- ARRSE Rating
- 5.00 star(s)
The Story of a Medic on the Burma Railway 1942-45
Idris Barwick was a driver in the RASC who had a very unlucky war. Being part of the BEF he was evacuated from Dunkirk. After some time he was sent to Singapore arriving just a few weeks before its surrender!
Barwick had been selected to be his Company medic by the Coy Comd purely because they needed one. With very little training he was dealing with casualties from the fighting in the jungle. Eventually the surrender came and he, along with thousands of other allied PoWs were herded into Changi Jail. Settling down into prison life Barwick remained as a medic working with the MOs and learning his trade as he went along. He was a quick learner and soon was dealing with tropical sores and illnesses brought about by lack of food and over work.
After a while the Japanese offered a chance to go to a ‘nice camp’ where there would be no work and better conditions than Changi. Barwick, along with many volunteered or were picked to go. Grabbing as much medical kit as he could he joined the men going to the new camp. The train journey was horrendous but at times people could buy from locals to supplement their rations – something that went on all the time leading to a lot of stealing of kit! On reaching the railhead, after several days in a crowded train truck, they were tole they would have to march to their camp where all would be fine. By now the PoWs were understanding that the word of the Japanese was not to be trusted in any way.
On reaching their destination there was no respite whatsoever. Weak and sick men were forced to work, Japanese solders deciding who was fit to work or not. Generally, if you were breathing you were considered fit to work. Barwick details conditions in the camps, how the men coped and the ones that didn’t died, it really was that basic. He explains though how groups of friends looked out for each other, shared rations and any goodies they could come across. As a medic Barwick was in the midst of the pain and agony, working in the camp hospitals, doing whatever they could to either keep people alive or make their passing as easy as possible under the circumstances. While emphasising the benefit and absolute necessity of having friends he also takes time in several places to castigate officers who used their position to get better rations, accommodation and work parties. One in particular was their RSM, the Tara, who tried to act as though they were still in a UK barracks under normal circumstances. Several attempts were made on his life and after a long period he quietened down. Many officers and seniors did though attempt to do the best for their men and Barwick mentions them by name and the actions they took – not all of them survived.
This is a horrendous story of mans' inhumanity to man, and being written in 1946 the memories were very fresh in his mind, which comes across very much in the book. Written by the author to get rid of some bad nightmares this is a tale of courage under exceptional circumstances lasting years.
5 out of 5 Mr Mushroomheads for an excellent and humbling book.