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Welcome. Introduction to Robert Haselwood Saville KELSEY - this is Bob's Story.

Historical Overview

The Fall of Singapore. Defeat of British Forces in Malaya in 1942 by the Japanese - a brief history.
Changi Prisons. Overview of the "Changi Prisons".
The Thai - Burma Railway. The Japenese Plan - brief history.

2/26th Battalion, A.I.F.

Formation. Story of the formation of the 2/26th. Battalion A.I.F.
Colours and Battle Flag. The origional 2/26th. Battle Flag was sewn by the girls at All Hallows School, Brisbane.
Miowera Camp. Bob's first training camp south of Bowen, Queensland.
Grovely Camp. A new training camp set up in Brisbane, Queensland.
Redbank Camp. Another training camp for the 2/26th in Brisbane, Queensland.
Bathurst. A major training camp for the Australian Army at Bathurst, New South Wales.
Overseas Deployment. After training the 2/26th is deployed - not to the snow and frozen landscape of Russia or the deserts of Africa, but to the jungles of Malaya.

Bob Kelsey's Far East - Malaya

Camp Wavell. The 2/26th's first camp in Malaya was Wavell, which was at Changi, Singapore Island.
Jasin. The Battalion then moved to Jasin near the spice port of Malacca on the west Malay coast.
"Boom Town". Another move to a camp at Bukit Tiga, on the banks of the Sungai Sedili Besar (river), where they maintained a cross river boom. Bob was here when the 2/26th first engaged the Japs.

Bob Kelsey's Far East - The British Surrender

Retreat in Malaya. War broke out on the 8th. Dec & we at Boomtown (Bukit Tiga) were first on a war posting - then we all got surrounded! Our flanks "beat it" & we were forced to do our first retreat.
The Fall of Singapore. I think the biggest blow came when we reached the Island during the night (30/31st Jan. at 2am.) we all expected to go into trenches, concrete dugouts & have about half a mile of wire in front of us. Instead of this we were given a position 1000 yards from the main road, on a mangrove swamp, where we could not dig more than 9 inches, with not a scrap of wire out & the whole under observation by the enemy.
Prisoner of War. On the 18 mile march out to Changi, there was no booing, jeering or any notice taken of us at all. The Japs took our blankets and packs out by trucks. Out here we run ourselves and never or seldom are guarded. Working parties are very well treated. Our only food is rice and tea.
Changi Prisons. The Changi and Singapore areas were home to many prisons loosely refered to as "Changi".
Becoming a POW The reality of life as a POW in Changi prisons and on the Burma Railway as part of "F" Force. Pay and Medical records were still part of Army life even as a POW.

Thai - Burma Railway - "The Death Railway"

The Japanese Plan. The Japanese forces intended to connect Ban Pong in Thailand with Thanbyuzayat in Burma, through the Three Pagodas Pass. Construction began at the Thai end on 22nd. June 1942, and in Burma at roughly the same date. Most of the construction materials, including tracks, sleepers and even a large steel bridge, were brought from dismantled branches of the Federated Malay States Railway network and from the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia). Forced labour was used in its construction.
"F" Force. "F" Force was a working party of prisoners of war of the Japanese. It consisted of 7,000 men, of which 3,662 were Australians, the others British. The purpose of this working party was to assist in the construction of the Burma - Thailand Railway linking Bangkok with Rangoon. The force was formed at Changi and the first of thirteen trains left Singapore on 16th. April 1943.

Thai - Burma Railway - Bob's Camps

The March North. Bob and part of "F" Force left Changi on the 21st, April 1943 (Anzac Day) - they fell in on the square, then loaded into trucks to be away at 0400. This was the third train of seven that moved POWs of "F" Force from Changi to Siam. 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".
Shimo Songkurai. Bob's first work camp was at Shimo Songkurai. The remnants of "F" Force from no. 3 train, suffering from malaria, dysentery, diarrhoea and general ill health, due to fatigue and lack of proper food, shuffled into Shimo Songkurai work camp which was to become their home for many months while they worked and died building a section of the Thai - Burma Death Railway for the Japanese Imperial Army.
Songkurai. Songkurai - the men here worked on the "Songkurai bridge" that the British were building accross the river. The camp was the home of the 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment. Of the 1600 men who were originally sent to Sonkurai camp - by May 1943 - 1200 were already dead and 200 more were still in hospital, of whom many were not expected to recover. The Manchesters were gutted almost to the last man so a party of Australians, which included Bob was sent to Songkurai for the building of the bridge.
Kami Songkurai. Bob along with 200 other officers and men, deemed more fit for work than most were sent to Kami Songkurai, which was another work camp for the great bridge.
Tanbaya. From Kami Songkurai Bob was to escort a group of 1700 desperately sick men about 70 klms. from the Songkurai region being sent to Tanbaya in Burma, of these 700 died in less than 6 months. The supposedly better hospital camp was called "Tanbaya" (located at the 50 klm. mark from the start of the railway at the Burma end) where the sick had been sent to recover but a large number died as a result of disease, starvation and exhaustion.
Return to Changi. Once the rail line was joined all the prisoners would be returned to Changi. The prisoners were loaded into steel rice wagons with 29 men to a wagon, where there was not enough room for anyone to lie down. To try and ventilate the wagons the sliding doors were generally left open. The journey took 5 days and 6 nights and for men in such poor health many died during the trip to Kanburi. The only amusement for the prisoners was the regular derailments that occurred even though they had to work to lever the wagons back on the line - those derailments were a break from the boredom of the rail journey.

Thai - Burma Railway - Memories

Diary of Lt. G.L. Wilson. Bob's dear friend, Graeme Langdon Wilson, remembers transport and conditions along the Siam - Burma railway and the return to Changi.
Tribute to Bruce Hunt. "His fearless sheltering of the sick and exhausted from railway slave gangs, and whose medical skill was so energetically applied that hundreds of us must owe our lives to him"
PORTRAIT OF A MAN by R.H.S. Kelsey. Published as part of the Queensland Anzac Day Programme in 1991.
Kelsey Memories and sketches taken from Bob Kelsey's album
Letter from George Beard. A short letter from George Beard, a close friend and PoW, sums up R.H.S.(Bob) Kelsey

Back in Changi

Singapore The PoWs returning to Singapore were treated like lepers.
Broom Wireless. After returning from the Thai - Burma Death Railway Bob Kelsey spent the rest of the war in Changi Prisons. He was approached by a Senior Officer with links to the British High Command about taking on something that was very dangerous - if he were caught the penalty would be death - a PoW in his hut built and operated a secret wireless to hear news of the war. Bob was to be his offsider.
Back-up Board. At Changi in Hut E1 where Bob lived, some times there were excess rations so a system was worked out so one man benefited from any extra rations - this was thought to be more beneficial than any extras being shared between 46 prisoners when the amount each received would not have had any benefit being so small. A board , not unlike a "crib board", was made of wood with all the hut occupants written down the left side and peg holes drilled in columns. Across the top of the board were headings for the various foods that were given as rations. The man who last received an extra, had a match placed in the hole corresponding to his name and the ration.
Changi Vegetables. Food was so scarce in Changi that the Japs gave permission for the PoWs to grow vegetables - working parties were set up and garden beds dug on every piece of spare ground. The men worked on expanding the Changi aerodrome during the day, as well as growing sweet potato and amaranth.
Bob the Bookbinder. Following a foot infection Bob was placed on light duties and allocated to repairing books from the library.
Other Nationals. There were other Nationals as PoWs in Changi.


The End of War. During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August the 6th., 1945 and the second on August the 9th., 1945.

The rumour that America had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan was at first treated as "preposterous" by the POWs, however soon the end of the war was announced by the British High Command and Singapore was liberated by the Indian 8th. Division.
Jap now Prisoners. On the 15th. August, 1945 Japan announced its surrender. In Singapore, the formal signing of the surrender instrument was held at City Hall, then known as "Municipal Hall", on the 12th. September. This was followed by a celebration at the Padang, which included a victory parade. Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia Command, came to Singapore to receive the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in the region from General Itagaki Seishiro on behalf of General Hisaichi Terauchi
Repatriation. 470 survivors from the original 900 men of the 2/26th. Battalion AIF embarked in the Largs Bay at Singapore for repatritation to Australia where the ship berthed on 7th. October 1945 - the ex POWs disembarked the next day for a parade through Brisbane.
Memorabilia. Artefacts and Memorabilia - there were no cameras allowed after the British surrender, so much was recorded by those with a talent for sketching, painting or writing - expression or in poems.

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