to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

24.7 Dutch POWs

I came upon a website that lists the place of birth and death of the Dutch POWs. It was, indeed, a revelation that the KNIL were indeed mainly Dutchmen of European stock, though many were born in the DEI. I had long held the mistaken impression that the main body of that force consisted of local Javanese conscripts. Apparently, this was not so.

There were other new insights revealed as well. There were a group of about 40 Dutch whose date of death (DOD) was earlier than work on the TBR would have provided for. All were buried in the Thanbyuzayat Cemetery. It turns out that they were indeed ‘early’ deaths in places like Tavoy or Moulmein prior to their assigned group arriving to work the TBR. I was also able to identify 3 Australians and 10 Dutch who were KIA when their Hellship was bombed in Jan 43 en route to Burma from Singapore. Two of them were HMAS PERTH crewmen. This was the same ship carrying the main Tharp group of US POWs.The TBRC data shows more Dutch in Thailand than Burma; 9300 vs 5500. Almost all of the Dutch in Thailand arrived with Java Group 8; 8700 of 9300 the rest were mostly in H Force. It was a group of about 1000 of the Dutch in the Java 8 Group that were sent to assist in the building of the iron bridge at ThaMarKam. Oddly, the two earliest Dutch deaths in Thailand are recorded as SEP 1942. Multiple sources confirm those dates. Naturally, both are buried at Don Rak. When they arrived in Thailand is unclear. The next death isn’t until JAN 43 said to have died at Kui Yea camp (K186) which is quite far along on the TBR, just beyond Sai Yok. This early arrival of Dutch troops from Java breaks the ‘policy’ of sending the Java POWs to Burma. Why was this done? Why would they have gone by train to NongPlaDuk rather than Hellship to Burma? The Java 8 work group is also said to have had over 1200 Australian POWs but here too we have difficulty identifying them as a group.

One could speculate as to why a group of POWs from Java would have been diverted to Thailand. Seemingly, in accordance with the original plan, they would have been destine for Burma. Perhaps, with the arrival of the Grp 5A which included the larger Tharp group of US POWs in JAN 43, the workforce in Burma was thought to be sufficient. Or at least that the 10,000 men in Java 8 were more needed in Thailand than in Burma. This group included 8700 Dutch which was the largest contingent to be delivered there. They are the reason why there were more Dutch reported to have worked in Thailand than Burma. We still have the question of why no Dutch were counted as having been sent there prior to FEB 43.

We have a place of death recorded for nearly 2800 of the Dutch POWs. I have no reason to doubt the dates and places as recorded yet it is clear that the original CWGC records for DOD are sometimes incorrect. From the Dutch website, the stated dates fit the scenario better than the dates listed by CWGC. The CWGC dates are generally later and are wrong by the year only (same day/month). I have used the former dates as much more likely. One complicating factor pervasive throughout the CWGC data is that they do not place the individual Dutch POWs into specific military units. They are generally listed only as KNIL. This impedes any attempts to sort the POWs into any sub-groups like we can for the British and Australians. Although many of the AUS POWs do not have an identified specific military unit.  

The vast majority of Dutch deaths in Thailand do not occur until after FEB 43. By that time, H and F Forces were arriving, but there were not a large number of Dutch in H Force and none attributed to F. Most of these POWs seem to have worked the area just beyond Hintok and up into the Thai highlands. Lin Tin (K182) has been specifically identified by others as a camp worked by the Dutch as evidenced by a fair number of deaths recorded as occurring there in FEB-MAR 43. Interspersed during this same time frame were Dutch deaths occurring back at Kilo #1 Nong PlaDuk (Java 8 ?) as well as at Thanbyuzayat. At that time the Burma work groups were making their way into the Burmese highlands where the majority of Speedo deaths would occur at the Kilo 80 and 105 camps area. These are also where the majority of the US deaths occurred. Also during this period, the Dutch deaths recorded at Kanchanaburi and ChungKai increase, undoubtedly due to the hospitals that were located there rather than POWs assigned to work there. Some of these are likely H Force deaths but it is difficult to assign these POWs to that group since the available records do not reflex their status.   

As construction neared its end, the Dutch moved farther into the Thai highlands to camps near Tha KaNun (K225). As would be expected, we also begin to see deaths near the Thai-Burma border at the Chanagaraya camp (K301) where the Burma-side work force seems to have met and overlapped with elements of F Force. But the deaths among the Burma-side workers seem to occur immediately post-completion reflecting perhaps their later arrival in that area. In that immediate post-completion time (NOV-DEC 43), the number of deaths at both Kanchanaburi and ChungKai also increase greatly as POWs are consolidated there. There is also an increase in Dutch deaths at NongPlaDuk in early 1944. Given the overall conditions there, I’d assume that these were POWs who were ‘recycled’ from the jungle camps rather than men originally assigned there. There would be little else to explain these post-completion deaths. The errant bombs that killed many fell on SEP 44. By MAY 44, POWs are also being re-distributed to the camp at Tha Muang. I believe that this was purely a ‘follow-on’ camp populated if not established post-construction. No deaths in any groups were registered there during the construction phase. A few deaths continued to be listed as occurring in Burma as late as MAR 44.

Interestingly, like Changaraya above, the Dutch deaths that are recorded to have occurred at SongKuRai, where so many F Force POWs died, do not occur until JUL-AUG 45. Why would they have been there so late in the war? Perhaps as a wood cutting or repair crew? Only about 550 of the total of 2800 Dutch deaths are listed as occurring in Burma, but many of those who worked there likely died following the consolidation of the Burmese work groups to Thailand; including a few dozen who were sent south to work the Kra Isthmus railway.

In DEC 44, a large number of Dutch POWs were KIA when their repair party was riding a train at Kilo 213 when it was bombed and strafed by Allied planes. They were from the Kui Yea camp (K186) that continued to house a large number of Dutch POWs. Then in JAN 45, a wood cutting camp was established at Linson (K203) where a few more POWs who has survived the TBR construction effort died.

There are even 20 former-POWs whose deaths did not occur until 1946. These are listed as occurring in Bangkok. Quite obviously, these were men who had as yet been unable to return to the DEI due to the political situation there. One has to wonder if the European-born Dutchmen chose to return to the DEI or if any were repatriated to the Netherlands.

Although we can place these Dutch POWs in time and space, we know little about their causes of death. We have a recorded COD for only about 5% of the 2800 Dutch POWs. Although there is no reason to believe that (less cholera) they would not have experienced death due to the same causes and in roughly the same proportions as the POWs for whom this data is known.

24.7.2 A brief History of the Dutch East Indies