to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

24.2 Causes of Death

I was able to download 12068 records of the POWs buried in the three CWGC cemeteries. By nationality, they break down as 6547 UK, 2825 Dutch, 2694 Australian and 36 others. I then embarked on a quest to find causes of death (CODs) of these men. Due to the vagaries of both accurate record keeping and survival of those records I was able to find data sets that provided over 6300 registered causes of death. Unfortunately (?), the vast majority of these (68%) are for the UK POWs. It seems that most of the available records were compiled by the UK officers and only incidentally included AUS (27 %) and Dutch (4%) POWs who were collocated with them.

All that follows then is primarily based on the 4500 UK CODs with a few others added. It would seem, however, that having data on just over 50% of the POWs would provide a reasonable reflection of the reality of the situation. As such, gastrointestinal diseases (less cholera) were the largest group of causes accounting for 36% of all deaths. This was followed by dietary issues with 20%. Taken separately, cholera caused 16% of the deaths [largely in F Force; see below]. Malaria alone caused 14% and other infections added 3.6%. Seventeen different types of injuries were responsible for 5% with Tropical Ulcers alone causing the vast majority (270/317) of those. The remaining 2.3% I have characterized as ‘natural causes’ that could easily have pre-dated the captivity of these men. Here in we find heart failure to have caused 25 (of 142) deaths but diseases like epilepsy, diabetes, and stroke are in this group of 38 different conditions. Surely, the circumstances in which the POWs lived must have exacerbated these conditions but they cannot be solely connected to the POW situation.  Among the other infectious diseases are Diphtheria (46), TB (26), Typhus (21), Smallpox (6), Leptospirosis (3) and 83 cases of pneumonia.

Once again, it must be pointed out that only available and surviving records were identified. Of those, 52% (3483/6750) were from the members of the H & F Forces who were late arrivals on the TBR [see their story below]. There is no question that the experience of these 10,000 men was different in many ways from the other 50,000 who worked the TBR. For the most part, cholera impacted F Force more than any other. It accounted for nearly 25% of their deaths in these two groups. Cholera spilled over into the other groups as well but not in nearly as great a percentage of casualties. 80% of all the cholera deaths (878) occurred in just these two groups. So in this respect it is over-represented as a COD with regard to the other TBR groups. There is another complicating factor is that until F Force arrived in Thailand with about 3600 Australians, the vast majority of the POWs from that nation had been working in the Burmese sector. Yet we have very little data on AUS deaths for those Burma-side workers. Yet the generally accepted numbers say that 3666 of the 7000 F Force members were Australian. The existing COD data is on 2000 of the 3300 UK members of that work force. It must also be noted that there is incredibly little information about CODs within the Dutch contingent. We have data on only about 5% of the 2800 Dutch burials in these cemeteries and most of that involved their deaths during Allied bombing raids that inadvertently killed POWs.