CAZZIE MILITARY HERO – Jack George KYROS (KYRIAKOS) WX10715 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion: Castellorizo Family History
We often think of military heroes as those persons, who, for example, in a short period of about five minutes, are rushing an enemy machine gun post whilst throwing hand grenades and wiping out all the enemy in a moment of glory. Yes these type of soldiers are heroes indeed and they often get bravery medals to acknowledge their bravery. But there is another type of hero, who during these terrible war years, often endured both that five minutes rush of heroic action, but also another three and one half years of the most unimaginable and tormented existence. He is the Prisoner of War (POW) of the Imperial Japanese Army! These POW soldiers attempted to survive, despite the odds, with a desire to remain alive and to be reunited with their family again one day. Jack George Kyros WX10715 was to become one of those brave POW’s. This is his story.
Jack George Kyriakos (later Kyros) was born in Darwin Northern Territory on 2nd January 1921 to George and Christina Kyriakos (nee Kailis). His parents having married in Darwin some two years earlier. Jack had an elder sister, Mary, and five younger siblings (Michael, Evelyn, Evangelia, Agapitos (Herb) and John) who lived to adulthood. When Jack was a young boy the family moved to Perth, then later to Kalgoorlie.
After World War Two broke out and when Japan became a threat to South-East Asia Jack attempted to enlist in the army. But he was under twenty one years of age and his parents would not agree to him joining. On the third attempt to enlist he was successful. Jack had put his date of birth down as one year earlier, and on the 15th January 1941 he was now in the army. Jack was posted to the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion and commenced training at Northam Army Camp. The battalion was receiving training for the Vickers machine gun. At Northam the battalion’s Colonel was a stickler for physical fitness and on one occasion they went on a sixty mile route march from Northam to Perth, ending with a march through the city to the welcoming cheers of family, shoppers and city workers. They were one of the fittest A.I.F. Battalions!
The battalion trained at Lancelin Island and Waterman’s Bay before moving to the Woodside Camp in the Adelaide Hills in July 1941. Three months later they moved to the Winnellie Camp in Darwin to commence training but when Japan entered the war in December 1941 the individual companies occupied battle stations on the beach areas of Darwin. In the meanwhile, Jack, when on leave, had married his sweetheart, Kathleen Mary Quinn. On New Years eve the battalion sailed to Port Morseby onboard the HMAS Westralia and whilst enroute Jack celebrated his 21st birthday. At Port Morseby they transferred to the HMT Aquitania which berthed at Sydney on January 8th 1942, where a further 2502 reinforcements for Singapore where taken on board.
The ship departed for Fremantle and Singapore on January 10th. On arriving at Fremantle many of the men, including Jack, proceeded to go ashore to see their families, without authority. Many were arrested and imprisoned but Jack and others managed to get back on board prior to departure. A total of eighty eight men had failed to reboard the ship before she sailed. Many had gone AWOL because they had not seen their families for many months and had expected shore leave at Fremantle. Many could not get back to the ship before she sailed.
On arrival in Singapore on January 24th 1942 they found that they were in the middle of a war. Jack thought the deafening noise was a mock air raid, but it was the real thing. They were to receive daily raids from Japanese bombers and strafing attacks by the Zero planes. The machine gun companies were allotted their various rolls and the serious business of the defence of Singapore began. The Causeway to the island was destroyed but the Japanese managed to cross by pontoons and barges and gain a foothold on Singapore. The 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion engaged the Imperial Japanese Army with the Vickers machine guns at various locations, and on the west coast hand to hand fighting broke out. The companies moved to new positions on February 9th and again engaged the Japanese whilst coming under heavy bombing and shelling attacks. On the night of the 12th February 1942 Jack’s platoon was in a bayonet fight as were the rest of HQ Company. No officer or sergeant survived that attack.
As the Battle of Singapore drew to a close many 2/4th M.G. Battalion personnel were killed or wounded as the enemy attempted to force a surrender. Casualties were high, especially on the last day of fighting before the ceasefire order was issued. Jack and his mates dismayed that Singapore had fallen but were with some relief over not having to continue with the hell of the past twenty two days of fighting.
From the 8th to the 15th of February 1942 the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion fought with other Allies to save Singapore. From 15th February 1942 until the 15th August 1945 (three and one half years) they would be fighting a very different battle. When the war came to an end in 1945 over four hundred of the one thousand men that formed the battalion would be dead. Many were to die as POWs!
After the fall of Singapore Jack was based at various camps around Singapore, including constructing a memorial in Johore Baru, then onto Adam Park to work on another memorial, then to Changi. Then he was sent on April 18th 1943 with ‘F’ Force to work on the Burma-Thailand rail link. It took six days travelling by truck, then train, to reach a place just outside of Bangkok. They then walked 315 kilometres on mainly rough roads and tracks through the jungle for about twenty five days.
Work commenced for them on the railway tracks of the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway. Here they had sickness; Cholera, Malaria, Dysentery, Beriberi, Typhoid, Scrub Typhus and many forms of skin diseases. Tinea, Tropical Ulcers, Body Lice and Bed Bugs were rife! With no proper footwear the men had to wrap their feet at night to prevent the rats eating at the skin on their feet. All Cholera deaths required cremating and on one day sixty men were cremated. But worse was to follow!
Because of all the sickness and deaths the schedule of finishing the railroad had gone backwards. They were forced to march to work in the dark of the morning and return on sunset to the camp. From the time they left camp until they returned at night, eighteen hours had transpired. Many of the men were sick and unfit to work but were forced to work, otherwise they did not receive any food.
The combined British, Australian and Dutch labour for ‘F’Force was made up of 10,270 Prisoners of War. Here conditions were terrible for the POWs with incessant rain, tropical diseases, starvation, beatings where many were die without sufficient food, without medical supplies and with ongoing brutal treatment by the Japanese. Of the 7000 British and Australians with ‘F’ Force 3097 were to die in Thailand representing a 44.75% death toll. This all occurred in a seven month period as in November 1943 ‘F’ Force began the train journey south via Kanchanaburi, back to Singapore. The railway line had been finished. Jack’s ‘F’ Force was fortunate as they were under the command of Singapore and had to return there. Other 2/4th MG Battalion members with other ‘Forces’ in Thailand and Burma were not so lucky. Many were to die on POW Ships sunk by US submarines whilst heading to Japan and Korea. Back in Australia Jack’s wife, Kathleen, had given birth to George Jack Kyros, whilst he was working on the railway line. It would be years before he was aware that he even had a son.
On return to Singapore, Jack was based initially at the Sime Road Camp for three months, then transferred to the Changi Gaol Camp for the rest of the war. Jack was at Changi for eighteen months where 12000 POWs were based. There was only meant to be 800 housed there. Every day working parties left Changi to work on the Singapore Airfield site where the earth was carved out by hand and removed in baskets. For the surviving POWs it was a relief to see the Allied planes over Singapore, then came the surrender by Japan on August 15th 1945.
Jack returned to Australia on the HMT Arawa to Sydney via Darwin, then transported to Melbourne by troop train. From Melbourne he travelled to Perth on the HMT Strathmore to be re-united with his family. For the first time he met his son, George, who was now aged three years of age. On December 7th 1945 Jack Kyros was discharged from service after completing nearly five years with the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion.
Jack went on to continue living his life and raising a family but the torment of his suffering and that of his 2/4th mates in Malaya, Singapore, Java, Borneo, Japan, Korea and Thailand as POWs will be with him for the rest of his life. All 53 of his battalion mates who went to Sandakan in Borneo with ‘B’ and ‘E’ Force were to die.
When giving a speech in April 2001 at the Schools Commemorative Anzac Service Jack completed his speech with the following statement, “When will the world learn that war is useless, and only you, the young of today, and the future Government of Australia can stop it – Let there be no more war!”
Christina, Marjorie, George, Jacalyn Kyriakos