Studio portrait of VX14024 Lieutenant (Lt) Roderick Graham Wells, 8th Division Signals. Wells joined the Army in early 1940 and commenced technical training in the Signals Corps.  He was ...
ID numberP03863.001
Collection typePhotograph
Object typeColour - Film original negative 35mm
MakerFrancie Young
Place madeAustralia: Victoria, Melbourne
Date madec 1940
DescriptionStudio portrait of VX14024 Lieutenant (Lt) Roderick Graham Wells, 8th Division Signals. Wells joined the Army in early 1940 and commenced technical training in the Signals Corps. He was commissioned on 1 November 1940 and posted to 8th Division Signals. In 1941, Lt Wells' unit was posted to Malaya. His first duties were associated with high frequency (HF) radio sets that were fitted to Army vehicles. Later during the Malaya campaign he was involved in radio detection operations searching for clandestine radios sending messages to the Japanese; followed by an attachment to Malaya Command as Posts and Telecommunications Liaison Officer. After the fall of Singapore, Lt Wells spent the first few months as a prisoner of war (POW) at Changi until 7 July 1942, when along with 1494 other POWs that made up B Force, he left Singapore on board the Japanese tramp ship Ubi Maru, arriving in Sandakan Harbour on 18 July 1942. After arriving at Sandakan, Lt Wells became active in clandestine underground network with some of the other officers, including Captain Matthews who was later executed. Using the contacts in the local Chinese community the group managed to acquire enough parts to for Lt Wells to initially build a radio receiver and later a transmitter. However, the Kempei Tai had received information from collaborators about some of the underground activity and conducted a major search of the camp. On 24 July 1943 a more thorough search was conduced and a radio parts list was among the incriminating evidence discovered. The list was linked to Lt Wells and when confronted by Captain Hoshijima he eventually led the Kempei Tai party to the transmitter, leaving the receiver in its hiding place. Lt Wells was immediately arrested, paraded to the camp and then transported to the Kempei Tai Headquarters and eventually to Kuching where he was joined by many others arrested for their part in the Sandakan underground. Lt Wells was brutally tortured as the Japanese tried unsuccessfully to extract information. In February 1944 all the accused were tried by Court Martial and found guilty. On 28 February 1944 Lt Wells and Capt Matthews were both sentenced to death. The Japanese Headquarters at Kuching sent a signal to the Japanese command in Saigon requesting permission to execute two Australian officers. The reply from Saigon only authorised one execution; it was discovered after the war this omission was a simple typographical error in Saigon. Both men were brought before the court again on 29 February 1944, Capt Matthews' sentence to death was confirmed and he was shot that day. As the court did not have the authority to execute Lt Wells, he was sentenced to 12 years penal servitude in solitary confinement. Lt Wells was nailed into a crate, loaded into the hold of a ship and transferred back to Singapore to the infamous Outram Road Jail. He was finally released in August 1945 having endured 21 months brutal and cruel treatment from his Kempei Tai jailers, surviving what was probably the longest period of solitary confinement of any allied POW. Lt Wells was one of only a few to survive the Sandakan POW Camp, some officers were transferred to Kuching, six POWs escaped and the remaining POWs died in captivity, many during the infamous Sandakan to Ranau death marches. After the war he studied at Melbourne University, graduating with a BSc and Dip Ed. In 1951 he was again commissioned into the Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, before resigning in 1960 to continue a distinguished career in communications and engineering in the Public Service.