Singapore was the major British military base in South East Asia. In February 1942 the Empire of Japan invaded the stronghold of Singapore. Fighting lasted for 16 days and resulted in the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. About 80,000 British, Australian and Indian troops became Prisoners of War and remained in Singapore’s Changi Prison.

The “F” Force was a working party of prisoners at Changi. It consisted of 7000 men – Australian and British soldiers. The first of thirteen trains left Singapore for Thailand on 18 April 1943. Each train had 600 men crammed into rice trucks, 28 men to each trunk. The last train left Singapore on April 26, 1943. The journey from Singapore to Ban Pong in Thailand took 5 days. Once the F Force parties arrived in Ban Pong they were forced to march 300km or more to various camps. The main camp for Australians was Shimo Sangkurai. These camps were located in the centre of the cholera belt which consequently resulted in 1060 Australian men dying from various diseases, mainly cholera.

Prisoners of War were then forced to work on the construction of the Burma-Thai Railway. A huge project that the Japanese provided no heavy construction equipment. The prisoners built the railway by hand. They broke the ground with pickaxes and shovels. They moved earth with buckets and bamboo-and-burlap litters and yoyo poles. Stonecrushing for ballast was done with hammers. To bore holes in hard rock they used iron drills and sledgehammers. The POW’s also had no running water, no soap, no toothpaste or toilet paper. Because of the lack of hygiene, lack of food and overworked conditions POW’s suffered and died from dysentry, malaria, tinea, vitamen D deficiency, burning feet, bed bugs, cholera, dengue fever and many other tropical diseases. The treatment of the men whilst building the Burma-Thai Railway was the biggest sustained POW atrocity of the Pacific War.

Most of the remaining members of “F” Force arrived back in Changi on 17th December, 1943.

Prisoner Of War Facts

* There were more than 140000 POWs during WWII

* A roster of just their names and first initials would fill a book of 450 pages

* Complete names would fill a book the size of Gone With the Wind

* Name, rank, serial number and a single sentence about what happened to them, those who survived and all those who did not, would fill a book the size of war and peace four times over

* The POWs who died at the hands of the Japanese have no single monument

* The POWs names carved in stone would cover a mass of granite that could stand beside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and not be overshadowed

* If the war had lasted another year there would not have been a POW left alive

* Building of the Thai-Burma Railway was the biggest sustained POW atrocity of the Pacific War

* Any white captive was a prisoner not only in a Japanese Camp but in Asia. His skin was a prison uniform he could never take off

* Along the 250 mile stretch of railway track, the total number of POW labourers was more than 61000. About 30000were British, 18000 were Dutchmen or Indonesian Dutch, 13000 were Australian and about 650 American

* About 45% of all prisoners of the Japanese worked on the railroad. It was the biggest single use of POWs

* The POWs on the Burma-Thailand railway had to deal with no running water, no soap, no toothpaste, shaved heads, no toilet paper, dysentery, malaria, tinea, Vitamin D Deficiency, burning feet, bed bugs, cholera and so much more

How to Stay Alive on the March

1. Never fall back – from the first day men were hanging onto each others belts to keep going, the stronger ones towing the weak.

2. Never get on the outside of the column – you could get whacked or worse

3. Never lose your hat – the sun will kill you

Geneva Convention 1929

The Geneva Convention (1929) was signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force 19 June 1931. It is this version of the Geneva Conventions which covered the treatment of prisoners of war during Word War II.

Unfortunately the Japanese never did ratify the Geneva Convention on POWs. In the 1930s the Japanese were cranking up their military machine. By the mid-30s the Japanese were saying that whenever and however the white mans way of doing things conflicted with the Japanese way, Japan would go ahead and do things its way. The way the Japanese read the 1929 Geneva convention, an enemy prisoner of war in their hands would be entitled to a softer time than a Japanese fighting man in the field with the emperor’s army, and to them that was absurd. As for a Japanese taken prisoner there was not going to be any such thing. No Japanese fighting man was ever going to be taken alive: Do not survive to suffer the dishonour of capture. So why should the Japanese bother about the Geneva convention? There was nothing in it for them.

Courtesy of ‘Prisoners of the Japanese’ (Gavin Daws)