Signalman Wader´s Diary

Part 5

Thai Burma Railway


Thai Burma Railway

Known to us as the Death Railway

On the morning of the 24/12/42 we went out to work. We got into the station facing the camp, the guard split us up into small parties. One party carried sleepers, another party carried lines with tongs. Another one spiked the lines down. They all did the same job right up the line. I was in the spanner gang joining the line together. We worked here until the 4/1/43 laying quite a stretch of line till we reached a place called Jakbua (spelling?) then we had to move camp again. On the 4th we moved up. This camp wasn't too good - we had plenty of lice and bugs. We used one of the old attup huts for a hospital. We had very little medical supplies and we got very few from the Japanese.

When we arrived there a nip Major gave us a speech. He said we would be treated like English gentlemen and the line had to be completed in one year. We had to lay the line from Bang Pong to Moulmein, a distance of 350 kilos through the mountains, swampy marshland and thick jungle.

Well we were treated like English gentlemen alright, we were treated like dogs even worse than that! These yellow devils weren't human at all. Our M.O.'s told us what we were up against. Bad food, no vitamins, dysentery, malaria, black water fever, dinghy fever, sweat rash, cholera, ulcers and other tropical diseases. We were certainly fighting for our lives.

There were a few thousand men including Dutch, British and Australian working on the other side of the Burma border. The line was to join up at a place called Moulmein. We worked hard from Jakbua until the 30/1/43 going backwards and forwards every day. We took one meal of cold rice and perhaps a small piece of fish with us. The nips we had in charge of our lads was allowed to make us tea, so we took it in turns each day.

We soon started picking the Japanese language up. Many a prisoner got beaten up through misunderstanding. At one camp because we were British and refused to sign an illegal non-escape form, 17,000 officers, N.C.O.'s and men were sectioned into a barracks that normally afforded accommodation for 1000. Rice and watery stew was cooked in coppers whilst a few yards away latrines were in use. When these were filled in, men lay on top of them. The Japanese warned us that if we persisted on holding out, the entire hospital at Singapore, which contained many diphtheria cases, would be thrown in amongst us. We signed.

Tropical Ulcers -1 

By Jack Chalker

In some of the jungle camps of Siam, men with leg ulcers 16 inches in length and in some cases bone deep, pleaded with our M.O.'s to amputate their maggot infested limbs without the mercy of an anaesthetic.

On the 30/1/43 we left Jakbua and went to a camp higher up the line called Kamburi. We carried on as usual from here till we reached our next camp called Bankou. We left there no the 23/4/43, arriving at another camp on the 24/4/43 called Wampo. We had a lot of sickness here, men dying from malaria and dysentery. One of our M.O.'s had had a bad time with black water fever, it nearly finished him and he was down for two months.

I also went down at this camp with malaria. I got over it and was working on the line one day when it started to rain and in less than 5 minutes we were working in 5 or 6 inches on mud. The Japs wouldn't let us take cover under the trees. We just had to carry on. I got a temperature and when I got back down to camp I had to go in our so-called hospital with a temperature of 105.

Chungkai-Hospital Scene-1943 - 4tb 

Cleaning Ulcered Legs in the Hospital

By W.C. Wilder

It was at this part of the line where some new nips took over. These nips were proper swines, now started our ill treatment, long hours and suffering. They would keep us working anything up to 36 hours with little rest and on two meals – a pint of sour rice and coloured water. Our cooks got poor rations so they had to do the best they could. They would send out evening meal up to the railhead about 5 o'clock and the nips' as well. We worked hard having only half an hour for dinner. When our meal arrived at 5 o'clock, the nips would have theirs and make us carry on working. We would get ours about 12 o'clock at night when it would be cold and sour but we had to eat it or starve. We would go back to camp worn out and weary, sometimes soaked with heavy rains and no dry clothes to put on, nothing, only an old sacking to keep us warm. The death rate was going up now. I have seen men beaten to death with crowbars and bamboo sticks and even hit on the head with a bayonet. There were accidents all along the line, trucks coming off and going down the embankment. When we got on the trucks in the morning we wondered if we would be coming back dead or alive.

On the 21/6/43 we arrived at a camp called Tonchon. This camp was a living hell. There were Chinese and Tamils in the same camp, it was a filthy stinking camp. They would go behind tents and bushes, anywhere before they would use the latrines. This caused flies by the million, they would settle in our food and eating utensils causing plenty of sickness. To keep dysentery down we had to keep the flies down so the sick men who were getting better had to swat flies, catching thousands daily. This was the death camp where cholera broke out claiming hundreds of lives. Mostly Chinese and Tamils. We lost a very large number of British, Dutch and Australians. The Chinese and Tamils would just lay down anywhere to die. They would go into the jungle to die spreading the disease more than ever. Sometimes they would lay alongside the railway lines to die, the nips made us bury them, we were made to burn them in furnaces before they were dead, some of my pals lay dead here. We would go to Work feeling very downhearted wondering how soon it would be before we would drop down with cholera. We didn't wash unless we boiled the water, or eat any food until we had dipped out mess tins in boiling water. We daren't lend anyone else our mugs. This caused ill feeling amongst us.

I was glad when we left here and went to our next camp called Tam Fri. Here we had to put tents up which were torn and let all the rain in. We were crowded out, hadn't enough sleeping room, some of us had to sleep outside under the tentflaps. It was nothing fresh at night to knock something away from you, perhaps a lizard or a small snake, and we were bitten to death by mosquitos. We had no mosquito nets now to put down before 6 o'clock. It was here I saw the largest snake I have ever seen, a python 20 feet long. Our hospital was in 6 or 7 inches of mud. The rough boards put down to lay on were only just clear.

Well I had to go working on the line here with dysentery, all day long I had to keep going to ask the guard if I could go into the jungle, sometimes he would let me go, sometimes he would slap my face thinking I was trying to dodge the work. I was passing blood all day long. I got back to camp that night and was so bad I HAD to go into hospital. I was in for a few days. We had no medical supplies so I had to combat diseases without.

Our M.O.'s seemed to lose heart not having any supplies. They fought to save many a mans life but in vain. If the Japs had given them these urgent supplies they would have saved hundreds of lives of lads who now lay 6 feet under the jungle. The Japs would demand and order our M.O.'s to send men with dysentery and malaria with temperatures of 104 to work on the railway and when these poor lads got back at night they were told there wasn't any quinine tablets for them. What had a man to live for? You can understand why so many gave up the fight. They have had men carried to work on stretchers and if he has been too weak to stand, the nips just beat him up with a crowbar or a stick, sometimes beating him to death.

Well I got a bit better in hospital but was far from being well when our M.O. had to discharge me to start work the next morning. I didn't blame him, he had no alternative. I was feeling very weak with having no food for days. I went to my tent and had a bad night, I was running to the latrines all night lone, sometimes not being able to make it. Next morning I was haggard and was on parade waiting for the nips coming to take us to work, when all at once I walked away for about 4 hundred yards, when I came back the sergeant asked me where I had been. I knew nothing about it, my mind just seemed a blank. I got a hold on myself and saw the M.O. again. He took the risk and put me back in hospital. I was in a few days and in a bad way with dysentery and serbial malaria. I was getting weaker every day. At the finish I was unconscious 24 hours and had a temperature of 107 – they gave me up.

Next morning I opened my eyes, I fought it as well as I could. The nips said there were too many sick men to drag about the line and some of the worst cases had to go back down to Kamburi and they would be replaced by men who had been sick and got better. Well I was one of the lucky ones to go. The next morning we went to the train, cattle trucks of course, I was too weak to walk so one of the orderlies helped me and carried my few things. We had a rough journey down to Kamburi. We arrived and I went straight into hospital. I had been there about two weeks and started to pick up slowly. The doctor said what I needed was plenty of eggs and milk and I couldn't get them because we only got rice from the Japs. So there was only one way of getting them if I wanted to pull through. I had a gold ring on my finger which my wife had bought me and was very sentimental, well I got one of the boys to sell it to the Thais, he got me 35 dollars for it and probably made 10 for himself. There was a lot of selling going on. Men would go through the fence at night and sometimes they were caught by the nips, I need not say what happened to them. I was able to buy a tin of milk for 1 dollar fifty and 10 eggs for 1 dollar. This helped me to pick up and did me the world of good.

A young lad who came from England with me was in this camp. He was caught selling tools by the Jap M.P.'s. They took him to the guardroom and the guards beat him up in turns, then they forced water down his throat till he was bloated, then they laid him on the floor and jumped on his stomach till he was sick, he died of course. In the same camp they caught 4 British officers with a wireless set. They beat them up unmercifully and left them lying outside the guardroom all night. They threatened to shoot anyone who tried to interfere, we could hear the officers agonising cries. Next day they were beaten up again, 2 of them died. Also here, a sergeant and two privates escaped. They were away 3 days but they were caught and brought back. They were made to dig their own graves, then they were shot and buried. The nips glorified in torture. Two of their favourites were sticking long thin bamboo sticks down the finger nails, another was putting a piece of bamboo across the fingers and one underneath with a screw at each end, they tightened the screws up till it broke all the victims fingers and they cried for mercy.

I left here and went to a camp further down called Chonki. Here I tasted the Japs cruelty again. They caught me selling blankets for men who were sick and needed money to buy eggs with. Our own M.P.'s caught me. They took me in front of our Proost Marshall and he handed me over to the Japanese. Well there were 7 of us altogether taken to the Japanese office. We were taken in front of the Jap officer who said he would give us 3 days JTA punishment. They took us all outside and lined us all up. Facing us was a row of nips who were to beat us up. The Jap officer gave the order and they came to us. We just had to stand there and take it. The nip facing me came rushing forward swinging his arm round as if he was playing baseball, he wore a big ring on his finger. He let drive and I went down with my eye cut open and face covered with blood, then he got a pick shaft and started to beat me with it, I put my foot out to ward off the blows but I got it on the ankles. I was carried round to the back of the guardroom with a sprained ankle and they put me in the sweatbox. This is like a cage made from bamboo, it was about 5 foot square and in one corner was a hole 12 inches square which we had to use for latrine purposes. We had to eat and sleep in here, we weren't allowed to lay down before 11 o'clock at night. We couldn't wash or shave, our meal was a ball of rice and half pint of water. We had to sleep on the bare floor without a sheet or blanket. All I wore was a piece of sacking for a loincloth, at night the place was lousy with mosquitos. When I came out I had malaria again. I went into hospital for a 10 day course of quinine tablets, they had got a small supply from the nips. I soon got over it and went back to Non Pladuk.

Nong Pladuk Hut -1tb 

Non Pladuk Atap Hut

By W.C. Wilder

Hut-Non Pladuk- May-1944-2tb 

Inside an Atap Hut at Non Pladuk

By W.C. Wilder

I got myself a job in the cookhouse there. I was able to get a little extra food. In this camp my eyes got worse through lack of vitamins. I was sent to a hospital called Konkomputon, between Non Pladuk and Bangkok. Just before Christmas about 65 of our planes came over. They went round the camp very low without any opposition from the nips. They went towards Non Pladuk, shortly after we heard bombs dropping. On Christmas day some men came from Non Pladuk, some badly wounded by shrapnel, many having to have their legs off. It was then we heard the news about the planes we saw. They were our planes alright, they had flown over Ashimotos just over the other side of the railway. This was a small nip camp, our planes dropped their bombs on it killing a lot of nips, smashed the lines up and killed a carriage full of geisha girls who were waiting to go up to Burma for the amusement of the Japanese troops.

As the last plane went over Non Pladuk, it's bomb rack broke away causing it's bombs to drop on the camp. One dropped on the cookhouse and one over near the hospital, they killed almost 100 prisoners. The M.O. was busy all night doing amputations, legs which had to come off right away. All he had to use was a butchers saw, an open razor and an oil lamp. The next day all the bodies were lined up for burial covered with Union Jacks. When a plane went over he would be taking photos of the damage done. I felt sorry for those lads who had been killed by our own bombs after having survived the hardships of the 12 months misery and strain whilst building the railroad. We couldn't blame our pilots, they had a job to do, and they did it well. They knew we were there, it was just bad luck the bomb racks broke away.

I went back to Non Pladuk on the 7/1/45 and found the camp a bit changed, where I had once seen huts was just a pile of charred wood. Up till now our officers had been with us, but on the 15/1/45 they were taken away from us and sent to Kamburi. Having only 2 or 3 M.O.'s to look after the sick. We cheered them as they went out of camp, and Colonel Tuesay said: ``Cheer up boys, it won't be long now, I've kept telling you that year after year but I mean it this time". The camp was not the same after they left us. On the 24/2/45 we were told to pack as we were going away to build an aerodrome. We left Non Pladuk on the 25/2/45 in the usual way, travelling in cattle trucks. We arrived about 520 kilos the other side of Bangkok at a small place called Ubon, Eastern Thailand. We had no huts to go into, we had to rig up some sort of shelter like we had in the early days. We had to start and build a new camp for ourselves and the nips as well. We would build huts with the bamboo and attup as would the natives of Siam. We got the camp finished and moved in, then we started to build the aerodrome.

We had a lot of clearing to do. Some days I would be working on the aerodrome, another day I would be down the quarry digging for stone. We got it almost completed, when the nips had us digging trenches across the runway every so far. We dug them about 2 metres deep and 5 metres wide. It was impossible for any plane to land. Then they had us building defence positions all over the place, we knew there was something in the wind.

We were waiting as usual one morning for the nips to come and fetch us for work. We waited 2 hours and still they hadn't arrived, then one of the nips in camp came and said in Japanese ``All men Yasumi" (day off). We got a rumour that the nips had packed in, but we just laughed at it and said, ``Does it come from a well dressed Thai?" We had heard so many rumours before and they always came from some well-dressed Thai who spoke perfect English, well the next day we were told again to go back to our huts and yasumi. We were almost certain now that something was in the wind. It wasn't like them to give us 2 days off.

Next morning the 18th of August 1945, 3000 of us paraded, British, Dutch and Australians on the parade ground at Ubon camp, 50 miles from the border of French Indo China to hear a speech delivered by Major Chita, 69 year old day dreamer of the ``Imperial Japanese Army", Commander of No.1 allied prisoner war group Thailand and self labelled ``Father to all soldier captives in that country. ``The Old Man" now minus his curved double-handed sword, stepped onto a table and faced the ever-changing expressions that darted about in those 3000 pairs of eyes.

During pauses made to allow interpretation by staff Sergeant Thomas R.A.O.C. often a human buffer between the little yellow men and allied ``Coolies", spoke softly to acting R.S.M. McTavish, Argyll and Sutherland highlanders, who in turn uttered aloud the words that told the eager expectant faces that after 11,278 days of eating, sleeping and working with death, disease and cruelty as ever present comrades, freedom had come at last. The great East Asia war is ended said McTavish in a voice of unusual tone, but before he had reached the end of his sentence a cloud of silence fell over the camp and the scene had become tomblike in the intensity of the stillness. Every man heard the thunder of cheers and sobs of joy ringing in his heart.

``Outside work will cease from today" continued Major Chita, ``Camp work must go on for your own benefit. Those of you who are fit must do all you can to help your sick comrades. You will all remain here till I can hand you over to your own people. You have done very good work as members of No.1 group, and for that I am grateful. Soon you will go home to the lands you love, so get fit and keep fit for that day". Major Chita – yesterdays Lord of the Manor, today's Has-been, had finished the little address with a gigantic message. On the single command ``Kioski", Japanese word for Atttention, which was given for the last time, the entire assembly sprang to attention to observe a 2 minute silence for the millions the six years of war had destroyed. On the 15th Feb 1942 we entered the gates of hell to embark on an excursion, which for over 20,000 was to require a one-way ticket. I was determined to have a return ticket.

Major Chita turned over all Red Cross supplies over to us and we got clothes for the first time, after going about half naked for over 2 years. We got better food and slowly came off rice. Planes dropped supplies to us. On the 16th day of August 1945, a saloon car came into camp. It was Colonel Tuesay and some more officers. The lads went mad when they saw him, one officer with him was a native of Siam. Serving in the British Secret Service, he said he had followed us all the way up the railway line watching us working and seen men beaten up and killed. He said the Japs never broke our spirits and that we used to march back to camp singing. He had even been at the aerodrome where we were working driving a steamroller for the Japs. He said if they hadn't wrapped up on the 15th August, he and his guerrillas who were hidden in the jungle were going to come into the camp and kill the guards, then give us arms. Then we were to go down towards the river to all the other small Jap camps and kill them all. This was going to happen at a camp up country too, but somehow the nips got to know and killed the prisoners.





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