Scarborian’s Grim Memories of Life as Prisoner of War on the Death Railway
The picture in Thursday’s Evening News of the banks of the River Kwai in the areas where thousands of Allied prisoners of war died while working on the Siam-Burma “Railway of Death” brought back many memories to Mr. Jack Hart of 90, Prospect Mount Road, Scarborough - memories of viciousness and heroism, cruelty and courage.
CORPORAL JOSEPH HART - ROYAL CORPS OF SIGNALS
Service Number: - 2321573
Joseph (known as Jack) Hart was born in Stourbridge on the 8th July 1913. After lying about his age, he joined the Army in 1929 and was sent to Hereford to complete His Basic Training. He had wanted to join the Guards, but, on being told he was too short, he joined the Royal Corps of Signals instead.
He was sent out to Palestine in 1936 during the Arab Revolt, and on returning to England in 1937, he married Rube in Scarborough on the 6th January. After being placed on the reserve List, he was one of the first to be called up in 1939, firstly training new recruits and then he was shipped out aboard the Dorsetshire on the first Convoy to India. Little did he know that this would be the last time he would see his wife for four years and three months.
From India he travelled to Singapore. On the 15th February 1942 the Commander of the British Forces, General Percival, surrendered Singapore to the Japanese and Joseph became a Prisoner of War. He was sent to work on the infamous Railway of death, a stretch of Railway 258 miles long connecting Thailand with Burma.
Cpl. Jack Hart was one of the first Scarborough men to be listed “missing, believed PoW in Singapore”, in 1941, and from then until the end of the war he laboured in various camps along the infamous railway.
Mr. Hart writes: “The Bridge on the River Kwai’ of the book and film was known to us as Tamarkan Bridge. To us it meant up-river on one side and down-river on the other - life or death, depending on which side you were.
“ The P.O.W. camp took its name from this, its boundary entrance being where the fruit and tea stalls are in the picture, set back to the camera. On the other side, alongside the Thai village, was a Japanese A.A. battery, and my hut was only 50 yards from the bridge.
“Fortunately, when one day 27 R.A.F. bombers came out of the sun most of the camp was on roll-call, and only the sick remained in the huts. When a stick of bombs fell across the corner of the camp 17 were killed and over 90 wounded.”
Drawn by Jack Hart of the Infamous Bridge over the River Kwai Noi at Tamurang near Kanchanaburi.
To the delight of the prisoners the bridge and the anti-aircraft battery were destroyed, and the back-breaking toil of building it again was started, but within hours of its completion the bridge was again destroyed in a bombing raid, never to be rebuilt by the prisoners.
Mr. Hart goes on: “ In the area of your picture was the camp commandant’s hut and the Korean guards’ quarters. The guards were vicious, but the camp from the prisoners’ point of view was a comparatively good one - with the river close by, at least one died clean! But there were, comparatively speaking, few deaths, and responsible for this miracle, with others, was Major Moon, an Australian Doctor.
“Across the river about three miles away, was the notorious Chunkai, the headquarters, I think, of 4 Group, with 10,000 inmates, of whom 3,000 died. I have seen barges from up-river, which had been full of living breathing humanity off-loading there, full of dead cargo, dead on arrival.”
Another camp experienced by Mr. Hart was Kanchanaburi, which he described as “Grim, but not as bad as Chunkai”.
“My best friend, called Thomas Atkins, died in Kanchanaburi from beri-beri. Although I sold my last possession, a gold signet ring, and bought some soya-bean sauce and duck eggs on the black market for him it was to no avail. Tommy, who was in the Norfolk Regiment, died. I still have the stick he cut for me from the jungle as he staggered around like a drunk from the disease ‘to help me get around’.
Mr. Hart worked on the erection of two other bridges, one at Tambya, and the other at Hannaquin, about 25 miles south of Moulmein, Burma where 28 prisoners - 12 British and the rest Dutch-Javanese from Sumatra - laboured 18 hours a day to erect a steel bridge almost 100 yards long in 28 days. “It seems incredible now, especially as our food was eight ounces of rice each day, plus wild spinach we gathered from the trackside,” writes Mr. Hart. Their reward from the Japanese for completing the line was a small tin of pineapple slices between three men.
“The greatest tragedy of my prisoner-of-war days was the R.A.F. raid on the marshalling yards at Bampong, where the prisoners were in huts right against the line and were forbidden to move by a sadistic guard known as “the Undertaker”. A stick of 1,000-lb. bombs fell into the camp, killing 96 and wounding 200.
No Blame to the RAF.
“I would like to make it clear that we attached no blame to the R.A.F., who were magnificent and flew so low that, hiding on the side of a small hill during the raid on the Kaiorin Railway Workshops, in Thailand, I was looking into the cockpit of a four engined bomber below me,
I could have stretched out my hand and touched the wing tips. The R.A.F. boys were incredibly brave, bombing a line only 20 ft. from the huts of Kaiorin Camp and not missing with one bomb. We just lay flat and watched the bombs fly down across us.
“I understand that ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ was a magnificent film, though I never saw it, and I didn’t even know that was its title until I saw your picture and caption. No, to me it will always be Tamarkan Bridge, one in a long strip on the Railway of Death.”
Approximately 61,000 Allied P.O.W.’s and a further 100,000 native Labourers were put to work on the Railway. Of these, 16,000 Allied P.O.W.’s and 80,000 Natives died as a result of the atrocious conditions under which they were forced to work. It is said that one man died for every 4 metres of track laid down. Joseph was one of the ‘Lucky’ ones and managed to stay alive to see the completion of the Railway in October 1943.
From this point onwards he was sent to work in the Kalorin Railway Works, cleaning out the inside of the Engine Boilers. Jack’s imprisonment came to an end at Kaiorin, Thailand, on the day the Americans dropped the second Atomic bomb, on Nagasaki. He was on August 15th 1945 and flown out by Dakota aircraft to Bangkok and then to Liverpool, where he stayed in a Transit Camp before returning home to Scarborough.
Whilst working on the Railway, Jack had suffered terribly from a leg ulcer, which had eaten through to the bone. As a result of this, he was invalided out of the Army, which was a great disappointment to Joseph who had only ever wanted a full time career in the Army.
Mr. Hart is now 53. He has three children - his eldest daughter is married and she has three children - his son is 17, and his youngest daughter is 12. He works as a representative.