Anzac Day and the Burma Siam Railway – Bill Haskell

Bill Haskell Ex WX3279 2/3RD Machine Gun Battalion. In Australia and New Zealand the 25th April is known as Anzac Day. It is a day on which the two Nations pay tribute to our Servicemen and Servicewomen who lost their lives in defence of freedom. We are therefore grateful to the Governments of the Kingdom of Thailand  and  the  Union  of  Myanmar  and  their  people  for permitting us to honour those who died in their countries and have their remains interred in this cemetery and that at Thanbuyazat. These men died as Prisoners of War of the Japanese in World War 11 during or as a result of working on the Burma Siam Railway. They died, in the main, through the sheer negligence of the Japanese in  not  supplying  the  basic  food  and  medical  supplies,  in  their inhumane and brutal treatment and in subjecting the prisoners to the absolute extreme of forced labour. The  prisoners  were  starved,  overworked,  exposed  to  diseases, harassed and brutally assaulted at the work place. The established rules of warfare in relation to prisoners of war were abandoned completely in the frenzy to push the railway through. We remember these men with great affection and deepest respect. The  sole  purpose  of  locating  Prisoners  of  War  in  Thailand  and Burma  was  to  work  on  the  railway  and  the  Japanese  made  it abundantly clear from the outset that there would be no respite until the task was accomplished. During the monsoonal months of July and August 1943 the country was deluged with continuous downpours of rain. At the same time Cholera  and  Ameobic  Dysentery  reached  plague  proportions  and the Japanese engineers introduced their dreaded  “Speedo” tactics. The combination of these factors resulted in deaths and disablement thereby  cutting  the  workforce  considerably  and  placing  a  huge burden on the remaining workers. The engineers showed no compassion, on the contrary, continually increasing the working hours. Despite the enormous pressure many prisoners survived the ordeal until the rail link was completed. They received wonderful support from the Doctors, medical orderlies and camp  staff  who  supported  them  admirably.  All  of  these  people deserve to be acknowledged for playing their part in a triumph over adversity. Upon completion of the rail link the war was till twenty-two months from finishing and the POWs were moved around a great deal. Some men were retained on the railway doing maintenance work and  cutting  wood  for  locomotive  fuel  whilst  others  were  spread around  the  country  working  on  roads,  railways,  and  bridges damaged by Allied bombing and monsoonal rains. The men of “F” Force, whose introduction to Thailand was a 260-kilometer  march  to   the  disease-ridden  camps  at  and  around Sonkurai  were  eventually  returned  to   Singapore,  missing  over  a thousand of their number who had perished. The  fittest  of  the  Prisoners  of  War  survivors  were  sent  to  other areas of Asia as forced labour. A large number of the Australians went to Japan to work in coalmines and other industrial areas. They sailed  in  decrepit  unmarked  ships  and  unfortunately  some  of  the ships in the convoys were sunk by Allied submarines resulting in a further heavy loss of life. The  inhumane  treatment  meted  to  the  Prisoners  of  War  had reduced  a  third  of  the  “railway”  survivors  to  a  state  where  they were incapable of further manual labour. They were transferred to (so called) hospital camps in Tarsao and Chungkai. They were later consolidated in a vast hospital camp at Nakon Pathom. After the Japanese surrender, much to the relief of the Prisoners of War who were well into their fourth year of captivity, thousands of them were repatriated to Australia to be nurtured back to health by their loved ones. Many, of course, were beyond complete recovery. After  a  period  of  convalescence  and  retraining,  those  who  had recovered  sufficiently  were  returned  to  society  and  assisted  in rebuilding a country that had been on a full wartime footing  for over six years. Notwithstanding  the  dreadful  conditions  in  Thailand  and  Burma, the  subsequent  ordeals  in  “hell-ships”  and  coalmines  and  the inhumane  treatment,  many  of  the  Australian  POWs  displayed  a resilience, a fortitude and a will to survive which allowed them to re-establish themselves after the war. Many moving accounts of the fortitude displayed by the Australian prisoners in enduring great adversity have emerged. I would like to refer to just one which gives some idea of this magnificent trait. Basil Clark was a member of A Force in Burma and had his right leg amputated at the mid section of his thigh in September 1943. The amputation was carried out at the 55 Kilo Hospital Camp by the renowned  surgeon,  Lieut.  Colonel  Albert  Coates,  whose  skill  and expertise surely assisted Basil Clark’s recovery. In due course Basil was transferred to the Base Hospital at Nakon Pathom in Thailand and repatriated after the war to Perth, Western Australia, where he very quickly resumed civilian life. In June 1946 Basil  married  the  young  lady  he  was  courting  when  he  enlisted. They were blessed with a son in 1947 and a daughter in 1948. Basil was fitted with an artificial leg that had an articulated knee and a rigid ankle. The leg was supported by a waistband and strapping which enabled comparative freedom of movement. The Department of Postwar Reconstruction interviewed Basil and suggested  that  because  of  his  handicap  he  should  take  up  a sedentary occupation. Basil rejected this proposal out of hand and stated he was returning to his pre war occupation of farming. In 1949  he  moved  onto  a  medium  sized  wheat  and  sheep  farm  at Wongan Hills in Western Australia and single-handedly carried out all  the  normal  farming  operations  such  as  ploughing,  cropping, harvesting and sheep husbandry. At the same time he took a lively interest in community affairs such as Rotary, Freemasonry, Parents and Citizens Clubs and general sporting activities. In due course his son Noel continued farming the property and his daughter  Lois  qualified  as  a  nurse  in  which  capacity  she accompanied the Quiet Lion Pilgrimage in 2007 This  is  the  story  of  a  survivor  who  triumphed  over  enormous difficulties  as  a  Prisoner  of  War  and  on  return  to  Australia distinguished  himself  as  a  family  man  and  in  farming  and community affairs. Truly the type of person who inspires a nation. Basil was representative of a host of Australian ex Prisoners of War who  displayed  those  great  traits  of  resilience,  fortitude  and  an enduring will to survive. He and the rest of the Prisoners of War were truly representative of their predecessors who collectively led to the coining of the description “Anzac” and the perpetuation of Anzac Day. We, those who are left, salute those who are no longer with us. God bless them and God bless you all.

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