Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Click to escape. Subject to Crown Copyright.
Category: Digger's Diaries

Click to go up one level

John Tasman Prosser 

2/40th Battalion AIF 

Fought on Timor. Wounded & captured. Shipwrecked. POW near Nagasaki. Survived.

John Tasman Prosser 2/40th Battalion AIF dictated the following, January 2000.


(it first appeared on the web on a family history site. It is reproduced here with permission)

With his mother Nellie Amelia Prosser (nee Palmer) >>

My name is John Prosser, I was a member of the 2/40 Battalion 2nd A.I.F. We were a Tasmanian Battalion of men trained up round Darwin at a place called Noonamah. Then we were sent to Timor. We were there for about six weeks and the Japanese invaded the island. They landed paratroops at a place called Usau Ridge. Each company then had to go up and try to drive them off the ridge. There was heavy fighting , on Sunday night, it was on a Sunday. We eventually drove them, nearly all the Japanese Paratroopers were killed, there were a few left, not many. From then on we went a bit further up the road and the Colonel decided to stay there the night, because there were a lot of wounded. They sent scouts up to have a look to see what it was like at Champalon; but I don't think he could get through, the Japs had road blocks so he came back. Then in the morning they decided to, the colonel had to make his mind, up which was the best thing to do and then a convoy came up on our rear. A Japanese convoy, land convoy, little tanks and so on and told the Colonel to surrender, or advised him to surrender. Well he went into Keopang and signed the surrender.

During the time he was in Keopang a group of Japanese bombers came over and bombed us again, after the surrender.

A lot of men were wounded and quite a lot of Japanese were killed. They found a lot of their flags and put them on the ground. the big red ball flag, it was the first time I had seen that big red ball flag, and the pilots eventually seen it and they flew away. I had been wounded a little bit, not very bad. I was put in a Bren gun carrier and they took us to a place, I can't think of the name at the minute, fairly close to the border where the trouble is now at Timor, we just unloaded then and they just let us lay there.

They burnt all their dead there, hundreds of them. So that's about that part of the story. I might think of something else later.

We were then taken into a place called the Southern Jara (?) down near the sea. We had to make our own huts and everything. After a while I got very sick, I got Malaria and Dysentery and was put into a so-called hospital. All you got to eat was a bit of old, crummy old weaselly rice that you couldn't eat.

I got worse and worse and worse and lost a lot of weight. Some of my friends came and took me back to the main camp and they looked after me and fed me on maize porridge and built up my strength a little. We were able to go for a swim in the sea.

I think it was February when they took us in, I think around about September they decided to take us to Java, which is now called Indonesia, and we went I think from southern Java to Dili, which is where all the fighting and trouble is now.

While on the ship a Royal Australian Air force plane came over and bombed the old ship but didn't cause much damage thank goodness.

When we got to Java we was taken from? by train to Batavia, which is now Jakarta and we was put in a camp, it was a Dutch camp, but a lot of Australians there, captured on Java and different places and we stayed there for quite a while and there was one other camp, Makususa I think the name of it was. There some of us didn't bow to the guards properly like they likes us to do so we were taken to Glodok Gaol which wasn't a very nice camp.

We had a couple of old rice bags to sleep on, full of lice, fleas, bugs and all that, so it wasn't a good camp at all; but there were a few people there that didn't have very much respect for the Japanese. An old friend Noel Close, Les Butt and David Lewis, quite a few more.

There was this string factory there making sisal for the Japs.

We left the camp and then we went from there up unto a camp up in the hills because it was a little more healthy and we had to plant castor oil seed at this camp. We had to dig a hole about, over half a metre deep and it had to be the exact length. The Japanese honcho he came along with a rule. If he was in a bad mood he would give you a swipe across the ears, if it was the right length he would put two seeds in.

The castor oil was going to be used as oil for their planes because by then the allies had tied up a lot of their shipments from Java and Malaya and so on, they couldn't get the oil into Japan.

So one of them called us all in and told all the men who were in this camp, there were quite a few, that "all men would now go to Japan".

And there we would be treated well, good food and everything, and we would stay there until the Japanese had won the war and then we would work for them in their factories.

They also told us they had sunk all, nearly all, the American Navy and nearly all the Australian Navy, "all gone finished, boom, boom, boom, all gone". Cause most of us didn't believe all that; because we could get a little bit of news from an old radio a chap had made and had hidden in a broom, in the butt of a broom.

Different people were going into old houses on work parties, and would find an old mantle radio quick and they would grab a valve and another one might grab a couple of batteries, dry batteries and so forth, we got a little bit of news that way. So that was the start of out trip to Japan.

Just before we left for Japan I'll go back to Glodok Goal, something very funny happened there.

As I said we had to make this sisal platted into a sort of a string which was made into a rice bag and the machine was worked by hand turning a wheel and on each side of the wheel was six spools and so on, that's how it worked. Well, my old late old friend, Les Butt he chose to turn the wheel and one day the Commandant came in, the Japanese Commandant, and talked a little bit, could hardly talk, we didn't think he could talk any English; but he kept singing out to Les "Speedo, Speedo, Speedo", which meant he should turn the wheel faster and faster. So being Les Butt, who had a luxurious black beard, he said " You old Fucking so and so bastard" he said " It won't be long before the Americans come and you'll be no more".

But this commandant, who runs this came, he turns around, he goes back to his barracks where he lives and he said to his lieutenant, the Japanese lieutenant, you got to go and find that man, he turns the wheel on number so and so machine and bring him to me and he will get the biggest thrashing anyone's ever had in Glodok Gaol. So somehow we found out, we had a Warrant Officer who could speak a little Japanese.

He heard them talking and he knew that Les was getting this terrible thrashing so we rushed him back to a man who had an old razor and a bit of old soap. While the commodore was looking for some more troops to go and raid this barracks we managed to shave his beard completely off, trimmed his eye-brows with a pair of old scissors.

He goes back turning the wheel and eventually the sergeant and lieutenant came, "Where is the man, the man with the big black beard turning the wheel who is rude to our commandant, but no man here that's the man turning the wheel". I think they might have known but eventually he got off, he was a very, very lucky man, very lucky. He would have been mostly, they would have bashed him around the shoulders and back with rifle butts for the language he used; but that's what went on in those times.

Now I'll go, back to when they decided to take us, or some of us to Japan, I think about two hundred and we left Batavia in an old rusty freighter, nearly falling to pieces. When we got out of Batavia towards Singapore we had a sub scare and I and some of my mates we had been frightened before. We had been frightened in the very heavy action we was involved in Timor fighting the paratroopers and in prison camp in Timor at times when our own bombers came over. Our camp was very near the airstrip, the Japanese airstrip, which frightened us when they dropped their bombs; but there was nothing as frightening as being in the hold of that hell ship.

We had two or three Japanese destroyers escorting us and they were dropping depth charges and this old rusty thing was way down in the hold and the rust, the vibrations through the water with the depth charges, the rust would drop down on us. It went on and on, it seemed to go on for hours, I think it did go on for hours.

In all submarine warfare a submarine can occasionally get away from two destroyers if it has got a good commander. He can go deep or he can quieten the sub right down. I think that's what must have happened, so eventually the Japanese gave up.

We all had a slight type of dysentery.

Well, the arrangements were the rails on the starboard and port side there was two little boxes, that's all they were, attached to the rail so you had to get, as weak as you were, you had to get sort of over the rail and there you would do your job which went into the water. Well, if half a dozen men went before you with dysentery, you had no footwear at that time, you can imagine, it's not going to be nice talking about this, but it's what happened and you can imagine treading in all, getting into this bloody so called "Benjo" the Japanese word for when you do your job.

It was awful down in the hold of that ship.

There was rats running about. It took a fair while to get to Singapore, I can't remember. I had Malaria. We had a padre, Padre Kennedy, he was a Roman Catholic Padre he was a wonderful man.

He was a lot older than we were, he would be around forty, we would be twenty. He would get water bottles and he would argue with the Japs up on deck until they gave him some water. He might have four water battles. He'd struggle down the ladder and he'd say, "any men sick with malaria", and sometimes I'd say it and he would come with this water bottle. He was like an angle, if there are angels, I don't know, he was. He was a most marvellous man.

He would take beltings sometimes, a small man, not very big. He'd get belted around the head. He'd keep asking for water. The water they would say "what about the Japanese, small men, put up hands, finished, no good, Japanese. you not Japanese, die". And on and on and on and they'd give him a thrashing. He's one man you could never forget.

Then eventually we got up to Singapore. It was a river valley camp. Now a river valley camp was an awful camp at times, during the wet season, the monsoon, that's what it was called in those parts. Our so called hut was just mud a native hut and you just had to lay there, and stay there three or four days till they got a convoy together. This convoy had some earlier modern ships.

Well then, people of the 2/40th and a few 3rd Machine Gun Battalion and a few American men got on another old ship nearly as bad as the one bringing us from Java.

The same procedure happened. About halfway to Formosa I think, Formosa is now called Taiwan I think, we were shadowed by either an Australian or an American submarine again. I think we were shadowed for nearly two days; but at that time we had a very powerful escort of Japanese destroyers.

A destroyer is a very smart and fast ship and carries a terrific amount of depth charges and once a submarine commander sees three or four destroyers he usually gets out of the way pretty quick. Usually three or four destroyers can pick him up on Asdic they can usually find that submarine; but it's still nasty to know that he's hanging around. So I think it took like perhaps a week to get from Singapore to Formosa, or Taiwan.

That's where we stayed there, on this ship for awhile. They then decided to put us on a bigger modern ship and so they transferred us on this more modern ship, I think it was diesel. The little bit of gear we had, a few old bits of things, we took aboard this ship, and it was loaded with sugar and bauxite and quite a lot of Japanese women and children, who were being evacuated to be taken back to Japan.

Well the same thing happened to us, the POWs was put down in the hold on top of the bauxite. A few of us decided, there was Dave Lewis, I remember Dave Lewis, Cyril Eagling, myself, Frank Thomas and a few Americans, a few British, we decided we wouldn't stay down in that hold, more chance up on deck we thought. So up we goes, we got fronted, got screamed at in Japanese, "All men go down in the hold", one of them could talk a little English.

And an old seaman, he came along, to us he looked very old, and he could talk quite a bit of English and he got talking to the ones who were guarding us and then he said "Where are you from" and I think I said Tasmania and he said, "Me speak Hobart, good Hobart, good place" and he talked to the guards in Japanese and then he said, " You men, you can stay up on deck, you must never get in the way cause we are working up on deck you must keep out of our way at all times".

So we said yes that's o.k. So when the guards weren't around the old fella would come around and offer a packet of cigarettes. He'd give us two or three cigarettes. Well with two or three cigarettes you'd sit around and have a puff each of one , share them amongst your mates that way.

Two nights out of Formosa we struck a typhoon which was a very, very horrible thing to be in. The seas was coming over the bow of the ship and we found a bit of rope and Dave Lewis, who was always around ships, his father had boats and everything, he knew all the different knots, so he roped us to the rail with this piece of rope. If he hadn't have done that we would all have been washed overboard. Anyhow gradually that cleared up.

We had two escorts the destroyer escorts stayed at Formosa because at that time, 1944, the American submarines just about had the south-west Pacific and further north almost to themselves so we had two destroyer escorts and we had six ships in the convoy. I think most of them were carrying bauxite because they were getting desperate for aluminium you see for their planes.

They were losing that many planes and were trying to build them up again. So we stayed up on deck and had some pretty rough nights and everything, until we seen land.

A Japanese seamen came and he said, "That Okinawa", he said, "Okinawa Japanese, Japanese own Okinawa, Japanese". I'd never heard of the place Okinawa by then. Nearly two days and we seen green on the other side of the ship. We asked him and he said "Kyushu, that is the island, Kyushu big island". All that day we steamed alongside this island we could see it and that night, the 23rd June 1944, and the Japanese guards they were hooting, they was nearly home they was getting into the Saki, putting on a big act. We were all wondering what it would be like when we get to Japan, won't be long and so we laid down on the deck. The old seaman had given Dave Lewis and I a few old rice bags to put on the iron deck and it was a lot better.

About half past eleven at night I seen a great big flash on the other side of the ship, just an explosion and Dave had very good eye sight and he said.

"Gee Jacky" he called me Jacky cause there were two Johns in out platoon so I was called Jacky, "Gee one of the destroyers has blown up".

We had just laid down and nearly dozed off and then we heard this shocking explosion it was a terrific explosion, it buggered the eardrums awful for awhile.

It sort of stunned us and the next thing I could see were the hatch covers, the hatch covers were big planks, they had some canvas covers put on that to stop the cargo getting wet in heavy seas, and I seen these flying in the air. Dave had disappeared and I couldn't see any of the others and each, man was that shocked, it was shock, and I just stood there shocked and the next thing I seen the water was nearly up to the rail on this big ship. I gotta get out of here so I stood on the rail and jumped out as far as I could cause I heard that if a ship sinks the suction can take you down and I was a reasonable good swimmer but I was slow, but I could sort of keep up for a fair while. Thank god it was June which is the middle of summer in that part of the world. I had a part plate, a teeth part plate and I had enough sense when I swallowed some water I was going to be sick.

I held it in one of my hands and I still had one old shirt, the sleeves had been torn out of it.

We had torn the shirt days before down in the hold of the ship and filled the sleeve, tied at one end, with sugar, I don't know what would have happened if the ship hadn't had sunk it would have killed us I reckon.

But I did have a pocket, so I shoved, I had my pay book still in that pocket, so I shoved my part plate in there. I was getting very, very exhausted and thinking towards the end "not much hope now". It was pitch black dark, the next thing I heard a voice, and I'd been with Americans a long time and I knew their accent straight away, and the voice said "Anyone around swim this way, swim this way and I'll keep calling so you can get a line on where I'm calling from." He didn't seem very far away and he kept calling, "Swim this way, swim this way". So I kept swimming and I found a raft, he'd got a raft called? float. They are not very big. I reckon six men could get on the raft. There was looped ropes right around where there was four men each side, four sides to hang on to,

"Grab a rope", he said to me.

"Are you English"

"No" I said, "Aussie".

"Right grab that rope we'll work something out", he said.

He said there were two or three fellas and the raft, or was it six or seven, he said,

"They are knocked about a bit so just hang on if you're not knocked about"

I said no I had got hit on the leg. He said we would wait till day light and see what happens.

Just on daylight some Japs came along and grabbed and tried to knock some of our chaps in off the raft. They grabbed hold of it and were screaming and hollering, they tipped, they nearly tipped the raft over and they did it twice.

So this American he told me he was a commander and he'd been sunk twice. He'd been on a destroyer. He said any floating bits of wood around, and he said you're not too bad and we'll pick up a length of wood and if those bastards, Americans say "bastards" we say " bastards", grab hold of this raft and try to tip it over again smack them on the fingers he said, We're still at war Aussie, still at war he said, it's got to be done.

They tried it again. Him and I and one of the chaps, who was wounded, knocked about, but his arms were alright, he got a bit of wood. We gave the Japs a few taps around the fingers, eventually they let go.

Whether they got on something else I don't know, there might have been some more stuff floating about, there was stuff floating about. It didn't matter whether they drowned or not at that time. It might be callous to say that now, but we were, getting towards the end of a terrible war these things happen. We arranged with Ben then that three of the other ones not so bad they would get over the side of the raft and grab the rope on the side of the raft and he let me get on top on the raft. So we stayed there and then daylight came and I could see these things, pretty awful, the sights you see, we couldn't help anyone else because it was absolutely full there was no more ropes to hang on to and we would sink, people drifting away. Eventually daylight came.

That is about the story of the sinking of that ship and on the raft. I'll talk a bit further about the ship, how we got picked up by the Japanese Whaler and taken into Nagasaki. I'll get back to the boat again. We were on the raft about fourteen hours.

Then fairly late in the next day the Japanese whale boat came and one of the sailors threw out a line, a leaded line, and I grabbed it and with one hand holding onto the rope of the raft and the other hand holding onto the line they pulled us into the side of the whale boat.

Then they somehow managed to get us up on deck. They put us down near the funnel, which was a little bit warm. Some they picked up out of the water, others they just steamed past them, pretty, callous but that was their way. Then they took us in to Nagasaki, Port Nagasaki, there they put us on a truck, or trucks and then a cold rain came in, very mountainous Nagasaki, off the mountains and we sat in that for about two hours soaked in this freezing cold. Well that was summer, something like here in Tasmania, where cold spells come in. Then about half past four a lot of (?) down near the port and ammunition factories and that sort of thing. Young girls were working in them and at about half past four they finished work and they come out. Several walked past the trucks and they spat towards the trucks, so that's as I said before is a part of war, they hated us and maybe some of their boyfriends or husbands was on that ship that had been torpedoed. Looking back at it now we had no time for them whatsoever.

So eventually they took us up to a camp and they had us go in and there was tapis on the floor, just the tapis mats, that's what the Japanese sleep on and sometime after they bought us a few little wooden buckets of potatoes in the skin, I still remember, it was wonderful.

We hadn't eaten, I don't think we had eaten for at least twenty hours before. My right leg was still very badly bruised. They left us for perhaps three days and gave us just a little bit of rice or millet or something. Then the interpreter came marched in with his big shiny boots and so on and he said, " All men now in Japan, island off Kyushu, all men must work for Nippon. Tomorrow you go to foundry, factory foundry, all men will have to work hard and everything". So the next morning we went down to this factory and the men were divided up into fourteen in each gang.

Unfortunately I was picked for the factory furnace gang. That was very, very hard work, very hard work on that factory furnace. I think if my memory serves me rightly about seven tones of material had to be put in, that's a lot of material.

I was on scrap iron which mostly came from Australia before the war, so there was five men who had this big steel cart, like a great big barrow, so much bigger than a barrow, we had to pull it out with this heat and load it. As weak as you were you'd pull it out to the furnace, the furnace was out of cause at that time, very hot still of cause.

You had to shovel it in, a man each side took turns, one each side of the furnace door to shovel all this scrap.

And also the scrap, the pieces from the castings down from the casting shop, they was brought up and they was put on a big tray then picked up by a crane, you had to pick them up somehow they were so heavy and they was fed into this furnace. About July I think we started on that furnace, worked, and the months went by and about November the cold weather started to come in from the mountains and it was cold. This wind would blow, quite severe, so the Japs who could talk a bit of English would reckon. You only had a, they would give you an old pair, well they was new cotton trousers, sort of a coat blouse and you had a pair of split toed shoes and a cap, with your Japanese number on it. You had to wear it at all times. it was part of your dress and that was about it. That was talking about November, December the weather came in even worse, snow everywhere and get to the foundry through the snow, I'm talking about ten hours I suppose then you walked back through the freezing cold.

So quite a few of the men got pneumonia. The day before Christmas eve 1944 the commandant called us all together one night, the Jap Commandant, and he had his interpreter there as well, and through his interpreter he told us, " All men must sign they will not try to escape".

Well that sounded a bit silly to all escape Japan, big Australians, Americans and Englishmen. You would be seen straight away; but in the Japanese mind we had to sign this. So our camp commandant, who was a British Squadron Leader in the air force, he said no we would not sign it.

Anyhow our countries expect all as possible when they can to escape. Well that's O.K. and the interpreter went and the Jap Commandant. Next morning about half past six, I think it might have been Christmas, I'm not sure, round about Christmas eve or something, snow was getting worse.

It was the worse winter in Japan for seventy years. We all had to go outside, they lined us all up in the snow, some had their footwear on, boots and that, others were bare footed, he said you will stand there until you sign it, I don't care how long it takes. Well the British Commandant he thought the men can't stand here much longer they'll be all collapsing, there will be hardly none left. So he called the interpreter and said we want to talk to you, through you to the Japanese Commandant. He said, he must be a pretty brave man, he said, " you must know the war is getting close to your country and everything".

He said, "When the Americans and the allies come and you do this terrible thing it will go bad against you".

The Jap Commandant wasn't a fool and he thought by gees maybe it will. So and to make it look right, the Japanese have to save face all the time.

So the British Commandant, he said, he told us all, the men will sign this under protest. Well, some of the men standing out there even had slight pneumonia and that just brought it on completely. And I know it was Christmas Eve 1944, Max Williams, he joined up when I did, he was round about 21 at the time, he died that night. Dave Lewis, my friend, was very, very ill for quite some time and in the finish I think he would have died. I think the Japanese medical orderly, he must have went to the Japanese Medical Officer and mentioned it to him, and I think there must have been a slight little bit of panic.

About this time every second night, we wasn't very far from the main quarters of Nagasaki, every few nights you would hear the planes came and I kept saying to Dave they don't sound like Japanese planes, they have a different sound, and you could hear the bombing "Boom, Boom," we'd say keep fighting keep fighting, keep going cause they're bombing the port of Nagasaki.

They're very close, and the Japanese got to sort of understand this, they took Dave to the Japanese doctor and he gave him, I think it was sulphur tablets at that time.

He gradually picked up a little bit. If they'd kept us another winter in Japan most of us would have died, the ones that was ill. In 1945 they decided to take the ones who couldn't do enough work for them in the foundry.

It still left a few, to a place called Omine which was a coal mining district further away from Nagasaki, on the coast.

So that's where we went by train, I think it took a day, and we could tell then, we could tell, they tried to stop us looking out the window or pulled the shutters down in the old train carriages. Someone would sneak a look and he would say "Gees the building over there's been bombed", or "There's about five incendiary bombs there". The further we went towards Omine the more you felt it can't be much longer and it must happen soon, and that gave us a bit of spirit.

I'll now go back to Java, I'll put that in. I think the second camp we were sent to on Java was (?) it being a Dutch army barracks. That's where we were sent. The Japanese Commandant was Captain Sony, he was a vicious nasty person.

He had immaculate uniforms, he had long polished black boots. He had a Samurai sword. He was a short arsed little bugger and the scabbard on the end nearly dragged on the ground, and he'd strut through the camp. and if he seen something which he didn't think right he'd go and tell his guards and they'd put on a, they'd come out and if you intentionally, or not intentionally did not bow to one of his guards you got a real hiding. He run that camp very cruelly. Sometimes, even at night, certain barrack rooms he'd set his guards on, they'd come rushing in.

If they thought you might have something or have a bit of wireless hidden or anything and they'd just turn everything out and you would stand there.

You didn't have a bed and everything was tipped out onto the cement floor. He was a cruel man, nobody liked him and in fact we hated him. The hatred got you fired up a bit and it kept you going, it kept you going in a way that deep down I suppose, well I thought, most of as thought, one day that we, the allies, Australia, America, England we'll beat these little buggers.

And if you did not think that, and some us didn't, in (?) camp, there was in all camps, there was Australians, English and quite a lot of Dutch they might get Malaria, which was going through that camp like wildfire about every six weeks you would tackle Malaria.

And often you'd get Malaria and Dysentery and the same time and some of them sort of give up, they'd give up and in a couple of weeks they'd be dead. Quite a lot of sickness in Cycle camp.

There was Malaria, continual Malaria and for a while, my friends and myself got an egg a day, and that picked me up and after a few weeks I was back every day going out on a working party. Working parties were, I don't know what they were at Cycle camp I can't remember. I know one job was in a big factory carting all the steel engine blocks and everything, was sent back to Japan, we was loading those. It was pretty heavy work when you wasn't fit, and that was Cycle camp.

A very nasty place.

Now back to Japan, Omine, when we came up from Nagasaki. Omine was a coal mining area, coal mining there, and they kept us there for a few days and then they put us unto different shifts.

There was morning shift, afternoon shift and night shift. You worked in the mine and I worked underground in the coal mine for some time. Then they wanted so many, it wasn't many of us , I think about twenty, to drive a tunnel underground where they was going to put all their generators equipment in case of bombing. Generators were used to charge lights, mining lights. Each man had a sort of wet battery, which went on your belt on your hip, and a cable ran from that to a light on top of your helmet. That was a lot better than working on the coal face, a lot better. This would be about May 1944. The Americans was coming over by Fukouka a big rail head, by night, you could hear the bombs dropping and then sometimes later on when the weather got better they came over in day time and they'd put us in this underground air raid shelter.

It was awful right down in this air raid shelter, you didn't know if you'd get a direct hit or not; but fortunately they was after the railways and the railhead. But they'd bomb close, very close to the camp at Omine. Also when we got to Omine there was quite a few chaps from the 2/40th.

They'd been up working on the Burma Railway Line. I think they must have come back to Singapore.

Then they took them to Japan to work in the coal-mines and the foundries and all that and I seen some fellas I hadn't seen for some time and they told me the awful time they had working on the railways. Terrible long hours they had to work, the wet season, the mud, the slushing mud. We stayed in Omine until about July. Round about July rumours started flying, you'd hear bits of news, rumours started.

Someone might have had an old wireless and we would get a bit of news that the Americans had invaded Okinawa. Okinawa was, I can't remember now, perhaps 300 miles from Kyushu, the Island we were on was Kyushu, and we thought this is close. And of course it went through your mind what would happen when the marines landed on Kyushu. We had some of us a bit of a feeling, and some of the Englishmen who worked in the mines in Wales, I had a friend who was a Welshman, he helped me a lot, and his idea was that when the marines landed they was going to march us all down underground, the ones on the coal face, down into the generator tunnel and blow it up. At that point it would have been quite possible because they would not have us in the way. You could tell how desperate they were, there was a school nearby at Omine. Sometimes you could see the children, about ten or twelve years old, boys and girls.

They trained with long bits of bamboo, perhaps eight feet long hardened at one end, even the kids were going to fight when the marines landed so that's it they just wasn't going to give up, you could tell that. They wouldn't have given up at all.

Early in August 1945 you could tell that the war was just about over. Dozens and dozens of flying fortresses would fly over every day and you would rarely see a Japanese fighter plane, you'd hardly see and at all. Then the end of came and we did not have to go down into the mine and we thought that was very unusual, and walking down to the toilet we would walk past a guard and never bow, they never said anything and looked real sad.

I think about three days after that an American fighter plane flew over and dropped a message and we managed to retrieve a message and the message told us that the war was over, it was from General Macarthur's Headquarters.

The war was over and that we were to stay there where we were and eventually they would come and try to retrieve us. We were told we were not to harm the Japanese but we had to take over the Japanese guard house etc. The Commandant of that camp was Tasmanian, Ron Williams, Lieutenant Ron Williams, he was a friend and a good man.

In August it got rather foggy and you'd hear the fortress flying over trying to look for us to drop foodstuff and medical goods and all.

I think hardly a week went by and the steam plant that cooked the rice had got damaged and we were worst off than before. But eventually one fine day an American, he found an old mirror, a big old mirror in a house and he climbed up one of the barrack buildings and he kept flashing it, he was a signaller in the United States Navy. Two of three B29's came over and they dropped, by parachute they dropped a lot of food stuffs, footwear, clothing, cigarettes, chewing gum, "K" Rations, so on and so forth, Spam, and that was a very great day. That was about nearly two weeks after the surrender. Soon after the surrender we had to stay at Ominei for a week or two and then the Americans arrived, I think they was American Marines, and a wonderful sight to see them come, march into the camp, and told us "We'll look after the buggers now". So we stayed three or four more days and then we was told we was going down to Nagasaki. So we left on train fairly early in the morning and it took a long, long while to get down to Nagasaki. They'd repaired the line fairly well and that. And when we came into Nagasaki, they used to be suburbs of Nagasaki, there was just nothing, it was just flattened.

Even the pine trees on the hills surrounding the city were scorched. Anyhow the train took us right in to the port area which fortunately, whether it was planned that way when they dropped the bomb off I would not know, but that wasn't so badly damaged it still had a few port facilities there.

And there was a band there and the band played the American National Anthem and then it played Waltzing Matilda. An American Army girl with donuts and hot coffee, so we had that when we got off the train which was good. We were told not to walk into the city.

They didn't tell us anything about the bomb, they just said it was dangerous, we just thought the dangerous old buildings might collapse. We had a bit of a poke around, a bit of a walk round, you could see the, where the (?) the American Navy had them all surrounded by their subs, couldn't get any oil tankers or anything in; but they used horses and old floats, old horse floats, old drays and anything. There were the skeletons still in the shafts, the horses and different things. They had removed most of the bodies of the people by then. It was a real big nasty sight to see really.

So then they took us to a place nearby, we had showers and got rid of our old clothes.

We were fumigated to get rid of the lice and fleas and bugs and so on and so forth. We were sprayed, they didn't tell us, this man had a, a soldier, I think it was a marine, and he had a spray gun and he sprayed you with (?) and he was giving us a new set of American clothes, under clothes, the lot. Then we was taken aboard the United States Destroyer Green, which had seen action it Okinawa.

It had had three funnels one of those old class destroyers, it had two one had got knocked off by a Kamikaze plane, and patch repaired. That was the beauty of the Americans, they could repair anything so quickly. The crew, the American crew, they gave us up their bed bunks, they slept on deck in hammocks, it was very good of them. So that's what, well that's what you'd call or I would call the first part of getting into real freedom. Quite a bit of it I think I wrote in that diary but some was repetitious and some was thoughts that came into my mind. It was so long ago some of the things that happened you just forget, maybe it's for the best.

When we got to Okinawa we could see where the marines, where they fought that big battle. There was ships lying as far as I could see, they hadn't taken them away from Okinawa, they was still there.

If they hadn't dropped the atom bomb they would have been on their way to (?) the Island we had just left. In that way we was fortunate the bomb was dropped. It saved our lives and it saved all those Americans, and maybe Australians would have gone in there too. At any rate we stayed on the destroyer for I think about a day and the next day we was transferred to a British Aircraft Carrier.

The name of the carrier was "The Speaker". The same thing we would gets lots of amounts of good food. By the time I got off the ship I over indulged in good food.

We had ice cream and things like that. At any rate after that, the ship, the lend-lease was finished or something, from the Americans so we had to go into Hong Kong, I think to restore the ship, so we went to Hong Kong in a day or so and we got permission to leave the ship and we went into Hong Kong City and had a look around and met a few Aussie Sailors, there was our destroyers in Hong Kong Harbour. We had a few beers there and come back to the ship.

I think the next day the captain said we was going to Manila in the Philippines. It was quite good on the ship we had to get up on the flight deck and have a bit of a walk round there, a bit of exercise, and the sun and everything and it was quite good, and we could feel the food starting to help us.

So we arrived at Manila and was taken to a, if I remember rightly it took a while to get off "The Speaker", pretty rough weather set in, but we got off the ship eventually and was taken to a camp outside of Manilla, an American camp it was. There we had very good treatment. The doctors examined us and had a good stool test and mine showed positive for Hookworm. The next morning a big American Negro came and had a great, big long pill, had to take that. After awhile he gave me a medicine glass full of castor oil, he said, "You won't get much rest today Aussie", so that worked on you and you had to have another stool test and directly when it showed clear by then "The speaker" was gone of course. 

I think some of the Australians went home on it, it went to Sydney at any rate. Then they told us, those of us who was in my group, had to stay on Manila a little longer we would fly home, there wasn't any more ships, we would fly home. So we was taken out on the harbour in one of those R.A.A.F. boats to a Catalina Flying Boat.

Now this was the first time I had ever been on a plane, never been on a plane before, it was a bit scary but a bit (?) and I think the plane we was on, the water was a bit rough, had a couple of attempts to take off, I remember that, Anyway it got up. It was a very slow seaplane. They had terrific range in those days they could fly thousands of miles.

We took off and you could see the islands and everything. I think we landed out of Morati. Morati is an island just off Borneo the Australians had taken it not many weeks before really. They went in and took it and the Australian soldiers were doing a lot of this island hopping at that time, called island hopping because the Australians had to go in and take it again.

We was met again, pretty well looked after, stayed the night, good accommodation, the food was good. In the morning, early, we was told, yes it's come back to me now, we was told the next place we landed would be Darwin, and that would be Australian soil.

Well we landed in harbour actually, Darwin Harbour, because it was a flying boat.

We was met by R.A.A.F. boats again and taken into Darwin and the bus met us and we were taken to Darwin army camp. That's where I first met Australian Army girls. These were lovely girls you know, and they was very good to us because they knew we had had a tough time but they didn't ask us many questions. They was quite good, they did a bit of sewing by needle, sewing patches on and things like that, they'd do that.

I think we had three or four days at Wynelli ? and we was building up more, they didn't want us to arrive home looking too bad. So we had quite a good stay in Wynelli ?, so that's what happened there.

Then after those few days of rest we was taken to Darwin, Darwin Airport, or it might have been the R.A.A.F. base I suppose and we were told we would be flying direct to Melbourne, that was a long trip in those days, in a Liberator Bomber. Just prior to this, the night before we left we was allowed each man was allowed a phone call home. I didn't know any one who had a phone, I knew ??? Father In Law, Mr. Cooper, he would have had a phone because he was a businessman in Launceston at that time. Anyhow the army girl she found a Tasmanian phone book, and she was wonderful. Wait, wait, wait and at last I got through to Mr. Cooper and my sister and brother in law then were living at Mr. Coopers residence, Fred had just got out of the Air force.

And I talked to Gwen and there was a lot of surprises, she told me she was married and this all happened while I was away, Margaret was married and Bessy was married with a little boy, and that was pretty good news. The next morning we got on this big Liberator Bomber and we flew direct to Laverton Airport.

We was met there, and because we just come from the tropics and this was very early October, now everyone knows October has south westerly winds in Melbourne and it was pretty cold.

So we were met by cars by a group of Red Cross ladies with blankets, if we got cold, to put round us, it was wonderful. We got ourselves into a convoy, a few people waved to us too, and we got to the Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg in the suburbs, I can't remember where it was.

Anyway we were taken to this Repatriation Hospital and we were looked after there.

I know the name of it now, Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital a very big hospital. I think we was gone over again there, checked again, given a few more under clothes and different things and I think that's where we got our Service Uniforms again, I'm not sure.

Anyhow a few nights there and a friend and I, another chap and I, we got leave one night to go into Melbourne and we got on the train and it was so strange people reading this can't imagine how strange it would be. We was young men gone away when we were nineteen or twenty and come back some of us in our twenty fifth or sixth year.

We had never been in a city until this time. Getting on electric trains and seeing cars, it was very, very, very strange. We got a day leave and night leave. You had to be back at eleven o'clock at night, I think the leave pass said, so we thought we would have a good time so we were walking through, we were going to have a look at the War memorial, we had never seen that because we went straight through Melbourne when we went up north. So we went out and had a look at the War Memorial and coming back, a plane, I'll never forget it, a plane went over, of course there wasn't any passenger planes in those days, it might have been Ansett, and we both dived behind a tree, animal instinct, but it was still in you you see. It frightened us this aeroplane. We caught a tram then, an old tram, and now we were handling things a bit better, caught the old tram and went into the city.

We met a few army girls and they had leave that night, two of them and we asked if they'd like to come out that night and they said yes they would. They were Tasmanian girls from Hobart, they said it would cost a fortune at the Hotel Australia, we said it didn't matter, it would, we had a bit of money then got to go somewhere good so that's where we went, had a good night. That was the first taste of a big city after all those years in the army and prison camps. The next move we was told we would be going home from Heidelberg Hospital to Tasmania.

So about two days later we was transported by car to Port Melbourne and there a group of us we got on the old steamer Nirana and overnight, the next morning we arrived off Tamar Heads, the first sight of Tasmania after altogether over five years, the time I spent in the territory and so on.

Then we steamed up into the Tamar and it was October, if I remember, October, coming up the river on both sides there was a terrific amount of apple orchards then in 1945, they're all gone now, all the apples were in bloom and it was a wonderful sight. We were just on deck, having a smoke and just talking and looking at it and we said to each other well we went through a lot we stopped the Japanese on Timor, all the paratroopers, it was a great credit I think to our battalion and being three and a half years prisoner of war for all we put up with it was worth it, Tassie was still a free state and hadn't been taken, which was terribly close to having been taken, us people who were prisoners of war knew how close the Japanese got. We eventually arrived in Launceston, tied up and got off the ship. There was my mum and my three sisters. Bessy had Robert, he was about eighteen months old. I seen him and then several other friends I met who was there, and my old friend Bobby Perkins, who I had worked with, he had a taxi then, an old Chev it was, and he drove us up to where we was living in Mulgrave St. They had a banner across Mulgrave St. It had on it "Welcome home John our loved one", and then I knew we was home to freedom.

That was about arriving home to Tasmania. We had about two or three weeks leave and then we were taken to Campbell Town Hospital, Campbell Town Hospital had a big military hospital, which was out of town.

We saw quite a lot of doctors there and they tried to give us all this crap, psychology and all that business to see whether we were troppo or not. A few of us was still a bit weak, hadn't put on very much weight. They had this convalescent home at Evandale, so we came on an old bus from Brighton, an old charcoal burner.

It took over five hours to come from Brighton Camp to Evandale in this old bus. So we were there and we got onto this good solid food and everything, and we was allowed to go back to our homes. So with everyone feeling better in themselves and getting to know your family again which was hard, you know awkward. Going into the city of Launceston and getting used to things again it was all heavy going. Still we got through that all right with the help of our family and loved ones.

I think the next thing to happen was to go down to Brighton and get our discharge.

We were asked a lot more questions then and quickly got a discharge, went to Hobart, Teddy and myself and Dave Lewis, stayed at the Y.M.C.A., a few shillings a night, we had a good time. Met a couple of girls, two or three nurses, one was a cook, worked at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

We spent quite a considerable amount of money, cause we decided we had five years taken out of our lives from nineteen until when we came back, we had a bit of time to make up. And we made it up too.

I came back to Launceston and I moved into Mulgrave St again with my mother, all in the one house in those times, my grandfather, Bessy and Monty, had a little room, a kitchenette and Robert. First of all I had nearly two months of leave coming to me so I spent a couple of weeks knocking around and drinking, I got sick of that. I got a job with Monty at H.W. Cox the builders. Got a job off siding on the truck and builders labourer. The job was out at the old Western Junction Airport, there was dozens of billets for the R.A.A.F., they trained out there during the war. Well they had to be pulled down to make way for civil aviation and that was the job. It was in the real summer time.

It was October and it was real hot. The younger fellas and some of the old chaps who worked there hadn't gone to war, was too old or the young fellas, "Oh the heat, the heat, the heat don't worry you". I said well I've been used to it, four or five years up in the tropics.

So I stayed there until that job was finished. Then the manpower said didn't want to go back to Richardson's Motor Body Works; but the manpower at the time said you had to go back, finish your apprenticeship. So I went back there and he was an old bugger to work for.

He didn't believe in paying, some of us had to wait around for your pay and different things. Anyhow I put up with that until I finished my apprenticeship then I went to, I don't know where I went to then I think it might have been auto repairs out Invermay Road, spray painting and that sort of thing. The years went on, 1947 or 48, I met a nurse at the Launceston General Hospital, Julie, and we got married. Bessy and Monty moved out of Mulgrave St. I helped Monty make hundreds and hundreds of bricks, concrete bricks we made. Then we carted them by trailer, we made the trailer, for the old A Ford and we carted them up to Merivale St.

Everyone helped, all the ex-service men around Launceston most of them, didn't matter what service they was in at that time they helped one another. If someone wanted a car touched up well I would do that, if someone wanted a bit of carpentry well Monty would do that and vice versa we all worked in that way. Anyhow we got that done and then we decided we would like to go to Rosebery and we got to get a job and Mick Fitzmaurice, Julie's father he worked at Rosebery and there might be a job down there. So, we didn't even write or anything, we packed an old, Prefect 10 it was. It was in pretty bad shape, the valves nearly burnt out, Dave Lewis' father did a bit of work on it, and we got in that, with the little baby on the back seat.

It was a rough trip compared to how we travel today, you travel in comfort today, no doubt about it, air condition, power steering and what have you.

None of those things and little skinny narrow tyres. From Deloraine to way past Bronte Park we had three punctures, it wasn't too good. Anyway it took eight hours to get to Queenstown. We went round to Rosebery by train. We went around to the company, the Electric Zinc Company, we had a job in I think about ten days. We had to all come back over the mountain again and they got a job and I went back down again, a different way then.

We went down the pass, I can't think of the name of it, you go through Burnie and you go down this long, long pass, it those days as far as Gilbert Junction. You connected with the line there that went from Burnie to Rosebery. You had to put your car on the train, and that's how you went, another four or five hours trip. You unloaded at Rosebery and you could drive a little bit, there were roads. And we drove round there and up the house we stayed there in the house with Julie's mum and dad and Tas for a little while. Tas went back to Hobart (?) college he went back there. He and I, we used to go and do a bit of shooting, we had .22 rifles, around Rosebery, didn't do much good. Tried to catch a few fish. I stayed there and rather enjoyed it.

Finished up with a good lead? Bonus, I was doing most (?) and we came back and then another chap who worked at Richardson's and I decided to have a go on our own and we got this little place in Wellington St.

We was doing a lot of work for Mr. Batton who made children's high chairs and cots, had to be sprayed and little stencil patterns put on them and this and that. Then I started getting, first, most of us then got this problem it was you know you had lost interest in things, that wasn't the best.

So they decided they'd send us down to Millbrookrise which was a hospital on the Derwent. And in their great wisdom this old Doctor Williams, a lady doctor, and in her great wisdom she decided we got all these ex-prisoners, they suffer from all these problems, mental problems. The radiation, perhaps the ones in Nagasaki affected their brains and all this crap trap, and we never, we never volunteered or anything and they gave us, myself, Noel Cloves, Margaret's husband Bob, an old friend of mine, Frank Hopwood, who's still going, this bloody electric shock treatment, that's what they gave us. That made us worse, it's no wonder a mans got problems now. Anyhow got back over that and I went back I think to auto repairs and trade spray painting and that's about everything of my life from during the war until that time.

Talking about Rosebery I'd better cut in here while I was at Rosebery Judy was born at Zeehan and that was a water bag journey to get her down, you know young women today are driven by their husbands straight to maternity ward.


At Rosebery in 1950 the ambulance driver had to be woken up first, so the ambulance driver said "Right come with me we've got to wake up the rail motor driver and we went down to where the old motor was on the rails, in a shed but on the rails, and they had problems starting that, an old International, they were the days. The battery was half flat and we had to swing on the starting handle at last we got it going, got into Rosebery and into Zeehan.

And then, that's as far as I could go in those days you couldn't go in the ward with your wife or anything, so I came back then on the old railroad, and I went to work. And I think on the next day a phone call came, telling me at work, at lunch time, that's how I found out that Judy had been born.

So it was two or three days, the rail motor only ran two or three days a week, I went in to see Judy and Julie. They were different times and different things so of course it's a lot better now and so it should be. We put a deposit on a house at Kingsmeadows, I saved this money.

At Rosebery you could either save your money or drink your money, well I saved it. I would still go to the R.S.L. Club and have two or three beers but that's all I did, I saved it. I did moonlighting at the weekends.

I painted out the butchers shop, I did two or three other little jobs down there, and you know good money down there people paid you for doing these things, it was quite good, so that was the deposit on the house at Kingsmeadows. I always say, I mean I think I was a good tradesman, well I must have been. I was offered a job, things weren't the best at those times too, it was a couple of weeks at Kingsmeadows. Then I went down to Hollis Motors they opened a new great big place where Stevensons cars are now, at Kingsmeadows and I got a job there spray painting.

They assembled, all the trucks at those times came from England, Great Briton and they was assembled there from little pick-ups up to great big seven or eight ton trucks. My job was when the cab was put on, it had just been undercoated from England, had to rub all that down, if dents were found had to knock all those out, had to rub all those down. and you primed them, then you undercoated them. And they were getting that popular cause no other trucks were coming in.

And some days I would spray paint two in a day, a green one perhaps in the morning and a red one in the afternoon. I still remember. My lungs weren't too good if it wasn't the fuel oil I swallowed on that ship that was torpedoed (?) especially the red truck.

You'd have a mask, it weren't so bad in those times, there was a little fan in the spray booth, but it didn't matter you'd cough up, you were spitting up this red paint.

And the paint in those days wasn't as good as what it is now it would have a lot of stuff in it and we're hearing about it now.

They didn't tell us then, perhaps they didn't know. It wasn't the best. And some of the enamel thinners, as far as I know, had the same thinners that some of the leading oil companies have been mixing in with petrol to make you go further.

I can't think of the name of it but that's what it was and it didn't do your health the world of good I assure you. So I stuck it out, the money was good. Then I went down to open another business, not many people know this, at Latrobe, Robbie Turner and I, we got a cottage down there, and that business was going.

And then this illness, it crept up on me again, anxiety, depression and maybe the worry the business started, we wasn't going too bad, two families could make a living out of it. We talked it over and talked it over and decided to come back to Launceston. We got a place at Waverley. I was still down and that and they sent me down to Repat had me on tablets and different things. It wasn't the best at times.

John Tasman PROSSER

    View St Launceston.


Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces