The March North
From Banpong to Shimo Songkurai
Bob and part of "F" Force (the Japs assured them it was a non working party consisting of more than 50% sick) left Changi on the 21st, April 1943 (Anzac Day) - they fell in on the square, then loaded into trucks to be away at 0400. When the force arrived at Singapore Station they were loaded into rice carriages (wooden rail wagon) where all bundled in, in the dark; there was scarcely enough room to sit down. Off and across the causeway at sunrise. This was the third train of seven that moved POWs of "F" Force from Changi to Siam.
Where to?....... Chieng Mai (Northern Thailand) was still a popular choice - it was a construction camp not working.
Twenty seven men were crammed into each of the small wagons; with little ventilation or food, it was an unbearable 4 day journey to Banpong in Siam - broken only by numerous stops to allow military trains to pass or at water stops where the men had a wash whenever possible. Once they arrived in Banpong and detrained they realised that they were being forced to march 200 miles through the jungle to work camps near the Thai-Burma border to start building what would become to be known as the "Death Railway". The force was given barricks at Banpong and allowed to rest for a short time before leaving. The first 35Klms. was on a sealed road and they were then forced to trudge the remainder of the journey through the jungle over a period of around two and a half weeks. They walked at night, to avoid the day time temperatures which were in the mid forties, roughly following the bed of the Maenam River (Chao Phraya River) and received barely any water, food or shelter along the way. They travelled in stages - covering large distances of up to 35Klms. at a time, the walk took them two and a half weeks during which time many died of exhaustion or starvation. Their destination was Shimo Sonkurai (South Sonkurai, No. 1 Camp at 288 klm. mark).
The column was lead every night by a Jap soldier carrying a light "to frighten off the tigers"! Bob was ordered to the rear of the column to assist those falling behind and having trouble keeping up with the main body. It must be remembered that more than 50% of the force was made up of sick men promised a new home where food, rest and medical attention would be plentiful. Gradually working parties and those too sick to walk were dropped off at staging camps, many died from starvation or exhaustion, so of the 2000 who left Singapore only about 800 arrived at Shimo Sonkurai. This camp would eventially hold 1800 POWs.
Trek - Banpong to Staniki - along the river "Me Nam Kwa Noi"
From Bob's diary
24th. Apl. Arrived Banpong about dawn. Very tired & hungry & stiff after 4 days in train - 27 to a rice carriage. Carried our gear about 1 mile to camp in town. Lads set about trading clothing etc. to Thais for good prices. Were fed well. Rested that night.
Night 25/26th. - Left B. on 25Km march - moonlight. Town "brownouted." Most of us carried too much, arrived completely exhausted. 26th. - (number) 1st Camp - "Paradise Lost". Got rid of my valise $5.00 - "hair shirt" $2.00 - pen (nib broken) $4.50. "Boongs" selling eggs, coffee, fruit, etc. at good prices - first eggs 10cents. No sleep. Hired trucks (Yak carts) to take our heavy luggage to 2nd stop.
Night 26/27th. - Left on 25Km march. Most men bad feet. Arrived very tired at sunrise. 27th. - (number) 2nd Camp "Dry Camp". Found virtually all my gear stolen - no clothes. Lost compass, net and blanket. Capt. Hendy (M.O.) gave me half blanket, pr shorts & a shirt. Lad gave me shirt & towel also got 1 pr heelless sox. Never been so thirsty. Water 5cents a bucket. Had to walk about 5 miles to have a useless malaria and dysentery test. Slept night. Had swim - river 1.5 miles away. Could buy eggs and coffee.
Night 28/29th. - Left - 25Km march. Very dusty. Felt off colour. Many men sick & thirsty. Carried all gear, cooking, medical, etc. 29th. - Arrived (number) 3rd Camp "Paradise Regained", at sunrise. Pretty camp on river bank. Had two swims. Plenty to buy, prices good. No sleep. Food OK.
Night 29/30th. - Left - Yak carts carried heavy gear. Some thrown off. Got my staff through. Nightmare march. Many men sick - some carried all way - 25Km. Carts had to be guarded from Thais who slinked after us. 30th. - (number) 4th Camp "Bridge Camp". "Boong" food expensive and bad. Rations light - Slept night. River half mile. Swim.
May - Night 1/2nd. - March 18Km. Carried all gear. Usual number of sick. Mostly dysentery. Rain and mud all the way. 2nd May - (number) 5th Camp "Tarso". Bn. 1 Jap H.Q. - Large camp. We were very dry - no tea - river mile away. Had swim. Had 30 very sick men - only 13 allowed remain. No rest.
Night 2/3rd. - Left. Mud and rain all the way. Men exhausted. Carrying all gear. 3rd May - (number) 6th Camp "Creek Camp". Left Capt. Frank Cahill (M.O.) behind. All buying ceased from Tarso. No rest. Very tired.
Night 3/4th. - Another march in mud and rain carrying all gear as have to do in future. 4th. - (number) 7th. Camp. Staggered in & bivouacked in bamboo scrub - nights rest. Have never been given shelter at any camp. River 1.5 miles away near Aust. & Dutch camp. Had swim, did washing.
Night 5/6th. - Plodded on - 12Km - Shortest so far. 6th. - (number) 8th. Camp. "Corral Camp" - Yarded up like cattle. Well fed. Had swim in creek.
Night 6/7th. - More mud. Very tired - arrived sunrise. 7th. - (number) 9th. Camp "Efficient Camp". Very "stand over" Japs - rain cleared pretty well. Nights rest. Camped near bamboo. On river - had swim.
Night 8/9th. - Short march - 12 Km - rested on way. 9th. - (number) 10th Camp. "Plateau Camp". - Up among clouds - tigers - elephants. Had 2 swims - excitement when elephants bathed with us. No rest here.
Night 9/10th. - Tiring march in mountainous land - carrying many sick now. 10th. - (number) 11th. Camp "Ox Blood Soup Camp" - Peculiar stew. On river - had swim. No rest. As usual latrines shocking.
Night 10/11th. - Long thirsty march. Carrying sick. 11th. - (number) 12th Camp "Cappes Camp" - "Concoyda" - A.I.F. HQ. Saw Fr. Dolan. Cholera rumours. Slept in building no roof. No rest. Filthy latrines polluting area.
Night 11/12th. - Short march - no sleep 3 nights. 12th. - (number) 13th Camp "Nieki" new camp - no roofs - tiny stream. 3 days rest to build up party - food good. Found warm "strait jacket".
Night 15th. - Short final march in mud. Left 0300 hrs. Monsoons definitely arrived now. 15th. May - (number)14th Camp. Arrived "Staniki Camp" - exhausted. Dysentery & cholera breaking out. Malaria starting. No roofs. (Staniki Camp - Shimo Sonkurai?)