Remembering ‘Uncle Jim’

Phillip Wise on tour, meets Colonel Roger Lewis, the English Defence Attache at the United Kingdom Embassy in Thailand.

Experience. Phillip Wise, of Forest, had the honour of visiting the resting place of a relative who died during the Second World War. Overseas during Remembrance Day last year, Phillip visited the cemetery at Kanchanaburi, west Thailand and also laid a wreath on behalf of the Circular Head RSL committees and the wider community.

Ever since I can remember I’ve been interested in trying to learn more and understand what happened to a man my family just referred to as ‘Uncle Jim’.

He was my grandfather’s brother on my mother’s side.

Uncle Jim moved to Smithton in 1939 and worked as a barber in Smith Street and boarded with the Crosswell family for 12 months before moving on to Rosebery to continue working as a barber until he enlisted at Launceston.

Uncle Jim, Private James Forster, was a member of the 2/40th Battalion which was made up mostly of Tasmanians that were sent to garrison an airfield in what was then Dutch Timor.

That was in December 1941 and in February 1942, a week after the Japanese took Singapore they also took Dutch Timor resulting in most of the 2/40th becoming prisoners of war.

Uncle Jim was sent to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway for the next 20 months until he was tragically killed in a rock fall on the line at Krian Kri.

I had the opportunity as part of an organised tour to visit his grave at Kanchanaburi on Remembrance Day last year, and to lay a wreath for him and also one on behalf of the Circular Head RSL and wider community. This was a momentous occasion and privilege and made me so aware of what we take for granted every day.

While in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand we visited several war cemeteries and museums which were a wealth of information and education but nothing made the experience of what the POWs went through hit home more to me than the museum set up in honour of Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop at the Phu Toey Resort on the Kwai Noi river at Kanchanaburi.

It has a section dedicated to the Jack Chalker gallery which includes pencil sketchings of Weary Dunlop operating on patients with horrific injuries in primitive conditions.


Steam locomotive used on the Burma-Thailand Railway at Phu Toey museum dedicated to ‘Weary’ Dunlop.

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