WX9563 Randall Chester Herbert (John/Jack)
John was born 1905 King William Town, South Africa to Herbert Henry Westward Randall and Florence Maria Banks – his birth name is CHESTER HERBERT, however he enlisted using the name John sometimes known as Jack. He was the eldest of seven children. The Randall family arrived in Sydney 12 October 1914 and moved to Victoria prior to 1927. Herbert worked as a blacksmith. They moved to WA between 1927-1931 where they settled in Nyabing, farming.
John married about 1925 to Elsie Allison in Victoria. Their four children were born in Victoria prior to moving to WA. When John enlisted he and Elsie were living in Wickepin, where he was working as a blacksmith with one of his brothers. During the war Elsie continued residing in Wickepin.
John trained with 88th Light Aid Detachment attached to 2/4th. He was one of hundreds of men who ‘jumped ship’ when Aquitania anchored in Gage Road off Fremantle for one night 15 Jan 1942. All but about 90 men managed to return to their ship before she sailed the next day for Singapore.
This group of men sailed weeks later intending to join the 2/4th in Singapore however as their ship neared Singapore it was apparent the Island would soon fall to Japan and the men were landed in Java. They were taken POWs on 8 March and imprisoned in various locations around Java until grouped into work parties and sent to the Burma-Thai railway or Japan via Singapore.
Randall was selected with ‘A’ Force Burma Java Party No. 4 Williams Force and sailed via Singapore to the northern end of the railway. The Railway was completed by end of 1943. Into early 1944 the Japanese ordered all POWs in Burma to travel south into one of 4-6 large camps, some were hospital camps as many men were sick. nIt was here John Randall was selected as being fit by the Japanese to work in Japan with ‘Awa’ Maru Party.
In Singapore while waiting for their ship John became ill and was not included when the party embarked for Japan.
When the next work party for Japan came through Singapore – ‘Both’ Party – John became one of the Party. John never did reach Japan, ‘Both’ Party was offloaded in Saigon and the POWs worked around Saigon and nearby projects until the end of the war.
John ‘Jack’ Randall on left. He was the eldest of four sons followed by Bertram Basil and Rupert Buckley. Below on the right is believed to be the youngest Oliver Ernest who joined the RAAF as a mechanic. There were two surviving sisters Ethel and Lilly.
Returning home John moved with Elsie to live in Katanning. His parents were farming at Nyabing.
He resumed blacksmithing but for whatever reason, John began producing axe handles, earning himself the nickname of ‘Axe-handle’ Randall. Initially he set up manufacturing in Katanning, however soon after extended to Wagin and Albany.
The axe was an essential item to own – since early pioneering days for clearing land, chopping daily wood for home fires, for cooking, laundry and heating hot water. There was a shortage of American hickory – the favoured handle wood which now increased the price of importing.
American Hickory had been popular for axe handles, however with less supplies available, Hickory became expensive. Australian manufacturers looked to use their locally available suitable timber for Axe handles, shovels, spades, brooms, etc.
John used local south-western trees – white yate. Yate (Eucalyptus cornuta) native to South Western Australia produces one of the hardest and strongest timbers in the world.