Ridgwell’s memories of Tarsau’s Ulcer Ward


Dick was evacuated sick to Tarsau. Once mobile, he moved around the wards to find 2/4th mates, and in particular the ulcer ward. The ulcer wards were the worst.   They were overflowing with men and filled with the stench of rotting flesh. They were easily identifiable some distance away.   The Japanese never entered these wards.

There was insufficient medical staff to efficiently look after all the ’D’ Force sick blokes who had been moved to Tarsau Hospital Camp.  There were no medicines or medical equipment.

Tarsau was known as a ‘death camp’ – once you were there it was very difficult to leave. Sick POWs volunteered for work parties just to get away.

The patients, who were able, assisted in washing men less mobile. Dick was one of these.  He relayed the following information to Cheryl Mellor.

Dick who was widely recognised as being a man who would also step up to help others,  would bathe the men as they lay on the bamboo slatted ‘beds’. Patients included Les Kemp WX8543 and a few 2/4th gunners. There was one POW who had lost interest in his own hygiene, not that unusual but was rather unbearable for those nearby.   On another occasion Dick carried Peter Moate WX13562 outside and placed him closer to water to wash him. Later with improvement, Moate was evacuated with his tropical ulcer to Nacompaton a Base Camp Hospital with better facilities.

Dick assisted around the hospital as much as he was able.   He helped hold down men while orderlies using a silver spoon would scrape away the maggoty pus from their wounds. Following this appalling procedure Dick would take torn strips of blankets now sterilized, from nearby boiling water in 44-gallon drums kept so by open fires. These were placed hot over the cleaned wound, (one imagines the patient was barely conscious following his ulcer being scraped – perhaps the pain from the boiling hot blankets strips was not noticeable).   This was the only treatment available at Tarsau.

Moate survived to return home to Australia, as did Kemp.