- Noble, SBA A.M.
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I
- June 1986 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Finally we did meet up with the Japanese Army who lined us up in front of a machine gun and I thought it was the end. However, after being searched they left us and later that night we were transported by natives to some other town, then moved to Salarang where we were thrown into the local jail and met up with a lot of the other survivors.
The conditions at this jail were indescribable. There were 30 in cells built to accommodate 10. Our toilet facility was half a kerosene tin, which overflowed before being emptied.
We slept on concrete virtually on top of each other and we were seldom let out for exercise while being fed two meals of sour rice per day. There was some relaxing of these conditions later and probably just in time. After some weeks we were taken to Batavia and a large military enclosure called the Bicycle Camp where we met up with a lot of other Australians captured (Army and Air Force). It was then we had our first good wash since the sinking and only then did we manage to get rid of the oil which still covered us. We managed to get some clothing, and at last shave our beards. Conditions were not too bad, but the discipline was very strict and bashings were commonplace.
I worked in the hospital which was set up with very limited medical supplies. Fortunately there were quite a few doctors there. After a few months I left with the party for Singapore where we went to Changi. Conditions there had settled down and we had plenty of space to get around and a reasonably good supply of medical equipment, etc.
I think we spent about two months there and then we were taken up to Moulamein for work on the Burma-Siam railroad. The journey up was disastrous because not far out of Moulamein we were bombed by two of our own planes which sunk one of the two ships of the convoy. A near miss to the other, on which most of the POWs were, resulted in a score or so deaths, some died after landing from tetanus.
The next two years were spent at various camps along the railway and as time went on conditions got worse and worse, especially when we reached the jungles and hills. The wet (monsoon) seasons played havoc with the men. I think the average rainfall was about 130 inches of rain and the camps became absolute quagmires.
All of this period, I worked in the hospitals. Medical supplies were almost zero and it became impossible to treat cases of dysentery, beri beri and tropical ulcers which were the most fatal complaints, as well as malaria, dengue and other fevers. We had an outbreak of cholera, but fortunately were able to contain it and only two or three died from this as compared with other camps where it killed many.
We had two American doctors in the camp and one, Dr. Lumpkin, died from dysentery leaving the other, an elderly man, really a gynaecologist only (Dr. Epstein), in charge. With so many dying from tropical ulcers he attempted amputations, but his first attempts failed. Both patients died after the operations and he abandoned further attempts. During the wet season deaths occurred daily with burials in teeming rain.
Those working in the hospital were PO Jock Cunningham in charge, SBA Andrew Mitchell and self from the Perth. There were also three pharmacist’s mates from the American cruiser Houston and several untrained men enlisted from the ranks to help. Discipline was very strict and as you know the guards were quite brutal and without any sympathy towards sick men.
When the railway was finally finished we were put into a POW camp at Tamarkan and spent several months there. In this period our food was better and deaths were fewer. However, this camp was, deliberately I suppose, placed quite near an important bridge, and nearby the Japanese placed 5 anti-aircraft guns. In due course the bridge and the guns received the attention of our own airforce.
First the guns were bombed (four were put out of action) and a few days later the bridge was heavily bombed. Due to poor aiming I suppose, some bombs landed in the POW compound and some of the POWs were killed. Fortunately the camp was on evening parade when this happened otherwise many more would have been killed.