to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

24.4 Random Observations

As I was compiling this data, certain terms seem to be oddly placed. One set of rosters apparently came into the possession of Australian authorities via the Japanese and required translation. The term “indigestion” was not uncommonly listed as a COD. Since this is not particularly likely, I assumed that this was a substitute / mistranslation / euphemism for diarrhea / dysentery and recorded it as such. I also did not differentiate between simple diarrhea, dysentery (bacterial) and amoebic. All were coded as dysentery. I have, however, seen another opinion that this should be coded as malnutrition. Too late for me to change my coding!

Another commonly seen term was “colitis”. In modern medical parlance this is not generally an acute infection as would be gastritis (2) or enteritis (125). It is more often used for chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. But in this context I suspect that it might be a euphemism or a substitute term for a cholera infection. I did record 98 instances in which colitis is the registered COD. [see below]

Other uniquely appearing CODs were exhaustion (1) and debility (70) which I coded as diet-related conditions alongside malnutrition, Beri-beri and Pellagra.  

Among the many different infectious diseases were 47 cases of Diphtheria, 10 of Typhus and 3 Leptospirosis as well as 1 unlucky fellow who reportedly died of Scabies. Survivor accounts speak to the horrors that men with Diphtheria experienced. There were 6 deaths attributed to Smallpox which given the living conditions seems like very few. I would have expected it to have penetrated deeper into the community as did cholera. Perhaps the vaccinations of that era were reasonably effective.

Among the listed injuries, 3 men drowned and one was struck by lightning. Only 2 were registered as having committed suicide. Six men are registered as dying of fractures. By date of death we can place all six at the KlianKari (K250) camp where they were killed in a rock fall.

Among those I coded as “natural causes” was a case of tonsillitis, 1 attributed to a hernia (post-surgery perhaps?) but only 1 each due to Diabetes, Epilepsy, Asthma and even Arthritis. Acute appendicitis claimed another nine. There were also 9 instances where the records indicate “ulcer” as the COD. Since this was written in the singular I took these to be cases of gastric ulcerative disease and not Tropical Ulcers. It would certainly seem logical that the stress could induce gastric ulcers.

Finally, at Don Rak and Thanbyuzayat cemeteries there are three special graves that contain 211, 62 and 41 sets of remains respectively. Reportedly, all of these were cremains that were buried separately (in one case in a basket) who were thought to have died of cholera. Except that for a fair number of these names the registered COD is other than cholera. So all we really know is that there were co-mingled cremains from at least three different mass cremations. While it is true that for those for whom we have COD and location information, the vast majority of those in Don Rak seem to have died at the Changaraya camp of cholera, a significant number died of other causes (including 1 of smallpox). The 41 at Thanbyuzayat are not in a common grave but are designated as Special Memorial graves clearly separate from the thousands of others for some reason. Among them are 5 noted as malaria, 4 each as Tropical Ulcer and colitis but only 3 are known to have died of cholera. No COD is listed for the remainder.

It was because of those 4 listed as colitis and another 7 in the Don Rak mass grave that I was prompted to think that colitis was being used in a way associated with cholera.   

I stand corrected! I was wrong about the overall composition of the Dutch POW contingent!

In reading the survivor descriptions of the KNIL forces, I came away with the impression that the vast majority were Javanese conscripts. Then I discovered a website that listed the dates and places of birth and death of these men. Unfortunately, there were no causes of death included. It does seem as if the majority were indeed European-born. Even those whose birth place is in the DEI could easily be of European Dutch stock with their family living in the DEI for decades. I had attempted early on to see if there was a means to distinguish Javanese from true Dutch from the data. There is no clear designation by Service Number. One would think that once drafted, any natives would be given a distinct ID number; if only because they might have been paid on a different scale. The Dutch tend to have very complicated names; multiple first and last names. A few names stood out in appearing ‘less Dutch’. Some men had very simple names like George Smit. My guess would have been that these were the natives. I was wrong! There seems no possible way to definitively state that any POW is not of European Dutch heritage. This also may play into the plaque at the Thai-anusorn Shrine that is written in the Sumatran dialect. If there were truly relatively few (none ?) native Javanese in the KNIL POW group, then this would make more sense. Another fact revealed by this data is that the Dutchmen tended to be 10-15 years older that the other POWs. Whereas Americans were born about 1920, these men had birthdates closer to 1910. Nothing seems easy within this saga!