Colin Hamley's story

Colin Hamley enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in May 1940. He served with the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion as part of the 7th Australian Division in the Middle East.

Colin's battalion was embarked in Egypt for Australia but diverted to Java. Colin was captured after a 2-week campaign against the Japanese invasion of Java came to an end.

In 1943, Colin and other allied prisoners were moved to Thailand, where they were put to work on the infamous Burma-Thailand railway.

Prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians were forced to build the 415km railway connecting Thailand and Burma, allowing the occupying Japanese forces to bypass vulnerable sea routes. Colin remembers the starvation they endured and the rigours of working in railway cuttings, breaking and clearing rocks.

Colin's brother, Don, was also captured and worked on the railway. He did not survive. An enduring memory for Colin was a chance meeting when Don threw him a hatful of cigarettes as Colin passed by his worksite on a train. It was the last time the brothers saw each other.

On 20 August 1945, Colin was recovered by allied troops. In October 1945, he embarked for Australia. He was discharged from the AIF in February 1946.

POW labour in the quarries


You were that hungry that even this rotten food you were getting but there were times when I would say to my mates "Gee, that was great" you know because I was that hungry it even tasted good, the rotten food.

The worst job of all was when they put us on to ... into a quarry, into a bluestone quarry. Our work was to ... they used to, how did they ... the Japs, the Jap powder monkeys would come in every day and they'd blast down this bluestone from a very big quarry, with a wall about, I guess it was about 40, 50 foot high and they, they'd sit there ...

We would drill the holes for the explosives, and the Jap powder monkeys would come along and place gelignite and fuses into the holes. Our job was really to the drill the hole, which was a terrible jobs. One of us would hold this star drill, which was, you know, about so long with a star sort of shape at the end, a hardened shape. One would hold the star drill and his mate would hit it with a hammer. Which was all right if you had a mate who had a good eye but there were many accidents caused by that hammer and drill job. And then they attach the gum and light all the fuses. We'd get out of the quarry, hide behind trees, and the Japs would blast, light the fuses, and blast all the rocks down.

And then our next job we had to do was to break all these great big bluestone boulders up. Break them up first with a eight pound hammer and we'd get those great big boulders like that, you know, and you'd be trying to break them up and you'd have to find that split in the rock. And it's amazing how the rock did form into splits and you'd find the split and you'd ... it wasn't all that hard to break the rocks up with this eight pound hammer.

And then once they were broken into pieces about a foot in diameter, in circumference, we'd then go ahead and break them up with napping hammers, as they called them, and nap them down to the size of two or three inches in diameter to be used as ballast for the railway sleepers, to put under the railway sleepers. Same as they do here, exactly the same.

That quarry work was responsible for so many ulcers that developed on the legs through cuts received in the quarry which, you know, became infected and developed into tropical ulcers. Tropical ulcers at the 100-Kilo camp were shocking.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Colin Hamley's story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 1 December 2023,
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