Friday 28 May 2010 by Jennifer Selby. 3 comments
New acquisitions, Collection

Today a wreathlaying ceremony will be held at the Sandakan Memorial in the Australian War Memorial’s Sculpture Garden to remember the prisoners of the Sandakan Death Marches of 1945. It seems appropriate to highlight a new Sound Collection acquisition which relates to another group of prisoners of the Japanese.

The Sound Section received a donation of a lacquer disc containing a recording of a radio broadcast made in September 1945 by David Druitt Nathan of the 5th Signals Corp. Captain Nathan was based in Saigon, and he speaks about the prisoners of the Thai-Burma railway in this recording.

As you can see from the above image, the disc is in a very fragile state, and we were not sure that we would be able to recover the audio from it. The core of the disc is metal and it has been coated with a lacquer compound into which the grooves of the recording have been cut. Over time, the lacquer surface has degraded and cracked as the metal core expanded and contracted with fluctuations in air temperature.

Luckily the recording starts about two centimetres in from the edge of the disc which is where the worst degradation of the surface has occurred, meaning our audio engineers were able to play and digitally preserve the complete recording.

Listen to the digitised audio of S04844

Our innovative audio engineers used a paintbrush to gently hold down the arm of the record player to ensure the needle did not skip out of the grooves on the disc when it hit a crack in the surface.

Now that this disc has been digitally preserved, the original disc will be safely stored and won’t be subjected to being played again.



This is fascinating and vitally important historical material. Well done AWM.

Ian Milnes

My late father, SX9348 Pte Ian Colin Milnes, was a POW of the Japanese from the fall of Singapore (February 1942) until he was liberated in late August 1945. His unit was the 8 Div Salvage Unit. The Red Cross was active throughout the war attempting to better the conditions of the POW’s. The Japanese did not always cooperate with the Red Cross but from time to time did so when it suited their needs. During September 1943, the Japs allowed selected prisoners to broadcast over short wave radio brief messages to their families back home. On 24 September, Colin was allowed to broadcast the above message and this was picked up by the allied services who monitored Japanese radio traffic throughout the war. The message read: I send my love to Laurel, Mother, Dad, and Helen. Don’t worry. Am fit and in good camp. Pals Bernard Robinson of Inman Valley, Howard Nightingale both well. Missing you all very much. Hope to hear from you soon. Here’s to an early re-union. The Australian Prisoners of War Relatives Association wrote to my (late) mother (Laurel Milnes), their letter dated September 24, 1943. The Association asked her to contact the families of Howard Nightingale and Bernard Robinson and advise them of the message, as well as responding to the Association advising them the army units the POW’s were members of. SX8112 Private Bernard Noel Robinson of 2/4th Field Workshops was the husband of Alice Robinson of Inman Valley. He died on 4 October 1943 just ten days after Colin’s broadcast. He is interred at the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in Burma, present day Myanmar. SX9755 Private Howard Nightingale of 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion was the son of George and Elsey Nightingale of Victor Harbor. He was transported to Japan as forced labour and was killed during an air raid by United States Army Air Forces at Yokohama on October 3, 1944 and is interred at Yokohama War Cemetery. He and other POWs were engaged in digging air raid shelters for their captors at the time. The Australian War Memorial has a photograph of him taken in 1941 in Syria, reference number P04439.002. In April 2010, my wife and I joined a small group on the Belmore Travel Anzac Thailand-Burma Death Railway pilgrimage tour. Also accompanying us was Peter West; his father SX9796 Pte Ronald Peter West was also a member of 8 Div Salvage Unit. Pte RP West died on 25 January 1944 at Thanbaya and is interred in Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery. The tour group was led my Death Railway historian Lt Col Terry Beaton (retired). We trekked several kilometres of the railway in Thailand and gained a far greater understanding of the terrible conditions our POWs suffered under. We also visited the sites of formers camps where the POWs were living whilst slaving on the Railway. We then travelled to Myanmar and to Thanbyuzyat where we visited the war cemetery. Peter West was born after his father embarked so he never knew his father. He saw his father’s grave for the first time. It was a very moving experience for Peter. Lt Col Beaton conducted a remembrance ceremony at the Cross of Sacrifice – a very solemn and moving event – and wreaths were laid. We photographed the graves of every known South Australian soldier in the cemetery (identifying them from the “SX” serial number prefix). These images have been catalogued and will be made available to the soldier’s hometown RSL’s or relatives free of charge. Following our return home our local newspaper (The Times) published an article about our travel and in particular Peter West’s visit to his father’s grave. We have since received two enquiries from relatives of POWs buried in Thanbyazayat requesting images of their graves. Ian Milnes, Treasurer, RSL Victor Harbor Sub-branch, Member of the Sub-branch History Research Team, P.O. Box 170, Victor Harbor, S.A. 5211. 12 June 2010.

Neil McPherson

A wonderful response Ian, and full of interest and detail. I was moved greatly once when I heard an interview by Tim Boden an old ABC colleague of mine at the ABC, with one of the then few survivors of the Sadankan Death March. (recorded in abourt 1975 or so), Tim stopped in his tracks when he got this answer to the question: What did you do about honouring the men who died on the track daily?" and the answer was: " We spat on them." The raeson was that they could not satisfactorily bury their mates because of the hardness of the ground and few impliments to dig a grave with.So they spat on the body as a mark of respect. People don't know. But it can be made very real. Agree? Neil McPherson ex AWM Canberra Media Manager (1988-98) Mainz, Germany