I came across your website Ahoy- Mac's Web Log, and hope you may be able to help me locate some information on my Great-Uncle, William Edward SMITH NX45070. Pte William Smith joined the army in September 1941 3rd Reserve Motor Transport Company. He served in Java, was reported missing in action on 7th March 1942, Confirmed a prioner of war on 28th July 1943 and drowned whilst being transported on the Tamahoko Maru on 24th June 1944.
I am looking for which ship he embarked upon leaving Sydney in 1941 and if possible are you able to direct me to where I can located information on the camps he may have been held in during the POW stage of his war service. I suspect he was part of A Force that worked on the Burma-Thai Railway.
Any information you able to provide me would be greatly appreciated.
Sinking of the Tamahoku Maru
24 June 1944- survivors to Nagasaki
Report of Draft sent from Java to Japan and information regarding the
Original at Australian War Museum and copy at NARA
Lt. John Hickley, RN, Senior surviving English Officer
Lt. Van Oortmensen, RNEI Army, Senior surviving Dutch Officer
Lt. Lance Gibson, AIF, Senior surviving Australian Officer
Sub-Lt Philip Cranefield, RN
This draft was formed at Adek Camp Batavia and began assembling there
on 9th May 1944, the company officers being transferred from Cycle Camp on
10th May: the men were drawn from Cycle Camp, Kampong Macassar, Adek and
Buitenzorg. Major J.D. Morris A.I.F. was in command; and the final draft
consisted of four companies of 150 men and 1 officer, a company of 125 men
and one officer and a H.Q. company of 48. These last two mainly consisted of
a special medical party of 30 doctors and 60 medical orderlies, 2 men acting
as priests were included in H.Q. The total number was 41 officers and 737
men of which 197 were English 42 American 258 Australian and 281 Dutch. The
draft was completed in nine days and was supplied from a Red Cross
consignment with shoes and adequate medical supplies - a feature of the
draft was the almost complete lack of sickness.
The draft embarked a.m. on 19th May in "Kiska Maru" of about 3,500
tons, one Dutchman being left at Tanjong Priok with dysentry [Tanjong Priok
was the port for Batavia, now known as Jakarta]. The ship sailed for
Singapore via Banka Strait and arrived in Keppel Harbour at 1600 on 22nd May
, the prisoners being transported in lorries to Havelock Road Camp. (A
German U-boat of about 2,000 tons with a closed bridge was alongside and
provided some interest as she had two shell-holes in the stern). Indian
troops were in the remainder of the camp and, under a Lieutenant R.I.A.S.C.,
supplied the party out of their own rations. A "glass rod test" was held
during the stay here, as a result of which 1 Australian and 4 Dutchmen were
detached from the draft.
At 0800 on 2nd June 1 , 772 men marched from the camp to the
docks and were taken out in landing barges to the ship lying in the Roads.
She was a vessel [name unknown] of between 4,000-5,000 tons, loaded with
bauxite, and the prisoners were put in the forward between-decks under Nos.
2 & 3 hatches- as 300 men slept on deck, everyone was able to lie full
length at night. The ship sailed on 3rd of June and formed [into] one of a
convoy of 11 ships, 3 of which were carrying prisoners of war, escorted by 4
small corvettes. Naturally all were apprehensive of submarines, and this
feeling was accentuated when the leading corvette was torpedoed on the night
Kapok lifebelts were provided, but the sergeant of the guard would not
allow them to be issued to the prisoners, but on 8th June Major Morris at
last succeeded in having them issued. On 11th June the convoy arrived in
Manila Bay anchoring off the town and stayed 2 days, sailing on the morning
of 14th as a convoy of 10 ships escorted by 3 corvettes, a minelayer and a
whaling ship for Formosa. We proceeded close inshore northward along the
west coast of Luzon for 2 days and on leaving the N.W., point ran into a
heavy storm during which the ship received damage, and on arrival at Takao
on 18th June, began [to] immediately to discharge her cargo.
The following morning, the draft was transferred to a larger cargo
ship of 6,700 tons [Tamahoku Maru]which was loading quarter cargo of rice
and sugar and which also carried about 500 Japanese servicemen aft, all of
whom bore the appearance of survivors. The accommodation consisted of the
forward between decks which extended from forecastle bulkhead to the bridge
under Nos. 1 & 2 hatches. About 300 men again slept on deck forward, 20
cooks abaft the bridge and the remainder below decks. The Korean guards were
also below, occupying a space on the starboard side level with No. 2 hatch
and the officers slept round the foremast. Life belts were again provided,
but not issued, despite protests, and were stacked against the ship's side
forward of the guards. Access to the hold was by wooden ladders under each
hatch. There were a number of balsa rafts on deck secured to the guardrails.
The convoy, consisting of 12 ships escorted by 2 corvettes a minelayer
and the whaling ship, left Formosa 20th June, the next few days being
pleasantly cool after the tropics. At 11:50 pm on 24th June 1944, in
approximate position 40 miles S.W. of Nagasaki, we were awoken by an
explosion as another ship in the convoy was torpedoed and within seconds
another torpedo hit our ship just forward of the bridge on the starboard
side, blowing the covers off the hatches. This explosion must have killed
many men sleeping on them and numbers of others on deck are known to have
been struck by falling debris. Also there were now two large holes in the
deck of the hold and many men, rushing for the ladders which had been blown
away, must have fallen into the cargo. Other men rushed toward the life
belts and were so trapped. Escape by those below was made by means of the
iron ladders under the hatches, or, for the most part, by being washed out
by the sea. It has been estimated that the ship sank in less than 2 minutes.
The balsa rafts were cut adrift by the late Gunner J. Brookes (35th AA
Regt RA), possibly assisted by the late Chief Engine Room Artificer C.
Mellish R.A.N. (HMAS "Perth") who throughout the draft was most efficient as
disciplinary N.C.O. [Cedric Erryl Bell Mellish, RAN, of Armidale, NSW, died
in sinking of Tamahoku Maru, 44.06.24]
Finding themselves in the water, most prisoners managed to gain these
rafts or other wreckage and settled down with the Japanese survivors to wait
for dawn, all nationalities helping each other. Fortunately no depth charges
were dropped nearby by the escort and at dawn a corvette lowered her boats
and picked up Japanese, leaving the prisoners on the wreckage. At about 0700
the small whaling ship came up and lowered rope ladders. On receipt of an
order from her bridge, the prisoners were allowed on board and were put on
the forecastle deck under a small gun-platform. This craft specialized in
picking up prisoners and was most efficiently handled during the process.
Some men were picked up by boats from the corvettes and put on board the
whaling ship; 2 aircraft also co-operated. 7 prisoners were picked up by a
corvette which later came practically alongside when they were thrown back
into the sea to swim to the whalecatcher, but unfortunately two non-swimmers
were drowned. A thorough search of the area was made, and as far as could be
seen, no one was left in the water. Four Korean guards were also saved
including one who all along had been most helpful to Major Morris and this
man proved very useful as interpreter during the rescue and subsequent
The. ship with 211 prisoners arrived in Nagasaki at 12:30 pm and after
a cold hungry wait the prisoners were landed at 1800. During this period a
Japanese doctor and two nurses came to treat the sick, but their sole
equipment was Mercurochrome and their attention most perfunctory.
Lorries transported the prisoners to Fukuoka 14 camp, in the
Mitsubishi factories, where a hot meal, clothes and sleeping mats were
provided. A further survivor was brought in two days later and later still
the ashes of a Dutch doctor and an Australian private - so it must be
presumed that the remaining 560 men lost their lives in this disaster.
* includes 13 men of the S.S. American Leader per George Duncan
A Captain Takata of the Japanese P.O.W. Information Bureau later
visited the camp to secure a signed statement of the sinking from the
surviving officers. Advantage was taken of this opportunity to criticize
several points, chiefly the entrusting of a draft of this size to the whim
of a sergeant, and his subsequent refusal. to issue life belts which might
have saved more lives, and also conditions, health etc. in Fukuoka 14 -
subsequent improvements in the camp may well have been due to this visit.
For six weeks, the party lived in crowded conditions in the camp after
which they joined up with the old camp and started work in the factories.
During this period the camp staff were fairly sympathetic, though comforts
and medicines were scarce.
/S/Lt. John Hickley, RN, Senior surviving English Officer
/S/Lt. Van Oortmensen, RNEI Army, Senior surviving Dutch Officer
/S/Lt. Lance Gibson, AIF, Senior surviving Australian Officer
[Lance Aldworth Gibson, 2/3 Aust Machine Gun Bn]
/S/Sub-Lt Philip Cranefield, RN
Sunk 24th June 1944
In this incident 74 Tasmanians lost their life
With the coastline of Japan in sight, one of the Japanese ships in a convoy
with Prisoners of War on board, exploded after being torpedoed by the US
submarine “USS Tang” in command of Lt.Cdr. R.H. O'Kane
The “Tamahoko Maru” which was closest to the torpedoed vessel was almost
blown apart and water poured in through a hole in her side. There were 80
men sleeping on top of the main hatch cover and not one of them survived.
Hundreds of prisoners jumped into the sea as the “Tamahoko Maru” started to
sink. Some were later picked up by a Japanese whale chaser.
The final count was that 560 POW’s had died. Of the 267 Australians on
board only 72 survived. The following day, 212 survivors were brought into
the harbour at Nagasaki to spend the rest of the war in the POW camp,
Fukuoka 13 where many more lost their lives.
His Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry:
Name: SMITH, WILLIAM EDWARD
Initials: W E
Regiment/Service: Australian Army Service Corps
Unit Text: A.I.F. 3 Res. M.T. Coy.
Date of Death: 24/06/1944
Service No: NX/45070
Additional information: Son of Ernest Edward and Violet Jane Smith, of
Quirindi, New South Wales, Australia.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Column 138.
Memorial: SINGAPORE MEMORIAL
To honour those who served their country
“In this their finest hour”
The Singapore Memorial stands in Kranji War Cemetery, fourteen
miles north of the city of Singapore, on the north side of Singapore Island,
overlooking the Straits of Johore. The central avenue of the cemetery rises
gently from the Stone of Remembrance near the entrance to the Cross of
Sacrifice, beyond which flights of steps lead to the terrace on top of the
hill, on which the Memorial stands.
The Memorial consists of twelve wide columns bearing the
name-panels and supporting a flat roof which gives protection to the
inscribed names and shade and shelter to the visitor. Rising through the
roof in the centre, to a height of 80 feet, is a great pylon surmounted by a
star. On a curved panel at the foot of this pylon are inscribed in English
On the walls of this memorial are recorded the names of
twenty-four thousand soldiers and airmen of many races united in service to
the British Crown who gave their lives in Malaya and neighbouring lands and
seas and in the air over Southern and Eastern Asia and the Pacific but to
whom the fortune of war denied the customary rites accorded to their
comrades in death.
An additional inscription, "They Died for All Free Men" is
engraved in Hindi, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Chinese and Malay.
At one end of the memorial to those who have no known grave is a
separate small memorial commemorating over 100 men who died in captivity and
are buried in a single grave in the grounds of Singapore Civil General
Hospital; at the other end a similar separate memorial bears the names of
over 250 men buried in isolated places in Malaya where their graves cannot
be maintained. A further memorial in the cemetery commemorates almost 800
officers and men of the Indian Army whose remains were cremated. The
registers of these three memorials are to be published separately, along
with the register of Kranji War Cemetery, where are buried more than 4,000
of the comrades of the men in whose honour the Singapore Memorial was built.
Campaign in Malaya
Air War in the Far East
Men who Served
Index of Regiments
Main Memorial Roll
Civil Hospital Memorial Roll
Unmaintainable Graves Roll
Please select from the above menu
The First Australian Corps returning from the Middle East was projected to
arrive at Java Island via Oosthaven (Sumatra Island). The main body of the
AIF 7th Division would begin to arrive 25 February and not be ready for full
scale operations till mid March and the AIF 6th Division not ready for any
task until "the middle of April at the earliest". It seemed doubtful to
General Vernon Sturdee, Australian Chief of Staff, that the Australian 7th
Division could reach Sumatra in time and considered the prospects of holding
Java "far from encouraging". The Australians, under Lieutenant-Colonel
Arthur S. Blackburn, had been landed from the transport ship Orcades and
were being retrained for the guarding of airfields until a final decision
was taken about the defence of Java. These two Australian fighting
battalions, 2/3 Machine-Gun - 710 men and 2/2 Pioneer Battalions - 937 men,
accompanied by the following AIF units with approximate strengths, 2/6 Field
Company HQ and one platoon of guards - 43 men, 105th General Transport
Company - 206 men, 2/3 Reserve Motor Transport Company - 471 men, 2/2
Casualty Clearing Station - 93 men, Stragglers - 165 men, Details - 73
prisoners, formed an ad hoc composite mobile brigade. Under command of the
now promoted Brigadier A. Blackburn, a gallant and enterprising officer who
had served on Gallipoli in the ranks, won a VC as a subaltern at Pozieres
1916 and between wars commanded a MG battalion plus led the 2/3MG Battalion
in the Syria campaign with the 2/2 Pioneers as support against the Vichy
French, and for operations "Blackforce" would be directly under Lieutenant
General Hein Ter Poorten, Dutch Commander-in-Chief.
> From Australian War Memorial records:
ID Number: P07055.001
Place made: Unknown
Date made: c 1941
Physical description: Black & white
Summary: Informal portrait of Private (Pte) NX45070 William Edward
Smith, 3rd Reserve Motor Transport Company, of West Wyalong, NSW. Pte Smith,
aged 24, was taken prisoner of war. He along with many other prisoners of
war, was being transported from Java to Nagasaki, Japan, aboard the Tamahoko
Maru. On 24 June 1944 the ship was attacked and sunk by the American
submarine USS Tang. Over five hundred prisoners of war, including Pte Smith
Credit line: Donor E Roache
Copyright: Status to be assessed
Related subject: Portraits; Prisoners of war
Related unit: Motor transport reserve companies; Tamahoko Maru
Related conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
Roll of Honour
William Edward Smith
AASC 3 RES MT COY
Date of Death
24 June 1944
Place of Death
At sea (South West Pacific Area)
Cause of Death
AWM147 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, 2nd AIF (Australian Imperial
Force) and CMF (Citizen Military Force)
View collection image:
Location on the Roll of Honour
William Edward Smith's name is located at panel 84 in the Commemorative Area
at the Australian War Memorial (as indicated by the poppy on the plan).
Personal Service Records
For information about service records of those who served in the Second
World War please see Australian Service records from World War II on the
National Archives of Australia website.