Presentation. Circular Head Christian School grade eight students were left captivated on Tuesday as World War II veteran Adye Rockliff shared his unique story of service.
A prisoner of war forced to work on the Thailand-Burma Railway, the 93-year-old travelled from Longford to vividly recollect his experiences of mateship and hardship with Fiona Poke’s class, also taking time to answer questions from students.
Lying about his age to sign up for service at 17 in January 1939, Adye’s journey would lead him to become one of more than 30,000 Australians captured as a POW during WWII, finally returning to his family who had moved locally to Wiltshire in 1945.
“It was a bit of a shock [for my family] because I was very young,” he told the class when asked of his reasons for signing up to serve.
“It was fashionable – everyone was enlisting. We became a very close-knit family.”
One of the last surviving WWII POWs in Tasmania, Adye was part of the ‘C’ company which helped to make up the 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion; stories of which have been immortalised in his book The War Time Memories of Adye Rockliff.
It was while serving in Java in March 1942 that he became a POW when the Japanese overpowered the Indonesian government, after which he was transferred to an allied camp in Bandeong led by Lieutenant Colonol Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.
Adye would eventually be shipped to Thailand a year later to begin work on the now infamous stretch of railway, which was built in the space of eight months by a mix of around 60,000 allied POWs and 200,000 Asian labourers.
“We sabotaged the operation at every opportunity, provided we didn’t get caught,” Adye said, describing the intentional use of poor quality timber where possible.
Sadly, he witnessed the horrific impact of widespread sickness and death first-hand: “Everything became fatal. Men would go to work in the morning, at night they’d be carried in by stretchers, barely recognisable.”
The inspiration behind Adye’s visit stemmed from the CHCS class researching WWII history throughout term one, focusing on POWs and their role in constructing the railway.
After making initial contact with him over the phone, Mrs Poke said students sent letters to Adye: a gesture he was “so touched by” he offered to come and speak.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Mrs Poke said. “It blew us away. It was just lovely to hear his story and the way he told it rather brilliantly.”
World War II army veteran and prisoner of war, Adye Rockliff of Longford, visited Circular Head Christian School and spoke to Fiona Poke’s grade eight class on Tuesday about his experiences as a member of the 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion. Here, Adye is pictured showing students a rare cup made of “high-grade porcelain” acquired during his service. Picture: Bodey Dittloff.