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Audio commentaries

Recollections of Japanese treatment

  • Images of Edward 'Weary' Dunlop

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    Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop ...

    ... Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. ‘Weary’ Dunlop*, one of 44 Australian doctors on the Thai–Burma railway, was renowned for his untiring efforts to care for the sick. In this audio interview ‘Weary’ Dunlop recalls his ongoing battle with the Japanese works boss in the camp who would force prisoners to work on the railway although they were very seriously ill. He also describes how these prisoners were subject to abuse and how Dunlop and the prisoners would sometimes succeed in countering this brutality.

    Audio Transcript

    “ ... Well, this was a continuous treadmill in which I used to have to attend the number 1 works’ boss of the Japanese, and he would say, ‘Tomorrow so many hundred men’, and I would say, ‘Impossible! We can’t turn out this number’, and we would argue until 10 o'clock during which time I could usually beat him down a few men. Then I’d have to wait up and see the last of the workforce in — around 2 o'clock in the morning they would come in practically crawling. So then you've got to make your assessment of how many men would be regarded by the Japanese as 'very fit men, very fit men’ and how many would say ‘little sick men, or little byoke men’ and this really wasn't official, but I used to have a group of ‘little byoke men’, and these would be fellows standing shivering with fierce attacks of malaria, pouring dysentery, tropical ulcers, great raw ulcers on their legs or their feet like raw tomatoes, just looking like they had no skin on them, and there they would stand in a dejected group. But I had still another group: people who we carried out physically and laid on the parade ground, and so these men can’t stand up. Sticks would be waved over them and they would be kicked, and if they didn’t get to their feet, they might even be given a hammer to crack stones with, it was a relentless business. We had all sorts of tricks. I would instruct people to collapse on their way out of the camp, and we’d rush and carry them to the hospital. We could usually win a few tricks, but you know, that was a sick parade. [©Copyright ABC]”

    More about Edward 'Weary' Dunlop ...

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    Stan Arneil ...

    ... Stan Arneil was a sergeant in the 2/30th Battalion and a member of F Force when he became a prisoner of the Japanese at Singapore. In this audio interview he recollects an experience where an officer forced an unconscious, almost dead prisoner to be carried by other prisoners to attend a roll call by which time he was dead.

    Audio Transcript

    “ ... Well, the [cholera] camp broke up. We were to come back, there were around twenty of us left, the cholera had subsided, and we were come back to the camp, and we had to be counted, as all Japanese or Korean guards, they want everybody counted. We went over there. I was in charge of this little camp. And we lined them up there, and of course we were one short. And the officer said to me 'you're one short'. I said 'It's Dusty Blackadder, sir, I don't think he'll last an hour'. He said ‘Well, the guard wants him here'. I said, 'Well look, he'll be dead in an hour, why do we want to bring him over, leave him in peace there, he's on his own, there's not even anybody with him'. He said, 'Go and get him!' So I went back with four men and one of those big bamboo stretchers, which we'd made ourselves, great big unwieldy things, and it was filthy and the mud was waist deep almost with bamboo thorns in the mud, and we had bare feet, of course. I went into see Dusty, and he was unconscious, and we had a look at him, and a little talk about him, and we said, well, he'd be dead, we'd give him half an hour. And I went back again, and this fellow said, 'Why didn't you bring him?', and I said, 'He's only got half an hour left', and then he started really ranting and raving (that might be the words) ... that the Korean guard was going to hit him, if he didn't bring the body over. My feelings were, well, what's wrong with a few hits? Physical pain is very easy to take; physical pain won't break you, it's mental pain that beats you. But no, I had to go back. So we went back again and he was still alive, and we put him on the stretcher, went back. Now, it wouldn't have been more than 150 yards, but it would have taken us half an hour to get that far through this morass of mud and cut bamboo and so forth, and of course we slipped and Dusty fell off the stretcher into the mud and covered with mud and slime. We got him back into the stretcher, and got over there — he was dead — and laid him down, and the Korean guard counted everybody and everybody was correct, and the officer went off and everybody was quite happy so we then struggled and took Dusty back to the cremation pit and cremated him. [©Copyright ABC]”

    More about illness and death on the railway ...

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    Doctor Rowley Richards ...

    ... Dr Rowley Richards was a doctor with Australian prisoners in Burma (now Myanmar) who helped save the lives of many POWs. Having been initially imprisoned in Singapore, and then sent to work on the railway, he later became a slave labourer in Japan. In this audio interview Dr Richards discusses the hierarchical honour based culture of the Japanese that led to ritualised brutality with prisoners considered as dishonourable and the lowest of the low in a chain of command.

    Audio Transcript

    “ ... It became essential for us to try to understand why we were being treated the way we were. We learned fairly early of course that the Japanese despised anybody who became a prisoner; in their own culture, it was a matter of honour to arrange for somebody to decapitate you rather than submit to become prisoner or to commit hari kari. Therefore those of us who did not do this in the eyes of the Japanese were the lowest form of animal life. In addition to this, we learned very quickly the hierarchical structure of the Japanese, in that a colonel would have no hesitation in dealing out physical punishment to a major, and then he, in turn, to a captain and so it went on, so that you’d have a first class private would have no hesitation in beating up a second class private. And then right at the bottom of that hierarchy was the prisoner of war, and he copped it from everybody. But it was important to realise that in many cases, while we saw cases of bashing of prisoners of war, we also saw similar cases of Japanese versus Japanese, or perhaps more correctly, Japanese versus Koreans, and then the Koreans down the line. [©Copyright ABC]”

    More about the treatment of prisoners ...

* Photograph of Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop by Robert McFarlane