On arrival at Kinsayou, we again set about building another camp. Thankfully here the area was more or less flat and the preparatory work on the track was less hazardous. It was just as well as we were all tired and had been working under shocking conditions almost constantly for 18 months. Although the terrain was easier to work and the track progressed at a faster rate, the long hours persisted and the guards were just as harsh.
It was whilst in this camp that three British POW’s were recaptured and brought in. They were in another camp up river and took a chance and tried to escape across the Bay of Bengal to India. The Bay was only about 100 miles from this area and these fellows made it to the water, but were captured on the beach before they could get a boat of some sort. We heard that some Thai villagers gave them away.
They were pretty well "done in" when they were brought into our camp. However, they were left to themselves and ate with us and slept in one of the huts, but were not let out to work. Dunlop was in charge of this camp and was told he was responsible for them. After about three weeks and early one morning as we lined up ready to go out to work, a truck came into camp with a Jap officer sitting in the cab with the driver and half a dozen Jap soldiers in the back. It pulled up in front of us, the officer got out and spoke to the soldiers who quickly found the three escapees, returned to the truck with them and all sped out of camp. Dunlop tried to find out what was going on, but was quickly told by the interpreter it was no concern of his. It would not have been more than 10 minutes later when we heard shots being fired from a little distance away in the jungle. Sure enough a short time later, the truck returned without the British POW’s. Some of our chaps were then detailed to go to a certain spot with Major Woods and there they buried the three men, who had all been shot in the back of the head and fallen into already prepared graves. We were later told that the officer and soldiers belonged to the infamous Kempitai, the Japanese secret police.
After about four months in this camp, we completed our section and were told the force from Burma were only a short distance away and would link up with us within a few weeks. It was just as well, as the monsoonal weather was almost upon us again, also our numbers were depleted with more men going down with illnesses. As the line-laying group was close at this stage, we were detailed to assist them. This was hard work as all rails had to be man-handled but at least it was more interesting than the preparatory track work we had been engaged in for almost two years. Also we saw our first train on the line as the engine pushed flat cars loaded with rails before it. As the rails were laid the train moved on, until finally it met up with the train from Burma. No celebration on completion, no better food, just given more time off during the day.
Our rest period did not last long for as soon as enough flat-cars could be assembled, we were loaded on and taken back about 80 miles to a camp called Tarsoa. This camp was full of sick prisoners who had been brought back some weeks before from Hintok, Konyu, etc. Also many were filtering through from Burma. Dunlop managed to keep most of our unit here, as well as many of the "Rabble Force". There was much to do in camp-work and looking after the sick. Unfortunately many of the so-called "fit" men were taken from here on ships to Japan to work in coal mines, while others went to Borneo to work on air fields. The fate of many of these men was reported after the war and it did not make nice reading. Ships were sunk en route to Japan with appalling loss of life and in Borneo, most were stricken with diseases and forced marches.
Ken Heyes and I were given the task of assisting the wardsmen and orderlies in a dysentery ward. These so-called wards were much the same structures we had been living in for the past couple of years. Bamboo construction, attap roofing that leaked in heavy rain and flattened bamboo platform about 3 feet off the ground. As there was practically no padding such as sheets or blankets, one can imagine the discomfort for the sick and disabled especially the very ill who had no flesh on their bones and had to lay on their back with practically no chance of changing their position. Of course this inevitably led to bed-sores, which of course they did on the seriously ill, and once out of control, if the illness did not kill them, then the ulcers surely would.
The ward Ken and I were attached to was called Ward 10 and in ninety percent of those unfortunates who were placed here, were the most serious dysentery cases who sadly never recovered. They would come in and be bedded at the top of the hut and as they slowly worsened in health, they would be moved down the ward and closer to the so-called dispensary. You could see the despair on their faces when they were moved and they knew they were dying. There were practically no drugs whatsoever to treat these men, so if they survived then it was truly a miracle.
The morgue was a small hut with a dirt floor only 10 yards or so from Ward 10 and once death occurred, which was at least 2 or 3 a day. Ken and I would carry the body over and have to prepare it for burial. The mouth had to be stuffed with any material available, usually the victim’s Jap-Happy, plus any other rags he may have accumulated, penis tied and anus stuffed also. A burial party was then called and the body taken away. Often while carrying out our unsavoury task, there could be as many as ten or more bodies there awaiting burial, having come from other wards such as ulcer or malarial areas. Not an enviable job but one that had to be done and more than a little eerie particularly at night with the light of a coconut oil candle. Both Ken and I became almost callous as time wore on and teased each other by saying such things as "Don’t look now but a bloke has got up off his back and is standing behind you." or "When we came in that fellow was on his back, now look at him, he’s turned on his side and looking at us!" etc, etc.
The task of burying some of the bodies often fell on Ken and I. We were also called upon when the usual burial party was not available, as the Japs often re-allocated men to other jobs. We would have to dig the grave in the nearby jungle, then carry the bodies from the morgue hut on a bamboo litter to the grave site. The ground at this particular camp was soft enough to dig trouble free for at least a metre to a metre and a half. (About 4 feet). Some days we did nothing else but dig graves! As most of the bodies had high contamination due to fatal diseases, we did not handle them more than necessary so I am afraid they were just rolled off the litter into the grave. Some landed on their backs, others on their front, while some even landed on their knees and were covered by earth in any position. All deaths were recorded by Dr Dunlop and other officers kept files, allowed by the Japanese, stating names, army ot any service number with place of burial and date of death. However I know for a fact that after some months, there would be no chance of finding most of these graves as the jungle growing process would eliminate any evidence of their existence.
By this time the monsoon was upon us again. Rain and more rain, with mud and slush everywhere and the sick laying in water as the roofs leaked. Again it brought a sudden burst of cholera. This spasm was only short lived but it was just as deadly. Many men fell victim in their weak state, once it attacked then they had no chance. This camp was a mixture of Australians, British and Dutch prisoners. Despite the debilitating illnesses such as dysentery, avitaminosis, malaria, etc, the most agonising was the ulcer. This tropical ulcer began as a small sore maybe no bigger than a threepenny piece, (or 1 cent in today’s currency) but owing to the lack of good food and proper treatment such as powdered Sulphanilamide etc. the ulcer grew quickly under the skin at the edge of the sore. Then this skin would disintegrate and the ulcer would continue to spread again under the skin. I have seen many, many men with ulcers spreading from ankle to thigh. They suppurate continually and a ward full of over 200 men with huge ulcers can become almost unbearable with the stench of simply rotting flesh. At Tarsoa there were four wards full of these suffering men and their screams could be heard all over the camp, as orderlies began their daily tasks of digging kitchen spoons into the ulcers to remove the rotten and pussy tissues and flesh. When an ulcer began to spread above the knees, the doctors would amputate, for eventually, it would cover the body and bring untold pain before eventual death. Hundreds of amputations were carried out here under very primitive conditions and barely fifty percent survived. In most cases, deaths occurred because the patient had little resistance to the shock of the operation. Both doctors, Dunlop and Coates, did all the amputations.
It was whilst we were at this camp that an amusing incident occurred. It often happened that the Japanese use part of our kitchen to cook some of their food. On this particular evening, they had made some special soup from meat purchased at a nearby Thai village. Once the soup was made, they poured it onto two huge urns and instructed another chap and I to carry it across to their camp which was on the outskirts of ours. Bluey Maher was my companion and always a character. By the time we were half-way to the Jap camp, it was almost dark and the Jap had gotten well ahead of us.
Bluey then called a halt and made some rude remark about having to wait on "monkeys" etc and proceeded to lift his Jap-Happy and began peeing in the soup. Not to be outdone, I managed to do likewise. Then off we went to our destination and once there, the Japs crowded around, laughing and happy amongst themselves in anticipation of enjoying some meaty soup. We left them with it and returned to our own area, (also laughing). We never heard if they enjoyed the soup of course, but we felt very satisfied with ourselves as for once we enjoyed a joke on them! We told Dunlop about it months later and he thought it hilarious and said we should get a medal for it!
It was here that news of the state of the war was first heard. By now it was late 1944 and the Japanese were being hard pressed in Burma and the British Army under General Slim, was taking its toll of the enemy. Although I never actually saw any radios, there were some secretly hidden in the camp. Somehow, men had acquired the parts and ingeniously put them together and made them work. The Japanese had an idea that these radios existed and continually threatened the owners with death on discovery of same.
It so happened that as the news filtered through the camp, men became excited at the though of these British advances, both in Burma and Europe. It had to happen that the Koreans and Japanese got wind of our excitement and had to do something to curb the radio activity. As Dunlop was in charge of the camp, they threatened him with execution if the radios were not handed over. The news continued to come through and eventually Dunlop was arrested and taken into the Japanese camp. At that stage, we had no idea what had happened to him, but knew his interrogation would not be pleasant. He reappeared in our camp about a week later, terribly dirty, beaten about the face and for such a tall, big man, very thin and pale. Eventually we heard what had happened.
They interrogated him at first in their quarters, demanding to know just where the radios were. He told them he did not know. They beat him every few hours for a couple of days and finally put him in a big hole in the ground where he was forced to stay for almost a week, feeding him on poor food which was just enough to sustain him. Three times they took him out of the hole and placed him against a tree, bound him, took aim and pulled the triggers with nothing happening because they purposely had no bullets in the rifles. Eventually to his surprise, they let him return to the camp. As we moved on soon after this episode, nothing more was done on the part of the Japanese to trace the radios.
Chungkai P.O.W Camp