Cyril Wild, along with Col. Harris and Col. Dillon, were to spend four months towards the end at Songkurai, trying to ease the situation that existed there. By this time it was too late to help in Wild’s words:
... the damage had already been done: and we won our battle there too late, as 500 men were already dying in one hut when our little Force HQ - Lt.Col.s Harris and Dillon and T - arrived there. In Thailand, as everywhere else, I was very lucky in being with first-rate chaps; and the troops, with whom I had more to do than most by virtue of my job, were really grand.
A jungle clearing on the banks of the Huai Ro Khi River was the Songkurai camp, the day began at dawn with a march through thick mud, this could have been up to eight mile for the ‘fit’ men to work on the line.
They were put to work on clearing jungle, cutting down trees, adzing timber, driving piles, loading elephants, carting earth and moving rocks. The earth was moved in flat baskets or stretches. The stretch of railway being constructed included the building of a three-span wooden bridge, held together with iron spikes driven in with heavy hammers, no nuts and bolts were used on this bridge. The men were driven on with blows from fists, rifle-butts, sticks and wire hoops. If they were thought to be slacking they were made to stand holding a heavy rock above their heads untill they dropped and then they were beaten.
... a personal appeal from Lt-Col. Harris and his staff resulted in the postponement of an order which would have caused the immediate and permanent expulsion of 700 desperately sick and dying men from their hospital hut into open jungle during the worst of the monsoon rain, to make way for a native labour force. This order had already been endorsed by Lt-Col. Banno’s administration.
The hospital, so-called, in every camp was nothing but a dilapidated hut with leaky roof, no walls or lighting, and with split bamboo staging on which the men were crammed, their bodies touching one another...
The attitude of the Japanese towards the sick was a mixture of callous indifference and active spite’ for by their sickness they were regarded as impeding the Japanese war effort...
Although cholera killed 750 of the Force, by far the most deadly disease was dysentery, aggravated by malnutrition, and generally complicated by malaria or beri-beri or both...
By 20 June, two months after leaving Changi, only 700 men of the Force were at work and most of these were sick, while the remainder, except for the small administrative and medical parties, were lying in improvised “hospitals” in each of the five labour camps.
In May 1943, Bradley was one of the 1,600 British prisoners of war at Songkurai Camp 2, the fourth of the five labour camps to which Cyril refers. After the cholera outbreak a Japanese medical party arrived and ‘glass-rodded’ them, this was a way of finding the carriers, Bradley was found to be a carrier as his test was positive. He did not die within the next 24 hours and so survived, this was the normal period of survival.
On the evening of 5th June the cholera patients were ordered to move out of the camp immediately and to form an isolation camp on the opposite side of the railway trace, near the hospital hut, about five or six hundred yards away. The move took place in torrential rain and many died that night, the ground was littered with the bodies of partly burned coolies, as this had been a cremation area.
The day was spent building pyres as death came quickly, as we no longer worked on the railway the Japanese saw no reason to supply them with food, they were kept alive by rice the working men let them have from their meagre rations.
The commanding officer Lt-Col. M.T.L. Wilkinson often went across at night to see Bradley, despite the cholera risk and the threat from the Japanese. Wilkinson felt strongly that an escape should be attempted, in order to let the outside world know how prisoners were forced to work at tasks well beyond their human capacity, and the conditions under which they lived and died, Bradley agreed to join the escape.
From a map drawn on a silk handkerchief the distance to Ye, on the Burma coast, was estimated at about 80 km. The party included:
Lt-Col. M.T.L. (Wilkie) Wilkinson, 18th Division
Capt.W.H. Anker, RASC, 18th Division
Capt. J.H. Feathers, 18th Division
Lt. J.E. Robinson, 18th Division
James (Jim) Bradley (to become an MBE), Royal Engineers, 18th Division
Lt. I.M. Moffat, Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners, 9th Indian Div.
Lt. G. Machado, Straits Settlement Volunteer Force
Lt. T.P.D. Jones, Malay Regiment
Cpl. Brown, SSVF
Nur Mahommed, Indian fisherman.
They all agreed that if any one got injured they would have to be abandoned. On 5th July the ten men set out on a track through the jungle that Bradley had prepared near the crematorium in the cholera area, an area avoided by the Japanese.
Making 4 km a day through dense undergrowth with a very basic compass as a guide. Capt. Anker had saved some rice from the cookhouse to give them a meal throughout their calculated, three week journey.
By the 25th July the rice was nearly gone and Brown was the first casualty, he could not be found one morning, he had been suffering from septic ulcers and become delirious, they rest moved on after a search. On 2nd August, Jack Feathers died during the night, then three days later Wilkie died, believed heart failure. Robbie died from Septiceamia and dysentery and then Jones asked to be left behind after suffering for the last few days.
On the 14th August they reached the River Ye nearly to the point on their map they had aimed for. They made a raft to cross the river but lost everything when it capsized. On the 17th August, two Burmese hunters took them to their hut and on the next day to a kampong (village) where they were treated kindly.
On 21st August they were arrested when Japanese troops arrived and took them by boat to the Japanese HQ at Ye.
On the 5th September they were taken to Moulmein by train and spent the night at the Kempeitai (Military Police) headquarters, Nur Mahommed being taken from the group. The four remaining were handcuffed in pairs and taken to various places along the railway to show them off as a deterrent to escape. They were taken to Kami Songkurai where they stayed for two weeks and then were returned to Songkurai where they were brutally interrogated. Cyril Wild was told the four were to be executed but then they were taken to Singapore for a court-martial. They were then given eight to nine years hard labour.
Information from Cyril Wild - The Tall Man Who Never Slept by James Bradley
Sonkurai No.2 Cemeteries
Many prisoners were cremated and shared graves.
Cemetery 1, Block ‘A’
1st No. denotes the Grave No.
2nd No. denotes the PoW No. of deceased.
Cemetery 1, Block ‘B’
1st No. denotes the Grave No.
2nd No. denotes the PoW No. of deceased.
Cemetery 2, Block ‘A’
Cemetery 2, Block ‘B’
Cemetery 2, Block ‘C’
Cemetery 2, Block AIF
More information on the Thailand-Burma Railway:-