Photographs and extra information courtesy of Eric.
Born: 2nd September 1921, Ipswich.
Died: 23rd March 1955; age 33; of Disseminated Sclerosis – service connected, at Stow Lodge Hospital, One House, Suffolk.
Residence: 18, Colridge Road, Ipswich.
Occupation: Dairy Roundsman.
Captured: 15th February 1942 – PoW Camp Malai, Changi, Singapore, and at Thailand.
Date of Liberation: 2nd September 1945.
Rank: Corporal; Service Number: 5828169.
Regiment: Suffolk Regiment. 4th Battalion.
The Battalions were attached to the 18th East Anglian Division.
15 February 1942: After the fall of Singapore, approximately 620 of the Battalions were taken POW and later mostly died on the Burma-Thailand Railway.
Relatives Notified & Address: Son of J.E. & M. Dowsing, of 12, Allenby Road, Ipswich.
Father: John Edward Dowsing, born January 1886, St. Matthew’s, Ipswich. An Artificer Stone Maker.
Mother: Charlotte Louise Maud Dowsing (nee Jessup (1st marriage Teager)), born 1877, Sheerness, Kent.
Charlotte became a widow during the First World War. Her husband, CHARLES HERBERT TEAGER was KiA 26th April 1915, aged 37. He was a Private, service number 2249, for the Suffolk Regiment, 4th Battalion. Charles is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Charlotte and Charles had 6 children.
In 1946, Ipswich, Ronald married Irene O. Johnson.
They had 1 son.
THE SLAVES OF THE JAPANESE
An Interview With My Grandfather, William Schulen – by Gemma Canham, a school project, 1992.
“I was 23 year when the war started and the following year, March 1940, I was conscripted. I joined the Suffolk Regiment, but after training I was transferred to the Cambridgeshire Regiment, to bring them up to strength. On October 28th 1941 we went by train to Scotland on then we got on troopships, they were Polish, the Sobleski was the one I was on.
We went across the Atlantic to Nova Scotia in Canada. We then changed to an American troopship, S.S. Washington, a 35,000 ton liner. It said Mount Vernon on the side of the boat, but they called it something different to confuse the Japs. From Canada we went on to Cape Town, South Africa, when we got there we marched through the streets with our bands, there must have been 30,000 of us to show them we were there. We stayed there for 4 days and we were treated really well, we could go in pubs and restaurants and eat and drink as much as we liked for free. Then we started off for India, the ships ahead of us kept going, but we turned back we then went to Mombasa, Kenya. From there we went to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.
We stayed there for 1 day and then on to Singapore. We got there on January 13th 1942, so we’d been travelling nearly 3 months. We slept the night there and then we were taken to Malaya in trucks. We had 3 weeks of fighting there, but we had to retreat back to Singapore, we didn’t have any big weapons or planes like they did. Then 4 days later on February 15th 1942 the allied troops surrendered to the Japs. 50,000 British and Australians were taken to Changi jail.
We had to work for the Japs loading up bombs and guns, it was like fighting against our own men. In June we were taken to Thailand in steel trucks, there were 50 men a truck and you had barely enough room to sit on the floor. It took us 4 days. During the day time the trucks were like ovens and like freezers at night, this was because they were steel.
From Thailand we went to a P.O.W. camp in Ban Pong, we slept there that night and then in the morning we marched about 15 miles to Chungkai. We were cutting down trees, clearing a path through the jungle and laying the railway as we went. We did the same in Wun Towkein, about 10 miles away was Wampo and there we were cutting down trees and making bridges with them, we had no machinery, but sometimes we had elephants to help pull trees around.
There was lots of Malaria, dysentery and there was some cerebral malaria, it affected the brain, blokes who had it would scream out in agony and then die. I had malaria myself, but not cerebral, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now. I also had tropical ulcers on my legs and feet. In the jungle there were thorns 3 inches or more long and if you got scratched by one, it would go septic in no time, because we weren’t getting enough vitamins. Flies used to lay eggs in our ulcers and the eggs would turn into maggots. When we’d finished work at night, we’d go back to our base and get in the river to get clean. I could feel fish coming up and pulling the maggots out of the ulcers, it was a terrible feeling.
In Takalin lots of men died of cholera and we had to dig a grave for them, we put bamboo in the bottom and soaked it in paraffin, then the bodies, which were in rice sacks were put in, set alight, then covered over with dirt. At this point I weighed 6 stones, little more than half my normal weight.
The water we drank came from the river and after a monsoon it was gritty and went straight through you. When there were monsoons, they used to wash away the bridges we’d done. The Allied planes used to bomb the railway and sometimes they’d machine-gun at us, because they thought we were Japs. So we had to go back and do again what had been bombed or washed away.
Some blokes volunteered to go to Japan to work in coal and salt mines, but the Americans sunk the boats they were on, because they were flying a Jap flag, they were in shark-infested waters, they didn’t stand a chance. Some of them were from Ipswich, blokes I went to school with, never saw them again.
The railway was finished in March 1945 and we were sent to Perberi to make an airstrip and first we had to get rid of these orchards that were in the way. There were bananas, paupaus and all tropical fruits and when the Jap officers backs were turned we scoffed some down. I had a whole bunch of bananas and I felt like I hadn’t had anything we were so empty.
We were working 20 hours a day (4am – 12 midnight), all we had to eat was a tiny bowl of rice when we got up. Then the same at night, but with a watery vegetable stew. We finished the airstrip and they told us to dig trenches around our bamboo huts. They were for when the planes came so we could get in quickly and be safe. We thought this was strange, they’d never told us to do this before. It turned out we’d been digging our own graves. The only thing that saved us were the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, because then the Japs had to surrender.
The war was over and we could go home. When we heard it though, we just took it, because we’d heard so many rumours, we’d learnt to take it, because then we wouldn’t be so let down. The European war had already finished. Then we saw these Americans coming, they were the first planes to land on our airstrip. They took us to Rangoon, Burma and we were taken to hospital there and they checked us over and fed us, then, 2 days later we were put on an aircraft carrier to Bombay, India. Then we got on a train to Bangalore and we went into hospital again. They fed us and gave us a British uniform and cut our hair, to make us look half tidy. Then we got on a train to Delhi. From there we flew home to England.
On September 23rd 1945 we landed in Somerset. We stayed there the night and out of my hotel room window I could see all these blackberry bushes. I hadn’t seen a blackberry bush for 4 years, it was lovely. Then we got on a train to London, we slept there the night. Then, the next day we got some money and a rail warrant (free ticket). There was me and another bloke from Ipswich on the same train. Ron Dowsing, he was a corporal and he died a few years later.
A few months later I was demobbed, so I had to go to Northampton. They give you civilian clothes, because clothes were rationed. They gave you a suit, socks, shoes, a mack and a trilby hat. We were put on double rations, because were so thin. I was 29 then and then in July 1948, I got married.”
It is worth remembering, for every rail sleeper laid, a man lost his life.
Private, 5831263, William John Schulen, 2nd Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regiment. Born 14th May 1916, Ipswich, occupation “Drivers Mate” residence: 505 Nacton Road, Ipswich. Passed away in 2008.