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John Roy (Jack) Thorpe OAM

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John Roy (Jack) Thorpe OAM
Thorpe John Roy 2.jpg
Jack prior to embarkation to the Middle East
Thorpe John Roy.jpg
Jack in winter uniform while serving with the Occupying Force in Japan
Personal Information
Date of Birth 9 Nov 1921
Place of Birth Claremont, Western Australia
Age at Enlistment 22 years, 1 month
Description 5'11" (1.80m) tall ; ; medium complexion ; brown eyes ; dark hair
Occupation Apprentice Diesel Mechanic
Religion Church of England
Address Armadale, Western Australia
Next of Kin Father , Mr John Thorpe
Military Information
Reg Number WX10477
Date of Enlistment 20 Dec 1940
Rank Sergeant
Unit/Formation 105th Transport Company
Military Movement
1st Departure from Australia
Journey Dates 18 Sep 1941 ‒ 20 Oct 1941
Transport Details SS Marnix van Sint Aldegonde Melbourne to Port Tewfik
Transfers
Journey Dates 1 Feb 1942 ‒ 15 Feb 1942
Transport Details SS Orcades Port Tewfik to Tanjung Priok
Journey Dates 16 Dec 1944 ‒ 15 Jan 1945
Transport Details MV Awa Maru Sinapore to Moji, Japan
Return to Australia
Journey Dates Aug 1945 ‒ Aug 1945
Transport Details unknown Japan to Manila via Okinawa
Journey Dates Sep 1945 ‒ 14 Oct 1945
Transport Details HMS Speaker Manila to Sydney via Guam & New Guinea
Post War Details
Fate Captured Java 1942
POW Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan
Returned to Australia
Served with the Australian Occupation Force in Japan
External Monument(s) The Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial Ballarat, Victoria
Medals Order of Australian Medal
1939-45 Star
Pacific Star
War Medal 1939-45
Australian Service Medal 1939-45
Australia Service Medal 1945-75



Pre War

Jack's first few years were spent living in a tent on the Peel Estate before his father purchased land that would later become the Kwinana Golf Course. In 1924 the family moved to Jarrahdale where his father ran a bus service from Jarrahdale to Perth. He, Thorpe Snr, later purchased the Armadale Bus Service followed by the Cannington Bus Service before selling out to the Metro Bus Company in 1938. The family then relocated to Three Springs where he purchased the local hotel. Prior to enlistment he had ben an apprentice diesel mechanic with the Metro Bus Company.

War Service

On reporting to the Northam camp, he was placed in the 2nd Recruit Training Depot. After months of training he became annoyed at not being included for a draft overseas so volunteered to join a Mechanised Cavalry Unit which required him to travel to Puckapunyal in Victoria for training.


Granted pre-embarkation leave, he then boarded the SS Marnix van Sint Aldegonde as part of Convoy 12B which departed Melbourne on 18 Sep 1941, and arrived in Fremantle on 26 Sep 1941. The convoy departed on 28 Sep 1941 and after reaching the Indonesia archipelago turned west and headed for Colombo, and eventually Port Tewfik in Egypt where they arrived on 20 Oct 1941. They then travelled by train to Kantara where they crossed the canal and travelled by trucks across the Sinai Desert to a camp north of Gaza in Palestine.


After training in Palestine, they reversed the journey to Port Tewfik and embarked on SS Orcades along with the 2nd/3rd Australian Machine Gun Battalion, and during the afternoon of 1 Feb 1942 the Orcades sailed alone as Convoy JS2 for Colombo where it refueled on 8 Feb 1942. The next morning it sailed for Oosthaven in Sumatra where it arrived on 15 Feb 1942, the day Singapore surrendered. The next day they sailed for Tanjung Priok (port for Batavia or Jakarta as it is now known), arriving there on 17 Feb 1942. Two days later they disembarked and Jack spent time driving his truck and avoiding the Japanese until his unit surrendered. Jack was to spend several months in captivity on Java before being loaded onto an old ship for Singapore where they were sent to Changi POW camp.


After three days in Singapore they were again loaded on to a ship which eventually transported them in terrible conditions to Rangoon (Yangon) harbour in Burma (Myanmar) where that night they survived an allied air attack on the wharf area. They were to be come known as 'A' Force. The next morning they sailed for Moulmein (Mawlamyine), 300 km to the south east. On arrival hey boarded a train for several hours until it reached the end of the railway line, the northern end of the Burma - Thailand railway which was to be build by the POWs. Jack was allocated to a gang of workers whose role was to excavate the rail bed, carrying rocks and soil in baskets slung on a stick over their shoulders. AT the 75 Kilo camp he was cutting logs to provide timber for bridges.Camps that Jack was to work from included 25 Kilo (Kunknitk); the 8 Kilo camp; the 55 Kilo camp; the 75 Kilo camp; the 105 Kilo camp (longest stint). Here he contracted amoebic dysentery and was bayoneted by a guard who had knocked him unconscious, leading to him spending several weeks in a hospital camp. His final camp on the Burma Death Railway was near the approaches to the River Kwai Bridge.


When the line was complete Jack was one of around 200 members of 'A' Force who were put on a train (flatbed wagons) and transported to Phnom Pehn in Cambodia. Here they marched to the Mekong River bank and were placed on a barge which ferried them down river for several days until they reached Saigon in French Indo-China. Here they were given work clearing the jungle to extend the length of the runway as the Germans had provided 9 Messerschmitt 109 fighter bombers whose landing speed meant they couldn't land on the existing short runway. Job finished they were then used as labourers on the Saigon wharves. Two attempts to load the group that Jack was with onto freighters destined for Japan were thwarted by allied air raids, and finally they were carried by barge back up the Mekong River to Phnom Penh. A three day rail journey in freight trucks followed to Bangkok. Several more days and nights on a train and they were back in Singapore. It was 22 Aug 1944. Here they worked a 12 hour night shift helping to dig a hole which was destined to become a huge dry dock.


Jack was chosen to join a party of POWs to be sent to Japan aboard the MV Awa Maru. The 11,249-ton passenger-cargo ship ‘Awa Maru’ loaded with 525 Australian, American and Dutch POWs at Singapore to sail to Moji, Japan. The POWs were crammed into one hold modified by the addition of two platforms to provide three tiers of cramped sleeping space. In addition the passageways were crammed with sleeping POWs. Awa Maru moved out to the roadstead on 16th December 1944 to await the remainder of the convoy to arrive. The men were to wait 10 days for the convoy to set sail. They were aware American submarines patrolled the seas and knew several ships transporting POWs to Japan had sunk. A sense of fear would have prevailed throughout the hold until their safe arrival in Japan. Fortunately Awa Maru arrived unscathed at Moji on 15th January 1945.


At Moji the party was divided into several smaller groups and Jack was included in a group of 100 who marched to a camp (Camp 22 at Izuka) that was about a mile from the coal mine that they were to provide labour for. Soon after their arrival in Japan they became aware that it was being bombed day and night by the Americans, and on the day that the Nagasaki bomb was dropped, Jack was 'a couple of miles' underground. While their Japanese guards had orders from the Emperor to kill all POWs if Japan was invaded, and they spent some hours one day on the parade ground in front of Japanese guards with machine guns lined up on them, those orders were not carried out. The next day their guards had disappeared - it appeared that the war was over.


Several weeks passed before allied troops entered Nagasaki, and when they did, Jack and his mates were decontaminated and boarded a ship whose first stop was Okinawa. Refueled it sailed from there to Manila in the Philippines. After several days they embarked on HMS Speaker, an escort carrier which carried them to Sydney via Guam and New Guinea, arriving there on 14 Oct 1945. A day later the West Australian ex-POWs from the HMS Speaker boarded a ship for Fremantle and finally 75 days after the war finished they were home in Perth. Following leave Jack was admitted to Hollywood Hospital and after three weeks told he was well enough to be discharged.


Refusing to accept that his back injury would improve with time, and should therefore accept his discharge, Jack was sent to the Point Walter transit camp. A fortnight later he was told that he had to either accept discharge or join an active unit. He chose to join the 66th Battalion which was being formed from previous 9th Division personnel and was based in Bathurst, but preparing to join the occupation forces in Japan. As an ex-POW Jack was closely vetted before he was accepted, lest he be going to seek retribution. The unit landed at Kure in Japan in late February 1946, and was transported to temporary barracks near Hiroshima before having a base camp built at Hiro where they spent the majority of their time in Japan. With the imminent disbandment of the 2nd AIF, Jack was asked to joint the Regular Army which he did just before returning to Australia on leave in 1947. However, for compassionate reasons, he was granted a discharge in order to look after his father's hotel in Three Springs and was discharged on 17 Sep 1947.

Post War

Jack moved to the family farm when the hotel was sold and provided milk to the township until he could clear enough land for crops. The original farm was, however, on poor soils and so he later bought a farm closer in to the town that supported higher yields. He became very active in community groups and had the park containing the monument named in his honour. Jack made many trips back to the Burma railway and also to Japan.

Notes

At enlistment gave his age as 9 Nov 1918. Jack Thorpe OAM has written an account of his service experience "Bloody Lucky", Hesperian Press, 2006.


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