Sumatra Railway

Sumatra Railway

      Eddie - I have now just read every article in the fepow community site, and must say I am a little disappointed especially with the Title of The "Death Railway" for along with all the "Chit chat" I have been reading for the last few weeks it appears that 99% of members have only one thing in common "The Burma/Siam Railway, It is as if POWs were never treated the same in other parts of the far east.
      But first I must go back a couple of weeks when the "chat" was about why our loved ones never spoke about their experiences for many years if at all.
      My Father-in-Law Geoff (tas) Lee 84 sqdn RAF was captured at Tasikmalaya on 18th March 1942, and after a varied three and a half years internment was eventually released or recovered as his pay book states at Pakenberoe on 20th Sept. 1945, having spent the previous 11 months building a railway, prior to which he was in Java Singapore (twice) Ambon, endured many "Jap style sea cruises" and was torpedoed and sunk once.
      On his return to the UK He was billeted with or near a group of ex POWs who had spent the latter part of the war as prisoners of the Germans, during conversations with them about various experiences he was told to his face he was a liar and no-one had been treated in such a manner (never having officially received a red cross parcel for over 3 years! how ridiculous)? Geoff never said another word of his experiences for many years, Except to one or two other Fepows he met along the years, however when he said he had built a railway in Sumatra he always got the same reply "No mate You were in Burma" So again he became quiet about his time as a POW

      When he did open up it was to me alone after I became engaged to his only daughter, I was also a member of HMF at the time which probably made it easier for me to listen and understand, slowly I began to get the whole picture, and Geoff got something off his chest, He then decided he wanted to find out more of where he had been and who with, etc., , etc.

      Again he came upon the same stumbling blocks, for after contacting the Imperial War Museum and the War Graves Commission he got the same reply, "Sorry there are no records of prisoners building a Railway in Sumatra, you must have been in Burma,"
      I Still have original letters to this effect.
      In 1980 Geoff returned to Sumatra and with the assistance of A local oil company went deep into the jungle and found the remains of steam engines and tracks which effectively proved him correct and the so called authorities wrong. records have now been rectified accordingly. Although for some reason certain information's about the enforced slavery in Sumatra apparently remain "Classified" until 2045

      Geoff later went on to become something of an avid researcher and was in effect doing what the fepow list is doing now but before the age of computers, (answering up to 50 letters a day whilst continuing the research with the telephone constantly ringing is I suspect no mean feat in itself) I know for a fact there are many hundreds of people all over the world who are grateful to Geoff, for being informed of the fate or otherwise of loved ones and comrades (bearing in mind many people only ever received an official KIA or MIA somewhere in South East Asia at the time)
      Geoff is the only person I know who receives literally hundreds of Xmas cards each year without sending out one
      To get back to my original point
      Many People suffered Many hardships and tortures, many endured so much pain to their dying breaths that it becomes unthinkable, in all parts of South East Asia, that it appears slightly unbalanced to have a site now 60 years on that appears to concentrate on one railway and continue using the name "The Death Railway" How many death Railways were there??? do ex fepows actually know where they were at the time indeed a colleague of Geoffs who he had been with on Sumatra had been telling everyone for 40 years he had been on the Burma railway because that was what he had been told himself and being too ill after repatriation to think or believe any different, yet he avidly remembered working alongside Geoff.

      Anyone recovered from building a Railway at the Japanese Surrender were certainly not in Burma, but would probably believe so if that is what they were told.

      Perhaps it would be more appropriate after all this time, When writing about a Railway to at least put in brackets afterwards The Railway i.e. (Burma / Siam) or (Sumatra)
      In Order to Give recognition of the suffering and hardship of people like George Duffy, Geoff, and thousands of others, At least then it would not appear that, that episode of the war had been swept under the carpet and forgotten about as the authorities had tried to do.

      In Major Jacobs telegram to the allied commanders and relayed via the BBC (after his taking control of Sumatra after the surrender) states, He talked about the Jungle Railway, and suggested that from here might come stories of human suffering to rival those of the Burma-Siam Railroad epic and Quote" They are like walking skeletons, we find ourselves in the company of the living dead" also for Good measure the correct verse of the poem always attributed to the Burma Railway goes something like

      And in spite of tropic noonday
      and a host of wasting ills,
      Ever southwards went the Railway
      to Muara and the hills,
      Every sleeper claimed a body
      every rail a dozen more,
      'twas the hand of fate that marked them
      as it tallied up the score,

      verse 3 of 25 of Hells Railway BY Penry M Rees
      M..A 239 Battery 77th HAA

      Pekenbaroe Sumatra 1944.

      Janet - Seriously Eddie, I can not think, that you really pressume anyone thinks any the less, of any of the other prisoners on any of the other jobs !

      Just for the most of us, the masses were on the Burma/Siam Railway and therfore if most of the guys worked / died on it there would be most interst in it for their survivors.

      Any one who knows anything and has any witt knows that one of the worst jobs must have been the Sandakan marches, but seing as only 8 Aussies out of 2,500 men survived there will be little known, as SO FEW returned to tell their story or pass on their horror !

      Eddie, if it makes any difference to you, my Dad, vetran ex- Changi, Railway, Sumatra, lots of other places too, was told by my youngest Aunts husband ( an italian POW who stayed here ) he should have worked harder and then they wouldn't have beaten them !

      Also the Red Cross parcels, what a bone of contention in our house !,

      My mother religously collected for the red cross all the days of the war, so much so when my father was freed and arrived at Cardiff station they sent her and my brother by red cross car to meet him, HE NEVER ONCE HAD A PARCEL, but realised it was the Japanese at fault and no one ealse

      Eddie, you can not surely blame all these people who try to keep their cause going,

      They all had a SH*T lot, Ron has put alot into this because he believes in what his dad stood for, it really CAN NOT be Ron's fault surely ?

      Perhaps if you need to educate the masses you will put together a site so we can all log on and learn.

      Capt. George W. Duffy - Let's not shoot the messengers !

      The real fault in this conundrum lies with the man who wrote the book and the Hollywood people who made the movie. We Sumatran POWs simply lost the Public Relations battle. For example, I have a good friend, a retired General of the United States Army, who recently visited the site of the "Burma Railway" and e-mailed me with a comment wondering how I had survived the elements, never mind the Japanese Army ! So, he is confused.

      As an added comment, the Dutch people are far more recognizant of the Pakan Baroe railway than any others. One author has published two books, and another, a survivor, did a marvelous history. In addition, the many Dutch civilians, including several here in the 'States, who endured incarceration throughout the islands have done many books. The JUNYO MARU disaster off the west coast of Sumatra continues to create publicity. Go to one of my articles at for an example. This incident was "front page" news in the Dutch newspapers at the time. Flying home, shortly afterwards, I became engaged in conversation with Dutch nationals and they knew the whole story.

      From my point of view, given what I read of the "Burma" job, and what I experienced on the "Pakan Baroe" line, if I were in the position to make a choice today, it would be for "Pakan Baroe". Mainly, we had fewer diseases to contend with. On the other hand I believe Sumatra's climate was worse. Remember, we were within 60 miles of the Equator and in the Southern latitude's summer. Having been prisoners for years before
      going to Sumatra, we were accustomed to what the Japanese were providing in the way of food. Most of the prisoners in Burma went up there in 1942, we didn't go to Sumatra until mid-1944.

      I believe the Jap soldiers at Pakan Baroe were the same people who were in Burma. Not to understate their cruelty and disdain for our well-being, I feel these men did not treat us as badly as they did the Burma workers. There could have been a change in their thinking as to the ultimate end of the war. They weren't the "gung-ho" conquerors of 1942.

      And remember, there were 75,000 Allied soldiers and sailors on the Burma railway; we had about 5,000 on Sumatra. Deaths in Burma were more than 12,000, whereas on Sumatra the total was 700. After the war, we just did not have the vocal power. "The squeaking wheel gets all the grease."

      Ron Taylor - Thanks for the email about the Sumatra - Death Railway, Eddie, we have emailed each other on the subject before.

      You must have missed my email and message about this in the March Monthly Revue. It is below.

      Ron Taylor - George, having asked you to write a story about the Death Railway in Sumatra I feel humbled, you didn't let on. Your story on the Sumatra Railway was very helpful, thanks.
      It can be found at:
      I have added it to the Rising Sun Research layout and links.

      The List is a great way to inform others, now you have, others will respond and hopefully the Sumatra Railway will get some coverage.

      George's article does cover the railway in detail and is the only one I have came across on the web, if others know of more please email the list.

      If you notice I did call the Other Death Railway 'Thailand - Burma Railway' as I knew it was a sensitive issue. Your email will be under 'Sumatra Railway'

      The problem is shear numbers Eddie, because of these more stories are told on the Thailand - Burma Railway, it isn't a case of others not wanting to know.

      The pages on the Death Railway were started before I knew about the Railway in Sumatra, for this I apologise. They can be altered to include the Sumatra Railway but will need some details. If you are prepared to write an article this can be added.

      Please have a look at Pelambang Camp in the March Revue, this is on Sumatra.

      A look at ‘The Bridge On the River Kwai’ in the March Revue, did show this commercial venture did not follow historical fact. There was no bridge over the River Kwai, hence names were corrupted and verse borrowed.

      I hope this generates alot of feedback for you and others who would like to know more on Sumatra, anything you wish to add will help others immensely.

      Keith - There are survivors of the Sumatra Railway, and there is a memorial to that Railway, and the POWs who worked on it, complete with a segment of line at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire. Jack Plant and Geoff Lee were two of the survivors involved. I have a four page write up I picked op at the site during the memorial service on February 15th, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore. If you would like me to mail you a copy, please e-mail your address direct to me, not over the list, and I will put one in the post. I first came across this Railway on Anthea Beckett's site, but little information appears to be in circulation, and again in an American book. This Railway took 15 months to build, was completed 15/8/45, and cost the lives of 700 allied POWs and 25000 native workers, and was never used for the intended purpose.
      As George said, please do not shoot the messengers, most of the people seeking information had next of kin on the Burma - Siam Railway, me included, and more has been published about this than almost anything else, as a greater number of POWs were on it than most other slave labour projects. I met a friend I have made in COFEPOW recently, and we were talking about this and that, and he said "Keith, all I ever hear about is the bloody Burma Railway, do they not know there were other POWs". My response to him was much the same as my reply to you, nothing much has been written about anything else. Books are now however starting to appear, and indeed be reprinted, so I am sure in time the scales will balance out.
      I will try to get hold of one of the survivors through another contact, and seek their permission to put their document on the site.
      As regards being called a liar over the lack of Red Cross Parcels, my father was in that club also, and never spoke to anyone outside the family about his experiences again.

      Ron Taylor- The text below has been added to the Death Railway pages with a link to Georges site on the Sumatra Railway.

      These pages are dedicated to the prisoners who lost their lives working as slave labour for the Japanese to build a railway between Thailand and Burma.

      Please note however that there were other railways built including the Sumatra Railway which also cost the lives of many prisoners.

      Articles are written in our own time and of course it does follow that each one of us wants to know what happened to the one closest to us, it does not mean however that we are not interested, Eddie.

      Please submit an article and it will be included within the Death Railway pages, any maps or photo's are a help.

      Christine Bridges - My dad, John Geoffrey Lee of 84th Sqn RAF, left England in Nov 1941 on the Empress of India to Durban. He was sent then to Egypt to join his sqaudron in Cairo. With the squadron he then went to the far east and arrived in Sumatra in Feb 1942. Out of 600 men he was one of 150 with a gun and they were sent to join their aircraft in Northern Sumatra. The Japs were advancing and so the Sqn retreated to Java but had to blow up their own planes and were then captured on Friday 13th March 1942.
      They were put on a boat to Aruku 500 miles NE of Australia and were forced to build an airstrip in preparation for Japs invading Aus. This was Aug /Sept 1942.
      They were taken off and sent by boat to Singapore. When they arrived they found Red Cross parcels in a shed and raided the shed. They were caught and put on a boat again. This was then blown up. My dad a non swimmer was washed up with a few others on Sumatra and recaptured. He was put in jungle prison camps and eventually was sent to work on the Sumatra Railway from May 1944 to Sept 1945.
      He was repatriated from Pakenbaru in Sumatra and he still has his pay book which states this.
      He weighed just 6 stone when released and spent months in hospital only to found that he had been reported missing presumed dead as a deserter. He has a curved spine from malnutrition and has suffered recurring malaria all his life.

      A book called the Judy Story (about a dog in the war which received the Dickens Medal) was written and this is about Sumatra. It has in it a poem which was used by the film in Bridge Over the River Kwai ie"for every sleeper laid a life was lost".

      Another book called Prelude to the Monsoon by G F Jacobs is about an advance party sent in to Sumatra to sort out the many POW's in captured in the jungle and organise their release.

      My father only survived because he was one of the youngest POW's. He has only met a handful of people that knew they were on Sumatra, one is Dutch and a couple are Australian. Many many thousands of English Dutch and Australians died in the jungle camps of Sumatra.

      My dad went back in the 1980's and was helped by the Caltex Oil Company to find the engines and camps in the jungle. The Imperial War Museum was supplied with copies of his photos and evidence of many camps, as these were not known about until my dad went out there.
      This is a potted version covering my dad's captivity and there is lots more to tell.

      Keith - WOW, remind me never to piss you off Janet! No my dear, Eddie does not think that at all, Eddie is expressing an opinion, which over this medium we use can easily be misunderstood. If that comment was made face to face, it would be understood better.
      Yes, the mass of POWs were concentrated in the early days on the Burma Siam Railway, but once that had been completed in late 1943, it became a whole new ball game. The Burma Siam Railway was in essence done and dusted, the Nip military needed more men, the slave labour force was still in place, so move them to where they are needed, regardless of cost. That too is another subject, as "Death on the Hellships" prove.
      Eddie expressed an opinion, which is what our dads fought for, freedom of speech, which over a keyboard is easily misunderstood. Sandakan was another foul up, 6 Australians survived, and 3 British by luck, the rest as you say did not.
      And yes dear, I have not forgotten about Budd, so please grant me a stay of execution (and yes, that was a joke)

      Ron - On searching the web came across this site on the Pakan Baroe - Death railway.

      Pakan Baroe Death Railway by Stella

      The forgotten Death Railway through the jungle on Sumatra, built by Japanese Prisoners Of War and Indonesian Slave Labourers.

      Pleased to see you found it Eddie, as your name was in the guest book.

      I have added it to the Useful Links and The Rising Sun.



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