WX8820 MCCUDDEN, Wallace Patrick and WX8814 WHITE, Clive Wharton (Potty) are the only men from Esperance who joined 2/4th MGB.
McCudden and White enlisted 23 October 1940 and later joined 2/4th’s ‘C’ Company. McCudden was in No. 12 Platoon and White was in No. 10 Platoon.
One would survive to return home!
As privates, they both survived the battle of Singapore. As POWs they were accommodated with the Australians at Selarang Barracks. In March 1943 almost 12 months later, the two men were selected to work on the Burma-Thailand with ‘D’ Force S Battalion which departed Singapore Railway Station on 12 March 1943. They were crammed into small railway trucks to travel 4-5 days to Thailand. It was a terrible journey to Non Pladuk, the last station on the rail link at that time. The days turned the carriages into stinking hot ovens and the nights were freezing cold. No toilets as such, no food nor water the men took turns to sit, to be near the doors and to hang out the doors to relieve themselves. They were fed at some of the train stops, able to replenish their water bottles and made the most of toilet stops.
This was the beginning of their ongoing humiliation at the hands of their Japanese and Korean guards. The Australian POWs quickly adjusted to their new circumstances. Certainly they did not like it but they’ copped it’, survived with their unique sense of humour, resilience, mateship, and knew to care for each other if they were to survive. Their ability to pull together, sing and jovial behaviour kept them going. They had all lived through the depression of 1920s and 1930s, most had worked physically hard and long hours whether they resided in the towns or countryside.
S Battalion first worked at Tarsau which would become HQ for their Japanese Administration Group 4, and soon after Hospital Camp for ‘D’ Force.
Their move to Konyu 2 on 25 April 1943 was the beginning of their hell. Konyu 2 was part of Hellfire Pass – the beginning of ‘Speedo’, tropical rains, working slave hours and terrible living conditions with little food, no medicines and subjected to Japanese brutality and spitefulness. Few men had shoes, and most wore only ‘Jap happies’ they walked several kilometres every morning to work and home again late at night.
The Konyu cutting was of white stone, hot and glaring with sharp stones, Men were unable to escape flying splints of rock created from hammer and tap and explosives. The rock fragments sliced their legs and bodies – the smallest cut could be a deadly tropical ulcer as large as half a limb within weeks – then requiring amputation to survive.
This railway was to be built with hand tools only.
Within weeks the first cases of cholera hit Konyu 2. The men suffered from malaria, beri beri, dysentery, typhus, avitaminosis, work injuries, starvation and bashings.
McCudden became seriously ill with beri beri and typhus. He was evacuated by river barge to Chungkai Hospital Camp where he died on 21 August 1943 with cardiac beri beri and typhus. He was 36 years old. The death of McCudden would have been hard for ‘Potty’ White – they had been mates for a long time and no doubt McCudden had fought his illnesses as best he could.
‘Potty’ managed to kept himself out of hospital camps, he was one of the fortunate. He continued working at various camps until the end 1943 when the railway was completed after which he later worked at Petchaburi from early February 1945 through to September and then to Nakom Nayok where he was recovered from at the end of the war.