Robert Goodwin - Disease

Running time
3 min 33 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


When we were taken prisoners, of course, they didn't improve. I had told you ... an earlier story ... they decided that they would, the Japanese, would increase their chances of success by building a railway. Burma and Thailand, generally, are very much underdeveloped from that point of view, and they decided the quickest thing to do is put up a railway.

We've got lots of labour, all these thousands of prisoners. They took us up in large numbers. They had a separate ... not only did they not avoid using officers for work. In general in wartime officers are captured but they, traditionally, they don't work. We're talking about our attitude between the British and the Germans in previous wars that happened. But not so for the Japanese. They took us up as an officer, of course, a whole 500, 400 of us. We went up and we were one of their principal workforces, cutting through country that seemed to almost enjoy death in that there was such a high incidence of disease, of cholera.

Malaria, of course, everyone had malaria every day without any form of suppression. But the greatest ... although dysentery was pretty terrible, the greatest killer was acute diarrhea and multiple causes. We just lost men in hundreds at a time. There were huge numbers of both British and Australian troops. I think, with the British troops, there were something around 150,000 prisoners, and they died like flies.

Was this page helpful?