The Quiet Lion Tour, conducted by the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association, was again present on ANZAC Day, 25 April 2019, in Thailand when the event was commemorated with a Dawn Service and Gunfire Breakfast at Hellfire Pass and a Commemorative Service and Wreath Laying at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
The Dawn Service is in Hellfire Pass situated in Sai Yoke, commencing at 5.30 a.m. and lasting approximately 40 minutes. The site is actually Kannyu Cutting, below the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre, Kanchanaburi Province.
Hellfire Pass is accessed through the Royal Thai Army camp at Sai Yok which is the site of the Kannyu 1 Prisoner of War Camp and burial grounds from the building of the Burma Thailand Railway. Walking into the site is via newly installed steps and ramps down the steep face of the cutting and then along the old railway line. The ceremonial area at the end of the cutting has limited seating arrangements in hard tiers cut from the rock wall on one side and a substantial temporary grandstand on the other.
There is a catafalque and wreath laying area in the centre of the ceremonial area. Approximately 1,500 people are accommodated in the ceremonial area and another 800 or so people in the adjacent pass.
ANZAC Day in Kanchanaburi, Thailand 25th April 2019–Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
The commemorative service commences at 1100 (11.00 a.m.) at Kanchanaburi (Don Rak) War Cemetery, Kanchanaburi and lasts approximately 50-60 minutes.
All service attendees are invited to attend a Post Service barbeque held directly after the service from 1200 – 1500 in a clearing to the east of the War Cemetery. Generous local sponsors have provided a limited amount of food free of charge, and refreshments are available for purchase with all proceeds to be directed towards service charities.
The 2019 Quiet Lion Tour again attended both services and in the case of Kanchanaburi assisted in the wreath-laying phase. It was significant that ex-POW Harold Martin again attended the services and recited the Ode on both occasions. With assistance, Harold laid a wreath at the Kanchanaburi catafalque and Quiet Lion Tour juniors acted as wreath laying assistants there.
At the Dawn Service, the Anzac Address was delivered by His Excellency Allan McKinnon PSM, the Australian Ambasador to Thailand, and the Statement of Remembrance was delivered by Wing Commander David Bryers, Royal New Zealand Air Force.
At the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery Commemorative Service the prologue was delivered by Air Marshall Leo Davies AO,CSC, Chief of Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, the Anzac Address was delivered by His Excellency Taha Macpherson, New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand.The ex-POW Address was delivered by Mr Eric Wilson APM OAM, Chairman of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association. on behalf of the late Neil MacPherson OAM.
A tribute of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk was delivered by the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey, Her Excellency Ms Evren Dogdelan Akgun and the Ode of Remembrance by Mr Harold Martin.
In the evening preceding the Anzac Day services, an alfresco welcome reception was hosted in by Home Phu Toey Managing Director Suparerk Soorangoora in the Weary Dunlop Park outside the Dunlop Museum, followed by the traditional Light and Sound Show in the specially built arena, and a celebratory dinner with Australian and New Zealand Ambassadors, service chiefs, dignitaries and the Quiet Lion Group. Quiet Lion group tour leader David Piesse welcomed the guests and invited the two Ambassadors to address those in attendance.
The occasion marked a great prelude to the Anzac Day commemorations. All attending (that were in a position to compare) considered the newly rebuilt and fitted Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre (hitherto generally known as the Hellfire Pass Museum) was a magnificent effort.
The graphics, exhibits and displays, together with the flow of exhibits, artefacts and video displays make for a remarkable experience. If any features could be isolated from the rest it would be the remarkable full length photographs of the late Bill Haskell rounding a bend in Hellfire Pass with the aid of his walking stick and Harold Martin sitting in a typical pose (Photo by Samm Blake).
The new outside area at the top of stairways to the pass below really adds to the spectacle. All involved in the planning, conception and completion of this project are to be congratulated.
Chairman, Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association.
Neil Ormiston MacPherson WX16572 of 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion of Williams Force Burma Thailand Railway 1942-1944, Japan 1945.
Born 14th May 1922. Enlisted 22nd September 1941. Died 30th March 2019.
Trained with 11th Battalion Senior Cadets in 1938-39.
Trained at Northam Training Camp. November 1941 to the Middle East on HMT Queen Mary. To Palestine for training. Transferred from 24TH Infantry Training Battalion to 2/2 Pioneer Battalion. January 1942 left Middle East on HMT Orcades with 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion and others to Dutch East Indies. Full Pioneer Battalion landed at Tanjong Priok, Java and saw action against the Japanese before capture. Transferred to Singapore on Kendon Maru and to Rangoon, Burma, on Mayabashi Maru in October 1942. To Moulmein on Yamagata Maru. Joined Williams Force.
In February 1942, 3000 Australians, the vanguard of the 7th Division, returning to Australia from the Middle East on the SS Orcades, were diverted to Java to help stem the Japanese invasion sweeping towards Australia.
On the 8th March 1942 the Dutch authorities surrendered the island along with all allied forces. At age 19 years Neil MacPherson became a prisoner of a cruel and brutal regime and joined over 22,000 fellow Australians. Of those over 8,000 or 36% paid the supreme sacrifice, most were to suffer intolerably cruel and lingering deaths.
In September 1942 under the command of legendary C.O. Lt Colonel Williams, 1800 prisoners from Java were shipped to Burma in dreadful conditions in three separate Hell Ships.
In Burma, Williams Force of 800 men was made up of 450 of Pioneers from the Middle East, the rest mainly young sailors, survivors of HMAS Perth. The officers had been in action in Syria and Java so was held in high esteem by the Pioneers.
Arriving in Thanbyuzayat in October 1942, Williams Force joined Brigadier Varley’s A Force of 3000 Australians just arrived from the port of Tavoy. A Force was the first Australians to start work on the Burma Thailand Railway.
The next Australians, Dunlop Force No 5 Group, arrived in Burma in January 1943 from Java and was the first Australian group to commence work on the Thailand end of the Burma Thailand railway.
The following 15 months were to test the mettle, morale, and Anzac spirit of the Australian prisoners in Burma. A starvation diet of a hand full of rice and watery (usually meatless) stew. Work clearing the jungle, on embankments, on cuttings, on bridges in the heat of the dry, and the misery and slush of the wet.
Clothes and footwear, long destroyed in the foetid jungle the only protection from the burning heat and the rain, was a loincloth. Bed bugs and lice left by native workers made for harrowing and restless nights, deaths were continuous and the numbers dwindled as work hours grew.
No 1 force actually worked continually through the wet, from Thanbuzayat right through into Thailand where the two ends of the Railway were joined on 17th October 1943.
With no drugs whatsoever, malaria, dysentery, beri beri, pellagra, tropical ulcers smallpox and finally cholera took its toll. The dedicated Doctors and medical staff were supermen, working with make shift tools, without them losses would have doubled.
The survivors, wrecks of men in rags, staggered out of their jungle camps in January 1944 to be transported to the well organised, better-equipped camps in Tamarkan & Kanburi (Kanchanaburi and Tha Makan). Despite a continuing death rate from the results of the ordeal, after six months of improved food and lighter work survivors regained some semblance of health but this transpired to be a well designed plan by the captors.
Thousands of Railway workers, Australians in a majority, were selected for shipment to Japan as slave labor, to work in mines, factories and on the docks. Thousands of them died in Hell Ships from attacks by US submarines and aircraft. Neil Macpherson’s luck as a survivor continued. He was on the last ship, the Awa Maru (his fourth Hell Ship), to successfully make the journey. He arrived in Japan in January 1945, the coldest winter Japan experienced in 40 years, to spend the remaining months working in a coalmine.
An unknown author described conditions on board these Hell Ships thus:
“Crowded onto cramped platforms, with barely enough space to turn around, a mass of unwashed bodies struggling to survive in a sea of sweat and revolting smells, in the stifling heat of the holds. Initially in the tropical heat near the equator, but the ensuing month was to see us making our way across snow covered decks for our limited toilet functions”
Finally, the ordeal was over, the Japanese capitulated and the POWs were liberated.
On 16th August, 1945, the prisoners of Neil’s group were freed. Left Senryu on 14th September for Nagasaki where they boarded ships en route to Okinawa. They travelled by B24 Liberator bombers to Luzon Island and by C45 Transports to Manila. By aircraft carrier HMS Formidable to Sydney and train to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
Final discharge was on 11th February 1946.
The exPOWs took up life where they left off, brought up families, helped build a great nation, most drew a curtain on the horrors through which they had lived.
Maturing quickly, they adapted, found a maturity far above their age, learned self discipline - most importantly they discovered “mate-ship”. Neil MacPherson was fond of quoting Duncan Butler of the 2/12th Field Ambulance who wrote the poem Mates with the theme.
“No prisoner on the railway survived who did not have a mate”.
Vale Neil Ormiston MacPherson OAM
Born 8 July 1934. Died 22 February 2019. Funeral - Karrakatta 7 March 2019.
Past Chairman and Life Member of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Inc.
Beloved husband of Stephanie and loving father of Louise, Penny (dec) and Emma; father-in- law to John and Cameron, passed away peacefully at Hollywood Hospital 22nd February. “Duty First”. Ken was a graduate of the OCS class of June 1954 and served with 1 RAR and 2 RAR in Malaya 1961 – 1963 and 7 RAR in SVN from April to November 1967.
Kenneth John Bladen was born in Western Australia and educated at Guildford Grammar School. He later graduated as a Second Lieutenant from the Australian Army Officer Cadet School as a career Infantry Officer and for the next 21 years served in various regimental, instructional and staff appointments in Australia and overseas.
His service as a junior officer included anti-terrorist operations in Malaya as a platoon commander, and as a foundation officer of the Special Air Service (SAS) Company in Perth. He served overseas with the lst, 2nd, and 7th Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment, and in 1967 he saw active service in Vietnam as an Infantry Company commander with the 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.
Ken was a graduate of the Australian Staff College 1968 course and won the Queen's Medal for Champion Shots in 1969, as the Army Champion Shot for that year. As a Lieutenant Colonel he commanded the Third Cadet Brigade in 1973-1974, and later served in the Australian Army Reserve retiring in 1984 after 30 years service.
An RSL member since 1968, he was elected State President of the Western Australian Branch of the Returned and Services League in 1998, serving in that capacity until 2001. He was appointed Honorary National RSL Vice President for Life and awarded RSL Life Membership in November 2001. In January 2003 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for voluntary services to veterans and their families. Later that year Ken was awarded the Centenary Medal for similar services to veterans and their families.
Ken was an inaugural member of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Inc in 2002 and elected Chairman in May 2004, more than competently filling the role until May 2007.
He was made a life member at that time and continued to support the Association for the balance of his life.
The strength of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Inc was helped in every way by Ken Bladen and he will be sorely missed.