VALE Sergeant John Roy (Jack) Thorpe

VALE - Sergeant John Roy (Jack) Thorpe

WX10477 105 Australian Transport Company and British Commonwealth Occupation Force Enlisted 20/12/1940 and Discharged 17/9/1947

Jack Thorpe was born at Claremont WA on 9/11/1921 and died at Ellenvale, Busselton on 30/8/2016. Jack’s funeral took place at Busselton Funeral Centre on 7/9/2016. Jack was the eldest of four children and due to circumstances he played a large part in watching out for his younger siblings. He left school at fourteen years of age to work as an apprentice mechanic in his father’s bus service. After two years the apprenticeship was interrupted and he obtained a job as a “bowser boy” at a garage in North Fremantle. His father later arranged for him to recommence his apprenticeship as the bus service was sold to the Metro Bus Company and they needed an apprentice.

After the outbreak of World War Two, Jack wanted to enlist immediately with his mates Ron Gwynne and Gordon Page. There was a complication because of age and he put his age up by three years. He finally enlisted on 20th December 1940 and joined the Second Recruit Training Depot at Northam. He then volunteered for Mechanical Support Unit and after training at Puckapunyal in Victoria he left for the Middle East on 18th September 1941.

His unit travelled via Port Tufic to the Suez Canal and El-Kantara and then across the Sinai and on to Barbera. He then joined the 1st Australian Troop Carrying Column attached to the 7th Australian Division as part of the 105 General Transport Company. At Port Tufic, Jack joined the troopship Orcades which sailed on the 29th January 1942 en route to the Dutch East Indies where he became a Prisoner of War. After several months in Batavia he joined other Australians on a ship for Singapore and Changi Prisoner of War Camp and later on, a ship heading for Burma. He was part of A Force. Jack’s group commenced work on the Railway at the third camp, Kunknitway (the 25 Kilo Camp). He was later at the 105 Kilo, 75 Kilo and 55 kilo camps on the Burma end of the Burma Thailand Railway.

A feature of Jack’s POW experience occurred whilst in the 55 Camp. Jack met Basil Clark of the 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion from Cadoux who he had known previously. Basil had a bad ulcer on his leg. The bottom half of the leg below the knee was 75% eaten away with gangrene. Jack was talking to Basil when the Medical Officer (Lieutenant Colonel Albert Coates later Sir Albert Coates) said, “That leg will have to come off, Clark. If we leave it on you have got no chance, let me take it off and you have got better than 50% of getting home”. Basil said, “I’ll have it off”. The operation was done next morning when two orderlies arrived with the stretcher consisting of bamboo poles with two rice bags stretched over the two long poles. The operating theatre was nothing more than a lean to at the end of the hut, with a dirt floor. There was a 44-gallon drum outside with a fire blazing to burn the amputated limb. The Colonel explained that the anaesthetic would only last a few minutes and proceeded with the operation, Jack Thorpe holding the patient. One of Colonel Albert Coates’ students was Weary Dunlop. (Note: Basil Clark survived on returning to Three Springs and built a successful farming venture).

When the two ends of the Railway joined on the Thailand side of the border at Konkoita, Jack’s unit travelled by train to Tamarkan. Later the group went to Saigon and later still back to Singapore. On Christmas Eve 1944, Jack left Singapore on the Awa Maru to go to Japan where he was lodged at Camp 22 Iisuka and working in underground coal mines.

In August 1945 he was freed after the Japanese capitulation. Jack travelled home to Australia via Manila, the last leg in the HMS Speaker, an aircraft carrier, which called at Guam and New Guinea en route to Sydney. He finally reached Perth. Jack went on to transfer to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. When he returned to Australia on an annual leave period he decided to take over his father’s hotel at Three Springs and was given a discharge from the BCOF. Post war, Jack was the President of the Three Springs Arrino RSL in WA for about 40 years and was awarded the OAM in 2002.

Over a period of 15 years he raised over $50,000 to assist with sending many young people (aged 14-16 years) from his District to the Burma Thailand Railway on Quiet Lion Tours.

Jack Thorpe was a bloody lucky man by his own statement. Surviving life as a POW on the Burma-Thai Railway, Jack lived a full life as a community leader in Three Springs. In 2006 he wrote a book on his life story called 'Bloody Lucky'.

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