
10th Australian General Hospital and 2 Con Depot left Malacca, moving to Singapore. 76 patients from the 10th AGH were admitted to 13th AGH. Within two days Lt. Col. A. E. Coates, Lt. Col. W. Harvey and 6 Officers, including Majors Farmer and Fagan, plus 15 N.C.Os and 39 O.Rs were attached for duty from the 10th Australian General Hospital. On their heels followed, from the same hospital, 16 Sisters, 5 Masseuses, 4 Officers, 2 Chaplains, 4 N.C.Os including S/Sgt. C. Weir and 28 O.Rs.
Being bombed daily.
13 Jan 1942:
The first Australian troops went into combat with the Japanese
15 Jan 1942
13th AGH now had 1165 beds prepared for occupancy with 880 patients – few of which were battle casualties.
The operating theatres worked day and night to prepare for the expected casualties.
Ward G of the 2/13th Australia General Hospital (AGH). The Hospital was situated in an unfinished mental hospital near Johore Bahru before evacuating to Singapore due to the advancing Japanese forces in December 1941.
TAMPOI, MALAYA. 1941. THE COOK HOUSE IN AN ATTAP HUT AT THE 2/13TH AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL. THE HOSPITAL WAS LOCATED IN AN UNFINISHED MENTAL HOSPITAL ABOUT SEVEN MILES NORTH OF JOHORE BAHRU. (DONOR L. ARTHURSON).
Above & Below: Nurses quarters Tampoi.
2/13 Australian General Hospital nurses mess and sleeping quarters. The Hospital was situated in an unfinished mental hospital near Johore Bahru before evacuating to Singapore due to the advancing Japanese forces in December 1941.
‘The 13th treated most of the casualties that resulted from the AIF’s battles in Johore, and, as the fighting got closer, it effectively became a large-scale casualty clearing station – the most forward surgical unit in the army’s medical organisation. Eventually, the approach of the Japanese also forced the 13th to withdraw to Singapore, commencing on 23 January. Thirty-eight hours later it was re-established as a 700-bed hospital back at St. Patrick’s.’ (AWM)
16 Jan 1942
Suddenly the war arrived.
Patients were delivered in rapid succession in all forms of transport carried in on stretchers with tickets pinned to them identifying the most urgent injuries
An admission room quickly established identity, rank and injury and from here the stretcher bearers ran the casualties to either ward or theatre.
Most casualties arrived at night. Little sleep was available with air raid alarms going day and night.
The Japanese controlled radio station told the 13th AGH to be out of their buildings by 26th January – they were needed by the Japanese!
Between 16 – 21 January – with increasing numbers of casualties arriving 200 medical and minor surgical cases were transferred to 10th AGH, Oldham Hall, Singapore.
(The Japanese at this time were at Muar on the west coast and the situation was looking grim. The Australian 2/29th are now in constant contact with the enemy)
21 Jan 1942
13th AGH was instructed to reduce its capacity to 250 beds and move to Singapore Island – following much discussion – to St. Patrick’s School at Katong.
23 Jan 1942
31 O.R.s and 40 patients went to the 10th Australian General Hospital.
24 & 25 Jan 1942
Evacuation of patients began on the morning of 24th. Evacuating and moving a whole hospital is no simple task.
Medical staff from ‘Aquitania’ arrived to reinforce.
Patients had been moved by early evening, with numbers transferred elsewhere. By 2300 hours 25 January the patients had been moved. Dismantling the wards was hard work.
Hospital equipment was moved by convoys of 20-30 trucks driven by Indians and Malays. An enormous exercise.
Drivers got lost, didn’t follow closely enough and/or were re-routed as roads disappeared all the while Singapore was being bombed by the Japanese. Some drivers left their uniforms and trucks and returned to their families.
28 Jan 1942 – Return to St Patricks School, Singapore
The patient number, mainly battle casualties was nearly 700. More wards were found and opened.
31 Jan 1942
The causeway was blown up as soon as the remnants of the Commonwealth Forces crossed over.
The Japanese army had advanced 600 miles in 6 weeks.
The last of the hospital equipment from Tampoi crossed the causeway on the day before the big explosion. No further retreat was possible.
The 13th General Hospital displayed a large Red Cross to alert enemy bombers that this was a non-combatant area. The problem was the proximity to the Civil Airport and oil installation just north of us in Geylang. Japanese bombers were always attacking these spots and also aiming at anti-aircraft batteries.
Staff and sometimes patients often headed for the slit trenches.
At 2300 hours on the last day in January a lone bomber flew around the hospital for 30 minutes causing the alarms to go off. Suddenly all was quiet when a lone plane was heard approaching from the sea. It dropped a stick of five bombs on the hospital.
Two landed in the sea, the third hit the top of one of the main buildings another went off on the vacant land next door and luckily the fifth, was the only one hit the hospital.
The explosion noise was tremendous. Patients could be heard screaming – especially those 113 men in the ward hit.
In the darkness the damage seemed to be the blowing out of water pipes at the end of the building – flooding occurred and the kitchen damaged.
Fortunately there were no patients in bombed area of the ward – however many received cuts and bruises.
As battle casualty numbers increased a small nearby convent was put to use to increase the hospital bed numbers to 760.
4 Feb 1942
Shelling commenced from the south of Johore. An invasion was imminent.
If the south of the Island was attacked/invaded the hospital would be in the front line. The sea front was heavily mined with barbed wire covering the beaches and machine guns in position.
From the hospital Keppel and the docks could be seen burning.
Next the oil installations on nearby islands were blown up leaving fires burning for weeks. At night the red glow made the black-outs superfluous.
Through all this the hospital staff continued their work.
When the 15inch guns at Changi were fired towards the Japanese the hospital buildings could be felt shaking.
6 Feb 1942
Word came through that all nurses were to be evacuated from the island as soon as possible. Of course the sister wanted to stay. The men wanting to leave while they could.
8 Feb 1942
During the night the Japanese landed in the north crossing the Johore Strait and rapidly gained a foothold although strongly opposed by Australian 2/20th Battalion and 2/4th MGB. The battle for survival had commenced.
Casualties became very heavy. Men were pouring into the hospital mostly with gun shot and shrapnel wounds. Surgeons were now operating non-stop. The hospital staff performed calmly under battle conditions.
9 Feb 1942.
Major General G. Bennett visited the hospital and confirmed various initiatives planned by the Hospital Command.
10 Feb 1942
80 patients were repatriated from Victoria Dock where the casualty situation was causing concern. Soldiers were endeavouring to board the few ships available at the expense of women, children and the sick.
Military Police attempted to restore some sanity on the wharves. One fit soldier tied a bandage on to his leg, limped on board and was repatriated.
All 13th AGH 57 Sisters left to board ships for home. Thirty were able to board the Hospital Ship ‘Wah Sui ‘
There was not sufficient room on the boats to get all on board, 27 nurses returned and restarted work immediately at 13th AGH.
A never ending stream of casualties arrived by ambulance or trucks while 10-20 bombers flew overhead.
Awaiting surgery for the removal of bullets, a young Machine Gunner from 2/4th asked for a cigarette. It was lit and placed between his lips.
“Thanks mate”, he gasped and then, as he inhaled, three streams of smoke emitted from his bullet-ridden chest.
11 Feb 1945
Singapore Volunteer Force retired from the Changi area leaving no fighting troops between the hospital and the enemy.
12 Feb 1942
At 1700 hours the remaining 27 nurses reluctantly and sadly bid farewell and were transported to the Singapore docks where they squeezed on the steamship ‘Vyner Brooke’. There they were joined by nurses from 10th Australian General Hospital and 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station.
The ‘Vyner Brooke’ left behind a hopeless and crippled Singapore to sail to Australia carrying 65 nursing staff.
Tragically ‘Vyner Brooke’ was doomed.
Of these 27 nurses, only 10 survived the war and returned home. On 16th February, 1942, 11 were shot and killed, 4 drowned two days before and 2 died whilst P.O.W. Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of a barbaric slaughter of 21 nurses off the island of Banka.
By now it was not only the wounded who were arriving at the hospital – men arrived looking for food and shelter having lost contact with their battalions and companies.
2/4 C.C.S. came to give a hand. Red Cross officials, Y.M.C.A. men, padres, Dental Officers and their staffs and many claiming they had become separated from their own Units. Some of the latter were sent away as there was still time to rejoin their outfits.
The only fighting troops near us were the Singapore Volunteer Force which had set up a machine gun post nearby and one even in the hospital area.
This created a hazard for the hospital and its 1,300 patients so Col. Pigdon drove to Malaya Command and arranged for an immediate withdrawal of the Volunteers. This was completed and the hospital was then outside the perimeter and therefore unprotected.
“The Orders of the G.O.C. Malaya Command, given to Brigadier Stringer in the presence of Brigadier Lucas on the evening of the 12th February, were that the 13th Australian General Hospital was to remain in its present position and was not to move when the line shortened. These orders were passed on to Commander 13th Australian General Hospital by Brigadier Stevens the same night”
From Lt. Col. White D.A.D.M.S. A.I.F.
“G.O.C. Malaya Command and G.O.C. A.I.F. Malaya do not want the 13th Australian General Hospital to shift. It is quite possible that before enemy action starts in that area the perimeter will be withdrawn a couple of miles. I am sending as many medical supplies and rations as I can get to you”.
OF THE AUSTRALIAN NURSES IN SINGAPORE six were evacuated with their patients aboard the Wah Sui, a further 63 plus 3 physiotherapists boarded the Empire Star which, after a hair-raising journey, finally made it back to Australia and 65 nurses boarded the ill-fated Vyner Brooke, which was sunk by the Japanese off the coast of Sumatra.
The Nurses who left Singapore on the non-naval vessel Wah Sui were left at Java on 14 Feb 1942. They had with them 450 severely wounded British and Australian patients. These Australian nurses had survived the evacuation of Malacca (Malaysia) then Singapore and here they were again in the direct path of advancing Japanese forces.
Below: Vivian Bullwinkel of 13th AGH – the sole Survivor of the Japanese Masaacre at Banka Island.
Studio portrait of Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), in service dress uniform. Bullwinkel is well known as the sole survivor of the infamous Banka Island massacre in which 21 of her AANS colleagues were killed by Japanese troops. Bullwinkel was born on 18 December 1915 at Kapunda, SA, and enlisted in the AANS in 1941. In September 1941 she embarked for Singapore as a staff nurse with the 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/13th AGH). On 12 February 1942, three days before the fall of Singapore, Bullwinkel, along with 65 other Australian Army nursing sisters, was evacuated from Singapore on board the SS Vyner Brooke. On the 14 February, while on route to Sumatra via Banka Strait, the ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft. Twenty-two nurses, including Bullwinkel, and a large group of British soldiers, men, women, and children made it ashore at Radji Beach on Banka Island. The group decided to surrender and a group comprising of the civilian women and children, accompanied by some of the men, went to find Japanese troops while the rest of the group waited. When Japanese soldiers arrived, the men were executed and the 22 sisters were ordered to walk into the sea and were machine gunned from behind. Bullwinkel, struck by a bullet, pretended to be dead. She and the only other survivor of the massacre, a wounded British soldier, 7654688 Private (Pte) Cecil Gordon Kinsley, hid for 12 days before surrendering. Both were taken into captivity, but Pte Kinsley died soon after. Bullwinkel spent three and half years in captivity and was one of just 24 of the 65 nurses who had been on the SS Vyner Brooke to survive the war. Her courage while a prisoner of the Japanese exemplified the bravery of Australian women in war, and her distinguished post-war career was marked by many humanitarian and career achievements. Vivian Statham (nee Bullwinkel) died on 3 July 2000.
13 Feb 1945
Singapore was almost in the hands of the Japanese.. The crack Imperial Guards had by-passed us leaving observers and rear-guard troops to keep a discreet eye on the hospital. One corporal, who ventured out the front gate, must have been deemed to be out of bounds and a bullet whistled past his head. One attempt to send some patients back into Singapore proved risky. Some were caught a little way down the road from the hospital by Jap snipers and some were shot – some escaped to the beach and returned to the hospital – all these men had no arms.
The convent area was shelled and mortared. Fortunately nobody was hurt although many had lucky escapes. The sound of artillery, mortar and small-arm fire did not allow any sleep. Doctors worked ceaselessly in the operating rooms. L. Col. C. Osborn didn’t have time to straighten up. One patient whisked away – another on the table. Operations continued day and night and the hospital staff deserve great credit for their devotion to duty. Our silent thoughts turned to ourselves often now. Do the Japs take prisoners? If not, how and when will the worst happen?
‘In the final days of the fighting, the 13th found itself in a problematic position at the edge of the British Commonwealth perimeter around Singapore City. A nearby canal was the only anti-tank obstacle for some distance, requiring infantry and artillery to be positioned around the hospital, thereby placing its protected status in jeopardy. Repeated requests had to be made to combatant troops not to establish their positions in the hospital area. On the night of 13 February the perimeter was pulled back, leaving the hospital in no man’s land until the Commonwealth forces capitulated on the night of 15 February. By 19 February the 13th was treating 1,273 patients, its maximum effort during its short history, and had absorbed the staff of the 4th Casualty Clearing Station, the 2nd Mobile Bacteriological Laboratory, and the 2/10th Field Ambulance.’ (AWM)
If we had known about the massacre at the Alexandra Military Hospital in Singapore in the afternoon of the 13th February, we would have been more apprehensive.
The Japanese took no notice of a white flag and Lt. Watson holding it was bayoneted to death. Then the Japanese troops ran amok. Patients and staff in the operating theatre died when also bayoneted. Patients and nursing orderlies in wards suffered the same fate. Others, very ill, were marched into rooms 3×3 metres crammed so tightly arms couldn’t be raised above heads. The men died during the night from thirst in the suffocating atmosphere.
The Imperial Japanese Army G.O.C. called at the hospital and expressed his regret. But the damage was done and the Geneva Convention surely broken.
Our sagacious C.O. made sure that all arms were collected and dumped outside the hospital’s boundary – a sure sign of a non-military establishment.
Sunday 15 Feb 1942
Mid-afternoon an uncanny silence was noticed. The sounds of war had ceased.
15,000 Australian soldiers were now P.O.Ws.
Lights were now allowed on at night – helping the nursing orderlies as they attended 1,273 patients (maximum intake so far). Staff strength was for the original 600 bed hospital but, less 67 nurses – so work was solid and really tested the spirit of the Unit.
Imagine a ward full of men, more or less in a critical condition, with beds inches apart, asking for relief from pain and suffering. One poor fellow, cheerful to the last, enjoyed a cigarette before death and was amused to see smoke coming out from his chest.
Another sad case was the Chinese civilian, who dragged himself to the A & D room, his calf shot away by dum-dum bullets. He joined the line-up to the theatre and eventually lost his leg.
Blood was two inches deep in the operating theatres and stretcher bearers, all volunteers, stood by waiting to remove the patient from the table to the ward or to the mortuary.
Until 12th February, 1942 we buried our dead at Reformatory Road, but when this became the front line we made a new cemetery in Martia Road. Twenty-one men were buried there during the last few days of the Japanese push.
The first Japanese soldiers to visit the hospital appeared more curious than hostile. Their appearance showed the effects of a tough campaign.
What was most noticeable and different from us was their canvas footwear with an unusual toe arrangement. One fellow indicated very clearly by signs he wished to exchange canvas for leather boots. He got his wish pronto.
Another took a watch from one of our men rather arrogantly too – give me or else! An enterprising member of the Unit had somehow gained possession of a brand new 1942 Hudson of black duco. Next to no time a Japanese Staff car – Officer and driver – drove into the grounds. Very politely, but indicating no option, the Japanese Officer drove out in the new and left the old dirty camouflaged object.
17 Feb 1942
AnotherJapanese Officer entered the grounds sticky-beaking and quite proud of the accomplished victory. He was turned out superbly. Sporting clean, new clothing, magnificent soft-leather long boots, he removed his sword from its scabbard and demonstrated his skill on a branch of a large hibiscus tree. Holding the sword in two hands, he raised it high above his head, and, with an almighty yell and downward sweep off came the 2” thick branch and damn near his big toe. Too bad he only cut the tip of his boot! He rapidly made his departure counting his Japanese blessings.
18 Feb 1942
An Officer of the Japanese Medical Forces visited the hospital and enquired the number of patients and the position of the medical supplies. Certainly a few white lies were told re the medical supplies in the hope of gaining some more. This Japanese Officer was told, by using signs, that a pair of boots and a wristlet watch had been stolen. To his credit, and as an indication of the strict discipline within the Imperial Guards, next day both items were returned. The new car he said would probably not be needed by the hospital.
13th AGH staff Changi Gaol had been opened. It was no surprise to see looting from houses around the hospital and they strengthened their picquets to make sure their fairly good stock of food wasn’t stolen by marauders.
There were many unplanned meetings of inquisitive Japanese Officers and their underlings with our Unit members. We had been advised to give very guarded answers or to crack “silly Willy.
At this time 2/10 Field Ambulance moved in from Singapore and camped in our grounds and all battle casualties not at 10th AGH were transferred to 13th AGH. Most of the surgical cases had received initial treatment but some were in a shocking state especially those from Alexandra and Civil Hospitals. 13th AGH staff were shocked to learn the G.O.C. Major General Gordon Bennett had cleared out.
20 Feb 1942
Lt. General Yamashita, Imperial Japanese Commander ordered all captured men to Changi.
‘Between 22 and 23 February the 13th re-established itself in buildings at Selerang Barracks, part of the sprawling prisoner-of-war complex on the Changi Peninsula. On 6 March the Japanese authorities directed that only one prisoner-of-war hospital would be maintained in Changi and the bulk of the Australian medical units, including the 13th General Hospital, were merged with the British hospital at Roberts Barracks.’
22 Feb 1945
1270 patients and 650 personnel with few trucks and ambulances with the help of 2/10 Field Ambulance and 2/4 C.C.S. began the move. Those who could walk did so – 7kms, completed by midday 23 Feb.
End Feb & early March 1942
The IJA became concerned at the ever increasing number of dysentery patients. Following an inspection by a group of Japanese medicos a decision was announced – AGH units in Selarang to move immediately to Roberts Barracks area, two miles away, and combine with the British General Hospital to form the Roberts Hospital area.
All Australian units to be under the control of Col. D. C. Pigdon,13th AGH.
The Australian hospital was to retain its identity but to become simply an annex of the English Hospital. Certain medical officers of the two Australian General Hospitals were instructed to remain in the Selarang area to carry out specialist and other medical duties.
A view of the buildings that made up Roberts Barracks, part of Changi Prisoner of War (POW) camp. After the fall of Singapore, Allied POWs were moved into Roberts and Selarang Barracks. Within two weeks Roberts Barracks was designated as a hospital in order to cope with the hundreds of wounded who were being moved from Military Hospitals in Singapore into the POW camp. One block was the operating theatre, another was the isolation ward and Blocks 144 and 151 became dysentery wards. The area between Roberts Barracks and Selarang Barracks quickly became a cemetery. In October 1942, five murals were painted on the walls of Block 151 by dysentery patient, Stanley Warren, a bombardier in the 15th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Despite his illness and lack of materials, he used brown camouflage paint, crushed blue billiard chalk and paintbrushes made of human hair, he completed the murals. The murals were rediscovered in 1958 and four of them were restored by Warren during three trips back to Singapore in 1963, 1982 and 1988. This image was secretly taken by Major John Rosson and the camera and negatives were kept hidden from the Japanese throughout his internment.
Allied Prisoners of War (POWs) moving around the grounds near the buildings that made up Roberts Barracks, part of Changi Prisoner of War (POW) camp. After the fall of Singapore, Allied POWs were moved into Roberts and Selarang Barracks. Within two weeks Roberts Barracks was designated as a hospital in order to cope with the hundreds of wounded who were being moved from Military Hospitals in Singapore into the POW camp. One block was the operating theatre, another was the isolation ward and Blocks 144 and 151 became dysentery wards. The area between Roberts Barracks and Selarang Barracks quickly became a cemetery. In October 1942, five murals were painted on the walls of Block 151 by dysentery patient, Stanley Warren, a bombardier in the 15th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Despite his illness and lack of materials, he used brown camouflage paint, crushed blue billiard chalk and paintbrushes made of human hair, he completed the murals. The murals were rediscovered in 1958 and four of them were restored by Warren during three trips back to Singapore in 1963, 1982 and 1988. This image was secretly taken by Major John Rosson and the camera and negatives were kept hidden from the Japanese throughout his internment.
8th March 1942
The 13th AGH moved by 1500 hours. The move by trailers, trucks, etc. was completed by the hard working members of the unit.
To ensure that the British would control the Australians, Lt. Col. Craven was suddenly promoted to a full Colonel, back-dated to 30/4/41 so that he would be senior to Col. Pigdon, the C.O. of the 13th AGH!
The AGH was set up with1050 beds available and 956 patients including 283 cases of dysentery and 325 battle casualties. Space was limited and hardships a’plenty. Men slept on concrete floors with bugs as their bed companions. These pests were already in cracks and grooves and this infestation gradually but surely spread to beds and mattresses. All bedding had to be checked daily, mostly in the 4 corners.
AGH Staff will always remember the early days of Roberts Hospital:
limited accommodation, shortage of water, shocking sanitary arrangements, swarms of flies, improvised cooking facilities, limited transport and insufficient lamps for night duty.
Patients were accommodated in N Block which had been hit by a bomb and the habitable part of the top floor was used as staff quarters.
Three floors in O Block and the ground floor in L Block made up the hospital. The small area was wired-in with picquets on the three gateways.
The whole hospital gradually increased to 2830 beds with 2372 occupied on 1st May, 1942. Deaths in the British section were numerous but, in comparison, we were very happy with our small death rate, again due to much team-work and common sense!
From our entry to Robert Barracks the supply of water rations and wood was the responsibility of the hospital so the Changi trailer was invented. This contraption was a motor chassis, no engine, only wheels, brake and a steering wheel. The trailers went down hills very well but had to be pulled and pushed up hill. This task was no fun and there were many accidents. Barry Smith, young and bright, a talented artist from the 10th Australian General Hospital was thrown from a trailer on a bend and had his whole chest removed on contact with the road. This young man, with only pencils, decorated concrete walls with complete murals – really beautiful. Sadly, Barry died later in Thailand. Water, being so important for a hospital, was eventually provided by the R.A.E., courtesy of Lt. Col. O’Donnell, who arranged for the hospital to be connected to the Singapore main supply. From then on a good supply of water for cooking, washing and showers was available and this was quite a relief. The sewerage system had not been restored as the mains had been bombed. The laundry situation was most serious. All dirty linen had to be carted to Selarang, washed and then dragged back via Changi trailers. The hospital was now completely dependent on the Japanese for its food as the A.A.S.C. supply had been exhausted. The hospital’s cooks had to use whatever they could get as no supplementary rations could be obtained. Our food was not up to the standard of many other units. The reason was that other units were buying freely from the “Black Market” food with which to flavour the rice. By the time the hospital had a chance to buy, the prices became too steep through having the food passing through so many hands. The units also had more cookhouses and less mouths to feed. A dollar was worth 2/11 and the following prices were being asked – 1 tin condensed milk 8/9; tin marmite 14/7 rising to 2pounds/18/4 when Beri-Beri was first diagnosed. Tin golden syrup 19/-; bully beef, herrings, cheese, jam, meat and vegetables all 8/9 tin; 2oz tobacco 14/7 to 17/6; cigarette papers 2/11 packet. These goods had been stolen by the natives and they were now selling them back to us. “BlackMarket” trading was illegal and was more than frowned on by the Japanese.
Division H.Q. asked us to give up all our dollars so that a canteen could be set up at the hospital. This we did, but we are still waiting for the canteen. Unfortunately, now, our pockets were as empty as our paybooks – we were sure conned!!!!
Discipline in the camp was strict – no attempting to escape – guards and sentries had to be saluted on passing. Two 10th Australian General Hospital personnel were caught attempting to escape and were immediately executed. The natives were offered a bag of rice if they turned an escapee over to the Japanese. It was said that Lt. Col. Percival, G.O.C. was put into solitary confinement because he was late with his office returns. Anyone caught outside the wire was either shot, bashed, thrashed, goods and money being confiscated. Often, too, rations would be cut to the unit concerned. The Australian Officers also used to impose penalties – really there was a gaol within a gaol.
Indian Sikhs turned traitors and went over to the Japanese side after the capitulation. The Japanese used them as guards and they insisted on a most correct and polite salute. It irked our men to show them the expected respect.
14 May 1942
the first of many groups of men left Singapore. Designated “A” force, 2999 A.I.F. personnel, which included 15 Officers and 127 O.Rs Medical staff, embarked by ship for Burma. The rationale submitted by the Japanese Command was to relieve the food pressure on Singapore Island. “Plenty good food up north – relaxation a plenty”. Our A.G.H. was concerned with this movement of A.I.F. forces as the 2/4 C.C.S. was instructed to leave us and join the exit group. Major Krantz was thus lost to us. This man, a brilliant surgeon, could, in the words of some, “Cut my head off and sew it on again”.
End of May 1942
The number of patients dropped to 600.
8 July 1942
A second work force of Australians “B Force Borneo of 1,496 strong” left Changi and were transported to Sandakan on the N.E. coast of British North Borneo.
16 Aug 1942
The Senior Officers’ Party, including General Percival and General Callaghan, embarked from Singapore for Formosa and Japan. That was the last the 13th Australian General Hospital saw of Col. Pigdon who was to die in captivity on the island of Formosa. From this loss of its commanding officer the 13th Australian General Hospital never recovered. The Unit became fragmented and disjointed and members who were sent away with different working parties lost contact with others of the Unit. Many other units, particularly the 2/9th and 2/10th Field Ambulances, which retained their Commanding Officers appeared, by comparison, to be “looked after”.
The AGH became very busy. The number of patients grew alarmingly and by the end of June there were 347 patients but 825 admissions during July, due to increases of dysentery, malaria, dengue fever and beri-beri, kept the staff on their toes. Staff Sgt. Frank Cooper was in charge of a ward of 120 patients – quite a contract for him and his ward staff. The restoration of both electric light and fans was significant. Hurricane lamps were set aside. The nights became more cheerful for both patients and staff.
24 Aug 1942
A soldier in our surgical ward died from gangrene of the skin of the scrotum. Rather than a spreading gangrenous dermatitis of the streptococcal type the pathologist, Major Davies, found it was a diphtheric infection. At this time there was an epidemic of throat and nasal diphtheria among the working parties in Singapore. The hospitals, both British and Australian, had no stocks of anti-toxin and only limited supplies were allowed to us by the Japanese. Lately, many cases of scrotal dermatitis and body tropical ulcers had shown the presence of a super-added infection with a diphtheria bacillus.
Below: Pigdon, WW1