NX33194 Reginald Jarman – ‘UNIVERSAL PROVIDER’
NX33194 Reg Jarman, 20 year old ‘Bushie’ was one of 10 orderlies who worked with 26 year old Dr. Peter Hendry at Lower Sonkurai and Sonkurai. Reg was one of 10 young men from around Casino, NSW who became known as the ‘Universal Providers‘. Hendry referred to them as ‘country hicks’ but learned they were invaluable, resourceful and loyal orderlies. They could find almost anything which was needed (often outside the wire!)
Jarman had enlisted AIF June 1941, joined 2/10th Field Ambulance and was previously with the 15th Light Horse Militia Regiment.
With the other 9 young men from around Casino, NSW Reg was sent to Sonkurai Aug 1943 with Dr, Peter Hendry. Sonkurai was then mainly a British POW Camp and had probably the highest death rate of all their camps. The Camp was in an appalling state. Arriving with the medicos were a number of POWs to bring the number up to 1200.
Previouly at Neikhe, – Hendry knew 20 year old Jarman was a ‘bushie’. He had killed small cattle for the Japanese – and unknown to the Japanese removed some organs to give to the sick – blood, brains and fillet. During early days of cholera, Hendry asked Jarman and Williamson (two of 10 young men referred to as ‘Universal Providers’, who were also hospital orderlies, to remove two bodies from hospital beds, but to remove and bring back the men’s soft organs – lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas and kidneys. Hendry needed to confirm it was cholera.
Jarman provided the following information to Australian author Pattie Wright in her book ‘THE MEN OF THE LINE’ (P183,184)
And to Peter Winstanley Prisoners of War of the Japanese
Medical Orderlies would be up before dawn to collect the half-ration of food for the sick and dying in hospital.
Feed those who could no longer do so for themselves,
clean up the mishaps from dysentery patients who couldn’t make it to latrines.
Two orderlies would remove the bodies of those who had died during the night outside (daily average was 4 +, but reached 10 one night).
Each body was then carried on a makeshift stretcher to the guard post to be recorded, then to the burial ground away from Camp. Burials would often take all day – they only had one well-worn shovel and there were many bodies.
Any kept clothing would be washed and used for bandages or for the use of men in greatest need as most had little clothing remaining.
The orderlies would burn the bodies of cholera patients to prevent disease spreading. This role required a very hot fire and invariably the body tendons contracted – giving the impression the patient was still alive with their limbs moving upright etc. At that time, in the early days of cholera there was no treatment. Later in other camps the doctors devised means to treat the patients, and many survived.
During the time spent at Sonkurai – POWs lost at least 1/3rd of their body weight due to deteriorating conditions and brutality of guards – starvation, long working hours, torture, cholera, encephalitis, beri beri, dysentery, malaria, body lice and the worst was tropical ulcers.
Cardiac beri-beri or wet beri-beri was common and horrible to see. Symptoms may experience increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and swelling of the lower legs.
To give relief to patients the medical officer would insert a hypodermic needle into the peritoneal cavity**, often full of fluid. An orderly would manoeuvre the needle to keep the fluid draining from the cavity – this could take all day and sometimes up to 10 litres of fluid were removed.
beri-beri can occur due to a lack of thiamine or B1 – resulting from consumption of a diet consisting mostly of white rice.
** the peritoneum is a membrane that lines the inside of your abdomen and pelvis (parietal layer). It also covers many of your organs inside (visceral layer). The space in between these layers is called your peritoneal cavity.
Cholera – the only treatment we would use would be to boil river water, combine this with Condies Crystals to make a weak solution, then force-feed the solution through a tube down the patient’s throat, into their stomach. The treatment was not effective.
Dysentery – was ongoing. POW could have as many as three illnesses at one time. This did not fit with the Japanese rules ‘a man could only die of one illness’.
Tropical ulcers required the daily ‘draining of oodles of pus from underneath the skin’. Often the pus would be scraped by spoon. The stench of ulcers was so terrible – the ulcer wards could be smelled long before you arrived. Jarman describes they used banana leaves to cover the wounds after draining to keep the flies away. Tropical ulcers ate away flesh at an alarming rate, revealing the leg bones in a mater of days.
‘While not a daily occurrence, an amputation was sometimes necessary to give someone a fighting chance of surviving, if they had no other diseases. In this situation the patient would be taken out of the hospital and laid on a bamboo bench where at least eight orderlies restrained him while the medical officer did the scalpel work. The orderlies would cut through the femur with an old carpenter’s saw at the appropriate stage in the procedure.’
Lack of food (malnutrition) was one of the main problems. Three meals a day amounted to approximately three cups of sloppy rice. Occasionally, a few other bits were thrown in such as some greens. There was never any salt or sugar included in any meal. This was the allocation for a POW working as long as 12 hours daily during Speedo. Halve the ration for the sick – that is all the Japanese allocated.
‘Toward the end of WWI, in 1918, meat was dry salted, packed in wooden crates, stamped with a broad arrow meaning ‘army goods’. It must have been sold to Japan as excess to needs. 25 years later some of it found its way to Songkurai, presumably for Japanese use. They must have left it in continual rain for some weeks, which washed off the coarse salt from the exterior of the meat. As a result, along came the blowflies. When the Japanese came to use it, the crates were a moving mass of maggots. It was then given to the P.O.W. cooks who made soup out of it, so it could go around many hundreds of P.O.W.s. Each cup-sized ladle of soup contained about 100 full-sized maggots. Because of the welcome taste of the salt not one maggot escaped. Such was the absolute hunger of everybody; we will never forget the sight of hundreds of emaciated bodies, no hats, no shirts, no boots and lining up for a ten to twelve hour work shift. Men over six feet tall who would normally weigh around 12 stone were then weighing about 8 – 9 stone; smaller men who would normally weigh around 9 – 10 stone were then weighing 6 – 7 stone; a virtual bag of bones, called fit for work. No wonder someone has described this place as ‘living in a suburb of hell’.
‘F’ Force hospital Camp was Tanbaya, Burma – hardly a hospital as it there were barely any medical equipment or medicines. There was a large ulcer ward and it was here many POWs were amputated as a last resort to save their lives. Tragically a large number with other diseases were unable to survive the amputations.
Reg was born 1920 Toraki, NSW and enlisted AIF June 1941.
Following end of War on 15 August 1945, Reg was discharged finally 4 April 1946. The delay was due to ill health. Post War he studied and became an optical dispenser in partnership with Harry Williams, his mate and fellow Medical Orderly in the Songkurai Camp. Reg retired in 1980. In 2007 Reg and his wife Lorna live in Nambucca Heads, New South Wales.
Hendry’s Obituary mentioned what would become his lifelong interest in pathology:
Peter studied Medicine at Sydney University. At first, inspired by his father’s example he wanted to be a ‘medical missionary’ but over time that changed into Surgery and ultimately into Pathology. That was the right decision for him and certainly the best decision for Pathology.