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Sandakan POW Camp & Australian Soldiers

Billy Young decided to enlist at age 15.

Billy Young decided to enlist at age 15.

It remains the single-worst atrocity against Australians at war. Yet many Australians have probably never heard of Sandakan. So few men returned from the Japanese prisoner of war camp on the island of Borneo after World War II it has become a neglected chapter in Australia’s wartime history.

In fact 2,000 Australians spent time as POWs at Sandakan. And of the nearly 1,800 still captive there at the end of the war, only six men survived.

All of which makes Sydney man Billy Young rare indeed. He spent three years as a POW under the Japanese.

He is the only surviving rank and file Australian soldier who spent time at Sandakan.  And he is the only POW still alive who was imprisoned at Outram Road Jail in Singapore.

Now aged 90, he has written a book about his inspiring story. “Billy: My Life as a Teenage POW”, co-written with historian Lynette Silver.

Mr Young would never have gone to war if his mother had not abandoned him as a baby.  Adora Shaw walked out on Billy and his father William in Hobart in about 1927 and returned to Sydney with another son Kevin, from an earlier relationship.

Billy never saw her again. One of his earliest memories is of his father taking him to Sydney to search for her, and later showing him her grave.  She had apparently died of tuberculosis.

William "Big Billy" young and son Billy, aged 6.

William “Big Billy” Young w/ his son Billy, age six. in Sydney. photo courtesy of: Lynette Silver

A decade later his father also died. He had joined the Australian Communist Party and gone to Spain to fight in the civil war, but was caught and shot by forces loyal to dictator General Franco.

“When he was gone, I was like a wild animal,” Mr Young says from his home near Hurstville.  “I was a rebel. I wanted my dad.  He was the only person of authority I could listen to.”

At 15, a fellow student told him he wanted to enlist in the army. It was 1941. Australian troops were fighting overseas. Billy decided to join him.  “The fella said to us ‘what mob do you want to join?’ And we said the one that goes overseas. He said ‘that’s the AIF’, and I said ‘that’s us’. He said ‘how old are you?’ And we said ‘how old have you gotta be?’ He said 19. We said ‘well, we’re 19’.”

See Billy Young, only a short 1:41

With no parents to give consent, the boys took the enlistment forms and signed each other’s paper. At 15 they were soldiers.

Hoping for a boys’ own adventure, they joined the 100,000 allied troops in Singapore. Mr Young says initially there was no fear of the Japanese.  “Intelligence officers used to say to us: ‘Those Japanese — they’re nothing. They’re blind. They all wear glasses, they’re short-sighted’,” he says.

“But when they came down it was no laughing matter. They knew what they were doing.”

Soon after Billy’s 16th birthday the allied forces crumbled under the Japanese. Billy was suddenly a prisoner of war at Changi.

Then, with hundreds more soldiers he was shipped to Borneo to build a Japanese airstrip at Sandakan in the Malaysian jungle. It was stinking hot, humid and overrun by mosquitoes. But it was nothing against the brutal treatment of the Japanese.

The lack of food and water, torture and beatings were all common.  “Sandakan was tremendously brutal towards the end of the war. Food was cut back to below starvations rations,” co-author Ms Silver says.

“And as Japan was losing the war, the punishment handed out was far more brutal than in the beginning. People were placed in a cage for 40 days and 40 nights. And some of them actually died in the cage.”  Mr Young survived the Japanese brutality. But he watched other POWs suffer from starvation and the worst violence.

Mr. Young's depiction of Jimmy Darlington's punishment

Mr. Young’s depiction of Jimmy Darlington’s punishment

One such victim was a young Aboriginal soldier Jimmy Darlington, who had dared to strike a Japanese soldier for washing his clothes in the prisoners’ cooking pot. He was bound and tied to sharp stakes of wood and left to suffer.

“One of the Japs grabbed a bucket of water,” Mr Young says.

“Another was grabbing ropes and he put it in the water, and knelt him on the platform and tied him down with ropes, or wet ropes.  The sun started to shine and dried the ropes.  And the ropes tightened up, and cut right into his wrists and his legs.”

Only after Mr Young and his mates created a diversion to distract the Japanese could another Australian soldier — an ambulance officer — move in to cut the ropes. Without it, Mr Young says Darlington would have died.

Black and white painting of a prisoner collecting his luchtime rice ration.

Prisoners line up for rice.

But far worse was in store for Mr Young. After a failed escape he was tried and sent to the hellhole that was Outram Road jail back in Singapore. He spent six months in solitary confinement — forced to sit cross legged for hours at a time.

Food rations were so pitiful prisoners, including Mr Young, became skeletal. He sat by while one of his fellow prisoners, a Dutch man, died of Beri-Beri in his arms.

“I put his head on my lap. I chatted to him and I pushed his chest and felt it. And you could feel it going up and down as he was panting for breath,” Mr Young says.  “But death must have had slippers because he died and I didn’t know. So I waited.

“I put him down and I didn’t tell the guard, and I waited till his box of rice came and I put Peter’s bowl by him. And I got mine, I ate mine, and then I ate Peter’s. And that’s the only banquet we ever had between us you know.”

The bombing of Hiroshima signaled freedom for Mr. Young.  Returning to Sydney, he couldn’t wait to reunite with his old mates from Sandakan.

But he couldn’t find them.  “I waited and waited and waited. It took me ages to find out,” he says.

Only six men of the nearly 1,800 Australians in Sandakan at the end of the war survived.  Many had died in the so-called Death Marches, when the Japanese forced them to walk as near-skeletons, 250 kilometres across Borneo.

Hundreds more starved to death. Still others were executed even after the war ended.

“The death rate at Sandakan for the Australians, 1,787 died, was 99.75 per cent,” Ms Silver says.

Some of Mr Young’s mates from Outram Rd also didn’t last long.

A black and white photo of the Outram Rd Jail building in Singapore.

Outram Road Jail, Singapore.

“One of my dear friends got home in Tasmania and not home long and he went into his mum and dad’s orchard and blew his brains out with a rifle,” he sobs.

Mr Young was only 19 when he returned to Sydney. He had his own demons to confront.  “We had no one who understood the trauma.  Not the.  Even now… at 91 almost, there are still stories I cannot tell.  I bawl like a little baby,” he said.

But 70 years on, the wounds have finally healed.  Mr Young today is an avid painter. His home is filled with paintings of his time at Sandakan and Outram Rd Jail.

“He very rarely has a down moment. He is just so positive, and I think that his positive attitude has gotten him this far,” his daughter says.

Mr Young’s paintings — and now the book he has written with Ms Silver — will remain a lasting record of the mates he lost at Sandakan.  “For Billy and me they are frozen in time,” she says.  “We know them as they were – as 18-year-old men.  And that’s probably the great thing about the ode that we say – they shall grow not old as we that are left grow old…”

“For the two of us they are still the people that left Australia as young people, young men with hope for the empire and their country. Taking on the Japanese, and who never came home.”

Click on images to enlarge.

Article contributed by Beari

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Military Humor – from Lt. Ronald Williams, POW Java

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Farewell Salutes –

Ila Albert – Belmont, MA; US Army WAC; WWII, ETO

Robert Anderson – Omaha, NE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, radar operator

Eric Boyd – Bathurst, AUS; British Navy, WWII

Charles Carlson – Queens, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Lt., P-47 pilot, KIA

Gennis ‘Pete’ Elks – Farmville, NC; US Navy, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Sr. Chief Petty Officer (Ret. 32 yrs.)

James Garner – Bridgeville, PA; USMC, WWII, PTO

Dick Helf – Wichita, KS; US Navy, WWII/ US Air Force, Korea

Effie (Robertson) Morton – NZ; RNZ Army WAAC, WWII # 813367, gunner

Ara Parseghian – Akron, OH; US Navy, WWII, (Hall of Fame coach of Notre Dame Univ.)

Amory Shields – Toronto, CAN; RC Navy & Dept. of National Defense

Garnet Winfrey – Bramwell, WV; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Sgt., 11th Airborne Division Honor Guard

A Memorial for Australia’s Z Force

Jack Tredrea w/ several Z-Force members and local fighters

Jack Tredrea w/ several Z-Force members and local fighters

Members of a secret Australian military unit that conducted more than 80 operations into enemy territory during World War II have been recognized at the Australian War Memorial.

The Z Special Unit conducted missions in the Pacific and South East Asia, but their achievements were classified for decades.  Senior historian at the memorial Dr Karl James said members of the unit conducted some of the most courageous and extraordinary acts of World War II.

“It is only given the passage of time say from the 1980’s onward, the wartime records relating to Z Special Unit have been cleared and opened, that we are now able to talk about some of these pretty remarkable exploits.”

Jack Tredrea

Jack Tredrea

Dr James said the unit was comprised of about 1,700 members who were sometimes deployed in two-man teams working alongside a wide range of other allied services.

“They worked much more closely with local people, like villagers and they were also given some language training,” he said.

There were also women members of the unit supporting missions from Australia as professional ciphers.

Jack Tredrea, 96, of Adelaide, unveiled a plaque commemorating Z Special Unit at a service at the War Memorial, which he lobbied for alongside ANU anthropologist Christine Helliwell.

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One of the few surviving members, Mr Tredrea, was deployed with Z Special Unit as part of the stealth Operation Semut in Malaysian Borneo, that involved parachuting into the jungle with weapons and cyanide pills.

“We didn’t know whether the Japanese had arrived up in the highlands, we were jumping in blind,” he said.  “But luckily they hadn’t got into the highlands and we were welcomed that day by the villagers. Semut consisted of Semut 1, 2, 3, and 4, and each one had eight personnel … at the end of the war we [had made] over 2,900 kills and taken over 300 prisoners.”

Mr Tredrea and his comrades were sworn to secrecy for 30 years after the war.  He said the new Canberra plaque and the public recognition it brought meant a lot to him and other surviving veterans and families.

Z-unit, Borneo

Z-unit, Borneo

“For all these years no-one knew anything about Z which I think was a great pity because even the SAS today tell us that they are still working on what we started,” he said.

“I was always so proud of the work that Z Special did and when Dr. Christine Helliwell approached me with this idea [for the plaque and service] I was absolutely chuffed.  There are a lot of fellows looking down on us from upstairs with big smiles too.”

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ANU anthropologist Dr Helliwell came across witnesses to some of the units’ secret missions during her field work with indigenous Diak people in the highlands of Malaysian Borneo, near the Indonesian border, in 2014.

“I was expecting that the locals might not have been flattering about Australian soldiers as a lot of people were resistant to colonialism,” she said.

“But in fact the Japanese did not have a good reputation through Borneo and they really liked the Australian Z Specials who really worked hard to get along with the local people.  That’s why they were so successful in Borneo and they actually formed guerrilla armies and fought with the locals.”

Z-Force Borneo

Z-Force Borneo

She described the members of Z Special Unit as national war heroes.

“There were groups that went into rescue American airmen that went down, coming in at night on a submarine and then these little canoes,” she said.  “Those are really brave and risky things to do.”

Hundreds of people including veterans, widows, families and dignitaries attended the plaque unveiling, which Dr Helliwell worked with veterans and the ACT SAS Association to have installed.

Among them were about 20 surviving veterans of the Z Special Unit and 10 families of veterans from New Zealand who also served with the unit.

It was the first time a national commemoration has been held to recognize the service of the members of Z Special Unit.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Australian Military Humor – 005-478x640

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Farewell Salutes – 

Virgil Boyd Atkins – W.VA; US Army, Korea, 65th/3rd Infantry Div., Pvt., POW, Silver Star

Joe Hosteen Kellwood – Sunnyslope, AZ; USMC, WWII, PTO, Navajo Code Talker128075867

Roy Kellwood – Sunnyslope, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO

Dabney Montgomery – Selma, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Tuskegee ground crewman

Allen Kenji Ono – Honolulu, HI; US Army, Lt.General (Ret.)

George Saxton – Worcester, MA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Sgt., Infantry

Gordon Eugene Thompson – MT; USMC, WWII, PTO, Captain, pilot

Charles Trout – Hernando, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

John Whalen – Broad Channel, NY; US Army, Korea

Byres Wylie – Burnie, Tas., AUS; RA Navy # H2890 & RA Air Force # A22496

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February 1942 (1)

(top) Navy plane over Wotjie Atoll, smoke is from fuel & ammo dump eruption.  (bottom) 2 US vessels during battle

(top) Navy plane over Wotjie Atoll, smoke is from fuel & ammo dump eruption. (bottom) 2 US vessels during battle

 

1 February – Adm. Halsey sent aircraft from the Enterprise and Yorktown to strafe and bomb Kwajalein and 5 other sites during the Marshall-Gilbert raids.  A fleet that also included the Salt Lake City and Northhampton.  Enemy transports were sunk or damaged and the Japanese commanding admiral was killed, at the cost of 13 planes.  The enemy retaliated and hit the Enterprise.  The US exaggerated the success of this battles by using headlines that read, “Pearl Harbor Avenged.”

Further information on this___Link Here.

In the Java/Sumatra area, allied naval forces were small compared tho the enemy fleet.  After a confrontation occurred between the two sides, the USS Marblehead found it necessary to go to Ceylon for repairs and the Houston‘s rear turret was out of commission.  Australian and Dutch troops on Sumatra were driven south.  The following day, the Dutch naval base at Surabya, on Java, was heavily damaged by an enemy air attack.

Port facilities at Oosthaven, Sumatra destroyed.

Port facilities at Oosthaven, Sumatra destroyed.

4 February – in the Madura Strait, Netherlands RAdm. Doorman suffered a massive air attack as his allied naval forces attempted to intercept a Japanese invasion fleet off Borneo.  One Dutch cruiser and 2 US cruisers were damaged.  10-20 February – the Japanese made paratrooper drops on Sumatra as Borneo and Celebes went under the enemy’s control.  The Japanese then followed up with jumps on Kupang, Timor.  Dutch and US ships engaged the enemy’s navy in the Badeong Strait (east of Bali).  One Japanese destroyer was damaged and the Dutch lost 2 vessels.

Japanese at Singapore

Japanese at Singapore

Gen. Percival had made the error of concentrating his force of the 18th British Division on the coastline of Singapore and the 22nd Australian Brigade in the dense mangrove swamps.  On 7 February – Gen. Yamashita sent the Konoye Division across the strait, headed directly to those swamps.  By dawn of the following day, 30,000 enemy troops were ashore attacking in bayonet charges during the pouring rain and pushed the Allies into retreat.  The 27th Brigade, in the central area were left defending their front.  13 February – almost all of the ships carrying evacuees fell prey to the enemy bombers and vessels; the Japanese picked up some of the survivors.

The ABDACOM area of responsibility

The ABDACOM area of responsibility

Despite Churchill’s insistence that Singapore could hold out for 6 months, the ‘City of Lions’ fell.  15 February – at 1800 hours, Percival and his officers emerged from his headquarters in front of Japanese reporters and newsreel cameramen to record a stage-managed surrender to Yamashita.  The battles had cost both sides about 10,000 men.  European women and children were then incarcerated in Changi camp and thousands of Chinese civilians were executed.  On the Japanese home front, the government decreed 2 bottles of beer or sake per family and a bag of candy for the children in celebration.

The staged Singapore surrender.

The staged Singapore surrender.

Sir Max Hastings, British journalist, historian and author, has said, “At Singapore the Japanese had a brilliant general and a terrific army up against one of the most incompetent range of commanders that the British army has ever put in the field.”  Hastings believes that the “British forces in Singapore was not unique in the context of the Second War War…the British convinced themselves that if the other side had air superiority, then the British were entitled to expect to lose the ground battle….The British Army was just not very good.”

The Japanese continued to advance to Burma and the Allied ABDA Air Command was down to 55 fighters.  Gen. Wavell sent a cable out: “Loss of Java, though a severe blow…would not be fatal.  Efforts should NOT therefore be made to reinforce Java which might compromise Burma and Australia.”  Prime Minister Curtin recalled his 1st Australian Division from sailing across the Indian Ocean.  But, Churchill interceded and redirected the division to Rangoon, telling Curtin, “…your greatest support in this our of peril must be drawn from the U.S.” (Once again, Australia had lost a method of self-defense).

Click on images to enlarge.

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Humor –  Aussie and British style today….

Tank crew poster at Aberdeen training grounds.

Tank crew poster at Aberdeen training grounds.

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Owen Boyd – Lynnwood, WA; US Army, Korea

Tom Chappell – Born in England, Belle Glade, FL; RAF & RCAF, WWII, instructor at Clewiston, FL pilot & Bombardier school

Keith Dawson – Manurewa, NZ; RNZ Army # 815463 / RNZ Air Force # 44883, WWIIlib-bell

William Howell – South Jordan, UT; US Army, Korea, 4th Signal Battalion

Obrad Marinkovich – San Antonio, TX; US Air Force, fighter pilot (Ret. 30 years)

Bernard Murphy, FL; US Army, MSgt (Ret. 22 years), Korea & Vietnam

John O’Kane – Waltham, MA; US Army, WWII, ETOGeorge Scherr – Washington, IL; US Army, Korea, Engineers

Henry Turner – Canton, GA; US Army, WWII mortar crew, Korea & Vietnam

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January 1942 (2)

Top - blazing hangers at the airfield at Salamaua Bottom - Balikpapan oil wells set aflame by Dutch forces.

Top – blazing hangers at the airfield at Salamaua
Bottom – Balikpapan oil wells set aflame by Dutch forces.

6 January, the USS Yorktown, under RAdmiral Frank Fletcher, left San Diego, CA.  This was the flagship of the new Task Force 17 (TF-17) traveling with the supported protection of the Enterprise, flagship of TF-8.  Her mission was to unload a force of US Marines at Pago Pago to defend Samoa.  The two naval forces would then part company: TF-17 to the Marshalls and TF-8 to the Gilbert Islands.

USS Yorktown CV-5, North Island, San Diego, CA, WWII

USS Yorktown CV-5, North Island, San Diego, CA, WWII

7 January, Gen. Wavell made inspections of Singapore and reported back to Churchill that the “Fortress” defenses were far from adequate.  The entire north side was open to attack and all of the great guns faced the sea and could not be turned around.  Churchill responded that he was stunned, but his cable read: “NO SURRENDER MUST BE CONTEMPLATED.”

Retreat to Singapore by date.

Retreat to Singapore by date.

10-31 January, major Japanese landings occured throughout the Dutch East Indies.  Off the coast, on the 24th, US destroyers and Dutch bombers attacked an enemy convoy carrying additional troops.  Four ships were sunk, but the enemy managed to achieve a complete naval encirclement.

15-20 January, the Japanese 15th Army advanced into Burma and destroyed the 17th Indian Division and one Burmese division; both were being commanded by LtGeneral T.J. Hutton.

Japanese, some w/ cycles cross a temporary bridge in Burma.  Main structure destroyed by British.

Japanese, some w/ cycles cross a temporary bridge in Burma. Main structure destroyed by British.

16 January, British aircraft that remained on Singapore were flown to Sumatra.  From 20-31 January, British and Commonwealth troops transport to Singapore to aid in the defense of the island.  With all the planes absent, an appeal goes out to the RAF.

20 January, aircraft from 4 Japanese carriers began their bombing of New Britain at the port of Rabaul.  On the 23rd, 5000 enemy troops landed on New Britain,  New Ireland and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.  New Britain’s northern tip went under enemy control.  These attacks and the heavy raids on Lae,  New Guinea brought the war dangerously close to Australia.

22 January, for this date I have included a link from WW2today.com that contains an Australian War Diary – CLICK HERE!

Battle of Balikpapan

Battle of Balikpapan

The Battle of Balikpapan on 24 January was the first time the US Navy fought a surface action since Dewey in 1898.  Japanese Admiral Nishimura’s destroyers went on a futile search for a Dutch submarines and left 12 transports unprotected in the anchorage.  The destroyers, USS John D. Ford, Pop, Parrot and Paul Jones arrived at 0300 hours and fired their guns and torpedoes – no hits.  Commander Talbot regrouped and went back a second time and attacked until they were out of ammunition.  Four transports were sunk, the Kuretake Maru, Nana Maru, Sumanoura Maru and Taksuami Maru; but the enemy campaign on Borneo continued.

25 January, Thailand officially declared war on the US and Britain.  They believed that Japan would ultimately win the war.

Click on images to enlarge.

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HUMOR – 

unknown source

unknown source

from Chris @ Muscleheaded.wordpress.com/

from Chris @ Muscleheaded.wordpress.com/

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Farewell Salutes – 

Kenneth Ashley Sr. – Killeen, TX; US Army Sgt. (Ret. 20 yrs), Vietnam 2 tours, Purple Heart, 2 Bronze Stars

Frank Cardwell – Christchurch, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 422096, 617th Sqd. ‘Dam Busters’ 44 Sqd, WWIIBN91311

Hugh Dingsdale – (Born in Scotland), Burlington, CAN; RAF Military Transport, WWII, CBI, POW

Frank Eates Sr. – Portsmouth, VA; US Army, Korea, 11th Airborne Division

Theodore ‘Pete’ Enz – Appleton, WI; US Army, Sgt., WWII, ETO

Edmond Harjo – Seminole, OK; US Army, Pvt. Codetalker, 195th Field Artillery Batt., WWII

Myrtle Hoftiezer – Aurora, CO; WAC, WWII, nurse, ETO

Kenneth Isaak – Dickey County, ND; US Army, WWII, 70th Div., WWII

Marjorie McCall – Boca Raton, FL; civilian employee Vero Beach Naval Base, WWII

Glenn Plimpton – Orleans, MA; US Navy & civilian in advanced radar defenses

Howard Wagner – Weymouth, CAN; RC Army Medical Corps, WWII

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