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South Australian in Hellfire Pass pilgrimage.

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Media Release


The Hon Bruce Scott MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs

Federal Member for Maranoa



7 April 1998


A former prisoner of war from South 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 South Australian representative is Mr John (Jack) Dowd, of Loxton.

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 Dowd enlisted in March 1941. He served as a Private with the 8th Division Ammunition Sub Park until the fall of Singapore.

In April 1943, after a year of imprisonment in Changi, he was one of 7000 men who were selected to make up F Force. These men were to be sent by train to what they were told by the Japanese would be "health camps" at "a nice place in the mountains" where they would receive better food and medical attention and where they could expect to be paid for their previous work on the labour gangs. In reality, F Force was to suffer the highest death rate of all the groups working on the Burma-Thailand railway construction.

After five days of travel, packed into goods trains with little food and water and no sanitary facilities, the group faced a 300 km death-march from Ban Pong to Shimo Songkurai, during which over one-quarter of the men did not survive. By the time the railway was completed, over 40 per cent of F Force had died of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhus and malaria, and the effects of malnutrition and exhaustion.

Returning to Australia after the war, he worked as a carpenter and joiner, then as a transport operator. In 1975 he became a boiler attendant and distiller at the Loxton Co-op Winery and in later years worked as a volunteer domiciliary care bus driver for the Loxton Hospital Complex. He retired from this in January 1998, soon after his 80th birthday, after 18 years of voluntary service. He is currently the President of the Loxton Returned Services League.

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