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LAC Jack Plant, RAF Medical Branch, Mentioned in Despatches (dec. Feb 2011)

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Jack joined the Royal Air Force Medical Branch in March 1940 and after training at three RAF General Hospitals he was posted to RAF Marham in Norfolk and in late 1941 to Sungei Patani in Malaya. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese and became part of the huge movement of forced labour within the Japanese Empire.

He eventually arrived at Jaarmarkt Camp in Soerabaya, Java which was the largest POW Camp in SE Asia and used as a transit camp for POWs. In early 1943 they were taken to the docks and boarded the Amagi Maru . The conditions on board were appalling, grossly inadequate sanitation, terrible heat and rapidly growing sickness. After two weeks the survivors arrived at Ambon on the island of Amboina where those who could swim pushed oil drums dropped from the ship to the shore where they were rolled up the beach and stored. They continued the journey to Haruku where under dreadful conditions - they started by building a camp - they constructed an advanced airfield for the Japanese Air Force.

When this was finished they made the return journey to Java where they were transferred to Cycle Camp, run by a particularly brutal Japanese Commandant Ω, and thence to the docks for yet another voyage, this time to Singapore where they were humiliated for domestic cinema audience consumption Ω.

They were then returned to the docks for transfer to Sumatra and to their final destination at Pakenbaru Ω. They marched inland when they learned they were to build a railway, 140 miles long which would be completed on August 15th 1945 Ω.

Camp 2 was to be the source of POW labour and the central medical facility, such as it was Ω. Food was monotonous and of very basic nutritional value Ω.

The first stage of building was jungle clearance for which the Japanese used local “romusha” labour. If the lot of the POW was terrible, that of the romusha was much worse Ω.

The POWs prepared the ground using the most basic of tools and when supplies of sleepers ran out, they had to make them from whatever trees were available in the surrounding jungle Ω. The laying of rails was universally accepted as the worst job on the line and made great demands on the POWs Ω.

Rivers, and there were many of them, were bridged using primitive methods, the piles being driven in by POW labour Ω. The POWs considered the possibility of sabotage but since the railway was the only way in which they could get back, common sense dictated they built it well Ω.

Work continued and they arrived at the Equator; they all developed survival strategies to give them some relief from the relentless sun, and work continued until they joined up with the gang coming from the other end of the railway Ω. They returned to base camp in stages, dismantling where necessary camps they had used previously. In many cases the jungle had already taken them back and it was only constant movement on the railway line that had kept it open.

He finally got back to England in time for Christmas 1945.

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Sumatra Railway Sketch