Roy Cornford, a 19 year old labourer, enlisted into the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in September 1941. Arriving in Singapore late in the Malayan campaign as a reinforcement for the 2/19th Battalion, Roy was fortunate enough to be evacuated from Singapore to Java a week before the city fell to Japanese force. His luck was not to hold out, however, and Roy was taken prisoner by the Japanese when Java fell in March 1942.
Transported back to Singapore, Roy went on to work in Thailand on the notorious Burma-Thailand Railway. In March 1944, Roy was amongst a group of prisoners of war (POWs) in Thailand selected by the Japanese for transport to Japan to work as slave labour. After many delays and a tortuous trip from Thailand to Singapore, Roy departed Singapore on 6 September 1944, aboard the Japanese cargo ship Rakuyo Maru, part of a convoy bound for Japan. On 12 September, the convoy was attacked by a US Navy submarine ‘wolf pack’, consisting of US Ships Growler, Pampanito and Sealion. Two ships in the convoy which were carrying POWs, Rakuyo Maru and Kachidoki Maru, were sunk by the submarines. As the ships carried no special markings and as the Japanese government had made no application for safe passage of the ships as POW transports, the American submarine crews had no way of knowing that Allied POWs were aboard the ships when they were torpedoed. The presence of POWs aboard the ships was discovered on 15 September, three days after the sinkings, when the USS Pampanito returned to the area to continue operations against the convoy and discovered men clinging to rafts who were identified as British and Australians. Pampanito immediately set about rescuing as many survivors as possible and called in three of her sister ships to assist. Roy Cornford was one of the 73 survivors picked up by Pampanito.
Roy and his mates were transported by Pampanito to the US base on the island of Saipan, where they were disembarked and immediately admitted to hospital. From Saipan, Roy was returned to Australia by ship, arriving at Brisbane on 18 October 1944. After further hospital treatment, Roy was discharged from the AIF in May 1945.
Roy married his wife Joan in 1947 and they have raised three children. Trained as a painter after the war, Roy originally worked as an employee of a painting contractor and then set up his own business, which he ran for almost 30 years. Roy is an active member of the RSL and following retirement he and his wife Joan established a successful plant nursery and donated all of the profits from 1987 to 2009 to charity. He remains actively involved in community and charity work.
Roy prefers to forget the horrors of his time as a POW, concentrating instead on remembering how he and his mates all helped each other through difficult times and conditions.