Map of Tonchan South
Map Drawn by J T (Jim) Rea
click on above map to enlarge - it will take time to load as it is a big file
In May 1943 were introduced to the ‘kind discipline of “The Tiger”, (Staff -Sergeant Furobashi), when we moved to Tonchan Camp and Tonchan South. Here our main tasks were the drilling of shot holes for the explosives, which was not an easy job, with many men injured by flying splinters from the ‘chisels’ we were using. The clearing up afterwards being done by hand, which again led to many cuts and abrasions. Whilst here a body of British and Australian POW’s were to join us for a short time, (these men were part of ‘F’ Force, passing further up the line to other Camps). It was here that Q.M. ‘Pop’ and three others were caught trying to pass some little food and water to a group of the new men. The end result was the same. ‘The Tiger’ who had a hatred for tall men, made them stand to attention whilst he paraded up and down, and beat them around their backs and legs, with a bamboo rod, which must have been at least two inches across, until it split and splintered beyond use, he then picked up a metal bar and continued to beat them around their backs and legs until he was too tired to continue. They was made to stand to attention without hats for the next three or so hours. When they were dismissed, they were taken to our MO. Captain Pavillard of the SSVV, for medical treatment. It was his care, which got these men and many others through this sort of beating.
The conditions were terrible, food was scarce, just rice, rice and still more rice. Vegetables were dried sweet potatoes and lily roots, with perhaps a little dried meat or dried salt fish for workers only. Sanitary arrangements, well, there were none. Approximately 8,000 men were camped here, with only three Asiatic Latrines to sit three at a time; (These latrines were holes about 8 feet long, 2 feet wide and 4 foot deep with bamboo, so that men could squat Asiatic fashion). Latrine paper was unobtainable, leaves or dried grass was used instead. These latrines were just a breeding place for flies, being open to the air and the deposit uncovered. Consequently the camp, cook-hose and food were just black with flies, millions of them. To illustrate this point, if you used a fly swat, you would kill approximately 200 flies with each swat. In the huts, there being no Hospital, men too ill to help themselves, or men dying with their mouths open, either they were covered with flies or the inside of their mouths were just black with them. Owing to most men suffering from acute diarrhoea or dysentery, and there being insufficient latrine accommodation, men being unable to wait, just did their business all over the camp, inside or outside huts or tents.
Accommodation was tents or huts, so bad and leaky, that it rained just as much inside as out.
The camp was situated about five miles from the river, in a hollow below high mountains, which meant that when it rained, the water was held there. The camp was just feet of black slimy mud, sometimes inside the huts and tents. The water used for washing clothes, if any? Bathing and cooking was from a small stream running through the centre of the camp. Ranks were unable to drink this water, it must be boiled, and owing to scarcity of wood and cooking utensils, a quarter pint of tea was allowed each meal and a pint of water for workers. Sickness was very bad, for example, out of three Battalions, 450 strong, a total of 1,350 men; there were only 30 fit men that were fit enough to work on the railway, were found. In six days, 159 men died, mainly through acute diarrhoea and dysentery. Others suffered from debility, Beriberi, Vitamin diseases, ulcers, and chronic Malaria.
The number of sick caused the railway work to temporarily cease; more men arrived at the camp, including Dutch, Australian, Tamil's and Chinese. Thousands more were passing on foot, (including women and small children), through the camp on their way to camps higher up the river. This did not improve matters, as fast as they came, so they fell sick; so the Nips ordered that all sick, however bad, would parade at eight o'clock in the morning, each morning for inspection, so that they could be sorted out for work on the railway, or to relieve fit men working in the cookhouses or other jobs in the camp. It is impossible to tell anybody what this parade looked like; just a parade of human skeletons with skin but no flesh, no boots or clothing; holding one another up; made to stand for one hour sometimes more in torrential rain and black slimy mud, beaten up by the Nips for not standing up all the time. I was suffering from internal Phlebitis of the right leg, acute diarrhoea and malaria and had to be carried on parade. I was made to stand for this length of time, in agony; even after having been operated on and I was not the worst on parade. At some camps, all the sick, however bad, had to go to work on the railway; dying at work, or beaten insensible for being unable to work and dying two days later. At one camp, the Nips used to enter the huts, force the sick to stand up and then ask them if they were fit for work. If they said "No", they were beaten with the flat of the sword, or by a bamboo until they said” Yes", and that meant Death. Work was cruel, starting at 7 am in the dark, with only one pint of rice and a quarter pint of tea, until 2 am the next morning or later on when we got one pint of cold boiled rice and a little piece of dried meat or salt fish. Wet through, no washing, no boots or clothing, lousy, very little sleep, beaten up for the least provocation and then back to camp and more rice, mud and leaky huts or tents.
In June, Cholera broke out, in seven days 189 of our men died and unknown hundreds of Asiatic's. In one Asiatic camp of 800 only one person survived. There was very little treatment, saline injections and Bondy's Pills with little or no disinfectants to help stop this scourge. Fit men could not be released from work on the railway or the camp isolated, so semi-sick men were ordered to dig graves or build pyres and bury or burn the dead and dying men. It was known for men in coma's to come to life when they felt themselves being buried or burnt; but the Nips made them stop there, THIS was the Railway, some camps being much worse than this, not only Cholera, but Typhus, Bubonic, and other scourges. This was "The Railway of Death".
The Nips stated, "The Railway would go ahead and be finished by October 1943; even if every man died". Bridges had to be built, trees forty to fifty feet high had to be felled and shaped and carried distances of two to three hundred yards. Elephants were employed to do this carrying for a short time, but they did not work fast enough. So P.O.W's had to do it; they used to say "Eight men or one Elephant", it was heartbreaking work, especially on the food we received and also because most men were sick. If they stopped or tried to stop for a rest, they were beaten, everything was just: - "SPEEDO, SPEEDO'.
At the end of June 1943, the Railway had reached and passed South Tonchan, again Battalions were ordered to move further up the river. The sick were sorted out, the fittest to move with the main body; the remaining sick were to stay behind to do all the camp work. This included, cooking, sanitation, carrying of rations, which had been reduced because all the men were sick, to half rations, practically nothing.
Still raining, Battalions moved off, marching through mud, feet deep, without boots, without clothing to camps 30, 40 or 100 kilometres away.
Late July, the remaining sick were again sorted, the seriously sick were moved down river by barge to Tarso Base Hospital Camp, the lighter sick were moved back to Tonchan Main Camp.
At Tonchan Main Camp, conditions were much the same; the Graveyard was full, all the men, about 4,000, were men who were not sick enough to be transferred to Tarso, but were unfit for movement or work on the railway.