FOSTER of Launceston, Australia, Chapter 13.

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George FOSTER of Taree: his children.

Inside this chapter: | Thelma May (1906 - 1954) |Thomas Allan (1907 - 1945) |Eric George (1910 - 1980) |

On 16 Aug 1905 when George FOSTER was 25, he married 21 year old John Ann (Annie / Johnann) McFADYEN, daughter of Angus McFADYEN & Mary Anne CAMERON. Early in their marriage they lived at Albert Lane, at least until all their children were born by 1910. They subsequently lived at 21 Fotheringham St until Annie's death in 1967… see earlier chapter here. Now read on: Thelma May was born on 24 Feb 1906, Thomas Allan on 10 Apr 1907 and Eric George on 23 Mar 1910.

Image of George FOSTER's children.George FOSTER's children. From L to R: Thomas Allan, Thelma May, Eric George.

Thelma May FOSTER (1906 - 1954)

Thelma May FOSTER was born on 24 Feb 1906 in Taree and died in Balgowlah NSW on 4 Jun 1954 at the age of 48. On 19 Feb 1929 when Thelma May was 22, she married Allan James ROBINSON, son of Harry James ROBINSON & Maude Catherine PLATT, in Taree NSW. Allan was born on 20 Jun 1900 in Kensington, NSW, and died in Grose Vale, NSW, on 10 Oct 1977 at the age of 77 fb/ii). Allan's occupations were projectionist, salvage and oxy welder, mechanic and panel beater fb/i), fb/ii), A/i), r/iv).
Image of Thelma May FOSTER's marriage.Thelma May FOSTER's marriage.

The following account has been kindly given by Thel's youngest daughter Dorothy (1945-2021) (with contributions by her siblings:
"Thelma and Allan both worked at the Boomerang Theatre in Taree.  Thelma was an usherette and Allan the projectionist. At the end of each showing, Thelma would wait for Allan and he would give her a lift home doubling on his bicycle.  The Boomerang Theatre was part of a large building that included a milk bar and some sort of technical college.  Perhaps this property was part of a family inheritance received by Allan?"…fb/i) (The obituary of Allan's father Harry James ROBINSON (1870-1944) says Harry "erected the Boomerang Theatre in Taree , one of its finest buildings from an architectural point of view as well as being one of the most modern picture theatres in the State at the time it was built. The proprietor's son, Mr. Stanley G. Robinson, was on the spot during the whole of the construction, and managed the theatre tor his father until it was leased a number of years after, and eventually disposed of to Mr. T. Carson, the present owner. Harry Robinson also built the Butterfly Cafe as an adjunct to the theatre and a two-storied building for a furniture shop and store for Mr. Percy G. Saxby. The latter building is now the home of the Taree Technical College.")…A/ii)

Dorothy continues: "Thelma and Allan married in Taree and apparently settled there for a few years.  In December 1929 their first daughter was born and then a second daughter in September 1932.  By this time Australia was in the midst of the Great Depression, jobs were few and far between and most families were doing it tough.
When their 2nd daughter was only six months old in March 1933, the family set off to try their luck gold mining.  They travelled west of Taree on horseback to Mt George and set up a bush camp near the Mummel River.  
Allan built a bark hut for the family to live in near Bundook and Mt George. Tree stumps were embedded in the dirt floor for seating and the table with tree stumps for legs and a slab of timber smoothed down as the table top. There were hessian curtains and the beds were made from timber and hessian as well.  There was a large fire place and the bath was an enamel dish.  For food there was a vegetable garden that Thel tended and Allan trapped rabbits and panned for gold.  For all the other essentials Allan would ride to the nearest town with rabbit pelts and whatever gold he had found he would buy tea, flour, and other essentials the family needed.

When they went into the bush their elder child was four years old and Thel would give her lessons on reading and writing, including the second daughter in the lessons when she got old enough. Sometime in 1937 the family returned to civilization, The younger daughter was five and remembers seeing a car for the first time and being afraid and overwhelmed by everything"…fb/i).

Electoral rolls place Allan at Glamis near Mt George in 1936 and 1937 with the occupation of mine owner. Both Glamis and Mt George have the same postcode. Thel was not listed at Glamis. However in 1937, she is listed at 27 Commerce St, Taree, occupation home duties, with no Allan at that address. In 1943 both Thel and Allan were listed at 289 Sydney Rd, Balgowlah (on the corner with Condamine St), Thel as home duties and Allan as mechanic. They remained there until Thel died in 1954. …r/iv)

Image of Allan Robinbson in uniform.Allan Robinson in uniform. Photo was supplied to Manly Council in Dec 1944 by Mrs Thelma M Robinson, 289 Sydney Road, Balgowlah.  On the obverse of the photo is: 67501, LAC Robinson, A J, Transport Group 611, RAAF Darwin.
Courtesy Manly Library Wellings Collection.

Thel's husband Allan enlisted in the RAAF on 15 Jul 1942 (serial# 67501) with the trade qualifications of salvage and oxy welder. He reached the rank of leading aircraftman (LAC) in Jan 1943 A/i). Embarked on SS Mexico on 17 Jan 1945 for overseas service. Sailed through Biak (Papua, now Irian Jaya), to Morotai (Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia). Left for Labuan (Borneo, now Indonesia) on 4 Jun, part of invasion of Labuan on 10 Jun (code-named OBOE 6). Remained at Labuan… peace declared on 11 Aug… flew out of Labuan 23 Oct… arrived Sydney NSW on 31 Oct fb/iii) and was discharged on 30 Nov 1945 A/i). "The decision by the Allies to invade Borneo in 1945 was for the most part political. It had only marginal strategic value" b/i), w/i).

Allan’s daughters recall that: “Dad was very anxious to enlist when war broke out. For WW1 he had been too young and with WW2 he was officially too old and had a family to support. So Dad put his age back and made out he was younger. Needless to say he managed to enlist in the Air Force and for sometime he was stationed at Singleton and then at Shepparton in Victoria. He finally was sent overseas to Borneo. Nance has a transcript of a radio program that was aired every Saturday night. It was called 'BILL SMITH'S DIARY'. On 24/6/45 the show was about a trip to Borneo to visit some of 'our boys'. The Journalist told of hitching a ride on a RAAF truck with a Corporal from Newcastle and Allan Robinson. They drove the journalist to LABUAN where their camp was. The transmission then went on about a Chinese family that the camp had adopted. The youngest member of the family was William [Willy] Wong - 7 months old and the camps adopted son. Little Willy delighted the boys in camp with his favourite trick of putting his big toe in his mouth. From the report this helped many of the boys who were missing their own 'little Willys'. The only two other pieces of information I could come up with, Dad was the camp barber - and he ran the regular 'two up' game. ” fb/i)

Allan returned to Sydney NSW on 1 Nov 1945 fb/iii). Allan's eldest son remembers: "That afternoon I recall Mum taking me into the vacant allotment next door, to gather a bunch of flowers to give to Dad as he arrived home in a taxi. I remember Dad arriving, dressed in uniform with his kit bag and full of smiles, a great memory." fb/i)

Image of Thelma May FOSTER middle aged.Thelma & Allan ROBINSON.

Thelma's niece Lyn (brother Eric's daughter) remembers her favourite Aunty Thel.

I remember as a child of about 11 or 12 that my family would go to Curl Curl for a beach picnic on a Sunday. On the way we would stop at Condamine St Balgowlah where Aunty Thel and Uncle Allan lived in a flat above a garage workshop. My brother and I could never wait to get up the wooden stairs to the flat and climb over the barrier at the top which prevented children falling down the steep stairs.Three of my cousins were about the same age as my brother and myself and 2 of my cousins were girls who were older and "grown up". One of these girls was often caught "pashing" with her boyfriend in the front room, which I duly spied on and noted as a 12 year old learning about the world! The family never seemed well-off, but Aunty Thel was the warmest, most loving and generous person. I remember there were always comic books to read, something which our family never had. Thel was always happy with a lovely laugh. I was to be bridesmaid to one of the older cousins, and Thel suddenly died of a heart attack at age 48, just before the wedding date. I remember hearing the phone ring at home and my father sobbing as he heard the bad news of Thel's death. fb/iv)

Sources for Thelma May FOSTER:
      Registrations and Lists:
r/i) Birth of Thelma May FOSTER. Reg# 1906/18540. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/ii) Marriage of Thelma May FOSTER & Allan James ROBINSON. Reg# 1929/4656. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/iii) Death of Thelma May FOSTER. Reg# 1954/9959. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/iv) Electoral rolls.
      Family papers, Correspondence:
fb/i)   Pers. comm: Dorothy Charnley (née Robinson).(1945-2021)
fb/ii)   Pers. comm: Nance Friend (née Robinson).(1929-2009)
fb/iii)  Allan Robinson's war diary.
fb/iv)   Pers. comm: Lyn Strong (née Foster).
b/i)  Roland Perry. Pacific 360°. Hachette Australia, Sydney; 2012: 439-446.
w/i) Australia's War 1939-1945: The landings – Borneo. See here.
A/i) Allan James ROBINSON- RAAF personnel record. Series no.: A9301; Control symbol: 67501; ROBINSON ALLAN JAMES : Service Number - 67501: Digitised item: Yes; Item barcode: 4981797. National Archives of Australia. See here.
A/ii) Harry James Robinson obit. Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 7 Mar 1944: 4.
I am grateful to Nance Friend (1929-2009) and Dorothy Charnley (1945-2021) for their kind assistance.


Thomas Allan FOSTER (1907 - 1945)

Thomas Allan FOSTER was born on 10 Apr 1907 in Taree and died in the Pakanbaroe Japanese POW Camp, West Sumatra, on 15 Jul 1945 at the age of 38. He died of beriberi and dysentery and his burial details are below. On 27 Jan 1934 when Thomas Allan was 26, he married Doris Tryste (Dot) BURNE, daughter of Clarence Wiseman (Clarrie) BURNE & Elsie Glenthorn NEILSON, in Taree. Dot was born on 11 Feb 1911 in St Peters NSW. After the war, Dot remarried to Harold James Yeoman HOGAN on 25 Oct 1947 at Taree. Dot died in Gloucester, NSW, on 31 May 2001; she was 90. She was buried in Dawson Cemetery Taree, NSW.

Image of Tom FOSTER's marriage.On 27 Jan 1934 when Thomas Allan was 26, he married Doris Tryste (Dot) BURNE.

The following obituaries printed in the Manning Times made a great starting point on our research on Tom FOSTER. They contained only a few inaccuracies and importantly gave the pathway to the expanded story told below.

Mrs. T. Foster has received the following letter relating to the death of her husband (Pte. Tom Foster, formerly of Taree), while a prisoner of war. The writer was Soldier Frank Collins. [Letter was written to Dot on Frank's return]
“Presuming you have been informed of your husband’s death, I send this letter that you may know something of Tom’s prison life. Tom was captured at Padang, on the west coast of Sumatra. After three months we were taken north to Medan. There we stayed for about 18 months. The treatment we received there was relatively decent. We improved our minds. Tom developed into something of a cartoonist. Church parades were allowed and Tom and I attended regularly. Naturally, we spoke to one another of our home life, and often I heard of you and your boys.
Tom was never afraid to speak his heart. I can see him now, sitting on a palm trunk, the tropic moon softly lighting his face, as he speaks with simple reverence of his family n/i).

Image of Tom FOSTER's prisoner of war card.Tom FOSTER's prisoner of war card fb/iii).


Thomas Allan FOSTER's prisoner of war card is on the left. On the top of the card, the 4 Chinese / Japanese ideograms mean: "Mail from prisoner of war". On the left margin, also in Chinese / Japanese is "Malayan Detention Camp Censor Office". The red and blue stamps in the bottom left are decorative Japanese ideograms for the surnames of the censors fb/vii), fb/ix). On the other side of the card, Tom FOSTER wrote the return address of: "MALAY . FURYO . SYOYOSES . DAI ITI . BUNGYO".
Dr Shigeru Sato says: The writing on the reverse side is Japanese and seems to include some misspelling… should be read as: Malaya Furyo Shuyojo Dai Ichi Bunsho, which means Malaya Prisoners of War Detention Centre, Division One fb/ix) .

Tom's obituary continues:

"From Medan the next move was to Singapore; but in the Malacca Straits one of our own submarines torpedoed Tom’s ship. He was unharmed, taken to Singapore, and then back to Sumatra to work on railway construction. Treatment by then was harsh. Most men became embittered and selfish. Starvation tends to make each man who eats, your enemy. However, some chaps, fortified by the efficacy of their faith, defeated this tendency. Their victory was the most sacred and beautiful compliment they could pay to their loved ones, and gave wavering spirits the will to live for their loved ones.
“Tom was one of those of strong faith. He died, but others lived because of his unselfish example. He is buried near Logos, almost in the centre of Sumatra. Faithful Chinese keep the graves neat. I trust and pray that you, too, may rise above bitterness; that God may place in your heart a peace and quiet pride, and with the passing of years happiness as you see your sons grow in the precious likeness of their father. God bless you”.n/i)

Image of Tom FOSTER's grave.Tom FOSTER's grave at Djakarta. Thanks to Steve Rogers of "The War Graves Photographic Project" for permission to use their photo w/i).
Note: Tom was not buried at Logos (actually Logas) indicated by Frank Collins above. Instead, he was buried firstly in grave 11, near camp 2 and Kubang A/ii), A/v), across the Siak River from camp 1 at Pakan Baroe. He was re-buried about Mar 1950 fb/iv) in the Medan Dutch War Cemetery (plot 2, row E, grave 8) A/ii), then finally on 30 Nov 1961 in the Djakarta (Menteng Poeloe) War Cemetery, Indonesia, Grave Reference: 2. C. 15 A/ii).
Tom's fellow prisoner Harry BADGER returned to Australia in Sept 1945 and was given a civic reception at Old Bar (near Taree) on Fri Oct 6, 1945 n/vi). Tom's widow Dot Foster went up to Harry to ask when is Tom coming home, only to be told that he was dead! fb/x).
 On 3 Nov 1945 Tom's grave registration card was endorsed: "Place of burial: search abandoned Sumatra" A/ii)…p278. On 7 Jan 1946 Dot was told his grave could not be located fb/iv). Dot wrote back as next of kin to the army telling them about Frank Collins story of Tom's burial at Logas and the South East Asia Command was advised of this on 1 May 1946 A/ii)…p279. In June 1946 it was recommended that the Dutch should be given the sole responsibility for war crimes trials in Pakan Baroe and the Dutch investigators looked further at the war graves in that area A/v)…p56. On 29 Oct 1946 the Chief of the central Dutch war graves office advised the Australian war graves group of further details of "Australian militaries who died or were killed by the Japs during their occupation of the Dutch East Indies" A/v)…p29. One of the 5 attachments (dated 12 Jun 1946) to this letter (dated 29 Oct 1946) gave details of 2 graves in the "European cemetery at Kubang", one of which was Tom's grave A/v)…p33. Another attachment notified of 15 Australian burials near camp I in the "European grave-yard of Pakan Baru" A/v)…p32. Tom's grave registration card was then endorsed: " original grave site Kubang, camp II, grave no. 11" A/ii)…p279. On 30 Mar 1950 Dot was told Tom was buried at Medan Dutch War Cemetery. On 26 Jul 1962 she was then told he was re-buried at Djakarta fb/iv).
All a sad outcome for Tom's next of kin!

Tom's next obituary continues:

According to the official record, recounted by Lieut. G.F.A. Nichols: Tom Foster was buried at Pakanbaroe P.O.W. Camp, Sumatra, west coast, about May 1945. Died of beriberi and dysentery. Picked up by Lieut. G.F.A. Nichols (Serial# NX40490) about two days out of Singapore, 1942. He was in a row boat with two others, Leo Byrne and Harry Badger. About three weeks later taken prisoner by the Nips at Padang, West coast, Sumatra. Moved to Medan 26.6.42 and was there until about 26.6.44 . Embarked for Pakanbaroe on 2.6.644 and was torpedoed on the same, survived. Taken to Singapore and arrived there 28.6.44 . One month of Singapore; then left for Pakanbaroe, where he worked on building a railway line from that place to Moearo, a distance of 212 kilos. Approximately 200 other Aussies in the camp with him. His two personal friends were Private Leo Byrne and Private Otto Cheal, both of Sydney, both alive and believed back now. Contracted illness in Camp 8 at the 76 kilo mark, moved to Base Camp, Pakanbaroe some time in April.
Tom was always bright and cheerful and very popular among the boys. An organiser of sweeps and raffles. Contracted an ulcer in Medan Camp, which was not serious and healed quickly. He developed an artistic sense, and made a name for himself as a caricaturist of camp life and personalities. Lieut. Nichols had some of these, but they were lost when torpedoed. Was one of the cricket team in Camp, and was the bookmaker on the Melbourne Cup the boys ran one year with frogs as horses.
Buried with a Cross, name, number, rank, date of birth, date of death, carved on the Cross. Given military burial. (Recounted by Lieut. G.F.A. Nichols on 21.10.45) n/i), fb/ii)

Lieut. Arnold Nichols’ son John says that the above document would have been written while Arnold was assisting the repatriation of the POWs from Singapore. Arnold finally returned to Sydney NSW about 7 Nov 1945 fb/xi). The official history b/xiii)…p679-682 describes what would be the mechanism of Arnold's debriefing in Singapore:

It was planned, in fairness to anxious next of kin of those who would not be recovered, that the interrogation of recovered prisoners of war should be made in the prisoner of war recovery camps prior to embarkation for Australia, and that the first information sought would be regarding deaths and the whereabouts of unrecovered personnel b/xiii)…p682.

Where to now?

So many leads to follow from these obituaries! How did Tom get from Singapore to Padang? All the named POWs might have left behind records mentioning Tom or the events they were all involved in. Then there are the histories of events in Singapore, Padang, Medan and Pakan Baroe. The "expanded story" below taps into this large amount of source material.

The Escape.

Our starting point follows from Lieut. Nichols’ report: "Picked up by Lieut. Nichols (Serial# NX40490) about two days out of Singapore, 1942. He was in a row boat with two others - Leo Burne and Harry Badger." n/i)…b, fb/ii).

Leo Martin BYRNE (NX54057, d. 1 Oct 2008) was from Sydney and Alfred Henry (Harry) BADGER (NX53671, d. 21 Aug 2007) was from Old Bar, near Taree NSW. All three on the boat were from the 2/20 Bn and well qualified to row the boat from Singapore to Sumatra. Harry and Tom had much experience in rowing the large surfboat at the Old Bar Surf Life Saving Club, and Leo was called "Big Leo" on the POW camps [because he was about 6’2”, athletic with a barrel chest fb/x)). Harry's son said that "Dad was quite strong in his belief that they rowed overnight as they were afraid of being spotted by Japanese planes. His recollection included being towed  up a river and then travelling by bus and train  to Padang after contact with the Dutch." fb/viii)

Handwritten pages in Lieut. Nichols’ personal record take up Tom's story A/iv). …

“On the morning light of a tropical evening on Feb 15 1942 the remnants of a platoon of B Coy 2/18 Bn 8 Div AIF Malaya arrived on the outskirts of Pasir Panjang a few kilometres west of a beleaguered city of Singapore en route after 5 days & nights of guerrilla warfare behind Japanese lines. Seven unshaven, hungry filthy men bearing the evidence of sleepless nights spent in efforts to break through Japanese lines and rejoin their unit in defence of Singapore.” … “A pall of black smoke over the island emanating mainly from the burning offshore oil dumps at Pulau Bukum island. ”… [Pulau Bukom Island is 5.5km SW from the Harbour and was used by Shell refineries since 1891].
…“It was at Pasir Panjang that this desperate group of infantrymen, 1 officer & 6 ORs [other ranks] met a sergeant of the Malay police force who gave the information that Singapore had fallen and Allied force had surrendered. A hasty discussion resulted in a unanimous decision to make every effort to escape and others with the group commandeered a native canoe and paddled across the harbour to Pula Bukum .
It was here that some 43 Australians & British troops were found among which were 3 wounded. A survey of the resources remaining on the small island after intensive bombing revealed little of value in an escape bid except for a small vessel manned by one Chinese fisherman. This was taken over, the owner being as anxious to make good his escape, given the choice of remaining or throwing in his lot with the escapees.
So it was that about 11pm this small craft crept stealthily from the dock of Pulau Bukum on the first stage of its voyage west, sailed, with the captain of 1 NSW fisherman, by an inexperienced but enthusiastic crew of 6, the balance of the company being carried as armed escorts.
Dawn saw the overloaded craft arrive at the Dutch Island of -?- from which all habitation had vanished and which was not yet occupied by Japanese. Showers, baths etc were the order of the day followed closely by a quick reconnaissance of the larder left behind by the evacuees.

Image of Chinese Tongkang.

Een Chinese Tongkang voor een laadsteiger op het eiland Mendol bij Bengkalis, Sumatra's Oostkust.
File licensed under Creative Commons. Attribution: Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)
A Chinese Tongkang transporting timber from the Bengkalis Island (near the mouth of the Siak R.) & Mendol Island (at the mouth of the Kampar R.) on the East coast of Sumatra. Date: 14 Oct 1930.

To our surprise a larger tongban [tongkang] of about 48 tons loaded with 16 bags of rice XXXX XXXX [illegible] roasted and this was soon boarded. Sail set for Sumatra. At this stage hopes were high but the threat of Japanese recce planes & possible subsequent action concerned the ship's "captain". The wounded were given what attention possible, a tarpaulin from the ship hold was rigged to camouflage the still well armed "crew" and to give protection from tropic sun and gather rain water for drinking. At the same time a sea chest on the stern deck was discovered to contain native clothing which was donned to further confuse inquisitive aircraft. Such was the manner in which these amateur seamen sailed into the western sunset on the evening of Feb 16th, hearts full of hope, confident in their ultimate ability as navigators. Lookouts posted and an armed watch set the balance of the personnel relaxed in an atmosphere almost strange after weeks of anxiety & action in Malaya and Singapore. Due west to Sumatra was the course and then South east following the Sumatran coast to the Sunda Straits, thru the straits and then East by South to Australia- a long voyage for a wooden hulk equipped with rattan sails and a few bags of rice for the ship's complement. Two days sailing brought the ship with by then 49 men (6 more picked up on the straits from canoes) [The reference to picking up Tom FOSTER from his rowboat] within sight of the coast of Sumatra. The order was given to drop anchor. The intention was to land a shore party to reconnoitre and if possible augment rations. Before thought could be transformed to action a sampan put out from shore & all welcomed two natives aboard. For the exchange of 2 bags of rice they brought us quantities of papaya (pawpaws), sweet potatoes, bananas coconuts and some dried fish as well as their good wishes for a safe journey. They also worried of navigational problems in relation to shoals and rocks adjacent to the coast, as a result of which the captain decided to sail in daylight only and to sail well out from the coastline. The following day and every day for the 3 nights and 4 days sail we were regularly inspected by Japanese reconnaissance planes, but never revisited by bombers. On the second day at sea the ship's course crossed that of another sudden(?) engine powered sailing vessel which at first glance appeared to menace our safety. There was nothing for it but to prepare for action. No sooner done than the ship was loud hailed in English by the intruder who sought permission to come aboard. Permission granted with needless caution as the commander(?) was none other than Major C. Moses who it was later learned in company with General Gordon Bennett was on a similar mission to escape. Mutual exchanges of good luck were place(?).” A/iv)
My extended transcription from Lt Nichols manuscript is reproduced here following the kind permission of the copyright holder, the Australian War Memorial.

General Bennett's account of Singapore mentions meeting Nichols’ tongkang: "Another tongkan, much more elaborate than ours, sailed by. We hailed it and found that it had over forty men aboard including a few wounded, one seriously. We asked an Australian officer who was on board. "Did you steal your boat?" He replied,"Not exactly, but the bloke that owns it did not come with us." At that stage General Bennett was intending to "make our way to the Indragiri and sail to a town called Rengat" b/ii)…p205, and presumably Major Moses [later general manager of the ABC] told Arnold Nichols of the established evacuation strategy via Rengat and Dutch assistance. It was thought that Nichols tongkang party presumably abandoned their idea of sailing to Australia and made for the Indragiri River. However, Arnold Nichols' family do not recall him saying which river his party used fb/xi), and his personal documents in the AWM do not mention it A/iv).

Fortunately, the question of "which river" was answered by Arnold in a phone interview by James Burfitt on 19 Dec 1989, when Arnold was aged 76. Arnold gave the last bit of the Charles Moses story:

“Charles Moses actually came on board to us. He didn't tell us that Gordon Bennett was there... but he came to see what we were doing and what our intentions were. Well I said, 'At the present moment we're making for Java, if we're lucky enough' … .but anyhow, we ran into a storm, lost our top mast and landed at Djambi... and then we were put on the official escape route to Padang.” b/xiv)

Burfitt also refers to Ivan RUSH (NX40907, 2/18 Bn) who was part of Lt Gordon Richardson's platoon, but became separated during skirmishes with the Japanese force. Rush and his companions straggled to the coast and swam out to a wreck to avoid the ever-present Japanese. Ivan RUSH's widow Frances tells me that Ivan's brother Albie (Pte Rush. A.E. NX40942; 2/18) would have been with him, since they were inseparable in this experience… see photo. After fruitless attempts to sail to Singapore, Rush's group was contacted by a group headed by Arnold Nichols, whose party was still on Singapore Island at the time of the surrender. Another name of an escapee on NICHOLS’s tongkang! Meawhile Lt Richardson (NX35127, 2/18 Bn) and five of his men separately reached Padang after paying a Chinese to sail them to Sumatra in a sampan b/xiv). The RUSH brothers, RICHARDSON, NICHOLS, BYRNE, BADGER and our Tom FOSTER were all to end up in the same POW camps!

Evacuation routes in Sumatra.

Dr Albert Coates set up a hospital for the evacuees a short way up the Indragiri R. at Tembilahan at great personal cost since he was later interned at Changi. He was scathing about the evacuation arrangements and said:

“before the fall of Singapore, General Percival had indicated the possible use of the rivers of eastern Sumatra as routes over which the evacuees from Singapore might be transported overnight to meet ships on the western coast sent to rescue them. However, it was not until 13 Feb 1942 that the plan was put into operation and by then the Japanese were in control of the straits and were sinking everything that moved. The organisation was hurried, had not been carefully worked out and as a result completely failed to serve its purpose.”b/ii)…p82

Coates was told on 17 Feb 1942 of the ineffectual British plans being made for evacuation:

“food dumps were being laid down in the outlying islands, there would be a regular shuttle service up the river to Rengat every day. However, three weeks would be required for the complete cleaning up of the people marooned on small islands and wrecks.” b/ii)…p72

The Indragiri river was the main evacuation route… see Peter Hartley’s story b/iv)…p25-36. Peter Thompson interviewed Clive Lyon, son of Capt Ivan Lyon of the Special Operations Executive. Clive told of his father, who was one of the British officers who established a lifeline for refugees. They would be met at the mouth of the Indragiri, ferried 150 miles upriver to Rengat and taken via a series of camps over the mountains to the west coast port of Padang b/xii)…p248. Lynette Ramsay-Silver gives more details of the desperate efforts and the personalities involved b/vii)…p23-34.

However, the evacuees found other adjacent main rivers and were still guided by the Dutch etc. General Bennett left his tongkang and travelled on a launch, the ‘Tern’. This missed the Indragiri and went further south and then up the Djambi (Hari) R, perhaps under the same circumstances of bad weather which guided Nichols' group. Bennett's tongkang and the remainder of his party, found the Indragiri River b/ii)…p205.

Hilton STANTON and Arthur TRANTER’s party went up the Kampar River A/i) and were then guided down to Aemoloek fb/v), fb/vi) (Airmolek) near Rengat where they were given hospitality by a "gracious Swiss couple" A/i) .  Frank ROBINSON followed the same route fb/x), saying that the Swiss organised the next stage of their evacuation with "the Dutch authorities" b/viii). R.F. (Slim) NELSON (VX8212) chose the most northerly river, the Siak.  He travelled up to Pakan Baroe where the Siak was near the Kampar. The Dutch organized his accommodation and evacuation w/iv).  See here. Hilton Stanton A/i)  tells how the organised escape route transported them to Taloek (on the Indragiri) where they were billeted in a rubber factory [as was Peter Hartley b/iv)…p32]. Hilton said; “we could not progress because each group moved across the island in the order in which they became an official party (and) our party was the last to move.”  They became the second last party when two members of the 2/20 Bn, "our" Leo BYRNE with another NELSON,  Fred A. NELSON (NX54038 d. 30 Apr 45) were "relegated to last because they stole two bicycles with the intention of pedalling across Sumatra.  They were apprehended after travelling some distance." A/i) This places Leo, one of Tom's party, at Taloek! The next stop west was a railhead at Moeara or alternately Sawah-Loento and then rail to Padang on the west coast in the hope they could then travel  20km (S) to Emmahaven (Teluk Bayur) and board a ship. A/i). Henk Hovinga (Contact: includes a map showing each of these places mentioned b/v)…p169, even indicating the road from Djambi to Sawah-Loento used in Gen. Bennett's escape, flying from Padang on 25 Feb b/ii)…pp211-213.

The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army capitulated on 8 Mar 1942 b/v)…p15.  No doubt this explained the changed reception when the evacuees reached Padang.  Dutch troops prevented them from access to a tramp steamer and nearby sheds "full of Australian tinned food" b/viii). Hilton commented that: "On arrival we had to surrender all our arms. It appeared to me that we were not very welcome." A/i) Peter Hartley put the welcome at Padang more bluntly:

“As soon as they stepped off the panting train, those who still carried arms were ordered to hand them over, as though they were enemy aliens instead of escaping allies.  But worst of all they were made to march (humiliated) through the busy streets to their temporary billets in a Chinese school.” b/iv)…p36-37

On 17 Mar 1942 the Japanese entered the town and the evacuees were made Japanese prisoners of war. A/i), b/viii).

The POW.

The first group of prisoners was removed from the Padang POW camp on 9 May 1942.  500 British POWs were sent to work on the Burma-Thailand  railway. Perhaps the only Australian on this draft was Lt Col Coates (mentioned earlier). b/iii)…p90-94)… though “British” may have been used to include Australians since we had British nationality at that time.

The remainder of the camp (Including the Australians) left on 13 June 1942 on about 20 trucks. They went north via Dutch tourist destination of Sibolga then north west via the high plateau where the holiday resort of Lake Toba [Danau Toba] is located.  Just out of Lake Toba they passed through an avenue of “Australian White Gums”… an emotional moment for the Australians.   On 17th June 1942 after 400 miles, they reached Belawan, the main seaport for Northern Sumatra, being close to Medan, the largest northern town  b/iv), bviii),  A/i).   

They were placed in a native stevedores’ and dock workers’ camp with huts that were crude and filthy, with dirt floors.  The mosquitoes were so bad that it was impossible to sleep unless totally exhausted.  After 9 days, on 26th  June 1942, they were loaded into railway box cars.  They moved about 30km towards Medan, into the Dutch Native Soldier's barracks at Gloegoer.  b/iv), A/i).

Hilton STANTON lodged his memoirs with a nominal roll of the Gloegoer POWs with the Australian War Memorial A/i . See here for a transcription of the roll, which gives the POWs' serial numbers, battalions, home addresses at the time and what happened to them immediately after Gloegoer. Also included is a tribute to Hilton's work.

Hilton Stanton says:

“Within the former Dutch Native Barracks we were crowded, but we were dry, had electricity and running water which also enabled latrines to be flushed.  Food was reasonable but sparse. To our advantage we had cooks skilled in the art of cooking rice and the local ingredients. 

The camp was commanded by Col. Banno, one of the more humane Japanese commanders. He allowed natives to set up a shop two days a week, enabling us to buy bananas, gula (native sugar), local tobacco etc. which we could buy by forming groups and pooling our pay of ten cents per week.  At that stage the local produce was still cheap.”  A/i 

Camp conditions were made bearable by implementing regular work hours and respecting Sunday as a rest day. In this framework various businesses were started, such as cigarette, clog and pipe making. Cpl Eric Jones, RAF, later to become an ordained Methodist minister, held church services on Sundays. There were many other activities, such as bridge and chess competitions and language classes. Flight Lieutenant Hogg, RAF organised pantomimes at Christmas 1942 and 1943.
 NX32561 Pte Frank Collins, who was a fast bowler with the Balmain Sydney Cricket Club, organised cricket matches with improvised equipment. Frank had the occupation of journalist when he enlisted and thus taught an English course.
A/1),b/iv)…64-129,  b/viii)…20-23, 27-32

When Frank Collins was released, he wrote the letter to Tom’s wife quoted earlier n/i)…a,  which said: “Tom developed into something of a cartoonist. Church parades were allowed and Tom and I attended regularly.” Similarly, when  Frank was released, he wrote a poem to the mother of WX9241 Ted Hopson, who died on 26 Apr 1944  b/viii)…p37. Frank also was the editor of the camp newspaper, Kangaroo Kabaar (News) of the Gloegoer POW camp. fb/vi)  When Frank returned to civilian life, he became a Sergeant 1st class in the NSW police and died on 7 Feb 1982.

Arnold Nichols described Tom at Gloegoer : 

“Tom was always bright and cheerful and very popular among the boys, an organiser of sweeps and raffles. Contracted an ulcer in Medan Camp, which was not serious and healed quickly. He developed an artistic sense, and made a name for himself as a caricaturist of camp life and personalities. Lt. Nichols had some of these, but they were lost when torpedoed. Was one of the cricket team in camp and was the bookmaker on the Melbourne Cup the camp boys ran one year with frogs as horses."  n/i)…b.

The frog race (with Tom's bookmaking effort) was a significant event for the camp. Frank Collins described it in the “Kangaroo Kabaar”:

          “Melbourne Frog Cup 1942; Tranter Tickles Toad to Thrilling Turf Triumph; 
                                   Hot Shot Wins Cup.
Hot Shot proved too hot for his rivals in Tuesday’s Amphibian Cup… etc… …As the winner returned to “scale”, he received a tremendous ovation from the crowd in the ‘stands’ “ fb/vi…(d).

 Arthur Tranter was the winner of the race and received the award of a cup made of half a coconut. Somehow he managed to keep a copy of Frank Collins’ race “calling” in his camp journal, together with Stan McAlister’s cartoon of the event  fb/v).

Hilton Stanton said: “Yes- Tom became a good cartoonist.  No doubt the late Stanley McAlister, a good artist coached him in his drawing.”  He went on to say that he agreed with the articles (about Tom FOSTER by Frank COLLINS and Arnold NICHOLS, though he thought that there may have been a fourth person in Tom’s escape rowboat… Fred NELSON. fb/x)  This suggestion about Fred would be consistent with the " two bicycles” incident at Taloek described above.

As time progressed, working parties became more demanding.  Beriberi became more prevalent and there was one outbreak of dysentery, which was brought under control A/i).

On 8 Mar 1944 a party was sent from Gloegoer to construct a road to Northern Sumatra (Atjeh / Aceh).  This group was known as the Atjeh Party… “a 500-strong draft, made up of all nationalities” A/i). The nominal roll of the Australians who were in Gloegoer contained the Atjeh list (including casualties) This list showed that the Australian section of 50 men  was under Lieutenant  A.B. Tranter A/i)…a.  Tom FOSTER was not chosen for Atjeh, perhaps due to his age, perhaps due to illness… “Contracted an ulcer in Medan Camp, which was not serious and healed quickly” n/i)…b.

Almost 4 months later the nominal roll A/i)…a), showed that Tom was part of the remainder to be sent from Gloegoer, this time to Pakan Baroe (presumably) on 25 Jun 1944.  They were crammed into the ‘Harukikun Maru’ previously the ‘Van Waerwijck’ at the Belawan harbour. The next day it was torpedoed by the submarine HM ‘Truculent’.  These events are well described by Hovinga b/v)…34-42, Hartley b/iv)…130-142, Nichols A/iv) (typescript pp1-7).

Nichols says in his newspaper article:

“The Australian survivors were taken to Singapore It was late in July, 1944, and the remnants of those who had left Sumatra were encamped at River Valley Road, Singapore, from where the more elderly and the wounded were transferred to Changi Gaol. The remaining prisoners were given 30 days "rest" to prepare for the second leg of their journey by paddle steamer across the  Straits of Malacca, once again, and up the Indragiri River to Pakanbaroe.”  n/iv)

Tom FOSTER had his 30 days rest  in the River Valley Road POW camp, though fellow Gloegoer inmate Stan McAlister must have been ill or injured and gone to Changi, since his drawings of Singapore POW camps Changi, Selarang & Kranji are in the National Archives, and he returned to Australia from Kranji in 1945.
The River Valley Road camp was bounded by the western end of River Valley and Havelock  roads.  This site is now occupied in part by a shopping mall and a condominium. Hartley described conditions in this camp in detail b/iv)…p143-147, and also explained the use of paddle steamers in the next part of their trip in terms of their size and shape “no submarine would be likely to waste its torpedoes on such an insignificant craft; while the fact it had a flat bottom offered no target for underwater missiles.” b/iv)…p157.

Pakan Baroe was the base camp for the construction of a railway line from Pakan Baroe to Moeara. As the work along the line progressed, “new staging camps were established, each leapfrogging to a point about 15km beyond the furthest point of the completed railway line” n/iv) .

Jack Plant gives details of the 14 camps along the railway… when they opened and closed.  From the above account, Tom FOSTER would have arrived at Pakan Baroe about Sept 1944 when only the first 5 camps were functioning. Plant made the note that survivors of the torpedoing were billeted at camp 5 which was near Lubuk Sakat, 14 miles from base camp b/vi…p7.  A fair chance that Tom was placed here initially.

The next record of Tom’s location is by Lt Nichols who said that Tom:  “contracted illness in Camp 8 at the 76 kilo mark, moved to base camp, Pakanbaroe [camp 2] some time in April (1945) ” n/i)…b.  Plant said that Camp 8 was only open from Jan to Jun 1945 b/vi…p9. However, Henk Hovinga told me:  “Camp 8 (Kota Baroe) is not on 76km mark but on 67 miles, that means 108 kilos south of Pakan Baroe. The very seriously ill patients who were not expected to recover in the camps where they contracted the illness, were transported to the big hospital Camp 2 where finally most of those patients died” fb/xii).

Image of map of Camp 2.Map of Tom FOSTER's Camp 2, drawn by Bernard Wolters August 1945. Image: Kind permission of Henk Hovinga.
Note: the infirmary barracks A-D & dysentery latrines at mid left, & the cemetery at top left. Was Tom buried in this cemetery?

Hilton Stanton best describes the conditions along the railway:

Work was much the same in all camps, depending what gang one was in and depending on the date when a section was to be completed.  If behind schedule, work had to be done at night.  I can recall one group working continuously for 36 hours.
There were squads to dig soil, carry, spread, load trucks, unload trucks, carry railway lines, lay the lines, spike the lines, etc.  All the time being harassed by Japanese engineers- "Hurry, Hurry, bugero" etc.  If this wasn't enough to motivate the slaves, they had various other incentives that caused pain such as a bash with anything handy or by throwing something  at the offender, who at times, would not know he had committed some offence until struck.
Then, at the end of the day, the Koreans, who, like the Japs, were unpredictable, may keep the parade standing at attention for long periods, bash a few and or pick one or more to be punished at the guard house for hours.  At times, they would roam through the camp looking for some unfortunate victim who they would accuse of some misdemeanor, so that he could be punished.
The diseases from which men suffered were many and varied.  No doubt, most of them were tropical complaints.  Ulcers were very prevalent, the treatment being to gouge out the putrefied flesh with a spoon or something similar and sometimes amputation of the limb became necessary.  I am sure that the complaints suffered by our group and the treatment of same was akin to the diseases and treatment on the Burma-Thailand railway.  There wasn't any cholera on the Sumatran railway and to my knowledge all camps occupied by prisoners were new camps, and not fouled by excrements of natives, known on this project as Romushas -a word meaning "forced labour for the Japanese".
As 1945 dragged on it was obvious that many men could not last much longer.  Survival  was the key word.  The fact that so many survived was due to the 'Kongsies' formed by groups. (Kongsies is a Dutch word.  In this instance it means a group banding together for their mutual benefit).  Even though all worked with their upper torso completely bare, I am unaware of any suffering from sunburn or sunstroke.
In mid 1945, my group moved to Camp 9, known as "Logas, where one of the Japs told us the project had to be completed by 15 August 1945. So, it was "Hurry, Hurry, Speedo, Speedo' all the time.  A/i)
Notes: i) This extended quote from Hilton Stanton’s memoir is reproduced here following his kind permission as copyright holder.
ii) Kongsie was a Dutch word used in the former Dutch East Indies and arose from the Chinese 公司 (gong si… the "g" pronounced in Cantonese with a soft "k"), a phrase used describing business partnerships (honourable company.

Further description of the railway is best found in Henk Hovinga’s well-researched book b/v)… it is highly recommended. However, the following impression of the unbelievable condition of the camps and prisoners deserved repeating. This was the first view of the camps by outside Allied personnel (Maj G.F.Jacobs) after the Armistice…

“Before taking the main road we made a quick tour to Logas, where I heard that there were several hundred Dutch Prisoners of War- [Hilton Stanton notes: there were also Australian, British, one or two Canadians, one or two New Zealanders and at least one American  A/i)] - remnants of a contingent which had worked on the jungle railway.  These men we found had become completely cut off from the outside world, and were not aware that the war had ended (Hilton again: [we were aware” A/i)]. Isolated in the jungle they had lived under conditions of unimaginable primitiveness, many had learnt to eat the bark of trees and the roots of plants to keep alive.  The mere fact that they had survived was eloquent proof of the resilience of the human being.
To look at these pitiful human wrecks, to hear about the atrocities that had been committed against them and see the degradation to which they had been subjected was a harrowing experience.  It was necessary however to have a complete record and I forced myself to go into the huts to take photographs and make a detailed report on everything.  It imposed a severe strain, which soon began to take its toll.  I lost my appetite completely.  And, after taking so much Benzedrine, I could no longer sleep.  This lowered my resistance to the horrors around me and so the cycle continued" b/xi).

Hilton Stanton referred to the time prior to Armistice Day (15 Aug 1945) when most of the officers had been removed from the minor camps and his OC of Logas (camp 9 ), Lieut. Arthur Tranter, had been removed to Camp 2 Pakanbaroe [hospital camp] A/i) where Tom FOSTER was placed. Arthur Tranter's affidavit to the War Crimes commission statement about camp conditions consequently has special application to Tom and the lack of care which caused his death. Arthur said: “Dysentry and Beri Beri and malaria were rife and no attempt was made by the Japanese to alleviate these diseases” … “It was obvious that the Japanese had some medical store because as soon as they war finished they made an immediate generous issue, that had not been brought into the country since the war ended.” fb/vi)…(c)

The war had ended on 15th August 1945… Armistice Day.  A bit late for Tom FOSTER who had died one month before on 15 Jul 1945.

Image of Tom FOSTER's liberated Camp 2 in Sep 1945.Tom FOSTER's liberated Camp 2 in Sep 1945… too late for Tom.
Photo: Kind permission of Hilton Stanton.

Also see the photo of the Rush brothers liberation here.

War Service.

Tom FOSTER's war service is now described, relating his letters to his wife to the accounts of the Malaysian campaign.

Tom’s personnel record says that he enlisted on 27 May 1941 at Taree. His enlistment form said that he was a painter (following his father’s trade) and a storeman. He did his basic training with the 1 & 5 Training Battalions at Tamworth. Almost 5 months later he disembarked at Singapore on 18-10-1941 and marched into the General Base Depot …A/iii) (GBD of the 8th Division at Johore Bahru …A/vi)). He was then taken on the strength of the 2/20 Bn on 6-12-1941 and then marched out to the 2/20 Bn on 10-12-1941 …A/iii). Tom's story and views of the war are taken up in extracts from his letters to his wife fb/iii).

At the GBD, Singapore. DATE: Abt October 1941 Cpl T.A. Foster, 2/20 A Coy GBD…… Have been up country on a 48 hour guard duty .... Talking about this guard duty we were out planted among the rubber we could hear the planes overhead but they would have no chance of seeing us. The rubber trees are something like the wild fig …. . I had a trip into Jahore with a prisoner he had to have his teeth fix(ed) up so I saw few of the sights also the filth and rotten canals that run through the towns over here. .... Gee there will be some great excitement at Xmas when the two lads get their presents I’ll be thinking of them by the way. Things are going here I have set myself down to a poor Xmas but I don’t mind as long as I know you and the lads have a good one at home. .... the planes that fly over. Every time I see a flock of them dog fighting or passing over I always think of what would happen at Old Bar if they were to pass over there also what a look dear little Malcolm would get on his face if he seen them. By god they are big and fast dear. It’s an education to watch them at night when all the search lights are up. They call the air force mothballs over here. We are going out into the rubber and jungle next week and they have been telling us a few things of what to expect. The ground is full of scorpions and black frogs of which you have to be very careful seeing that you sleep on the ground on your ground sheet. I don’t think I’ll be doing much sleeping. There is two men whom you change every ten minutes going on in front with parangs cutting the growth away. They say that if you do half a mile in any hour you’re going well. They also tell us that some of the rivers we will have to cross are just a mass of leaves about 2 or 4 feet matted together and you can walk across. They have tested some of them with a big stick after pushing the stick through the matted leaves you cannot get bottom so it would be god help you if you fell through. . (Censor: C. Baeyertz) fb/iii)

Tom’s initial letters of Oct & Nov said he was in A Coy, 2/20 Bn at the GBD fb/iii)., and the official personnel record said that he was taken on the strength of the 2/20 Bn on 6-12-1941 in the GBD …A/iii). His censor, Lt C Baeyertz, who appears to be in B Coy GBD was probably the Orderly Officer when Tom's letters were forwarded A/vi)…#3; p57. Lt C Baeyertz became a fellow POW with Tom.

DATE: 11-11-1941 Cpl T.A. Foster, 2/20 A Coy, GBD…… I have not had leave since I left good old Aussie but tomorrow the 12th of Nov I am going on leave to Singapore for 12 hours only, it will be a wonderful break from the jungle and rubber. ... I have only received two of your letters and I have read them god knows how many times. .... One of my mates has been in hospital with fever and by god I hope I don’t cop it. It knocks them to hell and will always come against them in later life. There are plenty of skin diseases here and I am very careful of myself. .... I have just been informed that Cpl’s pay would be made up next pay so things are on the up. You should be getting more money now about £9 per pay .... . My duties as a Cpl I have 12 here in my section I have to look after them see they are fed right and led them in stunts etc. They are not a bad lot dear and I get on with them fairly well. fb/iii)

Wall says that the 2/20 Bn received the second large intake of Reinforcements in early Dec: 122 O/R’s and four officers – including Lieut. Bayertz….” b/ix)…p27. The 2/20 Bn War Diaries confirm the date and composition of this draft of 2-12-41 A/vii)…#10; pp94, 97, 100. Note that Tom's personnel record said he marched out to the 2/20 Bn on 10-12-1941, and the 2/20 Bn War Diaries show that 14 OR's were taken on strength ex G.B.D. on 10-12-41 on the day that quinine was issued to all ranks in the 2/20 as malarial suppression A/vii)…#10; pp94. These movements of reinforcements would have been in response the the fact that on 8 Dec, Japs landed troops in North Malaya (Kota Bahru) 70 minutes before their sneak attack on Pearl Harbour b/xii)…p113. The Bn had moved to Mersing on the east coast of Johore on Aug 28 b/ix)…p21, and Wall gives the details of fortifications b/ix)…p21-26.

His first two letters show he received promotion to corporal when he was on the strength of the the General Base Depot (GBD). However, he dropped all mention of any rank in his letters when he was sent to the 2/20 in its frontline position fb/iii). Later, three POW letter cards gave his rank as Private, and when he was buried the Army described him as "Private". Was his final rank due to automatic reversion to the ranks when he transferred from the GBD to the 2/20 Bn, in the same way that reversion of (acting) ranks occurred when reinforcements arrived at the GBD? …A/vi)…#2; p107. However, the final and most recent word (1999) comes from the Army History Unit which describes Tom as a Corporal in a table from records of each serviceman & servicewoman who perished in Sumatra, together with the status of their final resting place …A/viii). Perhaps Tom deliberately assumed the lower rank of private to avoid being bashed by the prison guards?

DATE: DEC 1941 No details of Company, rank or location…… We were sitting in our weapon pit the other night me and my mate were praying for the moon to come up. At last I spotted it and told my mate he moved to have a look and nearly put his head on a big buck crocodile about 19 feet long we could not shoot at him because we would give our position away so we threw a big log at him he just opened his mouth turned on his way and into the jungle.
DATE: JAN 1942 now in C Coy, no ,rank or location. Things are fairly quiet here just a few booms and bangs here and there. We had a naval battle just out from us the other day and could hear the guns very plainly don’t know how things went though. Yesterday the Japs sent over two raids. They passed right over us but flying very high on their way to Singapore and talk about a noise. In the first raid we bagged 18 Jap planes and have not heard the results of the second one but judging by the way they were making for home they must of run into a hell of a hiding from our spitfires. .... We have camped with a chap catching mossies and finding out where they breed etc. He tells us there are 170 different kinds of mossies in Malaya and I don’t doubt him at all. In fact I think there is more that 170. By the way they come out at night we have plenty of nets to protect us. But all the same they still get at face and give you hell at night. fb/iii)

Capt Bill Carter’s C Coy remained at Mersing for a short period while anti-malarial work was carried out in the Endau area. b/ix)…p23, 26. The 2/20 War diary or Intelligence Summary from 17 Dec to 31 Dec stated: "During the month (December) the evacuation of civilians from this district has taken place, though there are still Natives in the inlying areas. Engineers have completed necessary demolition of Township of Mersing. No one has been allowed into Mersing without a pass from Bn H.Q. stating on what duty engaged. On various occasions Japanese planes have flown over the area, but no bombing has taken place." A/vii)…#10; pp95.

DATE: 3 Jan 1942 in C Coy, no, rank or location…… Well dear, things are fairly quiet here just now. We are holding the Japs everywhere. Not much doing on land but plenty in the air. The Japs are using gas but, all the same, we are well protected against it. They are landing in small parties and dressed very lightly getting into the jungle and consolidating there. They are a very cunning fighter and you have to keep on the alert all the time. .... The natives have left these parts and of course they did not take their fowls with them and of course we go out and about every second day and knock a few over. So you can see dear we are living high just at present. .... One never knows one of these pills might have my name on it. There’s about 20 Jap planes up overhead and just moving around trying to pick us up but we are well planted in the rubber trees and will be very hard to find. Good night dear. Monday Very quiet night and not much air raids about must be half time for us both. Would give the world for you to see us when we hear the planes coming. We dive for our tin hats and jump into our slit trenches like rabbits and all look at each other and say nothing. Just plain stare dear but you can read one another’s thoughts as easy as anything. After they have gone you sigh a sigh of relief and go on with what you were doing and wait until the next raid.

DATE: 5 JAN 1942 in C Coy, no rank or location……. The works are on up north now and we are holding our own with the Jap. Singapore was bombed again last night not much damage done. I think I have told you that they are using gas.... . I have been transferred from A Coy to C Coy now and it’s a long way from a G.B.D. We are in what you could call front line but have not seen action yet, but live in our weapon pit and dug out during the night coming out during the day .... Just before the balloon went up with the Jap we were pushed about the country everywhere. Before we settled down change of address and position may have held the mail up. Here there’s Jap planes and war ships everywhere. There’s an instance the other day when one of our mail planes was bombed at Medan all mail lost. fb/iii)

On 14 Jan the 2/20 Bn had their first contact with the Japanese at Endau b/ix)…p36.
The 2/20 Bn War Diary from 1 Jan to 31 Jan recorded the increasing conflict. See below: A/vii)…#11; pp2-5..
14/1: On 14 Jan 30 Japs were sighted at Rompin (25 km NW of Endau?) wearing steel helments, black coats and khaki shorts.
15/1: Endau was bombed and 30 Japs were sighted 13 km "north of Endau".
16/1: Rumour of landing on coast between Endau & Penyabong, not confirmed. Mersing bombed, 1 plane & 4 bombs.
17/1: Arrangements made to shift Endau force (including Tom's Coy) which had been bombed consistently for 3 days, it withdrew to Bukit Lankap during night.
21/1: Ambushed landing party killing 10. Enemy forced into minefields which did not explode owing to prolonged immersion. Considerable minor hostile action during day. Increased air action.
22/1: Minor brushes with enemy. Our artillery used very accurately. Sniping by enemy along river bank.
23-4/1: Still minor brushes.
25/1: Japs seemed to concentrate on left flanks.
26/1: C Coy (Tom's Coy) which had been detached at Endau, withdrew through Bukit Langkap and rejoined unit.
27/1: 2/18 Bn withdrew through our lines during morning. Sniping tactics by (enemy) only. Much use made of artillery. During night 27/28 Bn withdrew to harbour 2 1/2 miles North of Kota Tinngi.
28/1: Bn in harbour.
29/1: In morning Bn moved to take up bridgehead position 2 miles outside Johore Bahru.
30/1: Bridgehead position fully occupied.
31/1: In early morning 0530(hrs) Bn withdrew from bridgehead. Crossed the causeway to Singapore Island and took up position on North West of Island.

DATE: 24 JAN 1942 in C Coy, no rank or location……We are up to our necks in it but I am well and old man luck is still with me. We have been machine gunned and bombed like hell but on land we are playing merry hell with him. fb/iii)

(On 31 Jan) the battalion moved in precision and on time to complete the withdrawal to Singapore… when all troops marched across the Causeway. The 2/20 Bn moved into its allocated position as the right forward battalion of the 22 Brigade. b/ix)…p47. On the same day the Causeway was blown up b/xii)…p233. See the 8 Feb 1942 on-line map of their positions in the official history b/xiii)…p310.

DATE: 2nd Feb 1942. no Company, rank or location…… during the last weeks it has been nothing else but Jap bombs just at present they are flying overhead having a wonderful time with us. But all the same our ground guns give them hell. I suppose by this you all will have heard the news of the fall of Malaya. It has gone but it cost Tojo the yellow Jap a great deal of men. I am safe and well and have been very lucky and I hope it lasts. We are now on Singapore Island and god knows what I to happen next. The evacuation went off to order and you have often heard the saying “The road back” you have no idea dear what it was like and I only hope god spares me to get back and tell you all about it. We landed on the island at dawn per foot and packed up to the hilt and a tired and weary lot we were. I lost everything and landed just in what I….
….. “Tojo” ever gets into Aussie. He is a hard man and a dirty fighter and he don’t care where he drops his bombs. The boys have a song on him here and its “Out of the blue sky came a Jap to see me” and by god he has fun calling every night and day. His first plane comes over and guns you and when you open fire on him the Jap plane behind him spots you and then he drops a bloody big bomb down at you. All you can do is lay in your slit trench and hope he misses you. So far so good. I would like to tell you a lot more dear but you know what we are allowed to say and what we would like to say are two different things. There are only two things I would like to press very hard and one is dear I am well and in the best of health and my luck is still with me. The second is that I hope every man who is able and healthy and young enough to link arm and arm with his fellow man and stop him from invading good old Aussie should do so at once. Otherwise god help their women and children. I only hope it never happens. If it does I only hope they get us back to have a go at him on our own dung hill. I think that if he ever did you would see the boys rowing home in any kind of boat. fb/iii)

… Tom is already thinking about how he will escape?

They all seem very worried about home just at present knowing what the Jap is like they worry more about home. Well darling please don’t worry I am well so far and I am not getting any mail the same as you. Having to wait and wonder how one makes anyone worry but we will only have to content our minds that when we do get mail that it is good news. We must only hope for the best dear that’s all we can do just at present. We used to go mad in camp when we had to clean our rifles and guns but there is no need to tell us now. We have them right up to the knocker and I only hope the men back home are doing the same otherwise they will be left with the sand shoe. Everyone must be in this because its for our women and children. God help them if the Jap gets amongst them. Well darling I am not going to continue boring you with this and that about the Jap any further but I am warning the men back home what to expect. I am sending you through my paybook £5 for your birthday you will receive it through your pay so be on the lookout for it. Money is not much good to us just now and I think you had better stop sending parcels. I received Mum’s parcel on Xmas day and it went extra well. But I have seen some parcels which have arrived here since the works started and they were knocked about and full of water also money orders I think it would be best if you made use of the money etc at home you do get a chance back there to spend it wisely. Otherwise if you keep sending parcels and orders over it’s perhaps they get here and perhaps they don’t. So dear you keep the money and you and the two lads enjoy yourselves with it. I’ll know then that its not being wasted or thrown away. I have just had a shave (my first for 6 days) and a great bath in a small stream. By god I feel well now. You have to sneak out when the Jap planes are away… fb/iii)

Wall describes our C Coy 8 Feb position on the shore of the Johore Strait, for 2,000 yards east of the Serebun River b/ix)…p58. He further described the ground being "low-lying... necessary to build the defensive pits above ground because of the water table b/ix)…p60. This area has now become a tourist attaction for the extensive mangrove swamps! At least Tom must have been in a drier area since his letter describes his use of a slit trench. After the bombing which Tom described, came the barrage… “Men who served in France in WWII described the Japanese barrage as heavier than any experienced” b/ix)…p63.

Last letter before POW. DATE….not dated, in C Coy, no rank or location given…… I am writing this in a hell of a place and I am covered in mud. We are into it up to our neck. We have been bombed and machine gunned for 6 days now. I am well so far. Buy God dear its hell here and we are giving the Jap hell too. fb/iii)

The big question for the family is how did this last letter get away to Australia, since the “6 days” entry tells us it would have been probably written just before the Japanese landed! The Japanese landed on Singapore Island on 8 Feb at 8:15pm b/xii)…p240.

At 9:15 on 9 Feb the CO of the 2/20 Bn (Lt. Col. CF Assheton) “gave the order to withdraw… ordered parties to break into smaller groups.” b/ix)…p81. Wall describes on a map the withdrawal routes b/ix)…p82 which extended towards the perimeter of Singapore city. When a soldier arrived at Singapore, he asked how he could rejoin the 2/20 Bn. “He was told there was no 2/20” b/ix)…p102.

Singapore capitulated on 15 Feb 10:30pm and Tom’s personnel record showed he was posted missing on 16 Feb 1942.

Further Notes…
A) Japanese POW records.

The Australian Government obtained some of these records in 2012. The National Archives of Australia list these records, with links. Following the NAA link: "Complete alphabetical list of Australian prisoners of war of the Japanese in World War II", there is a record for Tom FOSTER, with Asian notations. Tom's entries were as follows: Under the column "Date of Capture" was 17-3-42 and on the left was the Japanese notation for "Sumatra". Then under the column "Remarks" was "deceased", then the Chinese ideograms for "severe broncho-pneumonia"…fb/vii).
Comment: The Sumatran POWs died from dietary insufficiency and lack of medical supplies, all detailed above. These conditions resulted in dysentery, beri beri, ulcers, pneumonia, pellagra, diptheria and so on. Lt Nichols reported that Tom had the first 3 diseases at various stages. The Japanese file now shows that Tom's immediate cause of death was the 4th disease, pneumonia, which is not surprising with his medical history in such a multi-deficient environment.

However, the important record…Tom's "Index Card", was NOT there after following the link: "Australian POW Indexes". Professor UTSUMI Aiko describes the “Prisoner of War Information Bureau, or Furyo Jôhôkyoku which produced the so-called mei-mei hyô, or inscription card. This was supposed to be made out for each prisoner of war. This card recorded personal details, such as the prisoner’s name, age, nationality, status, rank, unit, place of capture, place of internment and the date of any movement, such as release, transfer or death.” The Dutch have been working on this area much longer and more effectively than the Australians. They obtained about 48,000 POW cards from the Japanese in 1952, and have been making a freely accessible database of these cards, with translations and digitising. In 2012, the Japanese government presented several lists of records to the National Archives of Australia. These records related to Australians who had been captured by the Japanese during WWII. Unfortunately this collection ONLY contains information about 4,500 of the approximately 22,000 Australian service personnel and civilians who were taken prisoner of war by the Japanese. There is no translation available for the Australian material. Surely Australia could have done better than this?

Image of Leo Martin BYRNE.Leo Martin BYRNE at age 33… n/v).
(2/20th A.I.F. NX 54057)
B) Stories told to descendants of Tom's close friends.

Lt. Arnold Nichols identified Tom’s closest friends in the camps as Leo Martin BYRNE and Otto John CHEAL (both from the 2/20 Battalion AIF). Unfortunately both men have died, but they may have passed on their stories to their descendants. Much effort has been spent in trying to locate these descendants, without success.

(i) Leo Martin BYRNE (NX 54057)

It is hoped that Leo passed on to his family his story of his experiences with Tom, importantly including their escape from Singapore in a row boat. Leo was born on 24 Jan 1921 at Beecroft NSW and died in the same suburb at Chesalon Nursing Home on 1 Oct 2008.

He was affectionately known as “Big Leo” in the POW camps, popular with all. When he returned to Australia, he applied for the police service, but was rejected because of colour blindness (due to POW treatment?). He variously worked as a rubber worker with Dunlop, a stock inspector and a clerk. He finally did part time work with Hornsby RSL. In 1980 he lived in a substantial home at 14 Greenhaven drive Pennant Hills.
He had 5 children to his first wife Audrey Faye (dec), then he raised 3 stepchildren with his 2nd wife Colleen Mary (dec).

(ii) Otto John CHEAL (NX50482)

Otto had much in common with Tom. Otto was born on 15 Nov 1906 at Darlinghurst NSW and was about the same age as Tom who was born on 10 Apr 1907. Otto married his first wife Doreen Emily BAKER in 1928 before he went to war, like Tom who married his wife in 1934.
Before the war, Otto's family home in the Darlington area was: 1933- 4 Vine st; 1936- 4 Forest st; 1943- 53 Ivy st and his occupation was a labourer. He returned from the war, resumed work as a labourer, and lived again at 53 Ivy st in 1954. The same year he married Mary Catherine Ellen SHELTON, and still worked as a labourer. He was again recorded at 53 Ivy st in 1958. He then moved across the Harbour to Flat/A26 Greenway, Ennis Rd, Milson's Point 1963-1980. Otto died on 7 Jun 1995, still at Milsons Point, at the age of 88. His wives pre-deceased him… Doreen in 1960 and Mary in 1977. Otto's death notice showed that he had no children, and was survived by only his nieces and nephews. The informant for his death notice said that Otto was: ex A.I.F. 2/20 Batt. POW Singapore. Did this mean that the informant knew so little of Otto's history that he/she did not know he was a POW for most of his captivity in Sumatra? Looks as if Otto's story was not passed on to his relatives?

C) Life must continue at home…

Tom’s wife Dot remarried to Harold James Yeoman HOGAN on 25 Oct 1947 at Taree. Harold was with the 8th Division in the 87 Light Aid Detachment attached to the Ordance Group. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore and held a prisoner in Thailand. Harold died at Taree on 28 Dec 1984 at the age of 64. Dot died in Gloucester, NSW, on 31 May 2001; she was 90. Harold and Dot were both buried in Dawson Cemetery Taree, NSW.

D) Request…

If one of the descendants or friends of Leo or Otto finds this website, please contact me via the e-mail link at the bottom of this page. I hope that they can add to Tom's story, since Tom never had the chance of returning to tell his own story.

Sources for Thomas Allan FOSTER:
      Newspapers and Periodicals.
n/i)  Roll of honour Private Tom Foster. Manning River Times; 10 Nov 1945.
      n/i)…a. Letter from Frank Collins to Dot Foster quoted in the Manning Times article.
      n/i)…b. Information from GFA Nichols quoted in the Manning Times article.
n/ii)   Names of released prisoners from Pakan Baroe POW camp Sumatra:
      n/ii)…a. First prisoner list from Sumatra. Sydney Morning Herald; 17 Sept 1945: 6. See here.
      n/ii)…b. More names of released prisoners. Sydney Morning Herald; 18 Sept 1945: 5. See here.
      n/ii)…c. Australian POW's in Sumatra. The Argus; 17 Sep 1945: 9.
      Notes: This n/ii)…c full alphabetical list was not found in the edition digitised by Trove, but was in a hard copy
      edition held by Brenda Tranter). The n/ii)…a & …b lists are accessible on Trove and combine to make a full list.
n/iii)  Arnold Nichols. A railway in Sumatra is remembered 30 years later. Northern Magazine: Inverell Times; 3 Aug 1975; 3.
      (Part 1 of two articles).
n/iv)  Arnold Nichols. "Lest we forget" - three poignant words everlastingly meaningful. Northern Magazine: Inverell Times; 10 Aug 1975; -
      (Part 2 of two articles).
n/v)  Parents take injured baby from hospital. Sydney Morning Herald; 12 Jul 1954: 1. See here. (Photo of Leo Byrne).
n/vi)   Bar: Four of our local boys were welcomed home by the Old Bar Welcome Home Committee. Northern Champion; 14 Nov 1945.
      Registrations and Lists:
r/i) Birth of Thomas Allan FOSTER. Reg# 1907/18628. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/ii) Marriage of Thomas Allan FOSTER & Doris Tryste BURNE. Reg# 1934/2920. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
      Family papers, Correspondence:
fb/i)   Pers. comm: Bruce FOSTER; 2012-2013.
fb/ii)   Typescript account of Tom Foster NX31661: According to the official record, recounted by Lieut. G.F.A. (Arnold) Nichols; 21 Oct 1945.   (Arnold d. 23 Oct 2001.)
fb/iii)   Letters from Tom Foster to his wife, Dot Foster.
fb/iv)   Letters from the Army to Dot Foster.
fb/v)   Pers. comm: Brenda TRANTER; 2012-2013.
fb/vi)   Tranter Lt Arthur Edmund VX52843 (d. 27 Jun 2000).
     Documents maintained by Arthur in prisoner of war camps and following captivity.
     [Hilton Stanton QX23428 provided dates of deaths of the POWs listed in Arthur's documents. Originals held by Brenda Tranter.]
      (a) Australian Prisoners of War at Pakenbaroe, who were on the Van Waerwijck (Harukiku Maru).
      (b) The Australian Atjeh Working Party: Left Gloegoer 03/03/44.
       (c) Arthur Tranter. Affidavit to War Crimes Commission. 19 Jul 1946. Lodged with the Australian War Memorial. Documents held by the National Archives of Australia: series number: AWM54; control symbol: 1010/4/140; item barcode: 479022.
      (d) Frank Collins. Tranter tickles toad to thrilling turf triumph. (Frank Collins NX32561 was the editor of the camp newspaper, Kangaroo Kabaar (News) of the Gloegoer POW camp. Frank's commentary on the frog race was kept in Arthur Tranter's camp journal.)
fb/vii)  Pers. comm: Lawrence Tay; 2013. (Translation of POW card and files.)
fb/viii)  Pers. comm: Rick Badger; 2013.
fb/ix)  Pers. comm: Dr Shigeru Sato; 2013. (Dr Sato has ongoing research projects on the impact of WWII on Indonesia).
fb/x)  Pers. comm: Hilton Stanton; 2013. QX23428. (One of the surviving POW’s of Gloegoer and Pakan Baroe.)
fb/xi)  Pers. comm: John & Stephen Nichols; 2013. (John is the son of Lieut. GFA Nichols and Stephen is his g-son)
fb/xii)  Pers. comm: Henk Hovinga; 2012. (Contact:
fb/xiii)  Pers. comm: Peter Winstanley; 2013. (Website: Prisoners of War of the Japanese.)
b/i)  Stan Arneil. Black Jack: the life & times of Brigadier Sir Frederick Galleghan. Macmillan Australia; 1983: 76-105.
b/ii)  H. Gordon Bennett. Why Singapore fell. Angus & Robertson, Sydney; 1944.
b/iii)  Albert Coates & Newman Rosenthal. The Albert Coates story. Hyland House, Melbourne; 1977.
b/iv)  Peter Hartley. Escape to captivity. J.M. Dent & sons, London; 1952. (Personal experiences of an N.C.O.)
b/v)  Henk Hovinga. Sumatra railroad: final destination Pakan Baroe. KITLV Press, Leiden; 2010. (Contact:
b/vi)  Jack Plant. Sumatra Railway 1944-1945 Pakenbaru to Muaro. Jack Plant, Walsall UK; no date: 7, 9. (Available only from the National Memorial Arboretum, UK)
b/vii)  Lynette Ramsay-Silver. Krait: The fishing boat that went to war. Sally Milner, Birchgrove; 1992.
b/viii)  Frank Robinson & ER "Bon" Hall. Through hell and bomb blast. Frank Robinson, Tasmania; 1982.
b/ix)  Don Wall. Singapore and beyond: the story of the men of 2/20 battalion, told by the survivors (reprint). 2/20 battalion association; 2000: 13-110.
b/x)  …… Ibid. Maps of troop dispositions on Singapore Island in Feb 1943: pp 50, 59, 70, 73, 82.
b/xi)  Gideon François Jacobs. Prelude to the monsoon: assignment in Sumatra. University of Pennsylvania Press; 1982.
b/xii)  Peter Thompson. Pacific fury: how Australia & her allies defeated the Japanese scourge. William Heinemann, Australia; 2008: 195-209, 220-249.
b/xiii)  Lionel Wigmore. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army: Volume IV – The Japanese Thrust. Australian War Memorial. See here.
b/xiv)  Di Elliott & Lynette Silver (revised and compiled from original Burfitt edn). A History of 2/18th Infantry Battalion AIF. 2/18th Battalion (AIF) Association, Pennant Hills; 2006: 195-199, 290.
Originally published as: James Burfitt. Against All Odds: The History of the 2/18 Battalion A.I.F. 2/18th Battalion (A.I.F.) Association; 1991.
Note: the chapter cited in Elliott & Sillver has not been altered from the original Burfitt edition.
w/i) Thomas Allen (sic) FOSTER: The War Graves Photographic Project (in association with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC]). See here.
w/ii) Thomas Allen (sic) FOSTER: Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC]). See here . (Tom… NX31661, died 15 Jul 1945).
w/iii) Alfred Henry (Harry) BADGER escape from Malaya & POW story. See here. (Harry… NX53671, died 21 Aug 2007).
w/iv) Robert Frederick (Slim) NELSON VX8212 escape from Malaya & POW story. See here. (Slim…VX8212)
w/v) William Laurence DAVIES escape from Malaya & POW story. See here . (Bill… NX48147)
w/vi) East Indies camp archives. See here. (Great for maps... take care with site navigation)
w/vii) 2nd 20th Battalion Association AIF. See here.  The association has the aim: “To preserve the memory and records of those who served with the 2/20th Battalion A.I.F. and guard their good name and interests”.
A/i) Stanton, Hilton Alfred. (Service Number - QX23428). Memoir regarding experiences as a prisoner of war. Private record: ID number: PR85/074. Australian War Memorial. See here.
A/ii) Thomas Allan FOSTER- Grave Registration Cards: Djakarta [Jakarta] (Menteng Poeloe) War Cemetery. Plots I to IV; Item barcode: 8326047. National Archives of Australia. See here… then go to pages 268, 269.
A/iii) Thomas Allan FOSTER- Army personnel record. Series no.: B883; Control symbol: NX31661; Item title: FOSTER THOMAS ALLAN : Service Number - NX31661 : Digitised item: Yes; Item barcode: 4859499. National Archives of Australia. See here.
A/iv) Nichols, George Frederick Arnold (Lieutenant) NX40490, 1913-2001. Letters, service-related documents, POW postcards and related personal records. Private record: ID number: PR01912. Australian War Memorial. See here. (Arnold died 23 Oct 2001.)
A/v) Affidavit File DPW&I Investigation File: Sumatra 1: Basic documents relative to war crimes. Series #: MP742/1; control symbol: 336/1/1289/COMPONENT 1; item barcode: 3004097. National Archives Australia. See here…. then go to pp 29, 32, 33 & 56..
A/vi) Second World War Diaries - AWM52, Item 1/12/22; General Base Depot Malaya. Australian War Memorial. See here for files 1/12/22/1 - August 1941…to…1/12/22/5 - January - February 1942. Shortened citation: #1…to…#5.
A/vii) Second World War Diaries - AWM52, Item 8/3/20; 2/20 Infantry Battalion. Australian War Memorial. See here for files 8/3/20/1 - June - August 1940…to…8/3/20/11 - January - June 1942. Shortened citation: #1…to…#11.
A/viii) Roll of Honour: a record of Australian servicemen & servicewomen who died in Sumatra during World War 2 (1942-1945). Compiled by the Army History Unit (from lhe official records of the Australian War Memorial & Office of Australian War Graves). 1999: 4.   (Placed in AWM file here.)
      Further reading: not cited in text.:
J.D. Legge. Sukarno: a political biography. Praeger publishers, New York; 1972: 149-180. (Discusses Sukarno as a collaborator with the Japanese or a patriot.)
Roland Perry. Pacific 360°. Hachette Australia; 2012.
George Weller. Singapore is silent. Harcourt Brace and Co, New York; 1943.
Bob Wurth. 1942: Australia's greatest peril Macmillan Australia; 2008.
I am grateful to Bruce FOSTER who gave me full access to his family's papers. Henk Hovinga kindly discussed matters arising from his book and gave me valuable advice. Thanks to Larry Czarnik, the webmaster for the 2/18 Bn site and also his friend Di Elliott who corresponded with me. Particular thanks to Di Elliott who alerted me to the important on-line resource of the Grave Registration Cards here. Thanks to Steve Rogers of "The War Graves Photographic Project" for permission to use his photos of Tom Foster's grave (see here). Thanks to Brenda TRANTER for sharing her father's records, as well as her own research. It is great to find someone interested the same area of research, since Brenda's father Arthur Edmund TRANTER (VX52843) and Tom FOSTER (NX31661) were in the same prison camps. Many thanks to the Australian War Memorial for corresponding with me and for permission to make a very important quote from Lt Nichols’ documents, and similarly to Hilton Stanton for his permission to quote from his story. I am most grateful that Hilton took the time to correspond with me and talk with me on the phone… he is one of the last surviving Sumatran POWs. I have made a more detailed tribute to Hilton together with a transcription of a Gloegoer POW List he donated to the AWM here. Hilton's obituary in the Courier Mail says: “STANTON, Hilton Alfred Of Holy Spirit Carseldine. Passed away peacefully on 15th August, 2017, aged 94 years.” Hilton was a great man. I will not forget him! (Hilton Alfred STANTON- QX23428; 2/29). Thanks to Peter Winstanley who put me in touch with Harry Badger's descendant as well as providing valuable POW stories… BADGER, NELSON AND DAVIES. Thanks to Harry's son Rick who corresponded with me, when we found the links between the BADGER & FOSTER families. Thanks also to the family of Lt GFA NICHOLS (son John & g-son Stephen) for placing Arnold's records in the AWM, and for corresponding with me in the hope of finding further information beyond these records. Thanks also to my friend and neighbour Lawrence Tay from Malacca, Malaysia who has helped with the Chinese and Japanese translations.


Eric George FOSTER (1910 - 1980)

Eric George FOSTER. Eric was born on 23 Mar 1910 in Albert Lane, Taree NSW Australia r/i). Eric died at home at 8/55 Grand Parade, Brighton-le-Sands, Sydney, NSW., on 15 May 1980 at the age of 70 r/iii).
On 21 May 1938 when Eric George was 28, he married Marjorie Mary EWART, daughter of William John EWART & Annie Cochran COLQUHOUN, in St Judes’ Randwick NSW Australia r/ii). Marjorie was born on 28 Feb 1915 in Rialto St., Coorparoo, Brisbane, Qld Australia r/iv). Marjorie Mary died in St George Hospital, Kogarah NSW Australia, on 20 Feb 1995; she was 79. Buried on 28 Feb 1995 in Woronora Crematorium, Sutherland NSW.

Eric FOSTER's life saving record.

It is probable that Eric's experience in the life saving movement developed the characteristics which later defined him… a leader, an orator and a man's man. Eric was the inaugural treasurer (1928-33) of the Old-Bar Surf Club which commenced on 1 Jan 1928 n/iii) …a), b/i). Eric was one of the first 6 members to gain their surf bronze medallions on 3 Mar 1928 b/i). Press reports showed he was active in all aspects of the Club. In the Club's first carnival, Eric gained a place in the beach sprint on 31 Mar 1928 n/iii) …b). He was re-elected treasurer in Sept 1928 n/iv). The following year (Apr 1929) he gained his instructor's certificate b/i). The Club's anniversary publication has photos of Eric in the 1st bronze medallion instruction squad; the rescue & resuscitation teams 1928-29, 1929-30; 1st march past 1928-29 b/i).
The photos on the wall of the club room also include Eric FOSTER. These are: Championship March Past Team (undefeated) 1931-1932; Winners of "The Somerville Cup" 1931-32. In the second Somerville Cup photo he is described as E. Foster (Hon Treasurer), and he wore a jacket which says SLSA, then a rescue reel, then Australia A/ii). I assume that Eric won the right to wear the Australian jacket by qualifying as an instructor in 1929 b/i).

Eric transferred to Byron Bay E.S.&A. Bank in 1932. He received a great farewell from Taree:

MR. E. FOSTER REMOVED FROM TAREE. Mr. Eric Foster, son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Foster of Taree who has been ledgerkeeper at the Taree branch of the E.S. and A. Bank for over six years, received word on Saturday morning to take up duty at Byron Bay, and on Monday morning he left for his new home. Mr. Foster has been most popular among the young folk of the town, and he leaves many friends behind. On Saturday morning members of the various banks in Taree assembled at the E.S. and A. Bank in order to say farewell to their fellow officer. After representatives of each bank had made glowing reference to the efficiency, courtesy and popularity of Mr. Foster, the manager of the E.S. and A. Bank (Mr. K. A. Roulston) presented him with a leather suitcase. Mr. Foster made a suitable response and mentioned the happy relations that always existed between the officers of the Taree banks. Mr W.B. Cordukes, from Wollongong, has succeeded Mr. Foster.. On Saturday night Mr. Foster, who has been treasurer of the Taree-Old Bar Surf life Saving Club since its inception, was farewelled by the members. The president (Mr. Stan Wallace) referred to the fact that the guest had acted as treasurer since the club was formed, and spoke of the able manner in which his duties were carried out. Mr. Vic Rushby (captain) said all the members were sorry to lose a man of the character and efficiency of Mr. Foster. When the first meeting was held on the beach to form the club the guest was elected as treasurer, and he had filled that position ever since. It was mainly due to his control of the finances that the club was in its present strong position. He mentioned that Mr. Foster was a member of the first R. and R. team to represent the club, and for years he had been one of the march past team. He had been sufficiently interested in the active work of the club to secure his instructor’s certificate. The club appreciated the music which he had provided with his ukulele at the lunch hour and also on trips away. Mr. Alf Findlater (vice-president) regretted the departure of the guest, who had been the financial adviser of the club since its inception. So well had he carried out his duties that the club was in a solid financial position at present. The club would have great difficulty in finding a man to fill the treasurership with the same efficiency as Mr. Foster had done. Mr B.J. Simpson (Wauchope) spoke on behalf of the Mid-Coast branch of the Surf Life Saving Association, and paid a tribute to Mr. Foster’s work as assistant secretary and honorary registrar. When the branch lost the services of Mr Doug Fowler, the guest was appointed to the vacancy, and the capable manner in which he had performed his duties would make it difficult to secure a successor. His work was of the highest standard, and at all times he had been able to give desired information at the shortest notice. The remarks of the previous speakers were endorsed by Messrs. J,. Cornish, secretary, Reg Love (assistant secretary), Wal Jones, H. McInnis, M. Smart, C. Barber (boat captain, and R. Downer. The president then presented Mr. Foster with a leather suitcase, inscribed as follows:- “Taree Old Bar S.L.S.C. remembers Eric Foster, Hon. Treasurer, 1928-1932. Presented 27.8.32.” The president said that club members did not consider the presentation was sufficient acknowledgment of Mr. Foster’s services, and so they had decided to place his photograph on the wall of the club house. I responding, Mr. Foster thanked the speakers for their kind remarks, and the members for their presentation. He said it was only natural that he did not like leaving his home town, and in addition he regretted having to sever his connection with the surf club, which he regarded as one of the finest in the district. Whatever he had been able to do for the surf life saving movement had been a pleasure. He had enjoyed the work, and also his association with the club members. He thanked Mr. Rushby for the assistance he had given him in gaining his bronze medallion, and later his instructor’s certificate. He urged the members to continue to be loyal to their captain, so that the club would go on to still further successes. n/vi)…a)

Image of Eric FOSTER lifesaver.Eric FOSTER lifesaver.

Press reports showed he became active in the Byron Bay SLSC. He was mentioned in 1932 training junior squads n/v)…a). By 1936 Eric was the chief instructor of the Byron Bay SLSC n/v)…b).
At the end of 1936 Eric received a farewell presentation from the Byron Bay SLSC, the Bank and the Lodge, in part acknowledging his work as an instructor in the Byron Bay SLSC. He was transferring to the ES&A Bank, Martin Place, Sydney n/v)…c):

FAREWELLED FROM BYRON BAY MR. ERIC POSTER. Mr. Eric Foster, popular member of the staff of the E.S. and A. Bank, Byron Bay, for some years, was notified of his transfer to Martin Place branch on Thursday last and left Byron Bay by the s.s Orara on Saturday. Prior to his departure, Mr. Poster was tendered several farewell parties. BYRON SURF CLUB. On Thursday night he was entertained by the members of Byron Bay Surf Club at the club room, “Table Tennis” being the order of the evening. Mr. Fred Emms, secretary of club, paid high tribute to the good work “Eric” had done for the club and referred to the tremendous amount of time he had devoted to club interests. Mr Foster has been Senior Instructor to the club since soon after his arrival in this town and the boys had greatly benefited from his instruction and advice. He added that Mr. Foster would be greatly missed at our next Surf Carnival as the popular “Cheerio man” on the “mike” would be very hard to replace. Mr. Emms then called on Mr. Harry Mallan, a veteran of the club, to make the presentation. Mr Mallan, on behalf of the Surf Club, presented Mr. Foster with a handsome clock, at the same time endorsing Mr. Emms' remarks. In responding, Mr. Foster said that his chief regret in leaving Byron Bay was the severance of his connection with the Surf Club activities. He had aIways found great pleasure in his work with the club and he trusted that this year they would annex every prize they went for. MASONIC FAREWELL. On Friday night, Bro. Eric Foster was tendered a farewell by the Masonic fraternity and their ladies in the Masonic Hall. The evening was spent in dancing and community singing, interspersed with musical items by Miss Mary Robertson, Misses B. and N. Browne, Messrs Cheers and McMillan. In making the presentation to Bro. Foster, Bro. S. A. Ellis said that he would be greatly missed by the members of his Lodge. He had always lived up to to their teachings and been a credit to the Craft. Bro. Foster had also been the main stay of the Lodge musicales and with his 'harp' was always willing to contribute to their amusement. In view of his keen sense of music, the speaker felt that a musical memento would be very appropriate and forthwith handed the guest a very elaborate miniature saxophone. On behalf of Lodge Cavanba, Bro. Ellis then presented Bro. Foster with a leather travelling case. Mr. G. Lindsay. speak!ng for the banking staff, paid high tribute to Mr Foster as an officer of the bank and citizen. “Mr. Poster has always paid great attention to duties and gained the confidence of our clients.” said Mr Lindsay, and has has aways done his bit at social entertainments. In responding, Mr Foster said that that it was with deep regret that he was leaving Bvron Bay. During his sojourn in this town he had made many friends and he had grown to feel that he was part and parcel of the village. He regretted severing his connections with many . local activities but hoped that he would often make a trip back to renew old friendships. The evening concluded with the singing of Auld Lang Syne. A large party of friends gathered at the wharf to bid Mr. Foster farewell on Saturday, and he was waved away with bundles of streamers and a salute from the s.s. Orara whistle. n/vi)…b)

Eric FOSTER's war record.

Eric George Foster (#66676) enlisted in the RAAF on July 29, 1942 at the age of 32 as a general clerk, from his civilian occupation of bank clerk. He was promoted to the rank of LAC on Dec 29, 1942. Eric embarked from Australia to the UK for the period 15/1/43 to 22/3/46.  During this period he was appointed to the RAAF Headquarters in the UK on 18 Mar 1943.  On Aug 1, 1943 he was promoted to Cpl (T). He passed an officer training course at Cosford in July 26, 1944 and then was  commissioned as a Pilot Officer on July 27, 1944 in the Administration and special duties branch at RAAF Headquarters, London.  He was promoted  to Flying Officer on 27 Jan 1945. On 8 May 1945 Eric's war ceased with VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), then on 15 Aug 1945, the Allies celebrated VJ Day (Victory in Japan Day). World War 2 was over.  A 19 Feb 1946 report was made in preparation for Eric's repatriation. The report was  for the previous 7 months when he was Works Officer at HQ London, and said that he was: “A first class junior officer who has worked very hard and always displayed the greatest willingness to undertake any job that comes along.”…fb/i), A/i) . His Bowling Club obituary quoted below says: "When in London, he was appointed personal aide to Australia’s Air Vice-Marshall Rigney" …n/i) However, the name on the Overseas HQ report on Eric is Air Vice-Marshall Henry Neilson Wrigley…A/i).

In February 1943 Wrigley became air officer commanding, RAAF Overseas Headquarters, London. For more than three years ‘Wrig’ was an immensely popular leader of the thousands of RAAF airmen who served in Europe and North Africa. Off-duty aircrew visiting London for a night out became familiar with the sight of their AOC, jacket off, serving drinks behind the bar at the headquarters. …b/ii)

He returned to Freemantle Australia on 24 Mar 1946 and had his appendix removed at the RAAF Hospital before he rejoined his family A/i), A/ii). Eric's substantive rank on demobilization on June 3, 1946 was Flying Officer. His posting at time of discharge was the Overseas Headquarters …fb/i), A/i).

Image of Eric FOSTER pilot officer.Eric FOSTER pilot officer.

After his wartime service he returned to the E.S.&A. Martin Place. It wasn't long before he received promotion as manager of the Goulburn branch. His farewell to Goulburn said:

MR. E. FOSTER Departure For Sydney Mr. Eric Foster, Manager of the E.S. and A. Bank, has been promoted to the position of accountant to the Martin Place branch of the bank and will take up duties there on May 1. Mr. Foster has been in Goulburn for two years and during his stay has won many friends. His departure will be viewed with regret by those who knew him. Mr. Foster was president of the Returned Soldiers' Association and a vice president of the Goulburn Golf Club. Mr. Foster is good company and an excellent entertainer at after dinner functions and his help in this respect will be missed. He is to be succeeded by Mr. W. L. Kerslake, of Dapto.n/vi)…c)

Eric FOSTER's bowling record.
Image of Eric FOSTER bowler.Eric FOSTER bowler.

At the time of Eric Foster’s death, the editor of the “Bowls in NSW” magazine wrote Eric’s obituary. “Bowls in NSW” is published by the Royal NSW Bowling Association. Eric’s obituary is now quoted in full:

Eric Foster, a vice-president of the RNSWBA and one of the most widely known bowlers in this State, died suddenly at his home on May 15. A gifted orator and administrator, he first became interested in bowls in 1949 in Goulburn, to which branch as an officer of the ES and A Bank, he was posted soon after his return from wartime Air Force service in England.
At Goulburn, he had a dual sporting interest, for he was vice-president of Goulburn Golf Club.
When he returned to Sydney - he later became manager of the bank’s Martin Place branch - he joined St. George and immediately made his mark there. He was soon elected to committee, served four years as a vice-president and became president in 1962, an office he held for three years. He retired from the bank in 1970, the year he became St. George’s patron, but he was by then also deeply interested in work for the RNSWBA, loyally supported and encouraged by his wife Marjorie. A delegate first for Riverina, he subsequently represented Wagga, and early in 1972 was elected a member of the Association’s Public Relations Committee , work for which he was ideally qualified. In October, 1974 when Mr. Don Isaacs was elected president of the RNSWBA after the sudden death of president George Binskin, Eric Foster won the election to fill the Metropolitan vice-president vacancy. Extremely loyal to the presidents under whom he served, he worked with great zeal and dedication, particularly as chairman of the Charity Sub-Committee. When the RNSWBA’s appeal for multi-handicapped children at North Rocks was launched, he spared neither himself nor the members of the committee to ensure that the Association’s $250,000 target was quickly achieved. The success of the appeal was as much a tribute to the work of the members of this committee as it was to the bowlers of NSW.
A warm and human approach marked his relationships with other people, both in his professional life as a bank manager, and private life as a family man, bowler - and friend. He had an endearing personality, and to be in the company of this man of wit, charm and intelligence, particularly on a weekend bowling visit, was an unforgettable experience. Invariably on those excursions, his ukelele was in the boot of the car, for a song was ever ready on his lips, but the jollity was never at the expense of the work he had to do for the Association. That work was always his first thought.
Eric Foster served his country and community well. In his younger days, he was one of the leading llghts of the Taree Old Bar surf club, and was the last surviving member of its original rescue and resuscitation team.
When war came, he joined the RAAF and his talents were recognised when in London he was appointed personal aide to Australia’s Air Vice-Marshall Rigney. It may be said of only a special group of people that the community is the poorer for their passing. Reflected in the large numbers who attended his funeral service, such may be said with great truth of my friend Eric Foster, a man who could, indeed, walk with princes and never lose the common touch. EDITOR.” n/i)

An obituary also appeared in the St George Bowling and Recreation Club’s “News and Views”, and part of this is now quoted: “He was an orator of considerable distinction. Many of you will recall his famous speeches on special occasions and his Anzac Day Address- some were classics. He was known far and wide for his speech making, and was eagerly sought after as a guest speaker.” n/ii)

Sources for Eric George FOSTER:
b/i)Our first 60 years: 1928-1988 Taree Old Bar SLSC . 1988(abt).
b/ii)Wrigley, Henry Neilson (1892–1987). Australian Dictionary of Biography; vol 18. Melbourne University Press: 2012. See here.
      Newspapers and Periodicals.
n/i)  Eric Foster dies; man of zeal, charm. Bowls in NSW. Royal NSW Bowling Club; vol. 42,no 25: Jun 1980.
n/ii)  Lionel Todd. News and Views. St George Bowling and Recreation Club; Jun 1980.
n/iii)Manning River News; (a) 8 Feb 1928; (b) 4 Apr 1928.
n/iv)Wingham Chronicle; 15 Sep 1928.
n/v)Northern Star; (a) 3 Dec 1932; (b) 3 Mar 1936; (c) 31 Oct 1936.
n/vi)  Eric FOSTER's farewells.
n/vi)…(a)  Mr E. Foster removed from Taree. Northern Champion; 31 Aug 1932: 2. See here.
n/vi)…(b)  Farewelled from Byron Bay Mr. Eric Foster. Mullumbimby Star and Byron Bay-Bangalow Advocate; 30 Oct 1936: 2. See here.
n/vi)…(c)  Mr. E. Foster departure for Sydney. Goulburn Evening Post; 27 Mar 1950: 5. See here.
      Registrations and Lists:
r/i) Birth of Eric George FOSTER. Reg# 1910/20460. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/ii) Marriage of Eric George FOSTER & Majorie Mary EWART. Reg# 1934/2920. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/iii) Death of Eric George FOSTER. Reg# 1980/9296. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
r/iv) Birth of Marjorie Mary FOSTER. Reg# 1915/39482. Registrar of BDM, NSW.
      Family papers, Correspondence:
fb/i)   RAAF Certificate of the Service and Discharge for Eric George Foster #66676.
A/i) Eric George FOSTER- RAAF personnel record. Series no.: A9300; Control symbol: FOSTER E G; Item title: FOSTER ERIC GEORGE : Service Number - 66676 : Digitised item: Yes; Item barcode: 5254172. National Archives of Australia. See here.
A/ii) FOSTER, Eric George - (Flying Officer); Series no.: A705; Control symbol: 166/14/551. Service Number - 66676; File type - Casualty - Repatriation; Place - Fremantle Hospital, Western Australia; Date - 23 March 1946: Digitised item: Yes; Item barcode: 1068585. National Archives of Australia. See here
I am grateful to Richard Everingham, the President of the Taree Old Bar SLSC for his correspondence and to his members for forwarding copies of their anniversary publications.


It would be great if descendants of the FOSTERs, or people with knowledge of this family, could make contact with me. See the e-mail link at the bottom of this page.

The Story Continues