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Contributed by 
sonnyjim/Mike Nellis
People in story: 
1425123 RQMS Alfred E Nellis
Location of story: 
Thailand on the Railway of Death
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 December 2003

For about four months, conditions were favourable, although the food was bad, the work was hard but not killing. P.O.W.'s according to rank were paid:- Officer's 50 to 30 dollars a month [scaled down on rank], W.O's 30 cents, N.C.O's [Corporals and above] 25 cents, others 20 cents per day paid every 10 days, with reductions according to Rank for Medical supplies, Sick and Messing. [No sick received pay and only got half rations], no money was paid to ranks less officers, it went into a canteen fund, to buy extra sugar, oil, meat (Report on the next page), salt, peanuts, eggs, etc., to supplement I.J.A. Rations. With the remainder, Ranks were paid in kind, cigarettes, tobacco, eggs, etc., therefore the sick were allowed eggs, some cigarettes and tobacco. The serious sick got the organs of pig and cattle, [this was not so at all camps, camps higher up the river were unable to buy any of these commodities, and very little I.J.A supplies]. as regards meat:- In late December, the British Camp Commandant, asked the N**s for more rations, especially meat, the sick were increasing, and the N**s continually shouting for men for work. If better and more food and medical supplies were issued then the sick would decrease, therefore more working men would become available. The N**s stated that this was impossible, but more men must be made available for work. The British Camp Commandant then asked, if he could buy cattle from the Canteen funds, this the N** agreed to, so for the next four months we had meat, not lot but enough to give us nourishment.
In February 1943, two subsidiary camps were opened, three miles from the main camp, one North one South. All good times ceased, the railway was being made too slowly, it must be speeded up, more men must go out to work, cook-house and administrative staff were reduced, sick were sorted out, the least sick were made to go out to work. Work became much harder, at each camp, a rail track had to be made and cut by hand with chisel and hammer around cliff faces and bridges made. Men commenced work at 7.00 am until their task was completed, often working until their tasks were completed at 2.00 am the next morning. Dinner was taken out to them, consisting of boiled rice and dried salted fish, a piece 6 inches long by 2 inches wide and thick and full of unchewable bones. Sometimes a pint of tea, not often, the only drink they got was what they took out with them in their water bottles, [if they had one]. A meal was provided when they returned to camp after work had ceased. Boots were becoming things of the past, P.O.W.s working barefooted or working with a piece of wood held by a piece of cloth around the toes on the feet. Clothing also became worn out or had been cut up for dressings, men had no shorts or shirts, but wore only a loin cloth or shorts made from rice sacks. Sickness increased, but men still had to work.
In March, thousands of P.O.W's from camps further down the river, where the railway had been completed began to arrive, food became worse, these P.O.W's were made to supplement work on the rock-faces, sleeping in the open, no accommodation being available, beatings increased, men being beaten by bamboo, spade, iron bars or anything the N**s could lay their hands on, the 'Speedo' had commenced.
During the period up to the end of April, the weather was very hot but fine, but the weather broke, torrential rain fell making the work very difficult, especially on the rock face. The weather did not cause the work to be stopped, rain or no rain the railway must be built, sickness and deaths increased.
On May the 10th, the railway reached Wampo, better rations began to arrive, but not for the benefit of the workers, orders were issued for them to move to camps higher up the river, without a rest, Battalions, less 150 very sick P.O.W's, commenced marching to South Tonchan. On May the 17th, the 150 sick were moved by barge down river to Chungkia P.O.W. Base Hospital Camp. The rear party then moved by rail and road taking five days, during which time it rained increasingly, they slept in the open and marched, through mud and water a foot deep.
At South Tonchan, conditions were terrible, food was scarce, just rice, rice and still more rice. Vegetables were dried sweet potatoes and lily roots, with perhaps a little dried meat or dried salt fish for workers only. Sanitary arrangements, well, there were none. Approximately 8,000 men were camped here, with only three Asiatic Latrines to sit three at a time; [These latrines were holes about 8 feet long, 2 feet wide and 4 foot deep with bamboos, so that men could squat Asiatic fashion]. Latrine paper was unobtainable, leaves or dried grass was used instead. These latrines were just a breeding place for flies, being open to the air and the deposit uncovered. Consequently the camp, cook-hose and food were just black with flies, millions of them. To illustrate this point, if you used a fly-swat, you would kill approximately 200 flies with each swat. In the huts, there being no Hospital, men too ill to help themselves, or men dying with their mouths open, either they were covered with flies or the inside of their mouths were just black with them. Owing to most men suffering from acute diarrhoea or dystentry, and there being insufficient latrine accommodation, men being unable to wait, just did their business all over the camp, inside or outside huts or tents.
Accommodation was tents or huts, so bad and leaky, that it rained just as much inside as out.
The camp was situated about five miles from the river, in a hollow below high mountains, which meant that when it rained, the water was held there. The camp was just feet of black slimy mud, sometimes inside the huts and tents. The water used for washing clothes, if any? Bathing and cooking was from a small stream running through the centre of the camp. Ranks were unable to drink this water, it must be boiled, and owing to scarcity of wood and cooking utensils, a quarter pint of tea was allowed each meal and a pint of water for workers. Sickness was very bad, for example, out of three Battalions, 450 strong, a total of 1,350 men; there were only 30 fit men, that were fit enough to work on the railway, were found. In six days, 159 men died, mainly through acute diarrhoea and dysentery. Others suffered from debility, Beriberi, Vitamin diseases, Ulcers, and chronic Malaria.
The number of sick caused the railway work to temporarily cease, more men arrived at the camp, including Dutch, Australian, Tamil's and Chinese. Thousands more were passing on foot, [including women and small children], through the camp on their way to camps higher up the river. This did not improve matters, as fast as they came, so they fell sick; so the N**s ordered that all sick, however bad, would parade at eight o'clock in the morning, each morning for inspection, so that they could be sorted out for work on the railway, or to relieve fit men working in the cook-houses or other jobs in the camp. It is impossible to tell anybody what this parade looked like; just a parade of human skeletons with skin but no flesh, no boots or clothing; holding one another up; made to stand for one hour sometimes more in torrential rain and black slimy mud, beaten up by the N**s for not standing up all the time. I was suffering from internal Phlebitis of the right leg, acute diarrhoea and malaria and had to be carried on parade. I was made to stand for this length of time, in agony; even after having been operated on and I was not the worst on parade. At some camps, all the sick, however bad, had to go to work on the railway; dying at work, or beaten insensible for being unable to work and dying two days later. At one camp, the N**s used to enter the huts, force the sick to stand up and then ask them if they were fit for work. If they said "No", they were beaten with the flat of the sword, or by a bamboo until they said"Yes", and that meant Death. Work was cruel, starting at 7 am in the dark, with only one pint of rice and a quarter pint of tea, until 2 am the next morning or later on when we got one pint of cold boiled rice and a little piece of dried meat or salt fish. Wet through, no washing, no boots or clothing, lousy, very little sleep, beaten up for the least provocation and then back to camp and more rice, mud and leaky huts or tents.
In June, Cholera broke out, in seven days 189 of our men died and unknown hundreds of Asiatic's. In one Asiatic camp of 800 only one person survived. There was very little treatment, saline injections and Bondy's Pills with little or no disinfectants to help stop this scourge. Fit men could not be released from work on the railway or the camp isolated, so semi-sick men were ordered to dig graves or build pyres and bury or burn the dead and dying men. It was known for men in coma's to come to life when they felt themselves being buried or burnt; but the Nips made them stop there, THIS was the Railway, some camps being much worse than this, not only Cholera, but Typhus, Bubonic, and other scourges. This was "The Railway of Death".

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Message 1 - Wampo Camp

Posted on: 23 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear sonnyjim/Mike Nellis

This very interesting story deserves a wider audience. Unfortunately you have posted it to the Army Research Desk where it will only be seen by voluntary WW2 Rearchers like myself and a few others. A Research Desk is where you can ask questions about WW2 or search for long lost comrades, relatives, or friends; in sum, where you 'Ask a Question'.

Your finished story should be sent to the Editorial Desk. To do so now follow these instructions:

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Kind regards,


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