William Duncan GANNAWAY

GANNAWAY, William Duncan

Service Number: VX56936
Enlisted: 29 May 1941
Last Rank: Sapper
Last Unit: 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion
Born: Northcote, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2 May 1919
Home Town: Caulfield, Glen Eira, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Bricklayer
Died: Illness whilst a Prisoner of the Japanese, Burma, 27 September 1943, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery
Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, Thanbyuzayat, Mon State, Myanmar
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ballarat Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial
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World War 2 Service

3 Sep 1939: Involvement Private, VX56936, 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion
29 May 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, VX56936, 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion
26 Feb 1942: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Sapper, VX56936, 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion

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Biography contributed by Chris Buckley

William (Bill) was the third of four children (sons) of Lancelot Gannaway (born 1887 in Preston, Victoria) and Mary May Duncan (born 1890 in East Brunswick, Victoria). Lancelot, a Labourer, and Mary married in 1909 in Northcote where they raised their family. Lancelot died in 1935 and Mary remarried Reginald Simmonds in 1942.

Bill was a Bricklayer living in Caulfield in Melbourne when he enlisted in the Australian Army, He was serving as a Private (Service No: VX56936) with 2/2 Pioneer Battalion and landed in Java in February 1942 where the Battalion joined 'Blackforce' fighting the Japanese. Ordered to surrender. Bill was one of over 800 men captured by the Japanese and sent to Burma to work on the railway. Suffering from dysentery. malaria and beriberi, Bill was sent to No 55 Kilo Camp - a base hospital under Australian surgeon Colonel Coates. No 55 Kilo, where sick PoWs from the Burma Railway were sent, was an abandoned work camp comrpising eight bamboo and alap huts with floors made of bamboo strips. The huts housed 1,200 patients. Conditions were appalling - extremely limited rations, few medical supplies or instruments, and the Japanes would only acknowledge one illness per prisoner. Colonel Coates is renowned for his work at No 55 Kilo, where he performed countless leg amputations on ulcer patients and 'many toes were removed with scissors without anaesthesia'. 

Bill's brothers served briefly in WWII - Sapper Lex Gannaway (Service No: VX21202) with 2/9 Field Coy RAE; and Sapper Len Gannaway (Service Nos: VX60159/V13441) with 2/16 Field Coy RAE. Uncle George James Duncan served with the RAAF as a Leading Aircraftman (Service No: 145145)

Bill died in September 1943