Sketch by Jack Chalker

Tarsao and Chungkai

This story is not Public Domain. Permission must be obtained before any part of this story is copied or used.



After two weeks I was passed as unfit and with about two hundred more men, evacuated to Tarso. Oh NO! Not by lorry or railway, but by marching. It was not a march, it was a nightmare! It was only about 9 miles, we started marching with what kit we had got at 8 am, still raining, through mud and pools of water and arrived at Tarsao at 2 am the next morning. No food, and we had to sleep in the open. It was no joke, when you are sick, with such things as acute Diarrhoea, that is passing motions or should I truthfully say blood, 30 to 50 times a day. Or Beriberi, legs the thickness of the thighs, from groin to toes, Testicles like footballs, Ulcers on the legs, from knee to ankle with the shinbone showing and Acute Malaria. These were the sick that did that march; the Hospital contained about 10,000 P.O.W's, all in the same state, or worse than the above. The treatment received was nothing to speak of, for example, pieces of blanket used as hot ferments, boiled and used over and over again. After two days, I was evacuated by barge to Chungkia Base Hospital Camp at the point where two rivers met. Nearly where the Railway commenced. Here the conditions were worse, but the food was better, meat and fresh fish were issued, a good canteen was in operation if you had any money. To obtain money, men sold to the Black Market, watches, rings, cigarette cases, etc. at prices ranging from 5 to 60 dollars, (the dollar being worth approximately 350 to the pound), or gave 2 dollars to the pound for a cheque. The camp was situated on an island at the fork of the two rivers, and being very flat, when the river was in flood, half of the huts were a foot deep in water. Between 12,000 and 15,000 sick men were based here in about 60 huts. 300 men to a hut, the largest hut contained 530 men.

The Camp was subdivided into two portions, Hospital and Convalescent huts. The Hospital consisted of 2 Surgical Wards, 8 Ulcer Wards, 2 Acute Dysentery Wards, 2 Anti-Vitamin Huts, 2 Malaria Huts and 4 Amoebic Dysentery Bath Huts; the sleeping space allocated was about 2 feet.

 In these Huts conditions were terrible, most men were unable to move through weakness, they were without clothing, bedding consisted of perhaps a rice sack, millions of flies and bedbugs, and running with human lice. Whilst at night they were eaten to death with Malaria breeding mosquitoes. In all the Huts, P.O.W's were just skeletons, the Malaria patients having relapse after relapse. In the Ulcer Wards, the stench of decaying and rotten flesh and bone made it practically impossible to walk through them. Amputations were being done every day, 24 legs were taken off in one day, either above or below the knee. The Surgeon used a knife for the flesh and a hacksaw for the bones. Treatment was very poor, dressings insufficient, only able to be dressed every two days. Wounds were scraped every two days without anaesthetic with a spoon, or blue bottles were allowed to settle on the wound, maggots were allowed to breed and to eat away the decaying flesh and then pulled out by tweezers. To illustrate any one of this kind of sick, all men had an ulcerated leg, or both legs, stretching from thigh to knee, from knee to the ankle, also having Malaria or Acute Diarrhoea.

The Dysentery Wards, here the conditions were the same, men passing motions as high as 70 times a day.

The worst Wards were the Anti-Vitamin Wards; if you went in here you only came out feet first, through lack of food. (Vitamin containing food), and hard work and harsh treatment. Men contracted Beriberi, Vitamin diseases of the skin, acute debility, and consequently became just bags of bones, unable to feed, wash or sit up, or even to move. These wards contained only men like bags of skin and bone. You would visit the ward today and see men just like skeletons, tomorrow they would be blown up like balloons, arms, legs, body, face and private parts, by night they would be dead.

From June 1943 to May 1944, 1600 of these men died, 28 in one day, 400 in one month and just through the lack of food and medical supplies. The Nips used to laugh as a funeral procession went past them and say "Another one to Paradise".

Parties of such sick were arriving in the camp every day, either by barge or rail in parties of 50 to 100; they had been travelling, 8, 9, 10 or more days, with very little food and no treatment. Ulcer cases on arrival had to have their dressings and bandages cut out of their wounds. Men died on the way down and were buried at the side of the track in unknown graves.

The men in this Camp belonged to 1 Group, 2 Group, 3,4,5 and 6 Groups, Australian, Dutch, British and American, from Malaya, Thailand and Burma.

The Convalescent Part of the Camp were divided into Battalion by Groups, each hut housing one Battalion. These Battalions were men recovering from serious illnesses. In England they would be called serious sicknesses, the Nips called them light sick and forced them to work.

Various incidents happened during my stay at Chungkia, which I would like to illustrate: -

1:- One of the Cookhouses caught fire and was destroyed through a quality of oil catching fire. The Nips severely beat up all the men employed there. The Nips took the Messing Officer to the Guard Room and forced him to stand to attention for seven hours, he was tried by the Nip Commandant and awarded beatings and twenty days in solitary confinement, dismissed and ordered to report back at 8 pm. On reporting, he was set upon by four Korean Guards, thrown to the ground, kicked in the face, body and private parts, beaten with bamboo's then taken without medical attention to a small bamboo cell, where he could not stand up or lie down, always in a huddled up position. He had to urinate and pass his motions in the same position, fed on rice, water and salt only and beaten up every night, as above, for twenty days.

2:- A Dutch soldier was caught at the Boundary wire by a Korean sentry. He was in possession of a basket containing approximately 30 pounds of small tomatoes, which he had illegally purchased from a Thai vendor. His purpose was to resell the tomatoes in 5 cents lots in the camp. He was taken to the Guardroom, and compelled to stand to attention whilst holding the basket, he was made to eat the entire 30 pounds of tomatoes before being dismissed.

3:- A British Soldier was caught at the Boundary wire in possession of a hank of tobacco, which weighed approximately twelve ounces. He was taken to the Guardroom, made to roll the entire twelve ounces of tobacco into a huge cigarette and to smoke the lot before being dismissed. [Good smoke, poor chap!]

4:- Three soldiers who had managed to provide themselves with a couple of bottles of Thai Whiskey, were caught by the Nips not in a fit state of health. They were taken to the Guardroom, beaten-up until sober, which took about one hour, they were then lodged in the 'No-good House'. Next day, they paraded wearing placards, bearing the words, "I am a drunkard", underneath this was written, 'P.O.W's take notice, drunkenness will be treated very severely'. They were accompanied by a Korean sentry and two other P.O.W's playing 'Colonel Bogey', on a cornet and  accordion. They were paraded around the camp for six hours, for all and sundry to see. This tune created much amusement to the watching P.O.W's, (Old Soldiers will know what the tune means in soldiers language!) After this episode, they were again beaten-up and lodged in the 'No-good House', for another ten days.

5:- At Chungkia, concerts were allowed twice a week, Friday and Saturday. A stage was built and a band formed. The Nips ordered the Band to go to Kan-Chan-Buri, to entertain the Nip troops there. After the Band concert, one of the Korean Guards, the worst for drink, caused a disturbance and tried to pick a fight with a Nip Officer and the Band Leader, who was a P.O.W. Officer weighing about 17 stone. The Nip Officer ordered the Korean guard to stop, he would not. So the Nip ordered the Band Leader to knock the Korean down, which he did, nothing pleased him better. The Korean, insensible, was carried on to the barge and for three hours, the Band Leader sat on him. He was carried off the barge to his quarters. Next morning, the Band Leader received from the Korean guard, - 'Oh no! Not a bashing this time!' but a letter with twenty dollars, thanking the Band Leader very much for saving him from getting into trouble!

6:- The Nips had a particular habit of issuing orders to the Koreans and not to P.O.W Headquarters, or vice versa, consequently only one side knew about the order issued. On this particular occasion an incident occurred in which six officers were involved.

The Nips issued an order, only to the Nips themselves, that certain river landing stages were Out of Bounds for any purpose than that of unloading ration barges.

Two Officers went to one of these stages, without any idea of the order having been issued, to draw water for Hospital use. They were shouted at and sent away. Shortly after, two more officers arrived with the same intent. They were shouted at, slapped and sent away. Shortly afterwards the final two Officers arrived, but this time the Nip did not shout or slap, but without warning, picked up a large, thick bamboo and started to beat the Officers with it. One Officer being struck across the face had his jaw fractured in three places. When the Nips were approached, they say, "They were sorry that the incident occurred" - and that meant nothing.

7:- NIPPON PROPAGANDA. To show to the World how well they were treating P.O.W's this is the way the Nips adopted: -

About September 1943, about one hundred P.O.W's based at Kan-Chan-Buri, were picked out by the Nips, chiefly because they looked fit and well. They were given British K.D. clothing and boots, which they had to get dressed in. They were taken to a clean hut, here the Nips had placed tables and chairs, tablecloths on the tables, vases of flowers, fruit of all Tropical description and laid out with knives, forks, spoons, cups and saucers. The P.O.W's were told to sit down, but not to touch anything, Nippon orderlies then brought in plates laden with European food and placed them on the table in front of each P.O.W. A series of photographs were then taken, when this had been done, the P.O.W's were taken away, ordered to undress and return the clothes they had been issued with back to the stores. They were then sent back to work without even having partaking of one small scrap of food, only just having the chance of a good smell.

8:- The Korean Guards in this camp were always trying to find some excuse to slap you whenever possible. Especially through you failing to salute them. What P.O.W's were ordered to do, was to salute all Nips, irrespective of rank at all times as follows: -

a) WITH HEADGEAR. When a Nip approached, you halted, turned and faced him, stood to attention, saluted, when he had passed, walk away.

b) WITHOUT HEADGEAR. When a Nip approached, you halted, turned and faced him, stood to attention, but did not salute, but bowed to waist level.

c) INSIDE HUTS. If a Nip entered the hut, the nearest P.O.W. would immediately shout, "Koiski" or "Keiri", meaning "Attention". The remaining P.O.W's would get off their beds like lightning and stand rigidly to attention, until the Nip left the hut.

P.O.W's hated doing this, and did everything in their power possible to avoid doing it. The Nips knew this, and beat-up all who failed to salute or whom they thought did not salute properly. [At all Base Camps, saluting was strictly enforced].

The worst Korean for this was called "Moon Face", his total of P.O.W's he beat every time he was on guard was twenty, and he was on guard every three days. Word used to be passed through the huts -"Don't forget, 'Moon Face' is on guard". His main craze was to visit huts three or four times in as many minutes, using a different entrance each time. If you failed immediately to call the hut to attention, or if someone was too slow to get off his bed, or if he found a cigarette end on the floor, well it was just too bad. He would pick out the ten men nearest to him and give them a few quick, hard slaps across the face. Or if someone failed to salute him outside properly, he would slap him, take him to the Guardroom and stand him to attention for a couple of hours. Nice Chap!

10:-  At Tamakan P.O.W Camp. about three miles from Chungkia, several P.O.W's managed to break into the Nip Food Store and take away, about 200 chunkels, a digging tool, these they sold to the Thai's. They were not satisfied with doing it once, but tried again. But the Nips had got the wire of this, and several but not all were caught. They were taken to the Guardroom and severely beaten; their screams could be heard in every corner of the camp. They were ordered to disclose the names of the other P.O.W's involved. This they would not do. They were beaten insensible and thrown into the 'No-Good House' for a number of days, then handed over to the Gestapo, (Kempi Tia), who beat them, placed water hoses into their mouths and filled them with water. The Kempi Tia then forced the water out of them by standing on them, they proceeded to carry out this form of torture several times. After this sort of treatment the prisoners were sent to Changi Jail to undergo a sentence of six months solitary confinement.

11:- In October 1943, the Thai-Burma Railway, built by the blood and suffering of Allied Prisoners of War and the Asiatic's, through mud and virgin jungle, across deep gorges and mountainous country, in hot and cold weather, torrential rains, without food, boots or clothing or medical supplies, was completed.

Apart from ballast and minor work, the first train had completed the journey from Bang-Pong, Thailand to Moulmien, Burma, a distance of approximately 500 miles. Completed at the cost of approximately 20,000 Allied P.O.W's and an unknown number of Asiatic lives by deaths, murder and accidents.

It is said "That every sleeper laid on this railway represents a dead man", the railway was known as “THE RAILWAY OF DEATH', and more lives would be and were lost before we were free.

The Nips had a ceremonial opening of the pace where the two lines joined, and struck a medal to commemorate its completion.
Railway Medal-tn
This medal was made at the Nip Workshops at Non-Ploduk by P.O.W's. Made of cast brass the exact size being 3 inches across, the under surface being unsmoothed and about three eighths of an inch thick.

A Shrine was also erected at Tamakan in memory of Japanese, Thai's, Burmese, Chinese, Tamils and Allied P.O.W's who had laid down their lives on this railway for the cause of the Imperial Nipponese Empire.

Extra Notes:-

Tarsao Camp

20.5.1943 Had the pleasure of meeting Nip, Staff Sgt Hirumatsu yet again, with a fierce bashing as I had forgotten to bow.

[Lt. Col McKellar who was a Gunnery Officer and also was our Commandant at this Camp. He was not one of the best.]

15th June 1943 Gnr Oxford, 7th Coast Regt died of Cholera.

23rd June 1943 No 3 Camp, Captain Rae was in charge of the Camp. Here we had a Korean Private called Cheeba, I got beaten again today, pretty badly again, I am finding it hard to stand up now.

Whilst we were at Tarsao, one of our great friends from the Gurkha’s died. Amongst his few belongings was an item, which he used to wear around his neck. It was a little leather bag, in which we found some little mementoes, and items, which must have been of his religion, but most interesting to us, were 9 withered pieces of skin and gristle, which our M.O. identified, as have been Nip ears!  Two of them were still quite easily identified and we reckoned that they must have belonged to a couple of our former ‘Guards’ who would have been missing from either this or another Camp, for a while - we were glad to say! What courage these men had, for they knew no fear and worked amongst the most difficult of jobs, quickly and efficiently, just like their killing.

Nip Medical Sgt. Okada, was responsible for turning sick men out to their deaths at Tarsao. If you could stand you were fit to work. There were 850 graves at Tarsao in October of 1943.


Chungkai 23.7.1943 to 20.5.1944

Chungkai POW Camp Thailand-tn

The Japanese Commanding Officer at Chungkai was Lt Col. Yanagida, he was very short in stature. He  wore Lavender coloured gloves and Highly polished boots and stood on a box to address us (to make him taller than we POW’s).

There were also two Japanese Engineers here named Taramoto and Keriama who would lash out at anybody without the least provocation.

Guards here also included: - The High Breasted Virgin, (so called because of his effeminate manner), ‘Ometz’ and Sgt. Sukarno, known as ‘The Slug’ who was an ‘evil bastard if ever there was one’, who had a terrible reputation for beatings.

The Japanese officer in charge of the Medical Section at Chungkai, was Lt. Nobasawa and was known as ‘The Horse Doctor’ [he was to be hung at the end of the war for his treatment of the POW’s.]

The M.O. at Chungkai was a Canadian called Major Black.

Many amputations were done at Chungkai by Captain ‘Saw Happy’ Markowitz, who saved many lives. The M.O.’s generally speaking were often the forgotten heroes who pulled we, very sick POW’s, through to live, yet another day, just to spite the Nips! They were often helped by Medical orderlies who had had very little training in the first place, to treat the kind of ‘wounds’ which we were suffering from, such men were ‘Pinky’ Riley, (who started off as a Private and because of his willingness to learn was soon promoted to acting Sgt at Wampo Camp). I had his tender treatment for my leg ulcers along with another Medic called McIlvaney. Both men would ask to look at you ‘wound’, get someone to “Give them a hand”, (which meant holding you down), whilst they would scrape the ulcer clean with an old desert spoon, which had been plunged into boiling water, just prior to your ‘Treatment’, a quick “That didn’t hurt much” or “You’ll soon get over that!” followed up by a quick squirt of Lime juice into the wound. Rough treatment, Rough words, but very effective and without it, I for certain would have lost my leg.

Lt Juji Tarumoto, 9th Railway Regt. [Near by was Kaopon Village] In charge of Railway works for Chungkai Cutting. [According to ‘Railwaymen at War’ by Kazuo Tamayama, a 2nd Lieutenant Juji Tamuroto, 3rd Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Railway Regiment, 2nd Railway Command Group, Southern Army, arrived at Chungkai on 10th September 1943 with 60 men and commenced to build a Camp at the Work site and commenced work on the Cutting.] He would gather us all together, then try to make a speech, which to us was total Sh--e! He would be laughed off his podium, which would get both him and the Guards very upset, but we enjoyed the laughter, it made us feel just that bit better for just a short time.

In total, 10,000 cubic meters of rock to form a gap four meters wide, had to be removed between September 1943 and February 1944. [An average of 67 cubic meters a day.] 15th September 1943 work commenced with the POW’s, [Guarded by Sgt Joutani and four Korean Guards.][Early October 1943 saw the 2nd Thai POW Camp moved to Chungkai.] In total over 3 kilometres of track had to be built, an Earth embankment of over three Kilometres in total, and (2) bridges, which were over 50 metes in length. [On the 4th February 1944 the second bridge was completed and on the 7th February 1944, rails were laid through the Chungkai Cutting.  (After the War was over Lt Tarumoto was Sentenced to Life Imprisonment for his treatment of the POW’s).

(British Officers I remember from Chungkia included, Lt Col Baker Capt. Alexander and Captain Thelwell, who led the Blasting parties at Chungkai).

Hiromura (Korean Guard) was another brutal bastard, who dragged the sick out to work, knowing full well that he would see them die. (Former Japanese Army Civilian (Korean Guard), Lee Han-ne (Japanese name Hiomura Kakuri) was prosecuted after the war, his Commanding Officer had been Lt Usuki, who testified to the effect that he had not been responsible for anything he was accused of. He (Usuki) accepted the responsibility. (Usuki the Commander of the 3rd Section of the POW Camp was hanged on 22nd November 1946). He had written in his final letter: -” It was not in my power to prevent many precious lives from being lost during the construction work because of such adverse conditions. It was in no way due to maltreatment on my part”.

Hiomura Kakuri was Prosecuted on four affidavits produced by ex POW’s: -

1  He forced them to live in poor facilities with poor provisions.

2  He forced sick men to work.

3  He did not stop the violent acts of the Guards who were under his command.

Hiomura Kakur was sentenced to Death on 20th March 1947, commuted to 20 years imprisonment. Paroled on 6th October 1956 after serving ten years. (He wondered for what purpose he had been sent to Prison!)

There was a Junior Officer, called I think, Toyama, who we ‘met’ a few times at Chungkai.

Two of the Railway Engineer Guards who I remember well were Taramoto and Keriama as a pair of really brutal bastards, who would use wire whips, pieces of bamboo, shovels or anything they could lay their hands on, to help you achieve ‘Speedo’. The Nip Medical Officer, who decided if you could stand you were fit enough for work was called Lt Nabasawa if I remember correctly, he was known to us as “The Horse Doctor’. Others here included ‘The Slug’ - Sgt Sukarno, ‘Ometz’ who had a delight of using the point of a bayonet to ‘enable you to move’ and a slightly built Nip, who we referred to as ‘The High Breasted Virgin’ for his very effeminate ways.

Lt Wakatsuki? Warrant Officer Kamuro 1st Platoon, 9th Railway Regt? Lt Shuji Otuki 9th Railway Regt - Hintock/Konyu?  Lt Takumi Kamuro - Konyo Cutting? Sgt Kawasaki Quarter Master? Cpl Arii? Cpl Morohoshi  - Cholera Camp? [Of these later persons, I have no further information.]

Capt [Eiji] Hirota, was one of the bastards responsible for forcing the Sick and Dying POW’s to work at Hellfire Pass, [Hintock] [Capt Hirota was hanged on the 21st January 1947].

Hintock -Hellfire Pass required a depth of 20 meters of rock to be blasted and bridges totalling over 1 kilometre to be built as well as the usual embankments by October 1943.



To enlarge click on map

Kanu No3 Camp Map

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

2.7.1943 Kanyu No 3 Called K3.

4.7.1943 Bdr Hill 9th Coast Regt Died of Cholera.

6.7.1943 Gnr Morris 7th Coast Regt Died of Cholera.

7.7. 1943 Gnr Allen ‘F’ Comp. Taken Ill at 4.00am dead by 1.00pm this disease is deadly and knows no borders as to who it takes.

10.7.1943 Bdr. Hill Died of Cholera. Gnr. Bratby of ‘E’ Comp.

Major Clark, He was RQMS of ‘D’ Battery.

29.7.1943 Gnr Lindley 9th Coast Regt. Died at Tonchan Central

Takeyamo, was a brutal Guard at Kanburi Camp.

During the early part of the Cholera Epidemic, there were I think, 50 British cases of which 19 died. In the Mixed races there were about 190 cases of which 119 Died. In the second catchment of the Epidemic, I think there were about 190 mixed cases of which just over a half would die including RSM Busby and Gnr Green.




!944 The Nip Commandant was called, I think, Uchiama with a Korean by the name of Kyohara. Plus ‘Snake Hips’ and ‘the Singing Master’

Lt Col McEachern (A Brisbane Soldier)- he was senior to Col Lilly, with a Capt. Hands of Perth as his Camp Adjt.

Lt. Col Knights of Norfolk's and Capt. Steadmans.

23.5.1944 There were 697 Officers and 7150 O.R. of which 266 Officers and 2514 O.R’s are sick. *4 Officers and 604 O.R.’s ill in their huts. Total of Sick 3468 out of 7847.

Jap Commandant Capt. Suzuki. Second in Command Lt Hatori.

Lt Uchiamo [Was at Tarsao and Kinsayok].

Lt Tanaka [Kinsayok] he was responsible for a large number of Deaths of POW’s.

Lt. Usuki called ‘Boy Shoko’ or ‘The Kanyu Kid’, he had a very bad record for ill treatment of POW’s.


150 men left. 100 at Kaorin a Camp 5 Km away. 50 at Kinsayok. That leaves 403 men out of 613.In ‘D’ Battalion 60 have died.

On New Years Eve 1945 a Fusilier Wanty was shot for no provocation at all by a Nip.


Next Chapter

Searches and Valuables



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[Freeing the Demons] [A Family is Born] [War] [Up Country] [Wampo] [Wampo South and North] [South Tonchan] [Tarsao and Chungkai] [Searches and Valuables] [Nakom Paton] [Camp Radio] [Air Raids and Bombing] [Mail and Correspondence] [Characters] [Inhuman Acts] [End of the War]


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