Soldier stories

VX56196 WUST, VERNON GEORGE. Submitted by Larry Wust.

On 19th May 1941, Vernon George Wust, aged 21, one of eight children of Reuben Henry and Elizabeth Wust of 31 Bakewell Street, Bendigo, Victoria enlisted at Royal Park, Victoria. Taken on strength, he was transferred to the Southern Command Engineers Training Depot and from there to Puckapunyal for training.

Before enlisting, Vernon had worked around Charlton, north of Bendigo as a farm hand. It was around this time that his skills as a cook came to the fore, as younger brother Reuben relates, “he could make a mean crumpet”.

In July, Vernon was posted to the 3rd Reinforcements, 2/2 Pioneer Battalion. On 3rd September 1941 the Battalion embarked from Sydney bound for the Middle East aboard the Cruise liner Queen Mary, disembarking twenty days later. Whilst a troop carrier during the war, the Queen Mary was known as the “Grey Ghost” a name given so as not to attract the attention of the German and Japanese navies as she would have been seen as a prized trophy. Little did those on aboard realize that the luxurious surroundings and sleeping quarters for some would within 6 months turn to absolute squalor and degeneration. For the next 4 months, Vernon Wust served in the Middle East around Qantana and Damascus where he was a cook.

When Japan entered the war and the real threat of invasion of Australia became a possibility, Vernon’s Battalion on the 21st January 1942 left from Suez aboard the S.S. Orcades bound for Australia. Whilst at sea, orders were received to proceed to Sumatra. No sooner had the ship arrived on the 15th February, it immediately left the harbour due to the nearby presence of the Japanese and the real possibility of the ship being captured. In the meantime, Singapore had fallen to the Japanese. On 18th February of 1942, the SS Orcades disembarked the troops in Batavia, Java and the Battalion formed part of Black Force named after the Australian Brigadier Arthur Blackburn. There, during the Netherlands East Indies campaign, the 2/2nd Pioneers took part in a brief, but bitter engagement before being ordered to surrender; a large number of the 2/2nd's personnel were captured – over 800 men – of whom 258 later died in captivity.

Dispatched across south-east Asia, the men were used as forced labour on the Burma-Thailand railway and in camps on Java and Borneo. Sadly, Vernon was among those 800 men captured and one of the 258 unfortunates who later died. It is well documented as to the treatment of the Australian P.O.W.’s by their Japanese captors and the deprivation that they endured over the ensuring years of their captivity. Vernon met his death in the same way as a lot of his colleagues, dying from the effects of malaria, dysentery and cruelty. Vernon Wust’s death is documented as occurring sometime on or after 8th September 1943. His remains were interred in December 1945 at the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in Thanbyuzayat Mon State, Myanmar (Burma); Plot: A4. A. 10.