Joffrey Leonard POPLE

POPLE, Joffrey Leonard

Service Number: SX6203
Enlisted: 21 June 1940
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion
Born: Gumeracha, South Australia, 30 May 1916
Home Town: Gumeracha, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Schooling: Gumeracha Primary School
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Stroke, Gumeracha, South Australia, 30 June 2007, aged 91 years
Cemetery: North Gumeracha Cemetery
Memorials: Ballarat Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, Gumeracha District WW2 Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

21 Jun 1940: Enlisted Private, SN SX6203, Adelaide, South Australia
21 Jun 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX6203
22 Jun 1940: Involvement Private, SN SX6203
8 May 1946: Discharged Private, SN SX6203, 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion
8 May 1946: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX6203

Joffery Leonard Pople’s Military Service 21st June 1940 - 7th May 1946

Born in Gumeracha SA May 30 1916, second youngest of ten boys. Started work at 14 with his father as an apprentice in the blacksmith shop until it closed circa 1935. He then worked for A W Cornish as an Orchardist until joining the army in 1940. He was married on the 15th June 1940 only six days before being sworn into the Army. On two occasions when he was given weekend leave, he caught the tram from Wayville to Paradise and walked from there to Kenton Valley. This journey took about seven hours arriving in the early hours of the morning. He then bought an Austin.

Enlisted in the Army 21 June 1940 at Adelaide, serial No. SX 6203 AIF and started training at Wayville Showgrounds SA. In the July he was drafted to the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion and in August he was sent to Oakbank SA to continue training. This was interrupted briefly in October by an appendix operation that saw him recuperating at Kalpara Glenelg SA. He returned to Warradale SA until January 1941 and then To Woodside until April .

'He left Adelaide by train, April 1941 for Sydney, embarking on the 10 April for the Middle East aboard the Ile-De-France

The ship sailed in convey to Fremantle WA, staying there for ten days then on to Ceylon for a couple of days and finally to Egypt He left the ship at Suez and travelled by train alongside the Suez Canal to Cantara. Here he crossed the bridge on foot and boarded a troop train to Gaza. There he stayed at Hill 95 until July 1941.
From Gaza he was moved by truck to Syria, where he was first involved in action against the French Vichy, as a truck driver for a platoon sergeant, until the end of the campaign, about five months. He was used as an occupation trooper until December 1941, where he was then posted back to “elementary gun drill” as the Colonel thought the drivers were getting out of touch.

By February 1942 Japan had entered the war. As a result, they left Syria in a hurry, without packs or kit, on HMS Orcades and attempted to land on Sumatra on the 15th Feb 1942 for a desperate stand against the Japanese, only to find that it was already in their hands. Aboard a “lighter” he returned to the ship in the dark, sailed through the straits of Sunda and docked at Batavia (now Jakarta) on Feb 17. After two days of indecision by the command, he left the ship and marched to Batavia airport which was being repeatedly bombed. After a further two days he headed for the hills, the Japanese were close by at all times.

On March 8th 1942 the Dutch surrendered, on the 12 Feb “The Black Force” (which included the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion) also surrendered, leaving him stranded in Java without provisions. At that time, he headed down from the hills hoping to escape from Port Tilayap, only to learn that the ships that were supposed to pick them up had all been sunk, the Perth being the main one, with a terrible loss of life.
He was now officially a prisoner of war although he had not sighted any Japanese at this stage.
They made camp in an old tea factory and waited for developments, they were soon instructed by the officers to return to a town in the hills called Garoet where they made camp in a school. He was then moved to another camp - Leles - with restricted movement but still not guarded by the Japanese.

On June 22nd 1942 he was taken under guard and transported by train to a camp at Bandung, and then on November 6th moved to Makasura.
January 4th 1943 he was taken to Singapore by boat, (a 7000-ton coal burning hulk with shocking cramped conditions) and arrived on the 7th. To his surprise he met his brother Frank at the Changi prison camp in Singapore, he wasn’t even aware that he had enlisted. Frank had been captured at the fall of Singapore
On the 20th he was taken from Singapore by train (30 men to a 3m x 6.5m carriage). With no room to lie down and after four days of hell they arrived at Bampong a filthy dirty human mass. That night they were loaded onto trucks, 25 to each and arrived at Tarsow where they slept on the ground. The next day the 25th he was loaded onto the same trucks and taken a further 25 kms, where he was made to walk down a steep mountain in order to reach a spot in dense jungle which they had to clear, in order to build a camp, later named Konyu.

March 17th 1943 he left Konyu and was made to walk to the Hintok Mountains, where they were to build a bridge. For nearly 5 months they cut timber and heaved out a stone cutting, all the time being brutally beaten, starved and riddled with disease, these conditions killing hundreds of men.
August 18th, he was transferred to Hintok River Camp. Here they were ordered to clear and build a railway embankment. These were the worst conditions yet, he contracted cholera and was near death for about three months. Dr Corlette saw him through by giving intravenous saline drips and his mate Dallow stole quinine for him from the Japanese stores. During this time, he suffered heart arrest and his weight dropped to four and a half stone.

He returned to Tarsau in November 43’, this had been turned into a rough hospital camp, although the food was poor the work was light.
In January 44’ he left Tarsau and was taken by river barge to Tamarkan a much better place. His work here was cutting logs 2m long (for railway engines) and transporting it 2 kms away. The method of transportation was to form a human line 2m apart and 2 kms long, then passing the logs from one man to the next. His stay here was short and left in May 44’ leaving the jungle by river boat to Tamuan. Here he was ordered to dig a moat around the 1 km square campsite, when finished it was 20 ft across and 15 ft deep with a machine gun mounted at each corner. He was told that the moat was a mass grave for the prisoners if Japan lost the war.
While he was at this camp Japanese parties were being formed to take POW’s to work in Japan. He tried to be included in one of these but when they found out that he'd had cholera he was removed from the list.
Soon it was time to move again, to Nakom Patom. This camp was split into two parts, with a wall
being the dividing line between hospital and workers. He being on the workers side and his good mates on the other side he found it difficult to see and talk to them. He did manage to see them a few times and visited among others Dallow and Raines. The work here was railway maintenance which included the removal of delayed fuse bombs that had been dropped by US planes. These planes were now flying without any opposition, which was quite a change.

Another move and another camp, Chumphon on the Malay railway line midway between Bangkok and Singapore. The work here was repairing bridges and general damage being done by Allied planes, no sooner had they made repairs, the Allies were back. This was very dangerous work and many POWs lost their lives during these attacks and their attempts to de-fuse the bombs. He worked an area of track 20-30 miles long, some times pushing trains from one blown bridge to another. Unloading them each time and carrying the goods across a makeshift foot bridge onto another lot of rail trucks and then pushing those to the next bridge.

The Allies continually dropped 1000 lb bombs and fire bombs, on one such raid he recalls seeing a large railway engine blown 50 ft into the air. The Japanese were getting desperate so he was put to work laying a wooden railway line complete with wooden trucks, wheels and all, parallel with the main one but hidden in the jungle. These trucks were also pushed and when they came to a river they were ferried across. The one good thing about this work was that rice was plentiful and he was seldom hungry, the first time in years.
Toward the end of August 1945 in the process of digging an air raid protection for the Japanese, it was noticed that they were quiet and stood around not taking much interest in what the POWs were doing. After a few days of this behaviour, the POWs were informed the war was over (it had actually finished on the 15th August 1945) and Japan had won. About a week later he was informed that they would soon be taken to Japan but the POWs had a pretty good idea that this would not happen because of loud radio broadcasts (BBC) coming from the village.

In September 1945 he eventually departed Chumphon by train some in the trucks some on the roof, he being on the roof. This was a pretty tough journey as every so often they had to stop and chop wood and collect water from the pools by the track for the engine.
After two days of this travel they stopped one night at a place called Phet-Buri and half asleep he was awaked by a lot of talking in English, looking down he recognised an Australian officer whom he had last seen in Singapore and knew him to be Major Wearne, standing on the platform. The Jap guards were standing around quite casually when suddenly one of them put a bayonet against the Major’s back, at that moment at least 10 armed Gurkas with sub machine guns stepped out from cover. Major Wearne called for the Jap commander to disarm his men, which he did.
After three and a half years as a POW he was free.
They got off the train and went into a makeshift dinning area where they had as much food and drink as they could hold. After a rest they marched a couple of miles to a camp that had the Union Jack flying at the gate, it was still hard to realise that he was free.

They stayed here for a few days and each day supply planes dropped food and clothing to them.
He was taken to Bangkok to have his teeth repaired and then flown to Singapore HQ where he caught up with letters from home and many of the men he had just spent the last three and a half years with.
He spent about a week in Singapore and was put on a boat for home, a refrigerator ship where hammocks had been hung in the hold, if he wasn’t careful where he put his feet they could end up on frosty pipes but he had no complaints.
He arrived at Fremantle and was taken by train to Wayville SA arriving on the 19th October 1945 over two months after the war had finished.'

He had been away from home for four and a half years. (10th April 1941 - 19th October 1945)

The Thailand - Burma railway was 265 miles long, and over 300,000 prisoners worked it during the Second World War. They were made up of 250,000 Asians (the majority of these died during construction) and 61,000 Allies.
Of the 22,000 Australians who were captured and held prisoner by the Japanese over one third died in captivity.

(A personal account by J L Pople, narrated to his wife, who wrote it down as he spoke)

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