My father (Bill Ewen) had recalled that Tom had always been anti-Japanese. If he’d worked with Tom loading or unloading a Japanese ship on the wharf he would toss overboard anything that wasn’t nailed down.
Tom had been raised on a market garden property in the Spearwood area. His father left when he was 16 and left him and his brother to fend for his three year old sister (a cripple) and his mother. Tom worked in the Goldfields with his brother where he learnt mining.
Prior to enlistment he was a bus driver for the Metro buses in Fremantle. On enlistment he was married with 2 daughters, he allotted his entire pay to his wife except for 2 shillings per week, which was the minimum the army would allow him to draw from his pay book.
Tom recalls ‘at Darwin’ (Red Robbie) Western Area Commander came to Darwin to inform 2/4 MG that they were going to Singapore. (End of December 1941) Lt. Col. Anketell told R.S.M. to keep men on parade after he had left. He thus informed the Battalion that he was not happy with the decision but would take them to Singapore. Anketell believed they’d only need a taxi to take the survivors who returned to Australia for their reunion.
As they boarded ‘Westralia’ & ‘Marella’, three Japanese aircraft flew over and dropped bombs – obviously causing no damage, they sailed that night, under darkness for Port Morersby.
Sitting high in the water was the ‘Aquitania’ awaiting the arrival of 2/4th. The ‘Westralia’ and ‘Marella’ drew along either side of the ‘Aquatania’ and the mens’ equipment was loaded in through hatches in the side.
Apparently three Japanese aircraft flew over again so ‘Aquitania’ set sail so as not to be caught by more Japanese aircraft. As a consequence much of the mens’ kit was left on the two smaller ships so many of the men made the voyage in what they were standing in.
Tom doesn’t believe Western Australians were made very welcome in Sydney, especially around Kings Cross.
On arrival at Fremantle the gangway was lowered and Anketell who had been summoned to Western Australian HQ was first off the ship.
Many men went over the side as we know. Tom arrived back on the wharf at 8am by which time the damage had been done.
The MPs rounded up the stragglers, put them in trucks and sent them to Fremantle Jail. They entered prison by way of the side or back door. Tom believes the latecomers could have been taken out to the Aquitania because the 2/4th reinforcements from Northam were waiting on the wharf to be ferried out to the ship. Yet the AWOLs were taken to the lock-up.
Eventually they ended up at Karrakata and then secretly boarded the ‘Duntroon’ bound for Singapore or so they thought. They ended up in Java disembarking at Batavia. Seems there was a bit of confusion as no one knew what to do with the men. Tom never mentioned the other Australian units which fought on Java.
He says there was a series of strategic moves, i.e. retreats and that no major confrontations took place, only Australians sniping at the Japs. He was put in charge of a Bren Carrier (Driver) which was leading a convoy of lorries.
This night they were driving, lights out, on a sealed road, when his Bren Carrier ended up in a bomb crater and turned over on its side. After the Java Island fell to the Japs he and two or three others (including Bluey Walsh ) wandered about for four days near South Coast. Their only food was some chocolate and a few cans of Bully Beef.
After hostilities, vehicles were lined up convoy fashion, all were left running with chokes on. The radiators were holed as were the sumps with steel bars. After about ten minutes the engines would seize up, making them unusable to Japs.
The men came across a track which ran up to a road. They walked along and came across a tea plantation. Tom said much of Java was paddy fields, tea and rubber plantations.
They heard some vehicles and stopped them when they saw they were Poms. What they didn’t know was the Poms were collecting stragglers for the Japs. They drove into a Dutch Army camp on the Southern side of Java which was now a POW camp.
From now on he worked on Docks at Batavia, worked on vehicles and cut grass on ovals. He wasn’t on Java long when he was sent by ship to Changi (‘D’ Force Thailand, Java Party No. 6, P Battalion). He then travelled by train to Siam and worked with ‘F’ force. Initially he did surveys of line with the Japs and kept finding indications of earlier surveys done by British Circa 1920? (survey pegs).
On the line he was a powder monkey and laid charges for the blasting rock. At one point he could hear the sound of men working further North on the line but was never allowed to come in contact with them.
Japs insisted they bore a 1 metre hole and fill the lot with dynamite. The result being a skyrocket of dynamite with little or no effect. The method being to bore the hole, place the charge and compact with dirt and stone so – blast would have maximum effect. Many Jap guards had V.D. caught from comfort girls who travelled up and down the line. Officers first then N.C.Os and finally the enlisted men. They, of course, wanted the best of the allied doctors to cure them. Apparently one of Dunlop’s jobs.
When reaching the end of the line, the men were examined for dysentery by taking a specimen of faeces. This was done with a wooden stick. Tom lined up for his chance at being examined. Not being too impressed with the examination, he kept slipping further and further back down the queue. When his turn came the wooden sticks had run out and Tom was lucky enough to be put on the receiving end of a not very well aimed length of wire, which resulted in a shout of joy from Tom and he was sent in the opposite direction several yards before his feet touched the ground again. It seems the Japs were worried about dystentery because of poor sewerage conditions in Japan. Having passed the jab test he was loaded onto the ‘Byoki Maru’ and set sail for the land of the Rising Sun.
Docking at Japan, he travelled South to the island of Kyushi and was set to work in a mine rich in copper, situated to the south of Nagasaki. (The mines were Yamane and Niihama)
Tom worked in the mine on pipe repair (which were cast iron and corroded through) and pump repair on 12 hour shifts. They were paid one cigarette per day by the mine company. The Jap guard would roll and empty the tube of its tobacco so that all that was left was the paper.
At the end of the war, the Yanks fumigated them and sent them by ship to Manila where they stayed for three months being fattened up. They lived in army tents, had 24hr food, doctors and nurses on call.
When the time came to leave, Tom flew to Darwin on a heavily laden Catalina PBY-5 flying boat. Whilst in Darwin he was called up one at an open air theatre and told to get on board a B29 Bomber which was headed for Perth with stretcher cases. The plane named ‘Waltzing Matilda’ took off at midnight and arrived at 7am at Guildford where the men were ‘put on display for the general public.’
It was now early 1946.
(We have included details – Historians 2/4th)