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Thread: Kanchanaburi : Death Railway

  1. #11
    Life and death on the Thai-Burma railway

    Seventy years after he was freed, an Australian prisoner of war looks back on his harrowing experience in the jungle in World War II.

    720 ABC Perth


    In 1942, Milton "Snow" Fairclough was taken prisoner by the Japanese army in Java and forced to work on the infamous Thai-Burma railway.

    He was one of Dunlop's 1,000 — the men under commanding officer and surgeon Edward "Weary" Dunlop, who worked tirelessly to protect them.

    Mr Fairclough told his story to John McGlue on 720 ABC Perth.

    Taken prisoner


    Milton "Snow" Fairclough in 2015 and a photograph of him as a soldier in Beirut in 1941.

    (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne; Supplied: Milton Fairclough)

    Snow Fairclough was born in Moora, in Western Australia's Wheatbelt, in 1920 and left school at 14.

    At the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the Army's 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion and was posted to Palestine and Syria.

    After Japan entered the war his battalion was recalled to Australia, but a stopover in Java proved fateful.

    "We thought we would only be there a day or two but unfortunately they decided, as a gesture to the Dutch, that the whole of our Dunlop group would be left on Java to give the Dutch a hand," Mr Fairclough recalled.

    Shortly afterwards, the unit was taken prisoner and transported first to Changi prison in Singapore then to Thailand to work on the railway.

    "I remember our last train trip across, it took about five days. There were 30 of us to a van and they had the van closed all the time," he said.

    "A big majority of us had malaria and dysentery even then, so it was a pretty miserable five days."


    Left: POWs suffering from dysentery relieve themselves while on a break from the train journey to Thailand in 1943. Right: Australian prisoners of war clad only in loincloths chopping and sawing wood in 1944.

    (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)

    The unit ended up at Hintok camp in Thailand, building the section of the railway that the soldiers came to call Hellfire Pass through the mountains.

    "The hardest part was to cut the jungle down and get a cut into the mountain to make a base to lay your track on," he said.

    "That was hellish and difficult. The tools we had were not good.

    "The position you are in leaves you sort of hanging on by your toenails and hands while you are sawing.

    "You would just look at the mountain and you would be looking 50 yards up. That was where we lost a hell of a lot of lives."

    The Lizard and the lowest point


    The interior of a POW hospital hut on the Burma-Thailand railway in 1943; Colonel Edward "Weary" Dunlop (right) in Thailand shortly after the end of the war.

    (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)

    Malaria, cholera and amoebic dysentery became rife in the camp.

    Forced to work day and night to finish the railway, and given tiny amounts of food, the men became severely ill.

    One-fifth of all the prisoners of war on the railway died.

    "Breakfast would be half a cup of liquidy rice and there was a lot of mice poo and maggots in that," Mr Fairlcough recalled.

    "A friend of mine used to say, 'eat it up, it's good protein'."

    One of the most brutal Japanese officers was a man dubbed "The Lizard".

    "His job was to supply the number of troops that the engineers wanted for each party every morning," Mr Fairclough said.

    "It was his job to convince Weary that everyone that was picked was fit to work and that's where the trouble started."

    Once all the "fit" men had been chosen, The Lizard would look to the sick to fill the shortfall.

    "His life was on the line if he didn't get that amount and he would just come into what we called our hospital huts," Mr Fairclough said.

    "I remember being on a single bed there right at the front and The Lizard would come in.

    "You would get quite a few jabs in the back with a rifle and then he would pull you off the bed and through the mud.

    "One particular day when he did that to me, and Weary went over to him and bent down — because Weary was about 6'4" — and put his hand on his head and said: 'I am a doctor, this man is not fit to go to work today. Sit down there Snow and don't move'.

    "That's the day I thought, ta-ta, they'll just lop my head off over this."


    One-fifth of the prisoners of war forced to build the Thai-Burma railway died.

    (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)

    Instead, Dunlop continued arguing until the work parties were formed and Mr Fairclough was sent on so-called light duties — working at the Japanese quarters.

    While pouring water for a bath for two of the cooks, and still suffering from severe amoebic dysentery, he asked to go to the bathroom but was ignored.

    "Suddenly I peed and I peed straight in the bath," he said.

    "I remember the first few hits and then I was unconscious."

    It was night when he woke up in the mud by the railway track.

    "I lay there for quite some time and suddenly I see one of our blokes coming up with a light," he recalled.

    "It was one of our blokes called Sunny Smith from Narrogin.

    "When he saw my bed was empty he said: 'Did Snow die today?' He came up looking for me and that's how found me.

    "I had this big bamboo leaf sticking out of my penis one end and there was a stick of bamboo plugged in my rear end. That was how they found me.

    "That was about the lowest point I think."

    Survival


    A postcard sent to Milton Fairclough in the POW camp by his parents in May 1945.

    (Supplied: Milton Fairclough)

    A total of 12,000 Allied troops died as prisoners of war on the railway.

    Mr Fairclough said he often wondered how he survived.

    "I had particularly good mates and we stuck together through thick and thin," he said.

    "I think if you didn't have a mate you wouldn't have got through.

    "[I survived with] just a bit of help and encouragement from them and a grim determination not to bloody well die in a place like that; to die like a slave in the jungle."

    On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki.

    On August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan to the allies.

    The news did not reach the Dunlop men labouring in the jungle until August 28.

    "The early morning of the 28th we heard somebody walking up the line and we thought, 'Christ, early start', but it turned out to be one of our own officers and he had a machine gun slung across his chest and a big revolver," Mr Fairclough said.

    "He said, 'the war's over for you blokes. The war is finished'.

    "That was my 25th birthday and I always celebrate my birthday as being the day that I knew for good and certain that the bloody war had eventually finished.

    "I think how lucky we were that the atom bomb was dropped, because that stopped the invasion of Japan.

    "Had there been an invasion of Japan there wouldn't have been any POWs, the whole lot of us would have been annihilated."

    Nightmares and reconciliation


    Milton "Snow" Fairclough's letters and photos from his time as a POW.

    (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

    Mr Fairclough returned home to Western Australia and in 1948 he was married.

    However the memories of his time as a POW plagued him and on his wedding night, at a hotel in the Perth hills, he dreamt about The Lizard.

    "I had quite a few nightmares and nine out of 10 of them were all about The Lizard and the stuff he used to do to me," he said.

    "This night I was on my single slat of the bed and he came in with his rifle. I kicked the gun out of his hand and grabbed him by the throat. I was determined and I hung on like hell.

    "Apparently the screams from my wife woke the manager of the place and he came up just in time to get me off what I was doing to my new bride."

    Mr Fairclough and his wife went on to have four sons.

    Last year he travelled to Japan with his son Denis and other POWs to tell people in Japan their story.

    There he also discovered the fate of The Lizard.

    "The Lizard is still alive," he said.

    "We found out that he was sentenced to death by the War Crimes Tribunal for what he did on the railway but he ended up being given a 20-year jail term instead.

    "But he only did five years of that and he finished up as the second biggest taxi owner in Tokyo and made a hell of a lot of money.

    "Apparently he is a real philanthropist to school kids and the ones he is targeting most are older kids, about how war is a useless thing and to try to teach them to talk peace all the time.

    "At the end of the trip four of us POWs all got a gift pack from The Lizard, little bits of tea and food."

    Mr Fairclough did not speak to The Lizard but did tell his story in schools and a meeting at the Diet — the Japanese parliament.

    "In every case we were told not to leave anything out," he said.

    "Tell it exactly as it was and we could rest assured that from now on all the stuff that they gather from us will be recorded in history books and school books.

    "I had a big turnaround in my opinion of what's going to happen over there. I think they were all dinkum."

    Hear the full interview with Milton "Snow" Fairclough on Soundcloud:

    SoundCloud: Milton "Snow" Fairclough speaks to John McGlue on 720 ABC Perth

    Interview: John McGlue

    abc.net.au

  2. #12

    if I knew, I'd bottle it and sell it

    'Death Railway' veteran reaches 100 against the odds
    Alice Walker


    Harold Martin re-visited the Thai-Burma railway in 2012, where he had been a prisoner of war during WWII.
    (Supplied: Samm Blake)

    From the Thai-Burma railway to a sunken hell ship, a WWII veteran who was saved by his curly fair hair is turning 100 on January 1.

    "I am very lucky," Harold Martin said.

    "Even with my war experience, I think I've had a pretty easy and fortunate life."

    Mr Martin's war was a fraught one after coming face-to-face with death many times.

    He survived the Thai-Burma railway, known as the "Death Railway", a torpedoed "hell ship" and four days floating in the sea so his 100th birthday is all the more extraordinary.

    The West Australian veteran, born on January 1, 1917, was one of an estimated 15,000 Australian soldiers captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942.

    He was sent to work on building the railway along with thousands of Allied prisoners, that would eventually link Thailand and Burma.


    Mr Martin was a POW on the Thai-Burma railway during WWII.
    (Supplied: Morris Blake)

    "I learnt very early in the piece not to make eye contact with a guard," Mr Martin said of his POW experience.

    "If you did, he'd come over and he'd always find some reason to hit you. Looking back, I can't really understand how we were able to do it.

    "The Japanese had a system of judging: if you had a fever and you were shaking they would let you stay in camp, but if you were not shaking you went out to work.

    "And quite often we had to carry men out on a stretcher to work."

    Mr Martin said the Australians stuck together, completing each other's work to cover for those who were sick.

    "As long as the work was done, the Japanese were satisfied," he said.

    Many of his friends did not survive.


    Mr Martin spent time remembering his friends buried at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand in 2012.
    (Supplied: Morris Blake)

    From the Death Railway, he was sent on one of the so-called "hell ships" to be used as slave labour in Japan.

    The ship never made it; it was torpedoed twice by an American submarine, although it took about eight hours to sink.

    The Japanese troops took a lifeboat and left Mr Martin and the 1,159 other POWs behind to launch themselves into the water on one of the many rafts.

    Mr Martin and a group floated for two days before they collided with the faster-moving deckhouse of the ship and moved onto it.

    Saved from sea by curly hair

    He said that was how they came to be rescued two days later.

    "That's the only reason we drifted far enough north to be in the path of this submarine, the [USS] Pampanito, heading back to Saipan," he said.

    It was also a stroke of luck that the submarine responded the way it did — recognising in Mr Martin a potential ally.

    "I had a head of fair, curly hair. It was always fair and bleached whiter by the sun," he said.

    "They were going to machine gun us — they thought we were Japanese — until someone spotted [my hair], so they decided to investigate."

    He and another POW swam over to the ship and spoke to a crewman.

    "He said to the captain, 'They're English!' and my mate said 'No we're not, we're Australians'," Mr Martin recalled.

    Milestone birthday a stroke of luck

    He said it was this fierce loyalty to Australia that got him through the most difficult times of his captivity.

    "When it got to the nitty-gritty, where you … had a bad dose of malaria, dysentery or something like that, you'd tell yourself: 'I'm not going to let those buggers beat me'," Mr Martin said.

    "And I think that form of mental strength helped me through, plus the fact that the Australians bonded together.


    Mr Martin never expected to reach 100 years.
    (ABC News: William Marwick)

    "You were never alone. There was always someone there to help you."

    At the age of 95, Mr Martin went back to Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) to visit the graves of his friends.

    He marched for the first time Anzac Centenary parade in Albany, where he now lives when he was 97.

    These days, he enjoys meeting his friends for a drink and a laugh, and he is expecting about 120 of his loved ones at his 100th birthday party.

    Mr Martin said reaching the milestone was a stroke of luck too.

    "It's one birthday I never expected to have," he said.

    "I'm often asked what my secret is, and my answer is: look, if I knew, I'd bottle it and sell it."

    abc.net.au

  3. #13
    The men who built – and survived – the Death Railway
    DINA MURAD & MEI MEI CHU
    June 12, 2017

    Seventy-five years ago, in June 1942, the Japanese Occupation Army commissioned the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway that later gained its infamous name, the Death Railway.

    In the months that followed, thousands of Malayans were taken, some by recruitment, most by coercion, and transported north to complete the mega project. Thousands died.

    With time, the stories of those who suffered immeasurable cruelty on the railway trail have slowly disappeared. However, there still remain a few survivors whose memories live on until today.

    In conjunction with the deadly railway’s commissioning this month, Star2 records the survivors’ stories.

    This is Part 1. Read more stories in Part 2.

    Samion Ariff

    Samion Ariff, 91, is a man with a million dollar smile that’s sure to warm your heart. But behind the jovial grin is someone who encountered extreme hardship during his youth as forced labour toiling on the Death Railway.

    Despite his age, Samion can clearly recall the Friday afternoon in 1942 when he was snatched away from his home state, Johor. Samion was an ablebodied teenager then, and the Japanese Army was desperate for workers.


    Samion Ariff’s beautiful smile belies the horror he experienced while working on the Death Railway – horrors that he recalls as if they happened yesterday.

    Photo: The Star/Abdul Rahman Embong

    “We would usually go for Friday prayers and come home after. But this time, I felt uneasy. After prayers, we saw many Japanese lorries around the mosque compound,” Samion says when we interview him in May at his home in Kampung Melayu Majidee, Johor Baru.

    “We wondered why the mosque was so dark. It turns out Japanese lorries had blocked all the main doors and had backed up very close to the doors. All six doors had been blocked,” Samion recalls.

    The elderly were allowed to go home but the young men, including Samion, were loaded onto the lorries and taken to the Japanese army command centre at Bukit Timbalan, Johor Baru.

    A Chinese family friend who witnessed Samion’s capture quickly reported the incident to Samion’s late father, who went immediately by bicycle to see his son.

    “My father was told that I was going to be sent to Thailand with only the clothes on my back so he packed a towel, pyjamas, and a blanket in a jute bag for me,” Samion says.

    “They loaded us up and my father was crying, but what could we do?”


    Samion, three close friends of his, and others from his village were taken by train to Bangkok, where they were made to march every day from location to location as they built railway tracks and bridges.

    The Japanese Army paid the workers a mere 1 baht a day, which was enough to buy dried fish from Thai boatmen plying rivers that usually ran alongside the tracks.

    “If anyone collapsed from illness, we had to leave them behind. We could not attend to the weak. The Japanese soldiers told us to continue on. If we did not listen, they would hit us with their rifles,” he says.

    “It makes me sad, remembering what happened to one of us. He was ill and had headaches, but the Japanese officer did not care. He told the man to get up and go to work. If you didn’t get up, they would hit you. He remained lying down, and a soldier hit him with a bamboo stick. He died,” says Samion.

    In another incident, one of Samion’s friends died in the night. Fearing that his body would be thrown into the gorge behind the camp along with others who had died, the remaining village friends hid the body in the jungle.

    “The next day, after returning from work, we buried him. It was a shallow grave, but at least we could cover his body,” Samion says.

    Flight to freedom

    Upon nearly reaching Burma (now Myanmar), Samion and 17 others hatched an escape plan.

    “We left at night. By then we already knew the schedule of the freight trains. It was a slow-moving train and we chased after it and climbed onto the roof!” he says, excitement returning to his voice.

    Returning to their village was a slow process for Samion and his three friends, though, as they had to take circuitous routes to evade notice.

    By the time the four finally reached Johor, the Japanese had lost the war, in September 1945.

    The day Samion was reunited with his family was an emotional one, and Samion tells the story with a wide smile on his face.


    Samion as a dashing policeman after the war.



    Samion receiving his medal of honour in 1981.


    “I saw my two brothers walking along the road. Their reaction when they saw me? What else? There was hugging and crying,” he says.

    “My younger brother was at home at the time. When he heard the news, he rushed to see me.

    “He didn’t even bother to put on a shirt!” Samion says with a laugh.

    After the war, Samion led a remarkable life of service to the people.

    He joined the police force, eventually retiring from his position as an assistant superintendent with a medal of honour to his name, the Member of the Order of the Defender of the Realm (AMN), presented by the King in 1981.


    The Death Railway Interest Group is calling for memories

    If you or someone you know has a connection with any aspect of the building of the Thai-Burma Death Railway during World War 2, contact this group that is looking to give this overlooked event its rightful place in Malaysia’s history.

    More should be done to recognise and remember the hundreds of thousands of Malayans who suffered building the Thai-Burma Death Railway, say historians and the families of survivors.


    Romusha working on the Death Railway at Ronsi, Burma, 1943.

    Photo: Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum

    Of the 300,000 or so men forcibly drafted by the Japanese army to work on the railway, some 200,000 were South-East Asian labourers, or romusha in Japanese. About 100,000 of them are believed to be Malayan Tamils.

    The romusha were distinct from prisoners of war (POWs) and were treated differently, with some being paid a wage (a paltry 1 Thai baht according to some records) while POWs were, obviously, not paid. However, according to an Australian government website, Australia’s Wartime Heritage: The Thai–Burma Railway and Hellfire Pass (hellfire-pass.commemoration.gov.au), romusha who worked alongside Allied POWs on the railway died in far higher numbers.


    Prof Teo Kok Seong believes this incident should be emphasised more in history books.

    Photo: Filepic

    Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong – who is head of the history, heritage, and socio-culture cluster at the National Council of Professors – says there is very little awareness about the Death Railway among Malaysians.

    “Little or nothing significant about it is taught in our school curriculum,” he says, adding that the Death Railway has not been considered as part of Malaysian history because the construction took place in Thailand and Myanmar (then called Burma).

    “But when we scrutinise it, it is our history too, because the number of Malayan labourers forced to work on the line was significantly big,” he says.

    The sufferings of the forced labourers, he says, “cannot be a forgotten chapter of our history, especially if we are to honour those who died from malnutrition, torture, brutality, execution, and diseases”.

    Besides “serious mention” in our history books, he also suggests that a monument be built in honour of the victims, a section in the National Museum be dedicated to the event, and its victims be remembered during the annual Warrior’s Day marked on July 31.

    Deputy Perak State Assembly Speaker Datuk Nasarudin Hashim, whose late father, Mohd Hatim Itam Manas, escaped the Death Railway, strongly believes that the history of Malayan involvement in the tragedy should be remembered and preserved.

    “We must know what happened because it shows us the result of war. War creates havoc and suffering. Even innocent people were killed. Those who died were not only from the army. The whole nation suffered,” says Nasarudin, who is a former history student.

    Nasarudin’s father had just got married and was only in his early 20s when the Japanese Army came to take young men from his kampung to work on the railway.

    Facing daily abuse, many undoubtedly considered escape. However, it was a risk not everyone was willing to take. Those who attempted to run away but were unfortunate enough to be caught were made to dig their own graves before being executed by the Japanese soldiers, Nasarudin explains at a recent interview.


    Emaciated Romusha in a hospital at Nakom Platon, Thailand, 1945.

    Photo: Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum

    Despite the horrific repercussions, Mohd Hatim hatched a daring plan and escaped with two others from the same village by fleeing into the jungle while everyone was busy working on the railway.

    “When my father came back, my mother said he was so skinny she could barely recognise him. He really suffered there,” Nasarudin says about the daily abuse his father lived through.

    Fearful that the Japanese might find him again, Nasarudin’s father changed his name from Mohd Hatim to Hashim; he later joined the police force.

    Nasarudin’s father has died but a small number of elderly survivors still live to tell their tales today.

    “If we don’t record them now, the stories will disappear for good,” says P. Chandrasekaran, chairman of the Death Railway Interest Group, whose late father worked on the line as a locomotive assistant.

    He is on a mission to chronicle as much as possible about the railway and the people that worked on it.

    For now, the group is calling for anyone directly or indirectly affected by the Death Railway to come forward so that victims and their families can be given a voice.

    “We want to document their experiences, and preserve and publicise their stories to see that these individuals get their rightful place in history,” Chandrasekaran says.


    To contact the Death Railway Interest Group, send an e-mail to P. Chandrasekaran at siamburmadeathrailway@gmail.com or call 017-888 7221.

    star2.com

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  4. #14
    A friend of my late mother and father was held in such a camp. He recalled, in tears, his shame at hitting a fellow soldier with a spade/shovel when he was ordered to bury him. He was at his lowest ebb at that time. Fortunately, he lived a happy life for many years following his release. We think we can appreciate the horror but we delude ourselves as we can never fully understand how these men suffered. Thank God for that.

  5. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Can123 View Post
    A friend of my late mother and father was held in such a camp. He recalled, in tears, his shame at hitting a fellow soldier with a spade/shovel when he was ordered to bury him. He was at his lowest ebb at that time. Fortunately, he lived a happy life for many years following his release. We think we can appreciate the horror but we delude ourselves as we can never fully understand how these men suffered. Thank God for that.
    Indeed , there but for the Grace of God , go you and I .

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