Vale Gordon Maitland Roberts, Survivor of the Burma Thailand Railway.

Gordon Maitland Roberts, WX 2625,  of Dandaragan, Western Australia, died at Hollywood Hospital on November 1, 2015 having reached the age of 96 years on 3rd March last. He served the Australian community by his outstanding achievements and contributions as a soldier (in particular as a prisoner of the Japanese) in time of war, as a very successful primary producer and as a good citizen in time of peace. He has assisted significantly in maintaining the morale of his fellow prisoners of war during World War 11 and in post war years in perpetuating the memory of the privations and sacrifices of Australian Military personnel and the selfless dedication of the medical personnel during the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway in World War II. He has also dedicated himself to service to the community since surviving World War !! and his incarceration by developing innovation and progressing primary industry in the Mid West of WA and with service and support of returned Australian prisoners of war of the Japanese. Gordon Maitland Roberts was born at Moora, Western Australia to a farming family on March 3, 1919 and was a “jack of all trades” working in rural areas of Western Australia prior to World War Two. He was one of a group of seventeen country boys from the town of Moora in WA who were members of the Militia in the 10th Light Horse and enlisted in the AIF on January 21, 1940, joining the all-Western Australian 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion. The Battalion sailed from Fremantle in a convoy including the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth 11, Aquitania, Mauritania, Isle de France and the Andes. The convoy called at Colombo and the battalion disembarked at Port Tewfik on the Suez Canal and later trained at Palestine and in Tel Aviv. The battalion saw action in Syria and later at Mrouj, near Beirut in Lebanon. In February 1942 the battalion traveled on the Orcades via Durban, South Africa, to Oosthaven in South Sumatra. They disembarked at Batavia (Jakarta) before traveling by road to Bandoeng.On 9th March 1942 the Dutch surrendered (including the Australians). After nearly a year in Bandoeng the battalion went to Makasura before being shipped to Singapore with Dunlop Force under Lt Colonel Sir Edward Dunlop. In January 1943 Dunlop Force went by train on a five day journey in cramped steel rice wagons from Singapore to Non Pladuk in Thailand and then to the Konyu River Camp, the Hintok River Camp and the Hintok Road Camp. Dunlop Force worked on the section of the Burma Thailand Railway between Konyu (Hellfire Pass) and Compressor Cuttings. Members of Dunlop Force suffered similarly to all prisoners on the Burma Thailand Railway with diseases, inhumane and brutal treatment, starvation, overwork, lack of basic needs and terrible conditions. At the completion of the railway Gordon Roberts went with his group to Tamuang in Thailand, followed by movements to various other areas on maintenance work and he remained in Thailand until the Victory in the Pacific. After discharge on January 31, 1946, Gordon Roberts, as with most ex Prisoners of War, confined any discussions and recollections of the Prisoner of War experience to meeting with fellow ex PoWs, usually in the confines of RSL clubs, but when it was decided in 2002 to form the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association, dedicated to ensure that the story of the “Railway” would not be forgotten, he became an active supporter. The Association arranges an annual pilgrimage to Thailand for Anzac Day, the Quiet Lion Tour, which is named for Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop. A feature of the tours is that a large group of High School children and service cadets are taken to Thailand. During his war service and following his discharge from the Australian Army on January 31, 1946, Gordon Roberts was renowned for his “mateship”, resourcefulness and his compassion for his fellow prisoners.   During captivity he spent countless hours foraging for little extras for his mates who were ill, on light rations and unpaid. He would stay with men in their dying hours maintaining the tradition of “nobody must die alone”. Even when the dreaded cholera epidemic raged he still nursed cholera patients without any regard for his own health. He was a very robust man, raised in the country, and withstood the ravages of the prisoner of war experience to the point he often stood in for his mates who were too sick to work. A very notable aspect of the resourcefulness shown by Gordon Roberts was his ability to scrounge, barter and acquire by any dubious means food and medicine to help his mates. This ability may not be recognized generally but in the circumstances prevailing on the Burma Thailand Railway it was most important. One illustration of this is provided in the authenticated story involving close friend and POW “Snow Fairclough. “Snow” made his way most nights from the prison camp to the nearby Kwai Noi River to set improvised fishing lines and on one occasion snared a large fish. He took it to Gordon Roberts with a view to them sharing the extra rations with his mates. Gordon instead went to the adjacent English officer’s camp where he was able to sell the fish to an English officer and received what was regarded as a fortune. He in turn used the proceeds to acquire salt and fresh vegetables from Thai villagers and various medicines from Thai river traders. An interesting sidelight is that the English Officer was a Major named Swanton who transpired to be E.W. Swanton, the noted English cricket commentator. “Snow” Fairclough met Swanton post-war during a Test Match in Perth and Swanton recalled the exchange, adding that he got the fish for a “song” and out-bargained the Aussie POW. After discharge on January 31, 1946, Gordon Roberts immediately returned to farming and agriculture and with many years of hard work and good business practice he created a thriving business breeding cattle and sheep. When Gordon Roberts volunteered for the Australian Army the Mid-West area in Western Australia was just being developed with country previously regarded as being unsuitable for most forms of agriculture being utilized. Gordon Roberts’ elder brother was allocated a section of virgin country and he gave Gordon one thousand acres of the grant to start a farm on his return from the War. Gordon Roberts married on his return and with his new wife moved onto the grant of land. Together the cleared the land and established the nucleus of their farm. It is notable that the young wife operated a “General Grant” tank acquired from War Surplus auctions to clear the scrub. The property was named “Chelsea”. Over the years the farming business grew from one thousand to twenty six thousand acres spread over five different farms. The properties range across an area from Three Springs to Dandaragan and Badgingarra. The area had been regarded as “Sand Plain” country and required particular skills to become viable. Gordon and his wife Yaxley developed a breed of sheep to specialize in fat lambs and became a dominant force in that field. They also specialized in Aberdeen Angus cattle and, again, became leaders in the field. Further, they were able to use large areas for wheat and other grain on the country which theretofore had not been considered suitable for cropping. Gordon Roberts is a great example of those Australians who went through a terrible experience whilst serving their country.  They not only survived the experience but returned home to make a success of their lives and contribute to their country. It is of particular note that up until his death, Gordon Roberts and his friend Milton “Snow” Fairclough were the only remaining men of the seventeen from Moora who enlisted together and were all captured by the Japanese. Gordon Roberts was a life member of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association and a strong supporter of the Second Third Machine Gun Battalion Association.

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