Aircraftman 2nd Class
Walter Joseph Campbell
Royal Air Force
RAF Sungei Patani
Captured 15th February 1942
Thailand - Burma Railway
Living Death On The Railway of Death
Walter Joseph Campbell
I put my age up to get into the forces, I was 17 years 6 months old when the war broke out and I was in Malaya.
There was a lot of us on an aerodrome and the officer in charge asked for a volunteer to go with a lorry to have some bombs disposed.
I volunteered to go with a Chinese chap who was driving. We went a few miles along a very straight road, each time we were seen through the trees we were machine gunned, we had some very narrow escapes. The chap that was driving asked me to take lorry on my own as he had a wife and baby. he wanted to get back to them, so I asked him to show me how to work the gears and I would carry on. I managed to get the chap a lift back on a carrier to the village Sungie Patani and I learnt to drive fast.
I travelled to an aerodrome called Butterworth near Penang. I told the officer in charge that we evacuating from our station and the bombs were to be dispursed, but at the same time they were evacuating too, but they dispursed the bombs with me all around the camp.
I left with the lorry loaded with food for Singapore and went on to Ipah airfield and there was an officer who was very depressed and drunk, he said that they had all evacuated. So we went onto Kaula Lumpur and Jahore Baru and finally Singapore itself. When we arrived we all had different jobs. Mine was on the telephone switchboard giving air raid warnings to other Air Bases and Naval Bases, this went on for three days when at last Singapore had no option but to capitulate as thousands were killed.
The following day I was sitting on the steps of the Municipal Buildings in Singapore waiting for the Japs to take over. I saw women and children marching past four abreast. I said to a sergeant next to me, “Where are they going ?”. He answered “To Changi Prison”. I asked if they were Malayan volunteers, as I thought they were. But to my surprise they were off a ship that sunk just off Singapore.
They asked me what ship I was off as I had to think fast, I told them I had been left in the General Hospital with malaria and at the same time them a ship my brother was on. The name of the ship was the Ionic Star. They accepted my story, they were the crew off the Empress of Asia.
The real trouble started when we got to Changi Civilian Prison, a few hours later, we were interrogated by a Cambridge educated Jap. I knew it was certain death for me if they found out I was a service man. I gave them a load of bull and I didn’t know if they believed me or not. I wonder even now how I posed as a merchant seaman. In my cell was an English Captain, a Second Officer and a Chief Radio officer off the Empress of Asia. His name was mr Jarrell. There were two school teachers as well. Well I fooled them, they all believed me. I said I was a galley boy off the Ionic Star.
But the day came when a party of men volunteered to chop wood for the cook house. One of the men was caught red handed buying Red Bull cigarettes. He got beaten up and confessed that he was not a civilian or a seaman, but a soldier, his nick name was Snake in Malay. He had snakes tattooed all over his body. I expect thats why. The following day this man was sent to a P.O.W camp. Once again we were interrogated. A notice was put up in every cell which read:-
“ANY MEMBER OF THE FIGHTING FORCES WHO IS IN CHANGI PRISON AND DOES NOT COME FORWARD AT ONCE WILL DIE”
I was now 18 years old and I did not know what to do. I am a Roman Catholic so I went to see an Australian priest. I told him I was not a merchant seaman but was in the RAF. He said “ My son so what you think fir. God will be with you”.
So I decided to give myself up. I waited a while before doing so because I thought I would be liberated, but that day never came.
The Japs came round each cell giving every one a bashing up, so I gave myself up then. I told a Jap officer that I was not a seaman but was a Ground Gunner for the RAF.
This was about the worst thing I could have said as they were going to put me into a plane as a gunner. It was the hardest thing to do, to try and tell the Jap officer that I had never been up in a aeroplane.
They thought otherwise and the following day at 10 o’clock in the morning I was standing on the lawn in front of Changi Prison and after a while six more men arrived, who had done the same as me.
The first thing the interpreter said was, “You will die tonight”.
By this time none of us could care less, it even might have been better if we had, because they said “Now you will not die, we need you to build a railway”. We stood in the blazing sun from 10am till 4pm, we had nothing to eat or drink all day. We started off for the camp where we were to build the “Railway of Death”. We had to travel there on top of a cattle truck fro two days and nights. The first camp we came to was Wangyan, we called it.
For three weeks we cleared the jungle and made it possible to build on, we done it to the Japs satisfaction and moved on further up country in very dense jungle, we passed other P.O.W.s on the way.
We eventually came to another camp there was nothing to see, no shelter, no nothing but a solid rock like marble. The Japs could not blast through it, so we had to go round it, many P.O.W.s died while doing this task. This part of the railway was called Horseshoe Bridge.
After months of torture we completed it then moved onwards again, we had to march without foot ware and naked through dense jungle. We reached a camp known as 211 Kilos. After two weeks cleaning the jungle for tracks to be laid. This camp in my opinion was the worst on the railway as nine out of ten of us had Dysentry, Malaria, Berri Berri, Ulcers, Jungle Sores, Malnutrition and many more complaints. Then the killer of them all came CHOLERA. When this came even the Japs moved out. At least 7 men a day died and had to be burned. I was so sick in this camp that I gave up. I told the men to leave me and let me die. They said “Come on Campbell, you can make it”. So they got a rice sack and two bamboo sticks and they carried me. The next thing I knew was it was morning and I felt a little better. I owe my life to major Graham as he gave me all the Quinine he could possibly get. Which believe me was a very small amount. He kept asking for more Quinine and the Japs would bash him up for asking.
I could carry on and on but this is supposed to be a short story.
The railway was finished and the remainder of us were digging our own graves in the side of a mountain, which the Japs were going to blow up. When an aeroplane came over and it was one of ours and we knew it was all over as they dropped food, cigarettes and chocolate. And it seemed like months before we came home.
This is a true story and I would like to thank all my fellow pals, especially the ones who’s names are mentioned. I was there at the beginning and I was there at the end.”
Written by Walter Joseph Campbell
1353116 AC/1 Ground Gunner
Address:- 8 Pemberton terrace, Upper Holloway, London N19