to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

8.9 Hintok revealed

With the exception of Flying Tiger pilot Charles Mott, the vast majority of the US POWs worked the TBR in Burma. The only group to work on the TBR in Thailand arrived as part of H-Force in May 1943. I have accounted for 54 such men (altho other sources suggest that the number is 55). The core of the group were the 27 civilian Merchants Marines from the SS Sawolka. To this were added a hodge-podge of POWs who were also at Singapore at the time. They had all been left behind as the other groups moved on. 17 were from the Tharp group and 2 from Zeigler. Another 8 were originally affiliated with E Battery: 6 had been left in Singapore and another 2 on Java but had eventually been trans-shipped to Changi.

These latter two men relate the story that they were sent to ‘Bangkok’. This ‘fact’ is related in an interview given by W F Matthews in 1995. It is clear that they did not go to Bangkok per se. I first suspected that it was just his way of saying Thailand, but another survivor account added a bit of clarification. The second man relates that as they were assembled at the train yard in Singapore they were told that they were going to Bangkok. Indeed, the pre-existing railway north from Singapore had as its terminus the port of Bangkok. So the confusion is easily seen. That man goes on to relate that although they ended up at Hintok after the train dropped them at Nong Pladuc, they really never knew where they were precisely until sometime later. The other explanation for the lack of detail concerning the Thai geography may fall to the journalist who wrote the article.

This US group was part of H Force and worked nearby the F Force per documentation compiled by MANSELL:

“H” Force: Under British Lt Col H.R.Humphreys and Australian Lt Colonel Oakes the party of 3270 left Singapore in 6 train lots during the period 5th to the 17th May 1943. Consisting of 1141 British, 670 Australians, 588 Dutch, 26 Americans, Malay Volunteers and Indians made up the rest. A unique feature of H Force was an Officers Party made up of 260 Officers who worked as labourers. A number H Force were sick before departure, the last work party to leave for the railway their death rate was extremely high, like F Force they remained under the control of Singapore Command and suffered accordingly. Initially this group went to Tonchan Camp 139 Kilometres north of Non Pluduc. The Australians under Lt Colonel Oakes with Major Green 2/IC went to Konyu Camp 2 and worked on the Hellfire Pass Cutting, also the Three Tier Bridge, which took a deadly toll of the men. In August 1943 100 Australians were selected and force marched to Konkoita to join F Force on a cutting that was running behind time. The Australian, British, Dutch and other allied Prisoners of War were required by the Japanese to work 18 hours a day to complete the cutting. Sixty-nine men were beaten to death by Japanese guards in the six weeks it took to build the cutting, and many more died from cholera, dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion.

The 26 Americans in H Force included 7 Merchant Navy Officers who were part of the Officers Work party. 13 American prisoners initially worked on the Thailand end of the railway, on 5th May 1943, 19 American POWs were sent up with H Force. Led by their only NCO Clayton S Gordon of Svc Battery 131 Artillery, they marched the 140 kilometres from Ban Pong to Hintock Camp, 6 were too sick to continue and remained in Kanchanaburi. At Hintock Mountain Camp they worked on the notorious “Three Tier Bridge” at the 155 kilo point, four of this group died.

The other group that worked thus area was the largely Australian under the command of physician LtCol Ernest “Weary” Dunlop. They also experienced cholera and Dunlop was responsible for a few of the War Crimes accusations against both IJA and Engineer personnel. [see SECTION 10b for more info] The Hellfire Pass saga is also somewhat unique in that 69 Australians POWs were said to have been beaten to death during the prolonged construction shifts. Apparently it took 12 weeks to make the two cuttings that comprise this Pass.

The H-Force was brought by train to Ban Pong but marched the 155 kilometers to Hintok. A small number (4-6) of the US POWs were left behind in the F&H hospital in KAN. Two of them died there; while a third died at Tarsoa. [see Section 7: US DEATH Details]

In her Master’s thesis, F. Gordon-Peadon relates that per her brother (POW Crayton Gordon) the US POWs of H-Force were split into two groups. Some stayed on in Kanchanaburi assigned to transport supplies while 12 (by his count) went on to Hintok at a camp called Kanyu II. Gordon goes onto describe how en route back to Kanburi, the group rode the rails in one of the converted Type 100 trucks. In their NoTxUniv interviews both Crayton Gordon and Frank Ficklin confirm that they never went to Hintok. Instead, they spent their time at Khao Din doing vehicle maintenance and delivering supplies. Interestingly enough, neither of these men ever mention the Merchant Mariners that were part of H-Force. It is entirely possible that they never even knew that they were there.

Part 2: Getting to Hintok and beyond

It never ceases to amaze me as to how resourceful the Japanese were in moving the newly arriving workers to their assigned places of work. In the lower part of the TBR there were three major obstacles: the lack of a bridge, the outcroppings at Khao Poon and the mountain at Wang Po. Between Khoa Poon and Wang Po workers were simply placed on barges and landed near their work camp. To get beyond Wang Po they had to take a more circuitous route. They were marched west from ThaMarKam towards LatYa. They then crossed the Mae Klong River via the Tadan bridge and proceeded south (about 13 Km) until they met the river. Farther along it also wasn’t difficult to pass the area of HellFire Pass. Although the railway needed to proceed through it, the workers could simply by-pass that area by staying closer to the river. Hence the workers were being delivered all along the path of the TBR despite the major obstacles that were yet to be by-passed.

During the period of FEB-MAR-APR 43, tens of thousands of POWs and romusha made the 150+ kilometer trek from Ban Pong to their assigned work camps beyond Wang Po. Had it not been for the deteriorating conditions due to supply problems, the TBR may even have been completed ahead of schedule. But the rapid influx of new workers, the monsoon rains and then the cholera outbreak slowed the progress of the work such that by MAY it had almost reached a halt. It was only by means of working the available ‘fit’ men nearly to the point of exhaustion and death that the TBR was completed by OCT. That MAY-OCT time was known as the dreaded SPEEDO period. It was then that the vast majority of deaths occurred.

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