Soldier stories

VX61042 BLAKE, WALTER. Submitted by James Blake (grandson).

Background : The following summarises my recollections of talks with my grandfather. I am trying to find out anything else I can about him and if anyone can remember the incidents mentioned below. Please advise any additional information via the Contact us webpage.

Memories of Walter Blake, 2/2 Pioneer Battalion

He joined the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion and went to Syria and then later to Java before spending a few years as P.O.W. of the Japanese. He was repatriated to Australia in late 1945.

He very, very rarely spoke about the war, and I only managed to get some details out of him in the early 1980s (he died in the late 1990s). In my conversations with him then, he told me that he had been captured by the French in Syria/Lebanon. Is there anywhere a list of all those who were captured by the French? I also don't know which Company he was in and which specific actions he took part.

He mentioned an attack by the unit on a Fort in Syria/Lebanon where men were captured. He said the French simply took their weapons away from them and put them in a house in a town somewhere. I also recall him mentioning that one of the French units they were fighting had 'an Australian' fighting with them [probably a member of the French Foreign Legion; a number of British were also mentioned as serving with the Legion in the 2/2 Pioneer history book - Webmaster].

I know that sometime while his unit was in Syria/Lebanon he had been promoted from Private (I dont know what rank to, or why) and then subsequently busted back to Private. He said for drinking on duty (he mentioned that it was seriously cold and that he and some others had obtained some wine).

I recall him saying that after the action against the Japanese (I assume near Batavia/Jakarta at Buitenzorg or Llewiliang) the officer in charge of whatever group of men he was with had suggested that those who were interested may be able to try and build a boat and to sail it back to Australia. He said they did this for a number of days but that 'you never saw anything sink that quick' when they tried to launch it. Does anyone else know if there are any recollections of this boat building attempt? He also referred to the fact that a number of men were reported as 'missing in action' because they had attempted to make their own way home. I do know that he was reported as Missing in Action because my late grandmother told me that the military came around to her house and told her that he was M.I.A. and 'believed dead' initially, before later being told that he was a P.O.W. Does anyone else have similar recollections?

I don't know which specific camps he was in on the Burma Thailand Railway, but recollect he mentioned a Tamarkan Camp. I don't know specifically what he did there but it may have involved preparing food in some way because I recall him mentioning that he tried to smuggle pig fat into the sick in the hospital. Does anyone anywhere have any sort of lists or anything of which prisoners were in which camps?

I recall asking him if he knew much about Weary Dunlop and he replied that he knew little about him personally (although had heard about him) and that someone else had been the main medical man where he was - I could be wrong but I somehow have a recollection of a 'Colonel Coates?'

I also recall him saying that he thought the Korean guards were a lot worse on the prisoners than the Japanese. His view was that this was because the Japanese thought the Koreans were sub human, leading to the latter trying to prove themselves through additional viciousness. He also mentioned that when the war was nearly over the Prisoners were vaguely aware that there were Allied troops nearby, but were quite concerned about how the Japanese would react - with some concern they may try to kill all of the prisoners. He said that they knew something was up when one night a guard came through their encampment drunk and tried to belt a prisoner. If anyone else has any details or is aware of this story I would be greatly interested also.

I asked him whether there were ever any humorous moments as a P.O.W., and he said that there was often humour about. He mentioned that one time a Japanese guard had told him and another guy that a senior officer was coming to inspect the camp and that they needed to wash the faces of some Pigs they were looking after.

In the early 1950s, my grandfather added two recipes to a small school cookbook (I think it was the Kilsyth school in Melbourne) which were Naasi Gooreng and Kai Si Min (not sure of the spelling for either of those). This adds to my view that he may have been involved in food preparation (such as it was) somewhere along the line as a P.O.W. and somehow involved at one point in smuggling food to the sick.

Many years after the war, my grandfather made numerous trips to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand (but not Indonesia as far as I know) and met with people (as I was told) he had either met or met through people he had known during his time as a P.O.W.

I am not sure but I gather he may have been held in some respect by other P.O.W.s. In the 1970s, one of these (who was a Real estate agent) went out of his way to help my parents (as opposed to my grandparents) find a place to rent, and that my mother said it was because he had been a P.O.W. with my grandfather.

As late as the 1980s, he kept a photograph of one of his mates on the mantelpiece. My grandmother told me the man in it had been aboard a ship which had been torpedoed on the way to Japan.

He was not a member of the R.S.L. and I can not recall him ever wearing medals or marching on ANZAC Day. He played football for Port Melbourne and then in Ballarat, before working for the Board of Works in Melbourne, Victoria.

My Grandfather was invariably known as Wally, and I understand 'Black Wally'. He was very dark skinned (his mother was American Indian we think - and many assumed he was part Aboriginal or Maori). He did mention that he thought that the Japanese didn't like tall people (he was tall enough to play Ruck football), and particularly didn't like dark skinned people, and that he got the odd belting because of it.