Cholera and Japanese savagery on the Railway of Death

Prisoners of War Working on Thai-Burma Railway at Kanu Camp, Thailand 1943
John G Mennie

In Burma and Thailand the prisoners of war of the Japanese were engaged in the hard labour of building the railway that would give Japan access to India. They worked in literally murderous conditions. Recently cholera had emerged as an additional threat.

In the Australian camp at Hintok Moauntain the surgeon and most senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel E.E. Dunlop, was battling with the Japanese to maintain what minimum standards he could, in both the main camp and the ‘hospital’. It was a constant struggle in which he gained just a little ground. In many cases this slim margin of improvement was enough to help save mens lives, but not always.

He was also keeping a secret diary which amounted to a chronicle of the daily incidents in the camp. It makes grim reading:

26 June 1943

A cholera death in the British camp today along with 3 others. Their state is pitiable but then, Oh Lord! hygiene is a menace to us who live alongside them. No. 2 rock clearing party left today at 0700 hours in darkness and no doubt will not be back until late tonight, poor devils. So the pace increases.

Imagine those poor ill, exhausted wretches having to be got up, fed, issued with lunch rice and got away in black darkness after counts, etc. and to drag their way into camp again in the dark some fourteen hours hence. Some light duty men were included.

Every morning, this process goes on of pulling out light duty men into railway parties. If they have boots, they are usually the first drafted. If they have no bandages, or only a few, and lack external evidence of malady, they are the next to follow. Eventually, the pathetic dregs of the light duties are allotted tree felling and hauling. (Most of them have no boots at all.) The task is the felling of 15-30 trees which have to be cut up, branches trimmed off and then hauled several hundreds of yards over rocks and jungle to the bridge builders (about 4-5 to a single log).

Death of Sgt S.R. (Mickey) Hallam TX 2361.

Facts: This soldier suffering from fever collapsed on the way to work 22/6/43; unable to carry on, he made his way back, reported his condition and was sent to hospital. He was diagnosed as having malaria and enteritis.

On his own voluntary decision, he lined up with the other men who did not reach the railway that day and shared the sadistic punishment meted out as already described. He was mercilessly beaten up by the Nippon Engineer Sgt ‘Billie the Pig’ and his assistant, ‘Mollie the Monk’.

He was returned to hospital deadly pale, face swollen, neck and chest contused, abrasions to the knees and legs and a sprained right ankle. His temperature was 103.4 F., excited and sick. 24/6/43: He had two attacks of profound unconsciousness, am and pm. 25/6/43: A similar attack. Digitalis commenced. 26/6/43: Died in a similar attack in the early morning.

The Cause of Death given to the Nipponese: ‘Contusion to the heart causing cardiac arrest – a result of beating by a Nippon engineer Sgt whilst suffering from malaria on the night of 22nd June, 1943.’

The cause of death is really a little vague, possibly the above injury, even malaria affecting the conducting mechanism of the heart. My theory is cardiac beriberi. In any case, he was slain by these Nipponese sadists more certainly than if they had shot him.

Osuki accepted the ‘Cause of Death’ and said he would write to Tarsau about the incident. This sergeant was buried with the usual simple military honours at 1315, Grave No. 14 in our Camp ‘Cemetery’.

Chaplain Marsden RC, who was in camp today, reported severe cholera at Lt-Col. Oakes’ camp near Quick’s (70 cases and many deaths). These men were also under Malayan administration and semi

See E.E. Dunlop: The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop

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