Bill Haskell (OAM) Obituary

Bill Haskell was born at Fremantle on 9th May 1920 and died just short of his 91 st birthday on the first of May 2011. Bill was one of nine children. His father Bernie came with his parents to the Eastern Goldfields and later to Fremantle. Bill’s dad Bernie married Vera Sullivan in 1910 and the family home was established in Gill Street, East Fremantle.

Bill had his formative years in the pre-depression and depression period. He attended the Richmond Primary School and Fremantle Boys High School where completed his Junior Certificate.

His first job was as a lowly paid messenger boy in Fremantle followed by general and junior clerical work at the Robbs Jetty Meatworks. He commenced part time studies in accountancy.

When World War 11 broke out he tried without success to join the Navy. At 19yrs he joined the 16th Battalion Cameron Highlanders and completed a three month camp at Northam.

In November of 1940, after enlisting in the AIF, he went to the Woodside Camp in South Australia until in April 1941 he sailed away the 2/3 rd Machine Gun Battalion after pre-embarkation leave.

Bill was the first of his family to enlist but before the end of the war his Mum had seven of her nine children overseas.

He was on the Isle de France in a convoy with the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth 11, Aquitania, Mauritania and the Andes which called at Colombo and terminated at Port Tewfik on the Suez Canal. They later served in Palestine and in Tel Aviv.

The 2/3 rd Machine Gun Battalion then saw action in Syria and later were in Mrouj, near Beirut in Lebanon.

In February 1942 they traveled on the RMS Orcades via Durban, South Africa, to Oosthaven in South Sumatra. They disembarked for a short time before returning aboard and sailed to Batavia. (Jakarta) and then by road to Bandoeng.

On 9 th March 1942 the Dutch surrendered (including the Australians).

Life in the Bandoeng prison camp was not good but better than what was experienced later on in Thailand. Food, clothing and medical supplies were between non-existent and very short.

After nearly a year in Bandoeng, Dunlop Force went to Makasura before being shipped to Changi Prison on Singapore for a short time.

In January 1943 they went by train to Thailand and to the Konyu River Camp, the Hintok River Camp and the Hintok Road Camp. Bill later worked on the Thadan Bridge over the Maeklong River before transferring to a river transit camp at Tamuang.

Conditions in the camps on the Railway were dreadful; starvation, ill-treatment, brutality, disease and no clothing, medical supplies or even the most basic of personal requirements. Only mateship and valiant Doctors and medical staff got some of them through. In the “speedo” period when the Japanese tried to accelerate the building of the railway it got worse. Every disease known to man was prevalent with cholera, dysentery, malaria, beri-beri, vitaminosis and lethal ulcerated legs rife.

Their work was moving dirt, timber, rock and other materials by hand and carving through solid rock with only hand-tools. Terrible accidents were frequent.

All this time they had no news of home and very little knowledge of the outside world.

After the construction phase of the railway, Bill travelled from Tamuang Camp to Singapore in the primitive rail-cars before sailing, on 4 th July 1944, with 3,000 other prisoners, to Japan in one of the “Hell” ships, the Byoki Maru. The voyage lasted ten weeks.

Bill spent almost 12 months at the Ohama Coal Mine under the Sea of Japan.

Conditions there were again dreadful with the heat replaced by the cold and having to work in narrow tunnels under the sea. Food was as scarce, as it had been in Thailand, due to the overall conditions in Japan.

After the atomic bombs were dropped the POWs were liberated.

Bill always remembered the parachuted supply drops in 44 gallon drums, some of which burst.

In the drums were many supplies but Bill remembered most of all the Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate and the Campbell’s Pea Soup because he sat next to the broken drums and ladled soup into his mouth at the same time having bites of chocolate.

The Prisoners of War were then able to also assist the local Japanese, particularly the kids. The locals had had a pretty tough time and were as deprived of food and clothing as the prisoners.

Liberation was wonderful but it took Bill and his mates a long time to get home by various ships. They travelled via Osaka to the port at Wakayama where Bill was overawed by the number of naval ships at anchor. As with the soup and chocolate, Bill always remembered the hot showers and the Lifebuoy soap. The next joy was being kitted out with “T” shirts, trousers and boots. (His first experience of denim jeans). Then there was the next piece of heaven. Ice cream, fresh bread and plenty of butter.

It was at Wakayama that Bill first heard of the Atomic bomb.

From Wakayama, Bill’s group boarded the hospital ship “USS Consolation. Another new experience; white linen sheets and pillow cases…. and nurses.

From the USS Consolation, Bill and his group were transferred to a Liberty Ship, the USS Haskell and taken to Okinawa and then Manila where they boarded the escort carrier the Speaker and travelled to Sydney. After a short stay at Ingleburn Army Camp Bill then travelled on the Dominion Monarch to Fremantle.

It had not been until Bill arrived in Manila that he that he was officially acknowledged as being recovered. His Mum had been very ill in hospital. The war had just about caught up with her, all her children were overseas, one had been killed in New Guinea and Bill had not been heard of for three and a half years.

Bill’s sister Emily was a nurse serving in New Guinea and returned home on compassionate leave. She and Bill’s dad were the only people at home the day a telegram boy arrived on his bike at the house. The worst was feared. Bill’s dad opened the telegram and on getting the great news gave the telegram boy ten bob (a fortune in those days) and ran down the street yelling “it’s Bill, its Bill”.

Emily was unaware of what was happening because she had been in the shower when Dad answered the door and she was the last in the street the last to know. Bill’s mum received the news at the Mount Hospital and recovered to be at the wharf for the family welcome to the homecoming POWs.

After a period in the Point Walter Camp through to Christmas 1945, Bill resumed his pre-war work at Robbs Jetty as quick as possible and re-established his life. An opportunity arose to obtain a position in the Commonwealth Public Service and although it would mean a drop in income, the prospect of security was inviting as he had met his future wife Dulcie Neave. He accepted a position as a base range clerk with the Taxation Department and then found out that his military service entitled him to tax free status for two years. All the tax paid on the overtime at Robbs Jetty was thus returned.

Through long hours of part time study Bill qualified as an accountant and had a life-long career with the Taxation Department.

Bill married, built a home and raised a family. He also resumed his pre-war sport of lacrosse (representing his State) and later commenced his early morning swimming.

Bill always mentioned his delightful wife Dulcie and how she was able to cope with his post-war problems, particularly stomach ulcers and the effect on his diet.

Bill returned to Hellfire Pass with Weary Dunlop on a special tour via Jakarta and Singapore in 1985 and again in1987. He has returned to the area many times since with Quiet Lion Tours and other special visits such as Keith Flanagan’s Loi Kratong and Khun Kanit Wanachote’s OAM award. One special visit was after our “Grand Tour” in 2009 when we visited Jack Chalker and many other friends in England. Bill’s joy at meeting his friends and touring Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Hampshire was palpable.

Bill Haskell joined with Keith Flanagan in convincing Weary Dunlop to publish his war diaries and they then worked together to keep the story of Weary Dunlop and the Burma Thailand Railway alive. They commenced the Quiet Lion Tours to Thailand for Anzac Day and were later co-founders of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association.

The BTRMA has now conducted 18 Quiet Lion Tours. There have been in excess of 1,300 people taken on Quiet Lion Tours including over 300 High School Students and other juniors.

Bill, together with Keith Flanagan and Ken Wood, played a major part in establishing the Boon Pong-Weary Dunlop Medical Foundation which has been responsible for training in excess of 60 young Thai Doctors in specialist surgical fields under a mentoring scheme.

In the Australia Day Honours List for 2004 Bill Haskell, together with his long-time friend Keith Flanagan, was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for “Service to the community, particularly through establishing public educational tours to the Burma Thailand Railway”.

Bill died at home of 1 st May 2011. His wife Dulcie, with whom he shared a deep devotion, pre-deceased him by a number of years.

Bill Haskell was a man of many interests and amassed a large group of good friends from all over the world, particularly Thailand. Bill was a devout Christian, a life-long early morning swimmer with the Port Beach Polar Bears, had an abiding interest in history, particularly military history, was an active participant in Probus and was a life-long supporter of the East Fremantle Football Club.

More than any of this, Bill Haskell was a great family man and his principal legacy is a fine group of children, grand-children and great grand children who have an exemplar beyond comparison on whom they can model their own lives.

He was a loved father of June, Douglas and Errol, father in law of Steve, Maureen and Barbara, “Pop” of Christabel and Matthew, Andrew, Mark and Leah, Marcia and Nathan, Carla and Nicco and Great Grand Poppy of Zane, Casey, Cody, Noah and Oliver.


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