A Railway on Sumatra Constructed by Prisoners of the Japanese During WWII (1943 - 1945)
This page is dedicated to the once lost and forgotten men of camp 14a.
We began the research regarding these men some years ago in the attempt to find our country man Ivan Pardoe who had never been reinterred to the war graves in Java. The original information available in New Zealand showed that his position of burial was nowhere near any other graveyard that we had located, being just outside of Pekanbaru. Further research and reading brought us to the realization that he had been a member of the Aceh party. All of the men associated with the Aceh party were brought from North Sumatra to work on the branch line to the coal mine at Petai, arriving at the camp on the night of the 03/11/1944.
Having contacted the Pardoe family, they were kind enough to provide us with letters written by Ivan's friends in the camps post war regarding his death and burial. These letters confirmed what we had suspected, that the records were incorrect and on his death Ivan had been buried at camp 14a near Petai.
Further research at this point was put into the other men at camp 14a. We were shocked to find that it was not only Ivan who was still in the jungle somewhere, but all those who were buried at the camp.
Post WWII Indonesia was in turmoil, and for whatever reason the 17 men buried at camp 14a were left behind in the jungle, their grave identity cards lodged with those tasked to recover the fallen simply stating "Search Abandoned".
We spent many years, using pow records and maps, as well as months of foot work to map out the camp and determine the location of the graveyard as it was detailed. In 2018 we finally found the original location of the graves.
From the archives of the CWGC
Johan Hendrik Zwart was a member of the Dutch KNIL. Born November 1918, he was captured by the Japanese in Padang on the 17/03/1942.
He fell ill on the 05/11/1944 and died 18/12/1944 aged 26.
He was buried in grave no. 1
Willem Vis was a member of the Dutch KNIL. Born November 1899, he was captured by the Japanese in Bandung on the 08/03/1942.
He fell ill on the 11/12/1944 and died 23/12/1944 of acute enteritis aged 45.
He was buried in grave no. 2
John Dennis Stapleton was a member of the Australian Infantry (2/19 Bn.). Born 1916, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 29/12/1944 aged 28 when a tree that was being felled split, crushing him.
He was buried in grave no. 3
Thomas Dodd Mackay was part of the volunteer force seconded to the Federated Malay States. Born 1907, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 30/12/1944 aged 37.
He was buried in grave no. 4
Cyril Malcolm Mckenzie was a member of the Australian Infantry (2/29 Bn.). Born 1921, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 02/01/1945 aged 24 from dysentry.
He was buried in grave no. 5
William Lovesey was a member of the Royal Navy (HMS Jupiter). He was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 11/01/1945.
He was buried in grave no. 6
Jack Houghton was a member of the Royal Navy (HMS Grasshopper). Born 1914, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 05/02/1945 aged 31.
He was buried in grave no. 7
William Reginald Micklethwait was a member of the Royal Artillery (3 H.A.A. Reft.). Born 1912, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 08/02/1945 aged 33.
He was buried in grave no. 8
Allan Henry Thunder was a member of the Royal Navy (HMS Sultan). Born 1917, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 06/04/1945 aged 28.
He was buried in grave no. 9
Dennis Gordon Hubbard was a member of the Sherwood Foresters. Born 1917, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 09/04/1945 aged 28.
He was buried in grave no. 10
Martin Edmunds was a member of the Royal Navy (HMS Dragonfly). Born 1908, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 17/04/1945 aged 28.
He was buried in grave no. 11
Ivan Pardoe was a member of the Royal New Zealand Navy (HMS Dragonfly). Born 1919, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 20/04/1945 from Typhoid Fever, aged 26.
He was buried in grave no. 12
Stephan Theodoor van Ginkel was a member of the Dutch KNIL. Born 1912, he was captured by the Japanese 08/03/1942 in Bandung.
He fell ill 22/03/1945 and died 23/04/1945 from acute enteritis, aged 32.
He was buried in grave no. 13
Pieter Louis was a member of the Dutch KNIL. Born 1901, he was captured by the Japanese 10/03/1942 in Java.
He died 30/04/1945 from Malaria, aged 43.
He was buried in grave no. 14
Roelof Hesselius van Veen was a member of the Dutch KNIL. Born 1915, he was captured by the Japanese 16/03/1942 in Padang.
He died 24/05/1945 from Malaria, aged 29.
He was buried in grave no. 15
Ronald Philip Fisher was a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Born 1909, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 18/06/1945 aged 36.
He was buried in grave no. 16
Philip Alfred Neville was a member of the Royal Artillery. Born 1921, he was captured by the Japanese 1942.
He died 20/06/1945 aged 24.
He was buried in grave no. 17
De Sumatra Spoorweg - H. Neumann
The above image is taken from a book by an ex pow, showing the layout of the graves at camp 14a. It is an exploded view of the area labeled as Kerhof, which is dutch for graveyard.
The entire area is now covered by a palm oil plantation, and amongst them it is possible to see the undulations left behind from the graves as seen in the above pattern.
Things it turned out were not going to be as simple as locating the graves though. When the area was being developed a few years earlier for planting, the graves were disturbed. Those involved in this operation confirmed in interviews with us that they had shifted the remains of these men to a new site down the road. These men then built new graves for those found, as is custom in the area.
There are 7 individual grave sites and 1 large mass grave all unnamed. The men knowing the history of the area knew that these were most likely soldiers from the war, and even to this day tend the graves at Easter and Christmas.
In October 2019, Jamie and Pri installed a plaque of remembrance dedicated to all of the men, including the Romusha, that lost their lives building this section of the railway as well as mining at the coalmine itself.
As of July 2020, we have contacted all of the relevant war graves commissions and authorities however an outcome is still very much in doubt.
New Zealand War Graves: Informed that the CWGC would be the lead in any recovery operation. No further contact was recieved.
Australian War Graves: No reply ever received directly. Others who have helped us from Australia have had a response after many months saying that they are aware of the research done, but will do no more at this time.
The Dutch War Graves Commission (Oorlogs graven stichting): Have been the most helpful and most interested in helping with the return of the men to graves in Java. In 2019 they were going to undertake DNA testing of the bones to determine who the men in the graves were. This was halted when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission asked them to do nothing until they had undertaken more research.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Contact was made and they asked how we could be sure of what we had found. Some research and evidence was provided with instruction that if they require anything in particular or have any question then not to hesitate in asking. No further response was obtained. When one of the families in England approached the CWGC via their local MP the response obtained was that more evidence was required, however they have never approached us for more. In the meantime they asked the Dutch authorities to do nothing.
Our original goal for locating Ivan and the other men was not so that they could be moved, but instead so that the records could be updated and should any family member wish to visit the site of their loved one, then they would have an actual place to go, rather than just a name on a memorial.
We will continue to press the authorities to at least do this, and maybe one day reinter them to a relevant grave site in Java.
Many thanks to the families that have provided images and information while researching. It has been extremely valuable and appreciated.