Singapore to Moji, Japan June 1944
William Dwyer and Joe Swartz
The POW party for ‘Aramis’ was brought by train from Non Pladuk Camp, Thailand (from where they had been selected) to Singapore and accommodated at River Valley Road Transit Camp. The 19 men were from Major Cough’s ‘D’ Force V Battalion and ‘D’ Force T Battalion such as Dooley Party.
Others included in this Party were John Duggin WX10199 and Reg Miller WX13338
Right: Reg Miller
WX16324 Tanner, George Douglas (Doug) who had served with Headquarters Coy worked at Brankassi only with V Battalion and was at Non Pladuk when selected.
The party boarded ‘Aramis’ in Singapore on 2 June 1944.
They waited onboard, in appallingly cramped conditions at the roadstead several days for their armed escort before sailing to Japan.
The ‘Aramis’ had been a troopship for the French in Indo-China. Built in Bordeaux and registered at Marseilles in 1922 it was one of 3 military transport ships built to navigate the Riviere de Saigon – 500 feet long and a draught of 30 feet.
It was sold in 1931 and given a name change to ‘Chenonceaux’. A 14,825-ton oil fuelled ship with 4 decks – it was noticed by POWs that its previous name was ‘Aramis’, either beneath later coats of paint or on brass plaques somewhere on board. The POWs were pleasantly surprised to find bunks below decks – it was obviously a Japanese troop carrier.
Two young recruits who joined 2/4th on board the ‘Aquitania’ with reinforcements and sailed to Singapore on 16 January 1942 – remained together fighting and surviving with ‘E’ Company SRB and ‘D’ Force V Battalion
WX173109 Tom Gough and WX17604 (Percival) Michael Wilkins met up with WX9179 Hugh Wilkes who had enlisted 30 Oct 1940 and was transferred to ‘E’ Company SRB as Batman/Runner.
The three young men remained together and were sent to Omuta. For unknown reasons, Wilkins was transferred to Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 12 Miyata.
Arriving at Moji, Japan this group were sent to their camp at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta. Please read further about Omuta Camp, Japan.
The weather was then very pleasant as it was high summer. But winter would come.
The POWs sent to Omuta worked down the mine from 14 June 1944 until the war ended after mid August 1945 – 14 months. The men were given a crash course for 2-3 days to familiarise themselves with underground work – then down to the mines!
For the Australian POWs going down the mines to work was the most horrific, as it was for the Americans. Regular numbers of Americans deliberately had bones broken by somebody else, or endured injuries to avoid the mine work. Other means of achieving injuries included pouring battery acid from their miners head lamp onto a leg ulcer or cut and then there was self mutilation.
The mines were referred to as ‘Dante’s Inferno’.
On 5th November 1944 WX4924 Joe Swartz and WX20076 Bill Dwyer were sent to Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 1 which was the Western Army District Intendance Department. Both men had been selected to work on the Burma-Thai Railway with ‘D’ Force V Battalion, which had endured far too many deaths in Thailand. Joe remained here until 5 May 1945 when he was again moved to Moji No. 4 Camp where he worked on the wharves until the end of the war.
WX20076 Bill Dwyer succumbed to acute colitis on 5 May 1945. He was 38 years old and had survived working on the Burma-Thai Railway with ‘D’ Force V Battalion which endured the highest death rate on the railway. It simply does not seem fair that he was unable to return to Australia.
His body was cremated by the Japanese however instead of being enshrined in Japan Joe’s ashes were taken to Labuan War Cemetery – believed to have been carried by an Australian or other Allied serviceman – possibly Joe Swartz sailing from Japan to Australia at the end of the war.
After the war ended the 2/4th and 2/16th Australian General Hospitals had been set up at Labuan and some ships carrying ex-POWs called into Labuan on the way to Australian eastern ports.
WX20076 Bill Dwyer, age 38 years died of acute colitis at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 1 on 5 May 1945. At the same time, Joe Swartz was moved to Moji No. 4 Camp, working on the wharves until the end of the war.
Other 2/4th men to sail with ‘Aramis’ Maru included:
WX9318 LALLY, Kenneth (Ken) died Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta, Japan was crushed between two coal trucks in Mar 1945. He was 30 years old.