Tag Archives: Borneo

The “Speedo”

By Sears Eldredge

Meanwhile, over a thousand miles away in Thailand and Burma, the POWs building the railway were entering the “Speedo Period”—the desperate push by the Japanese engineers to get the railway completed to the new earlier deadline set by Tokyo. During this period, the POWs would work extended hours and seven days a week without adequate food or medical supplies. Corporal punishment was harsh and frequent. As a consequence, sickness and death increased at an alarming rate, so urgent calls went out to Singapore for more POW workers.

On 20 March, massive evacuations from Changi began. “D” Force, which contained 2,750 British and 2,250 Australians—”fit men for heavy manual labour in a malarial climate”—was the first to leave for Up Country destinations. “There were emotional scenes,” recalled Murray Griffin, “as the parties moved out with the concert party band playing ‘Now is the Hour’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’.”[i]

A week later, “E” Force, consisting of troops from the Southern Area and the A.I.F., was sent to Kuching, Borneo. 500 Australians were then sent on to Sandakan on the other side of the island (see future blog on Borneo).  

Between 18-26 April, “F” Force made up of British and Australian troops, which included Padre Foster-Haig and members of his musical group (inc. the pianist/symphony orchestra conductor, Renison and the singers, Aubrey King and George Wall, etc.), were sent to northern Thailand (see Chapter 2, “Jungle Shows Thailand” in my online book for a more detailed account of the fate of this group).[ii]

On 25 April 1943, “G” Force (various groups) was sent to Japan where there was also a huge labor shortage.[iii]

Then, with still urgent calls for more workers for the railway, “H” Force, made up of British and Australian POWs “with as many officers as possible with bridge-building and road-making experience” was sent to Thailand between 5-17 May.[iv] Among these troops would be the artist Ronald Searle, the female impersonator Michael Curtis, the actor/director Capt. Wilkinson,[1] and cartoonist George Sprod—and, in a break with precedence, two performers from the A.I.F. Concert Party: the singer, Doug Mathers and the ventriloquist, Tom Hussey.

On 15 May, “J” Force went off. Speculation was that they were headed for Japan.[v]

When these deployments were complete, the number of POWs left in Changi had changed dramatically:

Changi Camp, in February 1942, had held approximately 52,000 prisoners of war. By the end of May 1943, however, most of them had departed and were working for the Japanese in Burma, Thailand, Borneo, and Japan, those remaining in Changi numbered only 5550 officers and men.[vi]

And many of those POWs were either in hospital or in convalescent wards so unable to fulfill camp duties.[vii]


[1] That Wilkinson is on “H” Force seems indisputable. In my online book, I mistakenly placed him on “F” Force.


[i] Griffin, 28.

[ii] Nelson, 87.

[iii] Nelson, 25.

[iv] Nelson, 5-17 May.

[v] Nelson, 94.

[vi] Penfold, Bayliss and Crispin. Galleghan’s Greyhounds, 320.

[vii] Ibid.

‘The Borneo Graveyard 1941–1945’

By John Tulloch

Borneo, the land of the head hunter, was a WW2 graveyard for POWs, internees, locals, Javanese and Japanese.

The narrative follows the raising of five air defence regiments in 1939, their deployment to South East Asia in late 1942, their short campaign in the Netherlands East Indies and eventual captivity as POWs in Java and then North Borneo.

This book portrays the horrific story of Borneo during the Japanese occupation of 1941-1945. Thousands of Australian, British, Dutch and Indian POWs, internees, locals of Borneo and Javanese perished in Borneo during this period.

The Borneo Graveyard 1941-1945, by John S. M. Tulloch

Allied POWs, who were sent to various POW camps in British and Dutch Borneo, were to die of maltreatment, malnutrition or execution. Many were forced to walk Death Marches in the jungle with a horrifying conclusion. Internees were held in internment camps and suffered dreadfully. The local populace suffered; torture, executions and massacres occurred and malnutrition was endemic. At great personal sacrifice they helped the POWs and internees. The secretive Z Force gathered intelligence and trained local guerrilla fighters. In 1945, the Australian military engaged in bitter fighting to liberate Borneo.

This book closes with the convalescence of survivors at Labuan, followed by the repatriation of British POWs and internees, and the dreadful wall of silence experienced by so many on returning to the United Kingdom.

This book is a tribute to the strength of character and bravery of those who endured the Japanese occupation.

The author, John Tulloch, served for eight years in the New Zealand Army including a 12 month Tour of Duty in Vietnam (68/69). He served 30 years in the British Army and then 12 years in the MOD Civil Service. For 21 years he was a visiting instructor on the Jungle Warfare Instructors Course in Brunei. He has trekked and climbed extensively in Sabah and Sarawak and has an extensive knowledge of the area. He has written articles and given talks on Vietnam and Borneo. This is his first book. He was honoured with the MBE in 2003.

Additional Information:

ISBN 978-983-3987-65-8                   Format: Hardback

Dimensions: 26x20x3 cm                   Pages: 472

Published: March 2020                       Cost: £25 plus p&p.

Contact and sole distributor: johnsmtulloch@gmail.com

For more information about the book and author please see the below flyer: