Dreaming of home kept him going on railway of death

Name: Clarence Williams
Date: 1941-1945
Unit: 2/10th Battalion RAE
Location: Malaya

Dreaming of home and the wonderful things he would do when he got there was what kept Sapper Clarrie Williams going while he slaved away on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

It was the only way he knew to survive the horrors of starvation, beatings, torture and death which were all a part of the daily life as a prisoner of war under the Japanese.

Clarry Williams went off to war with high ideals. At the age of 18 he joined the 2nd/10th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, and went to fight in Malaya.

Along with 3000 other Australians he was captured when Singapore fell and soon found himself being transported to Burma to work on the infamous "Railway of Death".

From the start the conditions were atrocious with little to eat, constant heat, little or no medical supplies and the constant cruelty of their Japanese guards.

They were forced to cut through dense jungle and hills, to build embankments and to build bridges. Then they had to lay sleepers and rails.

"Everything had to be done by hand and each man had to lay 1.5 metres of track regardless of the conditions or terrain," Mr Williams said in a newspaper interview in 1995.

Everyone worked until they dropped with many dying along the way from starvation, dysentery, malaria, beri-beri, cholera and beatings from the guards.

Prisoners who fell ill were not fed and many survived only through the kindness of other prisoners who shared their meagre rations with them, Mr Williams said.

Because the sick were a liability and were often killed by the guards, he tried to hide his illness, he recalled. "You became immune to your illness because you knew you couldn't get better as there was nothing to treat you with," he said. "My weight dropped to 45kg."

Dreaming of home was his way of dealing with the terrible situation. "Once someone gave up it was surprising how quickly they went," he said. "It was not always the weakest who went first. You'd say goodnight to a guy and the next morning he'd be dead."

The "Railway of Death" was opened by November 1943. About 16,000 men died in the construction of the 400 miles (650 km) of track or 400 men for every mile.

When the war ended, Clarry Williams and his fellow POWs were at Nakom Pathom in Thailand where they were being rested before starting another major project.

"The Japanese just came running through the camp yelling the war had ended," Mr Williams said. "It was the best moment of my life."

The material for this article was supplied by Nancy Robins and Yvonne Williams of Victoria

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Dreaming of home kept him going on railway of death, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 16 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-wartime/dreaming-home-kept-him-going-railway-death
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