Letter to the Australian American Association – David Piesse


I have been involved with the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Inc since 1997, when my daughter, Amy, attended the Quiet Lion Tour that year as a sixteen year old. The trip was partly funded by my mother, a widow of an ex-PoW of the Japanese who was determined to send all of her grandchildren on the tour in memory of their grandfather WX4123 Pte C.R. Piesse, 2/3rd Australian Machine Gun Battalion, AIF, who was captured in Java when the Dutch surrendered on the 9th of March 1942. The members of Blackforce under the command of Brigadier Arthur Blackburn VC also were ordered to lay down their arms and became prisoners of war. This group included the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, the 2/2nd Casualty Clearing Station under the command of Lt Col Edward Dunlop ( later Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop) and the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, Texas National Guard (the Lost Battalion).

The 131st Field Artillery group sailed on the USS Republic on the 21st of November 1941 and was diverted from the Philippines when Pearl Harbour was bombed on the 7th of November 1941 and landed on Java in the Dutch East Indies to reinforce the Australian and British troops already there. The Australians had come from the Middle East on the ship HMT Orcades heading for Australia but they were diverted to Java to reinforce the Allied troops already in the Netherlands East Indies.

After the battle of the Sunda Straight where the USS Houston and the HMAS Perth were sunk, most of the survivors came ashore on the local islands and Java, only to be rounded up by the Japanese or handed over to the Japanese by the Javanese for rewards and placed into captivity in prisoner of war camps. Some went to the Bicycle Camp near Batavia (including the 131st Field Artillery) and some went to Bandoeng in the Javanese Highlands (Including the 2/2 Casualty Clearing Station).

Those that were in Bicycle Camp were put into work parties, Anderson Force and Williams Force, and were sent in cargo ships as hold cargo to Burma via Singapore. These work parties were named after the officers commanding them. They arrived in Burma in July of 1942. The Allied prisoners of war interned at Bandoeng were placed into Dunlop Force, a work party sent to Thailand via Singapore in January, 1943, under the command of Lt Col Edward Dunlop. Lt Col Edward Dunlop had been the officer in charge of the 2/2 Casualty Clearing Station and on the arrival of a larger force at Bandoeng including Wing Commander Nichols (Royal Air Force) and Lieut. Colonel Van der Post (British Army), (both senior combatant officers) it was agreed that Dunlop would continue as camp commander. This was unusual as Dunlop was a surgeon, not a combatant officer. From Singapore Dunlop Force travelled for five days by train north to Ban Pong, Thailand. Fortunately there was road transport to take them on to Kanyu, the site of their first labour camp on the railway. Subsequently they occupied Hintok Mountain Camp and Hintok River Camps until the railway was completed in September 1943.

In 1985 a small group of Western Australian ex POWs conceived the idea of taking a trip to follow the route that the World War 11 Prisoners of the Japanese had taken, starting in Jakarta, Indonesia, then on to Bandeong in the Javanese highlands where most Dunlop Force were interned for approximately nine months. They then went on to Singapore and then to Bangkok Thailand. From here the plan was to find the railway by travelling up the Kwai Noi River until they recognised the bluff overlooking the river at Hintok River Camp, which they did. Sir Edward " Weary" Dunlop accompanied this tour. This was the beginning of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association and the Quiet Lion Tours to Thailand commemorating ANZAC Day.

The tour format that we use for our current tours began in 1997 which has incorporated school groups from all over Australia. To date we have taken approximately five hundred students and in excess of two thousand people on tour to Thailand. These groups are made up of people who have had relatives involved with the railway or who have an interest in Military History, some are visiting graves of relatives at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery others attend to pay respects and to learn the history of the railway. For many it is the opportunity to attend the moving occasion of the Dawn Service in Hellfire Pass before the memorial service at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

The objectives of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Inc. are: To perpetuate the memory of the privations and sacrifices of Australian and Allied prisoners of war and the selfless dedication of the medical personnel during the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway by informing current and future generations through all forms of education and particularly with the Annual Quiet Lion Tours to the Burma Thai Railway; the River Kwai; the Three Pagoda Pass; ANZAC Day at Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

The name of our tour comes from the Ambonese soldiers that stayed loyal to the Netherlands East Indies, many of whom were treated in the Allied General Hospital set up by Lt.Col Dunlop in Bandeong Java after the action they saw against the Japanese. They called Lt.Col Dunlop “Singa yang Diam” which in English translates to The Quiet Lion. This is the name chosen for our tours in honour of Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop who was selected to command Dunlop Force onto the construction of the railway between Konyu and Hintok in Thailand.

Any person with an interest in the history of events that took place during this period is welcome to apply to come on the tour. Our emphasis is to tell the story and keep it as a piece history that can be passed on and not forgotten, school groups are particularly welcomed. As history fades from living memory and is forgotten is a sure way of repeating it.

David Piesse. Tour Leader, Quiet Lion Tour to Thailand.

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