- Wang Po Camp during the Second World War -
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Wang Po Camp
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Those known to have been held in or employed at
Wang Po Camp
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Baker Lancelot Barton Hill Custance. Capt.
- Connelly James. Gnr. This page is new, as yet no names have been submitted.
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Capt. Lancelot Barton Hill Custance "Barry" Baker 27 Line Section Royal SignalsCaptain Barry Baker with 69 men of RCOS 27 Line Section sailed on the troop ship Orontes for the Far East, reaching Malaya in October 1941. Until the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, they worked all over Malaya putting up communications lines. They were taken prisoners of the Japanese at the Fall of Singapore. Before they were captured he and his wife Phyllis set up a mail service which meant that when they became prisoners, Phyllis was able to keep in touch with the families of almost all the men. There are many letters from these families to Phyllis during the war. There are also letters from some of the men who returned after the war, and news of those who didn't. There are also many photos of the men from a dossier that Phyllis compiled.
After capture, British and Australian soldiers marched across the island of Singapore and joined many thousands of other prisoners in the complex of camps around Changi barracks. Over the next few months they learned to eat rice for breakfast and lunch and supper. Disease, particularly malaria and dysentery, became a serious problem. 27 Line Section turned their expertise in boring post holes to the more urgent need of making latrines. They found some large auger bits and constructed a tall set of sheer legs fitted with a block and tackle.
Barry remembers: "The first hole went well, about fifteen feet deep, say 4 metres. One of our carpenter-and-joiners built a seat with a cover, very civilized. Then we then collected the other big auger bit from the Post Office stores and set up a second team of bore hole makers. We made several holes within our Unit’s area and a few for other regiments, until one day when we were at work the sergeant in charge of the other party came to me to announce a disaster. The drill head had fallen off and stuck in the shaft. The team had tried everything then decided someone would have to be lowered head first into the hole. Since I was the officer I would, according to the sergeant, naturally volunteer for the job, especially as I was probably the thinnest and lightest man in the section. So I volunteered. My ankles were tied onto the rope and I was heaved up and then lowered into the hole with my arms stretched out like a diver. I just fitted, but only just. When I reached the bit I found that there was luckily only a little earth in it and I was able to loosen it and get a good grip on it. At my word the team pulled me gently up again and swung me aside onto the spoil heap, untied me and then untied the bit. We found that the fastening bolt was too thin and had sheered under the strain, so we fitted a stouter bolt and restarted the work. I warned them that if it happened again someone else would have to go down. It is not an adventure that I recall with any pleasure."
Barry and the men of 27 Line Section, much reduced in numbers but still a coherent body, continued to work their way up the Kwai Noi building the Thailand-Burma Railway. In April 1943 they reached Wang Po (Wampo) Camp. "This was to be quite a different “one off” job, unlike the usual jungle clearance and embankment. Wang Po is at the 113 km mark, and when we reached it in early 1943, was quite a new camp, the rains had not started and the camp was quite dry and fairly clean. We were by now dying off quite frequently but not more than one or two each day and we were still on two bowls of rice per day, not one.
Near the village of Wang Po the river makes a sudden eastward loop into a rocky gorge that cuts into the line of the railway and here it was necessary to build a viaduct about half a mile long to carry the rails over the gorge beside the river. Our camp was set up on the west bank, opposite the working site as the gorge made it impossible to build a camp on the east bank. The camp was located on the edge of a forest of teak trees, which were to be the source of timber for the construction. We were a big group, a thousand or more I think… . One half of the group worked on the trees preparing the beams, the rest, of which I was one, worked in the gorge.
Our first job was to clear rocks and boulders from the planned route of the viaduct, which we did by drilling and blasting. The holes were made with a rock drill. One brave man holds the drill while two others smite the head of it with sledgehammers. We Linemen were used to sledgehammer work and did not often damage the hands of the drill holder but some of the other parties suffered several damaged or broken wrists. There was no power machinery of any sort in the whole construction, just hand tools. By the time of the midday tea break our holes had generally gone in deep enough, and while we rested and drank our tea (no midday rice now), the Japanese engineers packed the holes with plastic gelignite and set detonators and lengths of safety fuse in them. There might have been as many as fifty blasts set off at once and it was important, both for us and for the Japs, to make sure they all went off. In the afternoon we shifted all the broken rocks and carried them down towards the riverbank. When all the boulders had been cleared we set about making the concrete foundation piers, all built by hand with hand mixed concrete. … which had to be carried to the site on the usual rice sack stretchers. Wet concrete makes a very heavy load. The Japanese engineers had already set up wooden shuttering for the piers… . I should have mentioned that we had to cross the river from the camp to the site, morning and evening, but as it was in the dry season the water was quite shallow and you could walk on the bottom most of the way and only had to swim in the middle. While we were clearing the rocks and building the piers, the other half of the group were felling teak trees. Very tiring work, as fresh teak is extremely hard. The trunks when felled were cut to length and then squared up by Japanese engineers using an adze. I have seen one of their engineers square up a log fifteen foot long and around two foot thick in one morning’s work. When the concrete piers were nearly finished, 27 Line Section and others rejoined the timber party and started the very heavy task of carrying the squared timbers down to the riverbank. The intention had been to float them across the river but some of the POWs who had worked in the Burma teak forests insisted that green teak is so dense it will not float. The Japanese were unconvinced but the first trial proved the point. From then on we swam the beams across the river fastened to bundles of bamboo to keep them afloat.
A few elephants with their Burmese mahouts helped in this work of shifting the beams down to the river but they were the only powered machinery on the job. They seemed extraordinarily precise, even fussy, in their handling of these heavy loads seemingly without any orders from the mahouts. There were not enough of them, of course, and we had to do much of the carrying ourselves. I reckon these beams must have weighed around 3/4 of a ton (or tonne) each, more or less, depending on their length. At first we tried to get them up on to our shoulders like undertaker’s men with a coffin. But the edges were too rough and sharp, so instead we used the ever-present bamboo poles. Eight or ten stout poles pushed under the beam and then lifted with one or two men at each end and the beam could then be carried down to the river looking like a giant caterpillar. There were no cranes, simply intricate bamboo scaffolding fastened onto the rocky cliffs above the site and multi sheave pulley blocks fastened to it. A long rope over the pulleys with 50 POWs tailing on to it served to raise each of these beams into its proper position, where they were then all fastened together with dog spikes. When the trestles were in place, held up by more bamboo props, then the even heavier horizontal beams which connected them together had to be heaved up into place by the same method and then spiked together. With the crudest estimate there must be between 500 and 1000 beams in the viaduct. While we were doing this other groups of POWs had laid sleepers and rails on the prepared embankment and were ready to go on over our viaduct as soon as each section was completed. [The next section of the Railway had already been completed, so] we POWs who had built it were actually carried forward for a short section of our next march in railway trucks over the viaduct. I remember it as a very scary proceeding. The train went at a walking pace and at each rail joint, with its sudden change of direction, we felt that the wheels might easily jump the track and tumble us all down into the River. We got over without incident but I heard that the engineers kept a working party permanently on the viaduct with crowbars to lever bogey wheels back on to the rails if they came off.
I have to admit that when this job at Wang Po was finished we POWs felt a certain mixed up pride in the work. We could see the completed viaduct and it worked and we had built it ourselves without mechanical aids of any sort beyond hand tools and a few elephants. I was left with a great admiration for the skill and planning ability of the Japanese engineers and an ever-growing bitter hatred for our guards."
Some time at the end of April 1945, Phyllis, with the dossier of information and photos of Barry’s men, interviewed a Sergeant Smith, from the Royal Signals. Smith had been a prisoner of the Japanese and was rescued after the sinking of the transport ship Hokofu Maru. He knew Barry and other men from 27 Line Section. In her notebook Phyllis scribbled entries for each man who Smith remembered having seen. For example:
Appleton. Saw him in June ’44. Excellent condition. Down ? Tech. Party due for Japan but hadn’t left [‘Japan party’ are the groups of men selected to be shipped to Japan]. Worked with Smith as Cook after completion of railway in Tamarkan hospital camp. One /or 2 attacks/malaria but survived them well, often spoke of his children and wife.
Jim Bridge Died 1943??
Hugh Canning. Tropical ulcers on leg in Thailand sanatorium. April 1944. Ulcers healed unable to straighten his leg. Very clean. Mentioned wife & mother. Health otherwise O.K.
Signalman William Dawson Seen end Jan 44. Condition pretty fair. No party for Japan then.
Douglas. June 44. Sick in 1943 but recovered. Worked in Japan cookhouses as servant which gave him extra. Mentioned both wife and son. Kept out of trouble.
Jack Earnshaw 1944 June. Health quite good. Mentioned fiancée a lot. (sister?) Packed up on railway in 1943 August. No party for Japan.
Henry Farrell: Plumber? Friend of Walls? Last seen June 44. Health fair. Trouble with asthma. Kept bright & cheery. In hospital October 43. Down for new San. (?) Looked after by Thai Red X.
Garrod 43. Last August 1943 Condition quite good – bright & cheery. Not due for Japan. Mentioned wife.
Graham June 44. Quite good health. Pelagera [pellagra – lack of vitamin B3] – but recovered by June 44. No party for Japan.
Harrison. Early 44. Quite well.
Reginald Jennings June 44. Quite well. Not on railway. In September 1943 The War Office had written to Mrs Jennings to say that her son, Reginald, had died of beri beri malaria on 18.7.43. Scepticism had long since set in among the relatives and she had still sent a photo and information about her son to Phyllis for the dossier. The War Office had been right and Smith must have thinking of another Jennings.
Charlie Johnstone. June 44. Might be sent on draft to Japan. Always speaking of his wife and children. Well & cheerful. Knew Barry. Kept going very well.
Jones. June 44. Working in hospital dispensary. 2 camp. Not changed – keeps well.
Kittwood Last seen early 44. Very seriously ill – malaria.
Neil McDonald June 44. Good health. Worked on railway 10 months – Then hospital orderly in Tamarkan camp. In original 27 Line in France.
Parker. Same cargo boat for Japan. Probably killed.
Russell June 44. In quite good health – quite cheery. Always speaking of wife & 2 boys.
Walls Speaks of wife and son. June 44. Well and cheerful. Pretty good health.
I am writing a book about the survival of relationships for these 69 men and their families. I would love to hear from anyone with relatives in 27 Line Section and would like to share all the information I have about them.Hilary Custance Green
Gnr. James Connelly 9th Coast Bty. Royal ArtilleryJames Connelly was captured during the fall of Singapore and became a POW on 15th February 1942. He was in the following camps:
- Changi February 1942 - October 1942
- Wampo November 1942 - May 1943
- Tonchan June 1943 - August 1943
- Kingsao (or could be Ringsao) September 1943 - January 1944
- Tarsao January 1944 - July 1944
- Tomonta October 1944 - May 1945
He worked on the Death Railway and bridge over the River Kwai. James died on 8th December 1997. He was a member of the FEPOW club.Aileen Connelly-Byrne
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