Sir Albert ‘Bertie’ Coates was the most modest of men. ………words written by author Patsy Adam- Smith ‘Australian Prisoners of War’ ISBN:9781760062781
KHONKAN 55 KM HOSPITAL CAMP, BURMA 1943
Known to all who were there as 55 KM
Corporal Bill Hood WX7471 of 2/4th: “The great doctor, Col. Albert Coates was one of the finest men I have known in my life. All the men who came into contact with him believed that. He not only saved lives but saved reason. I had a tropical ulcer on my instep and it was thought the foot would have to be amputated. Dr. Coates told me he’d go on trying for a little while longer to see if he could arrest the gangrene, and nine days later I had begun to recover.”
Bill worked for a time at Khonkan 55km ‘Hospital’ Camp theatre where Coates was operating “I held men during the operations. They were laid down on the table and injected in the spine with diluted novocaine the chemist had to make do with what he had to go around. It did not completely deaden but it eased the pain. I remember when Alan Bamford WX8485 from 2/4th had his leg off, we took the piece of rubber from inside the crown of a soldier’s tin helmet and gave it to him to bite on, and another bloke and I each gave Alan our hand to hold. I couldn’t hold my hand properly for days after.”
“I will never forget the burial of Tom Davison WX7804 from Marble Bar, WA. He had an ulcer in the foot, similar to mine. He struggled with it and Dr. Coates fought for him but eventually it had to come off; but he was too low (suffering chronic diarrhoea and malnutrition) he died. Tom had got a fixation about what little use it would be for him to go home to Marble Bar without a leg. ‘You couldn’t even kick anything’ said Tom.”
“The men were sorry for Coates because he had to work with a butcher’s saw, chisels and that sort of thing for major operations. We could put ourselves in this position, day after day, knowing how he felt about his patients. I often thought what it must have done to Col. Coates, on top of his surgical and medical roles he had all his administrative work to do. He was the senior man. He looked like an old farmer with rosy cheeks. But he couldn’t save everyone and Tom Davison knew that. So, we put a rice bag over Tom‘s head and another over his remaining leg and dug a hole and he was buried.”
Bill Hood went to the funeral on bamboo crutches.
Tom Davison died at Khonkan 25 October 1943 aged 34 years. He had a 3 inch by 2 inch tropical ulcer. Coates had no other option and was forced to amputate the left leg above the knee.
Bamford’s successful operation to remove his right leg at mid-thigh because of tropical ulcer, took place 22 November 1943.
Another 2/4th soldier who had his leg amputated at Khonkan was Eric Ryan WX16767 of HQ Coy.
His amputation took place on 21 Oct 1943 he was 22 years old at that time and had been evacuated from Aungganaung 105 Km Camp.
Ryan was evacuated to Tamarkan Hospital 25 Dec 1943 and later sent to Nacompaton where he was a medical orderly and from where he was recovered at the end of the war.
d. 24 Sep 1943 aged 24 years
following re-amputation above his knee. Due to tropical ulcers Tim’s first amputation was below the knee.
Hodgson had grown up at Denmark where his parents were Group Settlement farmers. He had two brothers one of whom gave Tim a watch as a farewell gift.
Hodgson’s watch returned to WA with Capt Phelps, 2/4th who was at Khonkan and believed to be working as an orderly. Sadly Phelps did not return Hodgson’s watch to his parents who were alive at the end of the war. A son of Phelps found the watch amongst his late mother’s belongings. It had obviously become mislaid. It was returned to Hodgson’s family about 2010.
WX7724 PARKE Albert Sydney (known as ‘Major)
‘A’ Force Burma. He was a medical orderly at 55 km from 7 July – 19 Oct 1943. He was previously at Meiloe 75 Km at the RAP 28 March 1943.
He was evacuated from 55km to Tamakan by train January 1944. Later sent to Nacompaton Hospital Camp 30 Aug 1945 until the end of war.
The Major’s brother WX7738 Charlie Parke worked the Thailand end of the Railway with ‘D’ Force Thailand V Battalion which suffered a terrible death rate under appalling Conditions. He was then selected to work in Japan at the Omuta Coal Mining Camp which again was judged to a terrible camp. He survived to return home.
WX9145 Alfred Joseph McGhee known as Tubby, was another ‘A’ Force Green Force POW who was evacuated to Khonkan 55km with leg ulcers on 6 November 1943. He had his leg amputated 4 January 1944 and evacuated to Tamarkan Hospital Camp and discharged 27 April 1944 to Bangkok. He was recovered from Nacompaton at the end of August 1945.
Others to die at Khonkan Hospital Camp:
WX10797 Corporal Frank McPhail TOWNSEND – died 16 August 1943 chronic diarrhoea, pellagra and tropical ulcers aged 22 years.
WX8798 Guy Percival Biggs – died at Khonkan on 21 August 1943 of cardiac beri beri, dysentery and tropical ulcers. Guy was 39 years of age. Read further about Biggs.
WX5050 John Arthur Briggs – was evacuated with a tropical ulcer to his ankle, to Khonkan from Aungganaung 105km Camp. He died the same day as Des Chapman on 11 September 1943, aged 29 years.
John’s younger brother Roy Briggs WX7329 also enlisted with 2/4th and joined ‘B’ Company. Roy Briggs was with ‘D’ Force S Battalion and was recovered from Thailand at the end of the war.
WX7504 Desmond Bruce Chapman
Already ill with tropical ulcers and dysentery, Des was unable to recover from his amputation and died on 11 September 1943. He was 27 years old.
Soldier evacuated to 55km Camp from Aungganaung 105km Camp on 1.7.1943 due to an irregularly large 8 inch by 8 inch tropical ulcer that exposed bones and tendons on his right foot. Soldier’s right leg was amputated below his knee. The surgical re-amputation of stump was conducted due to gangrene.
He left behind a young wife and daughter in Western Australia.
WX7022 Hope Edwin James (Eddie) -died 8 August 1943 of beri beri aged 23 years. Eddie enlisted end of July 1940 and joined ‘D’ Company. He was wounded during short Battle for Singapore – received GSW to his left elbow during action at Hill 200, Ulu Pandan where a large number of 2/4th lost their lives. He was admitted to Alexandra Hospital 12 February 1942 and returned to his unit on 24 February 1942.
WX8137 NEEDHAM, John Wiliam Haynes, Lance Corporal
Born Broome 1913. He enlisted AIF 16 Aug 1940. He joined 2/4th’s ‘C’ Coy HQ as a driver/mechanic.
Needham was evacuated to Khonkan with tropical ulcers on his right foot.
In a weakened state of health, John Needham succumbed to pneumonia on 5 Dec 1943 aged 30 years.
WX9358 ROBERTS, William Charles d. 16 Aug 1943 cardiac failure following bacillary dysentery.
Aged 35 years, he was evacuated from Aungganaung 105 KM Camp, Burma, 1 June 1943 to Khonkan Hospital Camp, Burma.
Roberts had been farming at Williams and was engaged to be married. William Charles Roberts was born Ravensthorpe 1907.
WX17737 MOHER, Kenneth died 24 July 1943 of amoebic dysentery. He was 28 years old.
Presumed to be evacuated from Aungganaug 105 km camp to Khonkan. Moher was another Goldfields ‘Boy’ born Gwalia. Ken had a bakery with his brother. He enlisted 15 Dec 1941and joined 2/4th as reinforcement.
WX7224 Albert (Bert) Parke worked as medical orderly at Khonkan 55km between 7 July 1943 and 19 October 1943.
WX11629 Keith Bedford Mitchell worked as M/O arriving 1 July 1943. We believe he remained here until Japanese began moving POWs working Burma end of rail link were brought south to Thailand about end of 1943 and railway was completed.