This death hit me hard

A Cholera tent at Hintok Mountain Camp, 1943
Painting: Jack Chalker via Australian War Memorial

Born in 1907 in the Australian city of Wangaratta, Sir Ernest Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop was a surgeon and soldier known for his humanitarian work during WWII. Captured by Japanese forces in 1942, he was sent to work on the deadly Thai-Burma Railway where, as a senior medical officer, Dunlop provided care for sick and injured prisoners and advocated for better conditions despite the risk of punishment. In 1987, 18 years after being knighted, his diaries from his time as a POW were published, offering invaluable insight into the daily struggles and resilience of those in the camps. He wrote the following entry in June of 1943, ten days after a Cholera outbreak began to rip through Hintok Mountain Camp where he was chief physician and the commanding officer of more than 1,000 POWs. It would be another two months until the disease was under control, by which time many had died.

The Diary Entry

29 June 1943

At 1800 hours today, SX 6343 Pte J.V. Jarvis 2/3 M.G. Bn died of Cholera and uraemia. The eighth day of his illness, he was quite unconscious for the last two days and only began to secrete any urine just before his end. His brother was kept in today (specially admitted to hospital) and so was able to attend the cremation service. Cremation details were delayed until after the service and his departure. Jock Clarke took the service as he was a Roman Catholic. Because of the possibility of infection, I acted as one of the bearers and could not help thinking it was a terrible, sad and dreary little procession, dragging through the rough jungle tracks between the bamboos and dripping rain from a grey sky. The body, roughly sewn in a grey army blanket, sagged between bamboo poles on rice sacks and the dripping undergrowth brushed against the stretcher. The brother and a soldier friend, shabbily clad in Dutch oddments of clothing and without boots, picked their way painfully in the rear. I suddenly saw a bright crimson flower buried down among the green jungle undergrowth. I had an impulse to seize it and lay it on the body to add somehow a little touch of beauty and colour. However, being of stolid British upbringing, this impulse was never fulfilled. The whisper of the bugle playing the Last Post and Reveille reached the troops on evening tenko parade and Maj. Wearne called them to attention. This death hit me hard after all the intense work on the boy and his apparent great improvement before the uraemic manifestation.

Thank the Lord, Kenny Walker is making progress though rather like a pincushion about the belly.

Further Reading

The papers of Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, including his war diaries, are part of the Private Records collection at the Australian War Memorial’s Research Centre. In 1986, they were published in Australia by Nelson Publishers, in a book titled, The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop: Java and the Burma-Thailand Railway 1942-1945. Other editions have since followed.

Weary Dunlop at Wikipedia.

To learn more about Hintok Mountain Camp, visit the DVA Anzac Portal.

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