Known as ‘Nobby’
1914/04/16 - Born Ballycullane, Co. Wexford, Eire
Occupation Farm Labourer
1935/03/12 - Enlisted
9th Coast Regiment
1942/03/15 - Captured Singapore
Japanese Index Card - Side One
Japanese Index Card - Side Two
In October 1942 there was a lot of activity in the Singapore PoW camps. The Japanese had decided to use the prisoners for labour parties. This began with Java Parties 1 and 2 being taken by rail to Bam Pong, Thailand, with other parties being transported to Taiwan and Japan. One party was made up of 600 Ak. Ak. Gunners from Southern Area under the command of Lt-Col. J. Bassett, R.A. (35th L.A.A. Regt.). This party, now known here as Gunner 600 Party, sailed eastwards from Singapore on 18th October, being written in the Changi register as “Destination New Guinea”. The Bureau of Records and Enquiry at Changi later were led to believe the ship was torpedoed and all on board lost.
The Gunners 600 Party included 126 officers and men from the 35th’s 144 Battery, 7 Coast Regt., 9 Coast Regt., 11 Coast Regt., 3 Heavy Ak. Ak., 5th Searchlights and the Hong Kong Singapore Artillery. There was also a few from Royal Army Medical and Service Corps.
The ship used to transport them was an ex-Liverpool coaler. In “What Price Bushido” it is noted as being the Eige Maru or the Masta Maru, we now think it was the Kenkon Maru. 400 men were put into the first hold and the remainder into the smaller aft hold.
Under miserable conditions with only a thin layer of straw on the floor the prisoners found it hard to breath and also the the stench from sweating bodies. The ship called at Timor, Bali and the Halmarhera Islands, the on the first casualty was when Battery Sergeant Major Tommy Lamborne of 11 Coast Regt. dying on his way to the benjo (toilet), he was buried at sea during that afternoon.
On the 5th November the ship arrived at Simpson Harbour, Rabaul on the island of New Britain, which the Japanese had captured from the Australians in January 1942. The local villages were known as Kanakas and they lived under the constant threat from volcanoes, one of which was very active.
Bgr. E.G. Gray was the first casualty on Rabaul, being badly beaten he was then tied to a stake and left to die.
On the 16th November 517 of the 598 prisoners were selected for transportation, the destination was said to be New Guinea, their personal belongings were stowed away at Kokopo, the sick remained at Rabaul.
Late the following February ‘Blackshirt’, who was in charge of the party that left for New Guinea, returned to the Rabaul camp at Kokopo and informed the prisoners that five of the 517 party died while working at Bouganville, in the Solomon Islands, due to an American bombardment. This was later confirmed by a Japanese known to the prisoners as ‘No 3 Captain’.
Bill Dunne with two other Rabaul prisoners loaded a truck up with the now 512 belongings left at Kocopo and went with the truck to the Rabaul Harbour where it was unloaded. They saw at a distance a white prisoners camp, who they assumed were the 512 but they were too far away to recognize anybody - Bill Dunnes letter . The ship sailed again on the 5th March for an unknown destination. As there were no survivors from the party who left for Ballale Island it is impossible to follow their journey but after the war it was found that the Japanese report of their ship being sunk was a lie. The prisoners were taken to Ballale Island and used to build an airstrip.
The map above shows how close Ballale is to Bougainville, I question why the PoWs were taken back to Rabaul if they were on Bougainville before being transported to Ballale, was the ship going back to Rabaul in February as a cover up. Ozaki says in his statement he arrived on Ballale late November 1942 and a few days later the prisoners arrived on Ballale ?
The prisoners however on Ballale Island faced many dangers as the Americans were advancing on the Solomon Islands and the battle in the South Pacific had turned ugly. There were atrocities committed by both sides following an incident in March when US parachutists were fired on by Japanese fighter planes. The prisoners were in very bad health, being bombed by US aircraft and having to endure increased beatings by Japanese guards who took their hatred of the US bombing out on the prisoners.
From January 1943 through to July 1943, US aircraft bombed Ballale Island, the heaviest bombing was in March. As the prisoners did not have slit trenches these attacks must have contributed to many of the prisoners deaths on an island roughly only one mile square .
The air strip was damaged by American bombardment in June 1943 before it was finished. The Japanese could not finish the air strip and had no further use for the prisoners, the prisoners who were still alive at this point were executed. Ozaki’s statement confirms the dates of death which would not agree with the 512 being on the ship returning in March.
A mass grave was found on Ballale from the help given by Chinese labourers, but again controversy as they believed the prisoners on Ballale were Australians. Artefacts found confirm they were from the Gunners Party. These 435 bodies had no service tags and were moved to a temporary War Cemetery at Torokina, Bouganville. Then later on 13th December 1945 to Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby.
Of those who were left at Rabaul only 18 survived, those who died are buried at Rabaul.
1945/09/05 - Patrick was Liberated at Watum Island
Below is a newspaper cutting from Australia
First PoWs From Rabaul
18 survivors of 82 British prisoners of war taken by the Japanese from Singapore to Rabaul, arrived at Archerfield by plane today. They are the first PoWs flown to Brisbane from Rabaul. On their arrival they were given refreshments by the Red Cross. The picture shows Sergeant Patrick Nolan (Wexford) and Gunner Fred Slater (Retford) sharing a bowl of fruit.
1945/12/03 - Arrived Southampton in H.M.T. ANDEES
1946/06/14 - Statement by Patrick
Below is a complete statement by Patrick who remained at Rabaul.
Statement by No. 845353 Sergeant Nolan P
of 23rd. Coast Training Battery
4 Coast Training Regiment R.A. of his experiences with the Party of '600' which left Changi PoW Camp on the evening of 18th October 1942
600 PoWs left the Changi Camp on the evening of 18th October 1942. I was unfortunate enough to be one of them and I am going to endeavour to give a truthful account of what happened from midday of that day we arrived at Singapore Docks by truck.
We sat on the dock side under guard for about three hours watching Japanese soldiers going aboard on of the ships in the harbour, then we were escorted by Japanese soldiers to the lower holds of this ship where the atmosphere was foul with dampness and filth and we sensed immediately that we were in for an unpleasant voyage.
A little later on the Japanese handed out straw mats for us to lay on, but even this small comfort was not enjoyed by all of us. The holds were very confined, about 45ft. by 45ft. We were very overcrowded. Our first taste of food on board was a small portion of rice, half a pint of week tea, devoid of milk or sugar, but as we were fortunate enough to have brought Red Cross tinned meat etc. , with us from Changi we issued it out at the meagre rate of one tin for 5 men. Late that same evening we drew away from the dockside and left the harbour, by the next morning we were on the way. Being curious we had. asked. the Nips where we were bound for but discovered that they knew very little themselves, some replied. and gave us Australia, United. States, India and though perhaps a little sardonically London was our next port of call. We appeared to be sailing alone and taking a zig zag course. It was three or four days before we sighted land again, that was when we called at Sourabaya. During this time the conditions on the ship were appalling they were 400 men in the forward hold and the ration of drinking water was half a pint , twice per day. As the elements were very vrarm and the ventilation practically nil we soon began to feel the effects of this. Six men were allowed on deck to use the lavatory at a time and this privitation was made worse when many of the chaps contracted. Dysentry. Two days after departing from Sourabaya we had our first death, this was BSM Lambourne (7th Coast Regiment R.A.) who we buried at sea. The Japs according to their customs paid, their last respects to the deceased by placing a bottle of lemonade and a packet of biscuits in with the corpse prior to it being placed over the side. We carried. on sick at heart, the journey seemed interminable. One of our officers, Major Steele R.A. , made repeated requests for extra and better quality food and an increased ration of drinking water, and an allowance of water to wash in, the latter being an essential necessity that had been denied us since starting our journey, however these requests proved of no avail apart from one pitiful concession of four buckets of sea water per day between 599 men.
It as with relief and thankfulness that we eventually arrived at Rabaul and lay at anchor in the Rabaul Harbour on November 5th. 1942 an ironical reminder of the occasions we had often celebrated on this day, being the bangs of Jap AA fire opening up at what we were later told was an American Reconnaissance Plane which was not however hit by the fire. We went ashore to find that we had to sleep in the jungle 12 tarpaulins about 20 feet square being provided, these of course being totally inadequate to cover all the 599 men, many slept out in the open, providence being kind it remained dry until we awoke the following morning when we were told that we moving to a proper camp. We embussed on trucks and after one hour and a half journey over rough country we came to antiquated looking factory, it had been a copra factory but had fallen into disuse, the district was called KOCOPO, here the Japs issued 12 dilapidated bell tents, these were meant to house the whole of the 599 men, unfortunately providence did not remain so kind as the previous evening, for several hours rain fell heavily, the majority of the tents leaked very badly and a hellishly uncomfortable night was spelt by all of us. The following day the Japs asked for 550 men for work on unloading ships but as we had been living under appalling conditions for nearly three weeks many of the men were suffering from Dysentery, Beri. Beri, Malaria etc. so our Officer Lt.- Col. Bassett R.A. said that it would be impossible to provide such a number but he thought that about 250 of his men were in a reasonable state of wealth to work, but on being told this the Japs were totally unmoved and threatened that if 550 men were not forthcoming no food would be issued so it meant that we worked or, starved. 450 men, some in great pain, the greater part of them physically unfit were sent out as a working party, the work we found was very strenuous and the hours long, the food was still of a very poor nature and very low in quantity consequently our health was rapidly declining. After about a week at KOCOP0 we had a very heavy raid one night and the Japs gave orders in very poor and broken English that we had to stay in our tents, but the Japs themselves were away like frightened rabbits to the jungle and did not return until the raid had finished, we were, however, lucky as no bombs were drooped. in our vicinity that night. It was the following morning that we were again ordered to be ready to leave, the Jap made a rough inspection and picked out some of the worst cases suffering from Dysentry, Beri Berl, etc., as being unfit to travel, of these there were 82, I being one of them.
The remaining party of 517 men left KOCOPO in the early afternoon, our party being ordered out to salute our men as they left we saw them go aboard a ship in the harbour, that was approximately November 13th. 1942.
Capt. Dance R.A. 3rd R.A. Regt. R.A., Capt. H.M. Oxley R.A. and Capt. McCoubrey R.A. were the three senior officers that remained. with our party, we were minus a Medical Officer but L/Bdr. Blythe 35th L.A.A. Regt. who was a medical orderly did wonderful work for the sick. Supplies of medical, kit were practically non existent but nevertheless he was on his feet day and night caring for the sick and yet he was very often told by the Japs that he would have his head cut off if they did not get more men for a working party because although we were left behind as unfit to travel with the main party we had to still find 50 men to work daily on unloading ships. It was more than flesh and blood could stand especially when all were suffering from disease and malnutrition consequently our men began to die off and by December 30th 1942 we had lost 6 men but still this made no impression on the Japanese, their treatment continued the same, as cold blooded as ever and no attempt was made to increase the scanty allowance of medical supplies which were now totally inadequate to the extreme. They were, however, like scavengers feeding off the dead, always ready to exchange watches, rings, fountain pens and the like for quinine and food. We battle on against heavy odds, the brutality of the guards, who were of a very sadistic temperament, proving more, at times, than it seems now that human nature can stand and still survive. Only one of them could. speak English, and he very gutturally, coupled also with the fact that he was of very low medical capacity. On March 13th 1943 we had to move our camp about a mile and the day chosen for the move was anything but ideal, it rained heavily, and this move in the downpour hastened on the death of four of our men. We were told to pitch our tents on the sodden wet ground, these tents, having almost useless when we had received them months before, offered little or no protection against the downpour, which meant that in the rain we had to sit up with our ground sheets over our only blanket however, in one respect we were fortunate, our guards were changed and the new wards proved more human than their predecessors, one being a Christian whose English was almost perfect. By this time we were all so weak and helpless that they did not ask us to walk, but this respite was short lived. In May we had again to provide working parties, but this time the work was not so strenuous nor the hours so long. Nevertheless the strain was beginning to tell. A change of guards again in October 1943 brought conditions back as bad as they had ever been. A continual source of strife being the fact that the guard who termed himself interpreter was hopelessly incompetent. His knowledge of English was very poor with the result that many of our men were misunderstood and received a beating up, often for no reason at all. Daily we went in dread of our lives. It re as early in October that we blotted our copy book.
Three of our men, L/Bdr. Aherne and Gnr. Fowler (7th Coast Regt R.A.) with Gun Garbett of the 3rd A.A. Regt. went outside the perimeter wire to try to find some food. They were successful in their attempt, and arrived, back with 86 1 lb. tins of fish, which they had borrowed from a Jap food dump while the Jap guards were having their afternoon siesta. They naturally repeated the trip a little later on and again were successful, but, possibly due to the fact that they got a little over confident, this resulted in one of them getting caught, who, under duress, gave away the names of his two confederates. The punishment meted out to them was a brutal beating, and they were forced to stand to attention outside the Jap guard room for 48 hours. During the whole of this time they were beaten at intervals by the Jap Orderly Officer, Orderly Sergeant and Orderly N.C.O.
The camp in general also suffered to a lesser degree, but none complained, and all felt great pride at the way the three men took their punishment. A credit to the British Army. Their action being all the more creditable when we considered that it was to provide hungry and starving men with a decent meal that they received their punishment. At the beginning of February 1944, we journeyed again, this time to a place called Tanora. There were, now only twenty one of us left out of the original eighty two. It is difficult to describe the horrible nightmare that had been never ending from the time of our arrival at Rabaul on November 5th 1942, of the terrible agony suffered by our comrades, of the pitiful wasting away of others through malnutrition, each expecting to be the next victim to the added trials and tribulations that had become our lot, 61 men who would never again be our comrades in arms, 61 men whose deaths were unnecessary and avoidable.
A short time afterwards on February 24th to be exact we made another move, it was to an island called Watum, which was a fairly small Island, approximately five miles by three miles and about six miles north west of Rabaul. The island was being used by Jap Companies and we were later split up into small parties and allotted so many to each Company.
To some this arrangement was beneficial due to the fact that the temperament of the individual Coorps. Commander decided what sort of an existence the P.O.W's had, and one or two whilst not being kind heartedly disposed towards us did at least of fair treatment and made allowances for the sick etc..
On July 24th 1944 we all again congregated on the Island together and of course we were quite excited at meeting one another again and had many yarns to swop of experiences that had befallen us during our attachment to the different Corps during the six months we had been apart, to relate to each other our opinions of this Guard or Officer. But our joys were short lived, as late that afternoon we were again divided into smaller parties and sent to various other Companies on the Island. Again some were lucky and received fair treatment but others the exact opposite was meted out to them, a particularly bad case being the four men whose misfortune it was to be attached to No.2. Military Company, one was an officer and three Gunners, but of these only one survived, we found out later that the Corps. Commander being an ignorant and illiterate type had put a private soldier in charge of them and refused them any medical attention, the Soldier's ill treatment of the men was brutal to an extreme, he delighted in torturing them both mentally and physically and forced them to perform duties which he must have fully realised were only going to lead to one ends, he even went so far as to deprive them of their rations of food from the Corps Cookhouse on numerous occasions, and so after eight months of this treatment the first death on this island, that of Gnr.Hodgson, 9th Coast Regt. took place. Barely two months later our last officer Lt Mallett R.A. who had been a constant inspiration to us and a brave and valiant soldier, died of malnutrition. But still there was no softening up of the treatment which had been all along sanctioned by the Corps Commander.
When I learned of the death of Lt. Mallett R.A. I was working only about a mile away and asked permission to go and bury him but this was promptly refused by the Jap Commander as was the request to bury Gnr. Hodgson and also Gnr. O'Connor who died on the 21st June.1945.
We carried on working on the Island doing mainly farm work growing such things as rice, tapioca and sweet potatoes, the hours were long and the work heavy but the food was beginning to come more plentiful as the Nips had cultivated a good portion of the land and were beginning to reap the benefits round about this time (June 1945). During these long dreary days we wondered if the end would ever come, we had no way of knowing how the war was progressing, no news of the outside world whatsoever penetrated through to us, we had received no wail during our P.O.W. days so far and we had never had the good fortune to receive a Red Cross parcel. The Japanese themselves always gave us any news which reflected in their favour, but never any other information, except for one N.C.O. who was in charge of us and was always as friendly as his position would allow him, he once told me that if the Island was attacked the arrangements were that the English P.O.W's must be killed, this information was not the kind of news we were aching to hear about of course, and I may add caused us as individuals more worry whenever we allowed ourselves to think of it.
Any of the victories that the Japs cared to inform us about were so one sided that it had to be taken with a pinch of salt, it e. the sinking of hundreds of American ships in one convoy.
On August l2th one of the Jap soldiers who had been very considerate with us due possibly to the fact he had been to London several as a seaman on a Japanese Liner told us that the U.S.S.R. had invaded Manchuria, it was only a few days afterwards that one of the Jap soldiers at the place where I was, cut his throat, an event which caused little grieving amongst us English, I found out that after nosing around for a bit, my final source of information being the same Jap as I have mentioned as regards to U.S.S.R. that we were FREE and all the Japs were prisoners, it would be impossible to fully describe the feeling of utter relief when the full impact of this information was felt by us it seemed to good to be true.
We decided amongst ourselves that we would early on as if nothing had happened and wait for the news to come to us Officially, and on the following day we perceived a great change in the Japs they were now friendly towards us, and gave us as much good food as we could eat and on the evening of 18th August we were informed that the war had ended and that our countrymen were the Victors.
The following day the 18 of us who were on the Island were brought together again and never have I seen joy and happiness so clearly expressed on men's faces as I saw that day, the feeling being felt twofold by two of our men of our party, for I feel sure that had it been our lot to remain captive for another month, neither of these two men would have survived to see this great day dawn, one was suffering seriously from Malaria, and the other with an Ulcer which measured about four inches in diameter.
We remained on Watum Island till September the 7th then we were taken to the place that had once been Rabaul, little remained of what I remembered from our first visit there, next day we rejoiced at seeing a destroyer in the bay with a great R.N. Ensign fluttering at the mast. This was the Australian destroyer "VENDETTA" we later boarded her and everything possible was done for us by the Diggers, we travelled on her to Jacqiuniote Bay a Base in North New Britain, and remained there for a few days in hospital after which we travelled by plane to Lae in New Guinea. We remained in Lae and then by plane again we travelled to Australia, we called at Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney and on to Melbourne. No matter where we went in Australia the Aussies received us with open arms, and open hearts, their only concern being to give us the finest time possible and we remained in that wonderful country until 2-11-45 and then aboard the H.M.T."ANDEES" we set sail for Blighty to arrive in Southampton December 3rd.
Our joy at getting back to England again was a joy that could never be expressed by anyone I feel sure who has suffered in a foreign country for as long as we had been, for it was now ten years since I had left England's shores and that period during those ten years that was spent as a P.O.W. will always be in my memory, I have but to close my eyes to bring back the memory so vivid of the day at KOCOPO, NEW BRITAN, when we were taken three of our comrades to their last resting place wrapped in their blankets, three of our men died in six hours was our worst experience.
Patrick in Chelsea Pensioner's scarlet uniform.
He was a guest of the army on Gibraltar in 1982 to revisit where he'd been during a posting in 1936-39.
600 Gunners Party
‘What Price Bushido’ written by Alf ‘ Blackie’ Baker
KEW:- WO 392/25, WO 345/38, WO 361/1764, WO 361/774, WO 361/773, WO 361/2206, WO 361/2062, WO 361/2187, WO 361/774, WO 361/774