Researching your 8th Division Soldier

By Caroline Gaden

So your father or grandfather or uncle fought with the ill fated 8th Division in Singapore and Malaya in the Second World War? Where can you find details of his war service? The most important resource could well be within the family, so ask all those relatives to see if some treasured letters or diary remain hidden away.

The first place to visit online is the Australian War Memorial site at www.awm.gov.au to obtain his/her enlisted name and Service Number. On the AWM home page click on the link to “people‟; this takes you to “those who served‟ and “those who died‟ or you can follow the link to “nominal rolls‟ where you select “Second World War‟.

This last site, www.ww2roll.gov.au, is actually a Veterans Affair site. You can search by name or service number. A date of death or discharge will show whether death was during the fighting or as a prisoner, discharge indicates welcome survival. Unfortunately it is not searchable by unit, so if there are several Robert Jones you may have to click on all until you find your 2/20 man. Remember that the site shows which unit they were in at war‟s end, so, if they had come home earlier than the POWs they may be under their “new‟ unit. This included medical evacuations and those who transferred to Mission 204.

If you have a problem finding the right person, remember that “Uncle Jim‟ may have J as his second initial, not his first. Double barrelled names may also cause a few hiccups but keep using a variety of combinations in the search facility. If you have the Service Number it will help you hone in on the right person on this and subsequent sites, the prefix N is for those who enlisted in NSW, the letter V indicates Victoria and so on.

There is so much information on this AWM site with biographical databases, encyclopaedia links to research the battles, information sheets, battalion diaries so you can follow day by day activities of the troops. Search through the collection database, there are many recordings of interviews which you can order. Don Wall‟s film and recordings are listed, these were done as he was compiling “Singapore and Beyond‟ and there are interviews with other POWs such as Gordon Gaffney of 2/30, a POW with “F‟ Force.

Just keep digging through all those links… it will keep you occupied for quite a while! And a visit to Canberra to use their research facilities is well worth the trip… the staff are very helpful.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site www.cwgc.org is good as it may give basic family information which is more extensive than the Nominal Roll. Thomas Patrick Scollen born Armidale was the son of Owen according to the Nominal Roll but the CWGC listed him as being the son of Owen Bernard and Mary Josephine Scollen of Banksia NSW. This site also lists the location of any memorial which indicates where your relative died. Labuan is in Borneo, the final resting place of many of those souls who went to Sandakan; Kanchanaburi is located in Thailand, Thanbyuzayat is in Burma. This will give you an idea where your lad was sent and therefore which POW “Force‟ he may have been with.

The National Archives of Australia has recently added a huge amount of data to its online searches at www.naa.gov.au Follow the links to Name search and add the surname and category eg Second World War. A list of names will appear and a column indicates which have been digitised. If your person‟s record has not been digitised follow the links to order a copy, it costs $16.50 for an online version, $25 for a hard copy. It many take a few days but they will fast-track those specific records and add it to the database. I have 23 pages of information about Bill Gaden (for which I paid) and an equal amount about one of the nurses he met on the Queen Mary (which were free as someone before me had asked for her records to be fast tracked.)

More data can be found at another Government web site www.australiansatwar.gov.au and then you can move to private sites such as www.diggerhistory.info/

Overseas web sites can be very useful. The Singapore archives at www.a2o.com.sg has an interesting link to “1942 Battlefield Singapore‟.

The Thai-Burma Railway Centre is based in Kanchanaburi opposite the war cemetery there. Curator Rod Beattie is keen to gather information about POWs and to help researchers. He has collected about 400 books over the years and hundreds of wartime documents including many diaries in his research room. The web site is www.tbrconline.com

British troops made up a large proportion of those who took part in the Battles for Malaya and Singapore and who fell prisoner. The Imperial War Museum is a good starting point www.iwm.org.uk and another informative site is www.britain-at-war.org.uk.

In Australia we tend to think of POWs as automatically being prisoners of the Japanese. In Britain there were prisoners of the Germans and Italians too, so the Japanese POWs are knows as Far Eastern or FEPOWs. Their web site is www.fepow-community.org.uk and Children and Families of FEPOWs can be found at www.cofepow.org.uk.

Battalion information may be found online, for example information about the 2/20 is at www.second twentieth.org (This web site is temporarily down as it’s URL is to be re-established)

Books are a very valuable tool in your research. An excellent book is “Singapore Burning” by Colin Smith [published 2005]. This concentrates on the history and lead up to the Japanese invasion and the fighting up to the fall of Singapore. This should be classed as “essential reading”. Another book [also 2005] is “Hellfire” by Cameron Forbes. It is less detailed about the battles and half of the book is devoted to their time as POWs.

Your specific soldier many not have his name listed in the index, but you can find out what his battalion was doing during the war. Battalion Histories include “Against All Odds” by James Burfitt and “A history of the 2/18th battalion AIF” by Di Elliott and Lynette Silver, “The Grim Glory of the 2/19 Battalion” edited by Reg Newton and “Singapore and Beyond” by Don Wall, for the 2/20 Bn.

Several Doctor‟s Diaries have appeared in recent years, written by “Weary‟ Dunlop, Roy Mills and Rowley Richards. They are harrowing reading about the troop‟s time as prisoners. “Goodnight Bobbie” by Marilyn Dodkin details his life as a doctor through letters home.

There are tales from ordinary soldiers too. One of the first books published was Russell Braddon‟s “The Naked Island”. An excellent book is “One Man‟s War” by Stan Arneil, it details his life in the 2/30 Bn and his days as a POW. “One fourteenth of an elephant” by Ian Denys Peek is also worth reading. The story of the nurses is recounted in “White Coolies” by Betty Jeffrey, they survived the bombing and massacres only to become POWs, “The Missing Years” by Stu Lloyd recounts an English POWs time. “Pounding Along to Singapore” by Caroline Gaden (to be published soon) give insights into life as a soldier and POW through letters and the battalions war diary.

And finally don‟t forget to make contact with the Battalion Associations… we see the “originals‟ bravely marching on ANZAC Day, we can support them by remembering their story