- Bee, W.A. ("Buzzer")
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I
- March 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TWO MONTHS since our group arrived in Singapore from Java when the news was received that we were on the move again. Although rumours were strong and a number of probable destinations indicated, we had no idea that we were to become the No. 5 Branch of the Thai Prisoner of War Administration working on the Burma-Thailand Railway. There would have been about 2,000 POW in this group altogether made up of Australians, Americans and Dutch, the Dutch being in the majority.
We have been living reasonably well by other POW Camp standards in Selerang Barracks and of course viewed with some apprehension the move to other unknown places. As for myself, I was feeling the best I had been for the ten months since incarceration. An operation to remove a piece of shrapnel from my right calf had been expertly carried out by Major Bertram Nairn in the makeshift hospital. This allowed me better sleep at night and permitted easier walking, especially on working parties during the day.
Leaving Singapore behind us on 9th January 1943 we travelled by train (30 to a steel freight car) to a point where Butterworth is now situated (Prai) and then were transferred by barge, to the Moji Maru which was lying at anchor off the island of Penang. The next day, in company with another old vessel of the same size (about 6,000 tons) and an anti-submarine vessel as escort, we got under way sailing in a northerly direction. We were the last ship in line ahead formation.
Army personnel both Australian and American, made up the majority of our numbers while a few RAAF, some sailors from USS Houston and ourselves (approximately 30) from HMAS Perth made up the remainder. Most of the Dutch contingent were confined in the ship ahead of us along with Jap troops, railway lines and other equipment, so we learnt later on.
Despite the cramped and humid conditions prevailing in the after hold of the old rust bucket, good humoured banter especially between the Aussies and Yanks, was pretty well continuous and always a source of amusement to all. Chesty Bond maintained a constant flow of bawdy songs and other ditties while some passed the time away playing Five Hundred with Spud Murphy’s home-made pack of cards. One or two even tried to snatch a bit of rest and others, legitimately and otherwise, were attending to the requirements of nature on the upper deck. In Japanese POW parlance this constant function was called ‘tucsan benjo’. Morale generally however, was at a fairly high level.
It would have been soon after noon a day or so sailing from Moulmein when our routine was rudely broken by the drone of approaching aircraft. I was down below at the time explaining to my mate Bandsman Ron Sparks how I had, a little earlier, done a good deal with a Jap seaman. I had swapped him a pair of Indian Army boots which I carried with me since Singapore and which were too small for any of us, for a number of essential articles including a new toothbrush and toothpaste and packets of cigarettes, etc. He shared a cabin with another crewman, which was directly beneath an old gun mounted on the poop deck above. As it happens this unlucky son of Nippon doesn’t have much longer to live, as we shall see shortly.
Two aircraft then appeared rather suddenly coming in from astern of us flying in line ahead at about 4,000 feet. We could see them rather fleetingly through the open hatch cover passing right above us. Also, we quickly determined that they were Liberator bombers and that at any moment we could expect a stick of bombs to fall.
Then it all seemed to happen, there was a lot of clanging and banging on the deck above as the Nips realising that we were now under attack, raced to their allocated action stations shouting and firing as they went. Simultaneously, the familiar c-r-ump and rumblings of underwater explosions told us that bombs had also found their mark somewhere but luckily not on us.