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PoW reflects on time in Japan

Cobram resident and World War II veteran Dick Campbell shares his story.

ROB HENSON June 17, 2014 3:56am

Veteran: Dick Campbell fought in World War II and was a prisoner of war for three and a half years.


Evoking the true spirit of Anzac was Yarroweyah farmer and World War II veteran Dick Campbell.

Growing up in Kyabram on a wheat and sheep farm, he left school at 14, working on farms, and joined the army aged 21.

‘‘It felt like you should do your bit for the country,’’ Dick said.

‘‘The Japs had not come into the war at that stage.

‘‘When we joined up they sent us straight to Malaya for jungle training and we weren’t there long before the Japs did come into the war.

‘‘When I joined up I thought I’d be going to the Middle East. But that didn’t worry me in the slightest, if you join the army, you go where you’re sent

Dick said he found Changi ‘‘all right, really’’.

‘‘From there, they took us up to Burma, Tavoy, before working on the railway line.

‘‘I worked on that railway line from start to finish.

‘‘When it was finished they took us to Japan and we worked in the coal mine.’’

He spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war, with more than a year working on the Burma railway.

One of 60000 allied pow’s forced to work on the railway, 12399 died through maltreatment, sickness or starvation.

Dick said the japanese coal mine was worse than work on the railway.

‘‘It was cold, miserable, and you got a little bowl of rice,

‘‘In changi you might have got a decent dixie of rice, but in Japan it was an ordinary sweets bowl full of rice, cooked it in the afternoon. And you might as well have filled it with snow, it was as nice to eat.

‘‘None of us would have gone on much longer in Japan, it was too tough.’’

But the end of the war intervened, with the Japanese announcing they would abandon the facility as food supplies were flown in by the Americans.

‘‘It was a change of shift, and nobody went to work in the mine that day and everyone wondered why.

‘‘The next day a Jap, not sure what rank he held, but he stood up on a table and he said the war was over.

‘‘He gave orders that we were to stay in the camp until the Americans arrived.

‘‘Like hell, we didn’t stay in the camp. We ran wild, we were there probably three weeks before the Americans took over.’’

After the war Dick became a water bailiff in Tongala, before putting in a soldier settlement block at Yarroweyah.

‘‘And I’ve been here ever since,’’ he said.

Dick met wife Hazel at a fire brigade hall dance at Kyabram ‘‘straight after’’ the war and they have since raised children who went on to work in the local area.

A life member of the Yarroweyah Football Netball Club, he was present for the day the club was formed, aged 27, and has worked hard for the club ever since.

Dick said the war had improved his life.

‘‘Changed for the better that’s for sure, as a young fellow it was pretty hard going, and if you got a job, your money was pretty light for the amount of work you’ve done,’’ he said.

The veteran has watched the Cobram Anzac service grow every year and said it was a credit to the organisers.

‘‘You’ve got to give the (RSL) president a lot of credit, he’s well liked and handles the show well,’’ Dick said.

‘‘It’s a day to catch up with a lot of friends. And I think it’s a credit to Cobram, the ceremony’s getting bigger and bigger every year.’’

Of 96 original Yarroweyah soldier settlers, about seven of whom were prisoners of war, Dick said there was five left.

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