World War II veteran and Japanese prisoner of war (POW), Walter ‘Wal’ Williams OAM has died aged 99.
Mr Walter Williams died on Saturday 04 June at Kokoda Hostel, RSL ANZAC Village, Narrabeen, where he resided.
Born in Northbridge on October 10, 1922, Mr Williams died aged 99, having survived his capture in Singapore by the Japanese and his sinking by an American submarine while being transported by ship in as a prisoner of the Japanese.
A former chairman of the Pittwater RSL sub-management, Mr Williams recounted his war experience in 2016.
“I enlisted in the Permanent Army on January 13, 1940 at Northbridge, NSW, then joined the AIF on November 21, 1941. I served 118 days in Australia and 1,370 days overseas, the mostly as a prisoner of war (J).
“My battalion fought for the defense of Singapore from 08 to 15 February 1942. Our sector was attacked by 50 barges of Japanese infantry on the west coast near the Murai River. After the fall of Singapore, we became prisoners of war and were detained in Changi Prison.
“On May 15, 1942, we were transported to Burma as manpower on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway, where I served with ‘A’ Force for two years. Initially, I was working on cutting the stone as a road base for the Mergui airfield. What followed was more than a year of hard work building the railroad.
“Due to the shortage of manpower, many of the most able-bodied POWs had to be transported as ‘Japan’s Number 1 Party’ to Japan. We traveled by rail through Cambodia and then by small boats to work in Saigon [Vietnam]. We were then sent back overland, back to Singapore, as the boats could not leave Saigon due to Allied submarine activity.
“On September 6, 1944, 1,300 of us boarded the ‘Rakuyo Maru’ for the journey to Japan. However, on September 12, 1944, our ship was torpedoed and sunk by an American submarine, unaware that prisoners of war were on board. While we were in the water, we were also loaded with depth.
“My Navy mates told me to lie on my back, cross my arms and absorb the shock through my back, which I did. We walked on water for 24 hours, after which we made a makeshift life raft that we floated in. This saved us from being strafed like many POWs in the real Rakuyo lifeboats.
“Three days later, we were picked up by a Japanese corvette and finally taken to Hainan Island for treatment. In addition to a year of barbaric hard work in Japan, I also survived the firebombings of Tokyo and from Yokohama by our allied bombers.
“Collectively, I was a prisoner of war in the hands of the Japanese for three and a half years. In 1945, I returned to Australia on my 23rd birthday, October 10, 1945, and was discharged on February 05, 1946,” writes Mr. Williams.
In recent years, Mr Williams has campaigned for greater recognition of prisoners of war who died at sea during the Second World War. Just last week he was told by Pittwater MP Rob Stokes that grant funding had been approved by Veterans Affairs Minister David Elliott for a memorial to be built by the Northern Beaches Council in Mona Vale Headland.