A Railway on Sumatra Constructed by Prisoners of the Japanese During WWII (1943 - 1945)
Ivan Pardoe (Courtesy of the Pardoe Family)
By February 1942 the surrender of Singapore was imminent. With the conquering Japanese forces approaching rapidly, the order was given to evacuate. On the evenings of the 13th & 14th of February, a flotilla of some 44 vessels left Keppel Harbour en route to the perceived safety of Batavia (now Jakarta). This realization did not happen as all but four of the vessels were destroyed off the east coast of Sumatra. One of the few survivors was Abel Seaman Ivan Pardoe (3042) who was at that time serving on the English gun boat HMS Dragonfly. The Dragonfly (T11) had been transferred from China to Singapore to aid in support duties for the military defense of Malaya, dropping Gurkha and other raiding parties behind enemy Japanese lines.
Ivan was born in Manutuke outside of Gisborne, New Zealand. He Joined the Navy at the onset of war and after training in Tamaki, Auckland he was drafted overseas. It was as a part of this draft that he became a crew member of HMS Dragonfly.
The escape of the Dragonfly like many other ships escaping Singapore was doomed. The Japanese ruled the skies and 4 km off the coast of the island of Rusukbuaja on the 14th of February, the Dragonfly was bombed and took a direct hit aft. The blast killed many of the crew and passengers on board. The Dragonfly then listed, capsized and sunk all within 10 minutes of the bombing. Survivors were in the water for over 7 hours and were swept by the currents towards Singkep Island to the south, all whilst being shot at by Japanese aircraft, some of which were on their return from bombing raids at Palembang. Intercepted Japanese radio messages stated “there would be no Dunkirk here”. After regrouping at Singkep Island Ivan and the other weary survivors organized canoes and boats to take them to mainland Sumatra with a plan of making their way to Padang, a distance of over 350 km, located on the west coast and then escape via the Port of Emma Haven to either Ceylon (now Sri lanka) or Australia. This trip through dense, insect infested jungle full of man eating tigers was a perilous 4 week journey.
The route followed the Indragiri River from the east coast via the existing Dutch trading ports of Rengat, Air Molek and Teluk Kuantan before travelling by foot over the Bukit Barisan mountain range. Once across the mountains the survivors boarded Dutch trains at Sawahlunto bound for the coast. Finally on arrival in Padang on March 17th all of the survivors were forced to surrender to the waiting Japanese, learning that the last ship had left only days earlier.
Ivan and his military companions were sent from Padang to Medan and the Belawan-Gloegoer POW camp in North Sumatra. It was here that he met up with friends that he had trained with in New Zealand, Laurence Hurndell and Noel Betley. Both had survived the sinking of HMS Grasshopper.
Gloegoer POW camp (Atlas of Japanese Camps, Volume I)
Ivan and the other POW's spent almost 2 years in this camp, loading ships at the port in Medan and working on the local aerodrome. Then in March 1944 some of the POW's were selected to help with the construction of a road 58 km long, through the jungle from Blangkedjeren to Takengon in the province of Aceh. This group of POW's consisting of 306 Dutch as well as 194 British, Australian, and New Zealanders including Ivan became known as the Aceh (Atjeh) Party. Ivan and the others were first housed in existing military barracks, but later they built their own camps along the road. In total, eleven of these camps were setup. The working conditions were extremely difficult, with insufficient food and medical care. The road was completed in July 1944. The Aceh party was then moved to Soengeisenkol near Medan. Ivan and the others didn't stay here long. At the end of October the POW's along with Ivan began an overland trip of around 1000km. They stopped in Bukittingi on the 29th of October and then on the 3rd of November Ivan finally made it to his final destination. He along with the other members of the Aceh Party arrived around midnight at a small village called Petai. Here he would help with track maintenance and bridge building on the Pekanbaru Death Railway. Ivan was based at camp 14a. This camp serviced the branch line that connected with the coal mine deeper in the hills.
Ivan continued this back breaking work under atrocious conditions until April 1945. It was at this point that he fell ill like so many of the other POW's working along the 220km railway. On the night of the 20th he sadly passed away having contracted Typhoid Fever.
Segment of a letter sent by R. C. van den Bosch (Courtesy of the Pardoe Family)
Ivan was buried in grave 12 at camp 14a. He along with 16 others were buried at this camp. The war ended on the 15th of August 1945 only 4 months after Ivans death. As the POW's left for home, the war graves organisations moved in to move all of the POW's who sadly hadn't been able to get home themselves. Somehow though the graves at camp 14a were missed and so to this day these 17 men, including Ivan are still buried in the jungles of Sumatra.
Ivan's good mates Laurence Hurndell, Noel Betley, and Rene van den Bosch were among those who made it home. Once home these 3 men all wrote to the Pardoe family to let them know what had befallen Ivan and of his courage and determination whilst living under the most deplorable of conditions.
The names of the other 16 men left at camp 14a can be found here.
Camp 14a Grave Site (H.Neumann en E. van Witsen – De Sumatra Spoorweg)
Many thanks to the Pardoe Family for supplying the image and the letters written by Ivan's mates. It was with these letters that we confirmed Ivan's travels through Sumatra and his final resting place.