Sketch by Jack Chalker

No One Will Believe You

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


Before my own journey to Thailand in 2019 to see what my grandfather experienced so long ago, I read numerous publications about Malaya, Singapore, Changi and the Burma-Siam railway during World War 2, some of which I have used as references throughout this story. Alf’s story from the beginning of the Malayan campaign in 1941 however has been one man’s experience that has been camouflaged by the homogenised nature of these publications that fail to mention his unit in particular or anything he might have done except for one specific article about the ‘K’ force diary, a group of POW he was sent up to the Burma-Siam Railway with to provide medical support. For the most part educated guesswork and the field trip I undertook has correlated with the experiences of others that survived the Burma-Siam railway. As far as his experience of the Malayan campaign is concerned; again, educated guesswork, official histories, books, anecdotal evidence, academic articles, internet sources and Alf’s own recollections to me is the basis for this story. I especially want to thank Neil Mcpherson (deceased) who I originally contacted so many years ago for information about Alf, and Terry Manttan of the Thai Burma Railway Centre for further information and my subsequent tour of the Thai-Burma railway in 2019.

The reason I have done all of this is to lay to rest an obligation I’ve felt I’ve had to understand and bring to life Alf’s story in Malaya, Singapore, Changi and the Burma-Siam railway. He told me numerous things about his experiences mainly because I hassled him about it as a kid; but later he divulged more memories as I got older. When he became gravely ill, he was admitted to Concord repatriation hospital where he was predominantly nursed by Asian staff (no malice intended); just before he died, he was in and out of reality. It was during those episodes that he begged me not to let the ‘Japs get him’, and ‘please don’t leave me here; don’t let them know I’m sick’…’s something I’ll always remember, and might bear relevance to parts of this story for the reader.

Prior to his death I recall my sister Sharon obtaining a recorder so he could recall his experiences but he died before that could happen.

Since completing my nursing training with Repatriation services in 1991, I have cared for returned service personnel and feel in many cases that there was nothing I could do. I realise that this story only covers 5-6 years of a lifetime, and that there is much more to anyone than being a serviceman, but I have had a compelling need to understand how people cope with experiences that bear no comparison to civilian life. If this story is too depressing a story for you, I apologise; but if you find this story inspiring, as I do, then you may understand why I had to do this. Thankyou Gordon for the story you provided about his unit; it gave me a starting point for further research.

To my children Lara, Lex, Sam and Keira, this is the story about your great grandfather (Nan Hopwood’s adoptive father) and what he would have seen and experienced in the Second World War with the Japanese. He was attached to the 2/3rd MAC (Motor Ambulance Convoy) with the second Australian Infantry Force (AIF), 8th division in Malaya and became a prisoner of war of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945.

This story was also only truly completed after I had read the recollections of the coolies (Romusha) that Alf looked after on the railway. Their lives (in the eyes of the Japanese) were in many respects collectively worth even less than the military POW’s. Many of them had been aligned with the western imperial nations prior to the allied defeat in the pacific region. Many nationals such as some Indians, Siamese, and Thai’s saw the Japanese as liberators and preferred co-operation with the Japanese instead of subjugation. The Malay, Chinese and Sumatran nationals found this to their detriment as they were subjected to ethnic cleansing, forced labour conditions and enforced voyages on death ships to countries that they didn’t even know existed.

The extraction of one man’s story relative to all the people of this period in WW2 has shown that the statistics do not respect people’s ability to adapt to things that I have never had to experience thankfully, and hopefully never will. Many people were victims of good and bad events over which they had no control; and the survivors were the ‘sand that slipped through the sieve’. The crushing effect of having no options other than hope, and if you choose to resist or take your chances, and being a white European that represented a former Imperial power in Asia was a reckoning factor in survival or not. Common to a lot of Romusha’ and POW recollection is the loss of idealism and highlighted the power of the mind to suppress experiences that for so long bore no resemblance to civilised life (Banning 2005).

The notion of losing the freedom I enjoy in peacetime is so foreign to me that I for one haven’t faced the prospect of national service and just can’t understand why anyone could volunteer for anything like this. I guess that peaceful diplomacy as opposed to diplomacy by force is a luxury that I live with at this time.





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[No One Will Believe] [Introduction] [Alfs Enlistment Record] [Overview 2/3rd MAC] [With The Indians] [2/3rd MAC under AIF] [2/3rd MAC in Singapore] [The Aftermath] [Alf in 'K' Force] [Toward The End] [Alfs Demob Record] [Alf's Photo Album] [Thai-Burma Trip 2019] [References]


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