The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX73060) Private John William Parsons, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.112
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 22 April 2018
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Dennis Stockman, the story for this day was on (NX73060) Private John William Parsons, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya, Second World War.

Speech transcript

NX73060 Private John William Parsons, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya
DOD 12 July 1945
Story delivered 22 April 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private John William Parsons.
John Parsons was born on 1 November 1895, in Newcastle, New South Wales, to John and Sarah Parsons.

He attended school in Newcastle, and served in the cadets for three years. Following his education, he was employed as a grocer’s packer, and joined the Militia. He had been with the Militia for a year and a half when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in December 1917 at Victoria Barracks.

He was taken on as a sapper and, after initial training, embarked from Sydney on the troopship Runic in March 1918 with a group of engineer reinforcements. Arriving in France, he served with the 8th Field Company, Australian Engineers. Before being discharged at the end of the war, he was transferred to the veterinary hospital, where he worked before returning to Australia.

Back in his home town of Newcastle, Parsons married Doris Schuck in 1922 and the couple went on to raise two daughters, Joan and Mavis.
With the coming of the Second World War, in March 1941 Parsons again enlisted for service, giving his age as 40 in order to be accepted – though he was actually 45.
Known by the nickname of “Smiler”, Parsons embarked from Sydney on 17 September, bound for Johore by way of Singapore. In Malaya he joined the 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy. On 8 December, the Japanese invaded Malaya and began their rapid advance towards Singapore.

The unit was involved in transporting the wounded from field ambulances, carrying them over long and hazardous roads, contending with bombing and aerial machine gunning. Often they would be have to make a last minute dash to get back behind the front line by taking routes through rubber plantations, river beds, and tracks.
Following the surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942, the 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy carried the wounded and sick to Changi, concealing desperately needed medical stores, instruments, and drugs in their ambulances.

In February 1942 there were around 15,000 Australians in Changi. But for Parsons, it was just a transit stop. Working parties were being sent to other camps, and he was among the first Australians sent to Borneo as part of “B Force”, a group of nearly 1,500 who sailed from Singapore on 8 July 1942 in one of the so-called “hell ships”, the Ubi Maru. Prisoners were crammed into the holds, forced to sit and sleep on small, crudely constructed wooden bunks. The atmosphere was stiflingly hot and putrid, and latrines were little more than wooden structures suspended over the edge of the ship. With many prisoners suffering from dysentery, conditions became foul.

After arriving in Sandakan Harbour and then establishing camp, the prisoners were employed on building an airstrip. At first conditions and food supplies were reasonable. But from September control began to tighten. Prisoners were made to sign a promise not to escape, and senior officers were moved to Kuching in western Borneo.

From mid-1943 conditions worsened further. A small cage was built within the camp to punish prisoners for trivial offences. Some men were confined, without being able to stand up, for as long as a month.

An underground movement had grown among the civilians of Sandakan but it was betrayed in July 1943. Reprisals were swift and brutal. Twenty-two Australians, five Europeans, and around 50 locals were interrogated and tortured.

The treatment of remaining prisoners deteriorated further in 1944, with brutal beatings, torture, and diminishing food supplies.
In January 1945 the Japanese began to fear an Allied invasion of Borneo and started to move prisoners away from the coast to Ranau, a small village some 255 kilometres inland in the mountains.

The first group left in batches of 50, weak with beriberi and malnutrition, and most lacking boots. A second forced march was ordered in May when the Allies landed at Tarakan Island. The Japanese destroyed the camp at Sandakan and the weakest of the prisoners were left behind without accommodation or medical care.
William Parsons died a prisoner of the Japanese in Borneo on 12 July 1945.

He was 49 years old.

Today he is remembered on the Labuan Memorial in Malaysia.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among more than 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private John William Parsons, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX73060) Private John William Parsons, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya, Second World War. (video)