Sgt. Ron Needham, 6th Bn. Royal
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Ron joined the 6th Bn. Royal Norfolk Regiment on 18th October
1939 as part of the 18th Division. On 29th October 1941, after
two years training, he sailed in the MS Duchess of Atholl from
Gourock, nr. Glasgow.
Arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia he was transferred to the USS
Mount Vernon, part of Convoy WS12, bound for the Middle East via
Trinidad, South Africa, and Mombasa. From there, 53rd Brigade
sailed on to Singapore while the two other brigades sailed for
Bombay. They reached
Singapore on January 9th, 1942, with most of their heavy
equipment still in Bombay - that arrived with 54th and 55th
Brigades just in time for the surrender
on 15th February
Ed Note: although they were transported in American
troopships, it was almost a month before Pearl Harbour and the
formal entry of the US into World War II.
Within 4 days he was at the front but they were constantly
forced back until they returned to Singapore for the final
They were sent to Roberts Barracks and initially had very little
contact with the Japanese, although a way was found to keep the
records safe Ω.
He was moved by cattle truck to the notorious Burma Railway
where he worked on the Bridge over the Kwai, his situation made
easier by being transported rather than having to traverse the
railway on foot Ω.
He worked on both bridges; gruelling work, bad treatment and
insufficient food characterised their lives Ω.
Unsurprisingly, illness was rife. There were virtually no
medical facilities, although some additional materials were
bought from local villages Ω.
Huge numbers of POWs died on the Burma Railway, those dying of
cholera being cremated in an attempt to contain the disease Ω.
Brutal treatment of prisoners was the norm, many carrying the
marks for ever Ω.
Yet despite their dreadful privations, they succeeded in
maintaining a remarkable cohesion and comradeship Ω.
Morale was further boosted by sharing their knowledge and
In April 1943, he was moved from Tamarkan to Hellfire Pass,
where in June, he contracted dysentery. Fortunately he was moved
back to Kanchanaburi, which probably saved his life, although
the infamous Radio Incident and the reprisals that followed
showed the Japanese Kempetai in all their brutality. He was
moved back to Nom Pladuk where he remained until June 1944 Ω.
He was then taken back to Singapore where he remained until
December 1944, when he left on a convoy destined for Japan. The
convoy got no further than Saigon since the previous convoy had
been heavily torpedoed by American submarines. He worked on an
airfield near Saigon before being moved outside for other work,
later returning to Saigon and billets near the docks Ω.
After August 6th, things became very quiet and shortly after
they were told the conflict had ended. The sick were flown out
as a priority and within a few weeks they were flown to Rangoon
via Bangkok Ω.
He got back to England on the Indrapura sometime late
October/early November 1945, in the middle of a dock strike.
Having worked on the docks themselves, the ex-POWs were able to
bring the ship in without the help of the dockers Ω.
In a remarkable link with the past, Ron and some of his mates,
visiting the Bridge over the Kwai many years later, met the
little girl who had sold them them duck eggs all those
years before Ω.
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