Archives for category: Second World War

Kanchanaburi – Thanbyuzayat

In a previous post, ‘I wonder what happened to them all’, I mentioned the action of the 2/30th Battalion at Gemas, Malaya 1942 – and the fate of those sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway in F Force.

Some 161 2/30th Battalion men are buried at Thanbyuzayat in Burma, and 100 are buried at Kanchanaburi in Thailand. (There are 125 more at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, including 82 on the Singapore Memorial within the cemetery, who were mostly died in the fighting in Malaya or Singapore.)

Unknown Australian - Thanbyuzayat

Unknown Australian – Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery,Burma

The 2/30th  Battalion and 2/10th Field Ambulance men were among the 22,376 Australians made prisoners of war by the Japanese – of whom 8,031 died while in captivity. Some 9,500 Australian prisoners of war worked on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway and 2,646 of them died of illness, disease, starvation, overwork and savage punishment — including 1,438 men of F Force in Thailand and 479 men of A Force in Burma.

In 1997, I travelled by train from Singapore to Kanchanaburi, and then to Burma for my book Not Going to Vietnam (Sceptre 1999) tracing as much as I could of both ends of the railway, and came across men of the 2/30th Battalion and 2/10th Field Ambulance while looking at the cemeteries and memorials.

Back then the Australian Hellfire Pass museum and walking track was being constructed.  Rod Beattie, who I met for the first time in Kanchanaburi, was managing the project. Rod had cleared several kilometres of the track around Hellfire Pass himself, and came to know more about the railway than anyone else.

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Since then Rod has established the Thailand Burma Railway Centre  the most accessible, accurate and authoritative museum in Kanchanaburi, opposite the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Rod  manages tis and the nearby Chungkai War Cemetery on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  He has assisted many veterans and families in finding their stories, and has been a big help to me.

Sunset Kan'buri cemetery Rod 2008

Sunset, Kanchanaburi Cemetery (Photo: Rod Beattie 2008)

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Malaya 1942 – 1956

One of the stories my uncle Laurence Turner wrote when he was the Melbourne Herald correspondent ‘with the Australian troops in Malaya’ 1955-56 was headlined ‘Ghost camp in Malaya’. It was published on 1 or 2 February 1956.

laurence 2RAR

Laurence Turner (right) with 2RAR on patrol 1955

The story is listed in the Herald by-line file cards now at the State Library of Victoria, but not in the microfilmed copy of the paper. Luckily a battered copy of the story was found in my uncle’s papers. Perhaps the microfilmed copy was only published in an early (or late) edition of the Herald.

In January 1956, Turner ventured south to Singapore and some of the places in Malaya where Australians fought in 1942. He’d written about schools in Singapore, the Kranji war cemetery, Raffles hotel and other matters – none of which seem to have been used by the Herald, but may have been picked up by the Sun News-Pictorial Melbourne, the West Australian, Brisbane Courier-Mail, Adelaide News or the Sydney Morning Herald.

In his five months with 2RAR in Malaya, he scooped AAP-Reuters with stories on the first ambush of Australian troops, the death of Sergeant Cecil Anderson, the January 1956 peace talks at Baling, the bungling of housing for  the families of  Australian troops and the shoddy conditions of Australian troops, including the docking of the Malaya allowance of soldiers while ill or wounded in hospital. His stories were influential in improving conditions for the men and their families for the duration.

A keen student of Australian military history, Turner visited the Second World War sites in Malaya – Parit Sulong where 107 Australian wounded were massacred by the Japanese on 22 January 1942, and the site of the successful ambush at the Gemenceh River near Gemas on 12 January 1942.

LT mathews crop

In  January 1956 Turner met Michael Mathews a high school teacher at Batu Pahat, now (and then) a small coastal town between Johore Bahru and Malacca.

In late 1941 it was the main Australian base in Malaya.

The men Mr Mathews met were mostly from the 2/30th Battalion and the 2/10th Field Ambulance, part of the tragic 8th Division. They had arrived in Singapore in August 1941, stayed at Birdwood Camp at Changi, and then moved some 90 kilometres to Batu Pahat in late September.

The 2/10th supported the 2/30th in January 1942 in the first Australian action against the Japanese – at the famous ambush on 12 January at Gemas on the Gemenceh River.

The 2/10th Field Ambulance was formed in 1940 and comprised 292 all ranks. Only 131 men returned after the war –  they were killed in action or died as prisoners of war at Sandakan or on the Thai Burma Railway.  [And 22 were detached as part of Lark Force on Rabaul, where 15 were either murdered at the Tol Plantation massacre on 4 February 1942 or lost on the Montevideo Maru 22 June 1942.]

The 2/30th suffered 20 killed or missing believed dead and 58 wounded in Malaya in January. The Japanese casualties were thought to be about 1,000. After the surrender in Singapore, 1150 of the 2/30th were made prisoners of war. Many were sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway, others to Borneo, or Japan. Over 300 men from the 2/30th died during captivity.

‘Mr Mathews still talks of “My friends, the Diggers.”  Then he says sadly:  “I wonder what happened to them all?”

Turner recorded nine names but couldn’t answer Mathew’s question. I have details of what happened to eight of the nine.

One name I have so far been unable to track down is NX 4377 Pte D.O.R Blair, C Coy 2/30th Bn.

mathews xmas card lo res

Christmas card 1956 from Michael Mathews to Laurence Turner and Bruce Reddaway, Herald photographer.

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Sgt Cecil Anderson – Indigenous Soldier in Three Wars

While researching my book Men of Kapyong (in progress) I came across Sergeant Cecil Charles Anderson who served with 3RAR, but was wounded at Chongju and missed Kapyong. He was, like Reg Saunders, an indigenous soldier.

Sergeant Anderson was a Second World War veteran, having served with the 2/2nd Independent Company in New Guinea. He was killed on patrol with 2 RAR during the Malayan Emergency in 1956 – and was awarded a posthumous MID for his bravery and leadership.

Here I discovered a poignant connection. My uncle Laurence Turner was a journalist with the Melbourne Herald, and was ‘embedded’ with 2RAR in 1955-56. He was there when Sergeant Anderson was killed– and attended his funeral at Taiping.

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“Osmar White was not only one of the finest correspondents of the Second World War but also a visionary writer and philosopher of courage and conviction” : – Phillip Knightley, author of  First Casualty.

Osmar White was born in New Zealand in 1909, and worked in Sydney in the late 1920s before moving to South East Asia and China, where he wrote features and short stories for Australian and American papers. Around 1934 he returned to New Zealand, and then joined the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial in 1937. He enlisted in the AIF in 1941, but was ‘manpowered’ out by Sir Keith Murdoch who said ‘Oh we don’t want you rushing around with a pack on your back, you’ll fight the war with your pen, dear boy’.

os berlin 1945

Osmar White, Tiergarten, Berlin – July 1945 (Photo Osmar White)

Arriving in Port Moresby in June 1942, White set off with Damien Parer on an epic journey up the Bulldog Track to report and photograph Kanga Force, 2/5th commandos fighting the Japanese around Salamaua and Wau, near Lae. This trek was the basis of White’s great book of the New Guinea, Green Armour. ‘Until all forests end, it will still grow and decay … under the spilled loads of heaven.’

osmar NG 1942

Osmar White, New Guinea 1942 (Photo Osmar White)

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