2017 ANZAC Day Wreath Laying Ceremony at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Address by Neil MacPherson

2017 ANZAC Day Wreath Laying Ceremony at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
Address by Neil MacPherson WX 16572 2/2nd Pioneer

Good morning,

On behalf of all Ex-POWs, I welcome you to this peaceful location at the Kanchanburi CemeteryThailand on this dayo f remembrance for the Australian dead of all wars in which our nation has been involved. The first Australians to rrive on the Burma Thailand railway in October 1942 were in Green Force led by Major Green, Commanding Officer of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion a West Australian unit. They were also the first Australian prisoners to arrive on the Burma end of the railway, followed later in the month by my group in Williams Force under Lt Colonel John Williams of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion.

Camps had been cunningly established by the Japanese every 10 kilometres along he surveyed railway trace, this meant no time was wasted travelling from camps to work sites. The huts were well constructed to withstand the wild weather encountered during the wet season. Generally they were built with split bamboo platforms running the length of the huts with a central passageway, the roof was made of atap, a home for the rats that infested the huts. Mention should be made here that this type of accomodation was not universal along the length of the railway – for instance at Hintock in Thailand the prisoners were housed in tents that were soon damaged by the wild weather.

Our group of 800 was made up of mostly of Australians, a few Americans and Dutch captured with us in Java . The first Australians to start work on the Thailand side were captured in Java and formed Dunlop Force led by Colonel Dunlop, a surgeon from the 2nd second Casualty Clearing Station. In Burma the several groups under oveall charge of Australian Senior officer, Brigadier Varley, were known by the name of their leader. Our Force was known as Williams Force led by Lt Colonel John Williams Commanding Officer of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion.

Anderson Force was led by Lt Colonel Anderson V.C. On the Thailand end of the railway, apart from Dunlop Force which came from Java, most Australians were part of the 8th Division and were known as D Force and F Force. In Burma we were initially used to build embankments and excavate small cuttings. There was no great pressure from the Japanese Engineers – however this soon changed as the work got behind schedule and by May 1943 the Speedo iniaitive started. Beatings were common place. Australian officers in charge of work parties were especially noted for their courageous actions to protect the men under their control, but they were beaten for their efforts .

Major Bruce Hunt of F.Force was an an outstanding surgeon. He was also one of the most able and efficient Camp Administrators on the railway. He did a lot to maintain discipline and lift sagging morale pf the sick prisoners. In the early months, despite long hours and insufficient food, we gradually accustomed ourselves to a diet of mainly rice. We lacked the essentials such as meat, vegetables & fruit so malnutrition soon set in and as the wet season arrived with all its pestilence and disease the work hours were extended. Within 12 months of us starting work, diseases such as Cholera, Dysentery, Malaria, Berri Berri and leg ulcers, worsened by malnutrition and long hours of labour, would decimate our force. The morning sick parades lengthened to the extent that the Japanese Engineers had to press many of these sick men into the under-manned work parties. At the end of long work shifts men would return to camp and their first destinaton was the sick ward to see their mates and cheer them up.

During the construction of the railway it contained along its length and beyond hundreds of labour camps – all were bad, some worse than others – not one could be called good. Japanese camp commandants in these camps and in the transit camps were mostly tyrants, meting out punishments for minor infringements.

In early 1943 we in Williams & Anderson Force were selected to lay the sleepers and rails from Thanbyuzayat through to Konkoita where the two ends of the railway were to be connected- a daunting task. It was heavy work carrying the heavy sleepers and long lengths of rail. By September 1943 Williams Force of 800 had been reduced to a work party of 300 skeletons of men. The Japanese started moving prisoners from Burma into camps in Thailand. These prisoners were concentrated in two camps – Tamuan and Tamarkan, as this camp here on the River next to the bridge and this cemetary was then known.

Some prisoners were left in isolated camps back in Burma to carry out maintenance work. On arrival in Tamarkan the prisoners who arrived from Burma were astonished to see the variety of food available here compared to the barren jungle in Burma. Thailand was always known as the food bowl of Asia, Despite this abundance the Japanese authorities refused to provide sufficient rations to meet the daily needs of the men who were mere mere shadows of their pre prisoner life. Thank you for your attention, may I wish you a safe return to your homes.

Neil MacPherson