Wartime recollections

Tasmanian survivors in Ohama, Japan – including Adye Rockliff (middle row, second from left) – at the end of World War II, 1945.

Below are excerpts taken from a book authored by Adye Glen Rockliff: a Penguin-born World War II veteran and prisoner of war, captured by the Japanese in Java in March 1942 and forced to work on the now infamous Thailand-Burma Railway along with many other Australian POWs.

On the contrast of war and beauty during the Allied occupation of French Syria:

“By late afternoon we had arrived at a small village just short of the city where the battle plan was hatched while we prepared our guns. We were soon in position just over the ridge from where we had a marvellous view of Damascus. This would have been the view that many a conqueror would have had in past history. It was a glorious sight as the city sparkled in the late afternoon sun: it shone like some jewel resting on a green cushion.”

On the rapidly changing environment during imprisonment:

“Thailand, along with neighbouring Burma and Indo-China, has distinct wet and dry seasons and at this time, January 1943, was the height of the dry season with very high temperatures, and here in the river valley, cold nights. The surrounding jungle was mostly green but contained a lot of deciduous trees – they shed their leaves in the dry season. In some areas where deciduous trees predominated it looked like a neglected orchard or as Colonel Dunlop once described it, ‘a woodpile that extended forever’.”

On working and living conditions during railway construction:

“During the afternoon when the sun shone directly into a cutting, the temperature reached 53 degrees centigrade.”

“The workload, no matter what the job, was increased and along with the workload went sickness. The incidence of malaria increased along with sore mouths and sore throats. The accident rate increased with injuries from bits of steel flying off the drills, hammers missing the drills and smashing hands etc.”

“We became ‘zombies’ with a determination to stay alive until the rails were laid through our section, when hopefully the pressure would become less. As it was in combat, so it was also under adversity as prisoners. The consideration and helpfulness among the Australians became greater.”

On a typhoon striking his ship bound for Japan:

“About 10am, it struck with great force, with the sea rising and the ship rolling. Our ship rolled so much that when lying between decks we could see water. Yet, it recovered every time.”

On hearing of the end of the war at a camp in Ohama, Japan:

“We knew when Germany was defeated, which meant that more pressure would be applied to Japan. Our reaction was strange. We had received what we had hoped for ever since we became prisoners – we wanted to express some jubilation but could not do so. We just wandered about in a daze.”

On his return home to family in Wiltshire, Tasmania:

“My close wartime companion, Bill Lyall, and I with two others, all from the north west, were taken in a staff car. I find it hard to describe my re-acquaintance with the family. It was a strange situation that we found ourselves in. We were leaving a ‘family’ in which we had a most intimate and indescribable bond over a long period – one where we depended a great deal on each other with complete understanding, having shared some strange and emotional experiences with, which no one else could even attempt to understand. Here we were very much alone – leaving a closer-knit familiar ‘family’ and re-joining another, which had moved on in the six years from where we remembered them last.”

On the Australian spirit:

“For those who survived it was a truly remarkable experience. I became very proud of my fellow Australians who, under severe testing, proved their superiority to any other national group.”

The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS), 1800 011 046, provides 24/7 free and confidential Australia-wide counselling and support to veterans and their families for war and service related mental health and wellbeing conditions. Veterans, their families and health care professionals can also visit at-ease.dva.gov.au for information about support available and online self-help tools.

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