Beyond the call of duty – POWs 15

As the cholera epidemic raged, the POWs including Barry and the remnants of 27 Line Section were still working long hours on the railway. He remembers:

Towards the end of June 1943 several of us found it increasingly difficult to swallow and digest even the small ration of watery rice porridge that was our daily portion. We rapidly became so thin and weak that we were no longer able to get out to the working site. I carried on for a few days trying to do something useful in the camp or cookhouse, but eventually gave up.

The Japanese commander decided to make up a party of thin useless men and send them south in barges. We were a group of about twenty, I believe, unable to walk and barely able to stand, it was assumed that we would soon die, which most of us eventually did.

The day chosen for the evacuation was a Sunday, one of our rare ‘yasme’ (rest) days. We had about 7km to walk to reach the barges. Two of my men helped me, one carried my pack and I was supported between the two of them. After a short distance we found that we were making poor progress and one of them took me on his back and carried me the rest of the way. The two names of Gibby Douglas and Corporal McWhirter are in my mind but I cannot be at all sure that this is a true recollection.

The first proper camp the sick men reached was Tha Khanun (Tarkanoon). One of the POWs there was Dr Robert Hardie. His diary describes: “a lot of very sick men are coming down from 211 camp in a shocking condition – gaunt spectres of men, riddled with malaria and food deficiencies. One can do very little for these people. They can’t assimilate the sort of food we have except eggs, of which we have very few”.

Barry, and the men who reached this camp alive, were welcomed by:

 a proper reception committee of doctors and orderlies who first examined us very thoroughly to make sure that none of us was carrying a cholera infection and then did whatever they could to restore our strength. After we had been thoroughly tested we were all weighed on a beam balance, built in the camp and calibrated against a 50kg rice sack. My weight, about average for the group, was noted as 5 stone 12lbs, or 37kg.