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Western Australian in Hellfire Pass pilgrimage.



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Media Release

 

The Hon Bruce Scott MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs

Federal Member for Maranoa

 

47/98 

7 April 1998

WESTERN AUSTRALIAN IN HELLFIRE PASS PILGRIMAGE

A former prisoner of war from Western Australia will participate in an official pilgrimage to Singapore and Thailand which culminates on 24 April at the opening of the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum.

The pilgrimage group, made up of 10 former POWs and two war widows, will be led by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Scott. They will officially represent Australian former POWs when the memorial is opened by the Prime Minister, John Howard. The group will depart Australia on 20 April and visit Singapore for commemorative services at Kranji and Changi before travelling to Thailand for the Memorial opening and ANZAC Day services.

The Western Australian representative is Mr Charles (Curly) Collins.

The group has been nominated by relevant ex-service organisations.

Mr Scott said the $1.6 million memorial at Hellfire Pass is a fitting tribute to the more than 2700 Australians who perished during the construction of the rail line and to other POWs in the Asia-Pacific theatre.

The Burma-Thailand railway, which covered a total length of 420 kilometres, was begun in October 1942. Completed in late 1943, it was used for about 21 months, moving Japanese supplies. As well as Australian prisoners, British, Dutch and American POWs and Asian civilians were forced to work on the construction of the line.

Mr Collins enlisted in December 1940 at Claremont, Western Australia, at the age of 18. He served with the 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion, which had been formed in Western Australia only one month earlier, and after 14 months training was shipped to Singapore in January of 1942. As the Japanese invaded the island on the night of 8 February, Curly’s unit was among those defending the Western Area, right in the line of attack. Curly was wounded and hospitalised on 14 February as the island was finally overrun, and taken prisoner the following day.

After a year of imprisonment in Changi POW Camp, he was sent as part of H Force to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. H Force was to suffer the second-highest death rate of all forces involved in the construction of the line, with a loss of about 30 per cent of its men, many of them to cholera. This was partly due to its working on the rougher and more inaccessible portions of the line, where supplies were brought in by foot, if at all.

Curly was interned for some time in Malaya Camp, also called the Malayan Hamlet, in between the Hintock "Pack of Cards" bridge and the Konyu camps. The men of H Force in this area worked alongside men of D Force to dig "the cutting" - later dubbed Hellfire Pass - using rudimentary tools and labouring against an ever tightening deadline. Curly, along with many other survivors of the brutal "speedo" construction period, ended up back in the Changi POW Camp. He was discharged in 1946 and is now retired and living in Cervantes, Western Australia.

Media Contact:

Melissa McKerihan Tel: (02) 6277 782 0 or 0419 607 783

 

 

 

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