The Japanese told the prisoners that because of food shortages in Singapore a model camp was to be set up in the Cameron Highlands, this was a mountainous region in the centre of the Malayan Peninsula. The British believed this and the sick were also included in the party of 3334 British and 3666 Australians. The Australians however were very wary of Japanese promises and did not include as many sick.
Those of the 18th Division remaining in Singapore were included, also Cyril Wild. Wild was a major who had also been a Shell executive in Japan, so he was included as the senior interpreter.
On the 8th April 1943 the first of the sixteen trains left Singapore, thirty men per truck. The prisoners were told to take all their belongings, this included a piano, clothing, medicines, tinned food, leaving very little room in the trucks for the prisoners.
During the day the temperature in the trucks reached 120 degrees, but at the night the trucks were very cold. The benjo (toilet) being projecting the rear end out of the trucks when the train was in motion. Otherwise squatting by the side of the train when stationary, sometimes being allowed water from the engine to drink. At Ipoh the prisoners found the promise of the Cameron Highlands was a lie, carrying on up country through Malaya and into Thailand, then on to Ban Pong the staging post for the Thailand-Burma railway. This ill-fated force was to boost the “Speedo” and push for a completion date.
‘F’ & ‘H’ forces had the longest forced march of all the work parties along the railway, for men who were not fit, this paid a very heavy toll in deaths.
John Coast met the men of “F” force at Tarsao, they had been walking for the last five days and were having a 24 hour rest. He writes in his book.
“Many sick men, too sick to heed prodding rifle buts or bayonets. They were almost asleep on their feet. I left them with a sick feeling in my stomach. We had at least become slowly ammune to the conditions, but “H” and “F” parties were being treated infinitely worse than us. They were new to it all, they couldnīt even make an atap hut or bamboo cooking fire.”