Sutherland, James McDonald (Private, b.1917 - d.?)

Accession Number AWM2017.113.1
Collection type Private Record
Record type Collection
Measurement Extent: 12 cm; Wallet/s: 7
Object type Notebook, Letter, Document, Diary, Digital file
Maker Sutherland, James McDonald
Place made At sea, Australia, Malaya, Singapore
Date made 1941-1950
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copying Provisions Copying is permitted for the purposes of research and study, subject to physical condition

Collection relating to the Second World War service of NX10338 Private James McDonald Sutherland, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy, Australia, Thailand, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, 1941-1950.

This diary was regarded by Pte Sutherland as a coping mechanism whilst he was a soldier and POW of the Japanese from the Fall of Singapore to his liberation. While diaries and any sort of writing material were strictly forbidden by their captors, Pte Sutherland was able to hide the original diaries (4 items, wallet 5) during searches. On his return to Australia, Pte Sutherland rewrote his diaries on notepads (4 items, wallet 6) and around 1950, typed out the manuscript in a failed attempt to have his story published (1 item, wallets 2-4). A printed copy of a digital transcript is also include for ease of reading (wallet 1).

Wallet 1.
Contains a printed copy of a digital typescript of the diary.

Wallet 2.
The first two chapters, ‘Five-bob-a-day Tourists’ and ‘How We Ran Out of Land’, start with Pte Sutherland’s brief training period in Australia and at sea, his journey to South East Asia, including stops in Melbourne and Perth. Mentions are made of activities aboard transport ships, such as lectures, as well as escort ships including a mention of HMAS Sydney, and arrival at Singapore. These chapters also discuss the establishment of medical operations around the Singapore and Malaya areas. Much is discussed on the subject of leave, the customs of the local population, and the general tasks of Pte Sutherland as a stretcher-bearer and other varying medical roles. Chapter two ends with the invasion of Singapore by the Japanese, and the immediate fight leading to the Allied surrender. Chapter three begins with Pte Sutherland’s internment at Changi Gaol. Discussed early in the chapter is the establishment of the camp and the minimal presence of their Japanese captors. Throughout this chapter two themes are strongly represented: rumours about the war, in particular news of the Japanese and Australian situations; and food. Rumours, or ‘furphies’ as Pte Sutherland refers to them, are frequent and often come through hidden radios, such that there is some accurate news of the war that reaches the soldiers within a matter of days, but other rumours which are completely false. Almost every entry mentions what the prisoners were fed, and then subsequently there are occasional mentions of the medical conditions arising as a result of malnutrition. Being a medically-trained orderly, Pte Sutherland also makes occasional entries about other areas of the health situation, including that of the gaol hospital. Items of note include the Japanese request that POWs sign a form stating that they will not attempt to escape, and the execution of four soldiers as punishment for the group refusal to sign, and also the lack of belief when news reached camp of the Japanese attack on Sydney.

Wallets 3 and 4.
Chapter 3, ‘Guests of the Emperor’ goes on to describe Pte Sutherland’s move to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. This includes descriptions of the long journey to Kanburi, then several other movements up a river. Throughout this period working on the railway, Pte Sutherland makes notes on topics such as the members of working parties along his section of the railway, including the large presence of indentured labourers (‘coolies’), and Tamils. Throughout, punishment by their captors, the food, and health (including medicine) situations of many members of Pte Sutherland’s group are frequent subjects that are addressed.

From 3 November 1944, Pte Sutherland ceases writing regular entries in his diary owing to tightened security by Japanese soldiers. The final chapter (wallet 3), ‘The Last Mile Home’, begins following the liberation of his camp in Thailand near Non Pradai. The chapter then goes on to attempt to trace the period that has elapsed in the writing gap. Here Pte Sutherland discusses a tightened security situation, being based at a camp surrounded by Japanese soldiers. Again, food is a common subject, but also discussed is the increasing paranoia felt by the Japanese soldiers, and increased security of prisoners. The black market, selling what few remaining possessions the soldiers had, features regularly, as do accounts of American B24 Liberators flying over the camp and bombing surrounding areas. The account finishes with the declaration of the cessation of hostilities, where Japanese soldiers are hurriedly burning documents, evacuating the camp, and the flags of Allied nations are being erected.

Throughout the manuscript, many smaller details often missed by generalised accounts are included. These including items such as exact meals and diets within camps, improvisation of medical treatments and equipment, individual Japanese soldiers are signalled out and named (several of which are able to be cross-referenced from other soldiers’ accounts), very detailed accounts of a working party’s camp on the Burma-Thailand Railway, detailed descriptions of tasks undertaken by these working parties, accounts of the treatment of soldiers, common medical complaints, the treatment of indentured labourers (particularly Tamils), systems of paying POWs, and just how quickly news from the rest of the world was able to be delivered to POWs, even in remote Thailand.

Wallet 5.
Contains the 4 original diaries.

Wallet 6.
Contains the rewritten diaries in 4 notepads.

Wallet 7.
Consists of:
- 18 letters, 17 from the period of 21 May 1941 to 31 January 1942, and one dated 17 October 1945. The letters from 1941-1942 are addressed variously to ‘girls’, ‘Ailsa’ or ‘Nance’, and discuss Pte Sutherland’s movements from Sydney to Fremantle, the conditions at sea, and camps in Malaya. Also discussed is leave in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Letters are very general in nature and relate to work undertaken in preparation for the announcement of the declaration of war with Japan, various letters and comforts sent from Australia, and news relating to home affairs. The final letter from 1945 is addressed to ‘Ailsa’ and merely mentions that Pte Sutherland is to leave on a ship to Australia the following day.
- 1 telegram with illegible date (likely June 1941) to ‘Ailsa’ informing her of Pte Sutherland’s arrival, with no mention of a destination.
- 1 loose envelope dated December 1945 and 2 undated, used envelopes
- 1 blank sheet from Randwick Chest Hospital’s Department of Pathology.
- 1 letter dated 28 March 1950 from Sir Josiah Francis, Minister for the Army, requesting that Pte Sutherland’s diaries get offered for an inquiry by a tribunal examining the treatment of POWs during the Second World War.

Related information