Edwin Harry Medlin, as a lieutenant with the 2/1st Fortress Company, Royal Australian Engineers, and a prisoner of war of the Japanese, 1941-1945, interviewed by Tim Bowden

Unit Fortress engineers
Place Asia: Timor
Accession Number S02918
Collection type Sound
Measurement 1 hr 40 min
Object type Oral history
Physical description 1/4 inch sound tape reel; BASF SP 54R; 7 1/2 ips/19 cm.s; mono; 10 inch
Maker Medlin, Edwin Harry
Bowden, Timothy Gibson 'Tim'
Date made 9 December 1982
Access Onsite use only
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright

Item copyright: AWM Licensed copyright

Copying Provisions Copy provided subject to permission from copyright holder
Source credit to Prisoners of War: Australians under Nippon
Description

Edwin Harry Medlin, as a lieutenant with the 2/1st Fortress Company, Royal Australian Engineers, and a prisoner of war of the Japanese, 1941-1945. Interviewed by Tim Bowden for the ABC radio program POW - Australians Under Nippon.
A transcript of this recording may be available. For further information please contact the Sound section.

History / Summary

Dr Medlin is not eager to discuss certain topics but does mention some atrocities he encountered. He also talks a little about Indonesian Independence movement and speaks candidly about his homecoming. Dr Medlin also presents his opinions relating to Japanese national characteristics which may explain their behaviour in war.

Dr Medlin was a lieutenant with the 2/1st Fortress Company on Timor when the Australians capitulated at 9am on the 23rd of December 1941. He reports that the Japanese troops treated the POW’s well initially; feeding them and treating the wounded. This ended shortly after when Japanese planes bombed and killed many POWs, because the troops failed to put white ‘surrender’ flags over their camp. The group was separated, with the officers sent (possibly) to Manchuria and another group to the railway. Dr Medlin describes conditions as bearable with exception of their high carbohydrate diet, which caused a vitamin deficiency called Pellagra in many of the POWs. Other health problems included malaria and dysentery. Dr Medlin recalls the preparation and presentation of a number of amateur vaudeville concerts, in which the Japanese troops often participated in.

Dr Medlin notes that the Timor prison camp was not a true prison camp, as POWs could potentially leave at any time. However the POWs had little knowledge of the terrain or language and had no place to go, so did little to stage an escape.

Dr Medlin was transferred to Batavia during September 1942. Fellow POWs believed they were being released. He was moved to ‘Bicycle Camp’ which included a number of English and Dutch prisoners. Dr Medlin discusses the pompous and selfish nature of his Dutch counterparts. Weight loss, skin diseases and lice were rife in this camp. Dr Medlin recounts atrocities relating to the treatment of POWs by the worst Japanese guards he had come across, including several executions and death marches.

Once the war ended, Dr Medlin was held in the prisoner of war camp for some time, only feeling ‘free’ once he entered the Hospital, where he was deloused with DDT. He discusses the lack of medical interest in conducting microbiological research into the survival of lice. Prior to arriving in Australia, he spent several days aboard a ship in Singapore, whilst political authorities fought over where the ship should travel to. Once arriving in Fremantle, he had to force his way ashore. Dr Medlin describes his first recollections of homecoming as bizarre. The nurses aboard the ship were collected by buses, but no arrangements were made for the collection of the men.

Dr Medlin discusses how this experience changed him as a person. He states that he feels no malice toward individual Japanese people. Dr Medlin speculates that certain negative aspects of collective behaviour of the Japanese culture might reveal something about the way they conducted themselves during the war.

  • Listen to Edwin Harry Medlin, as a lieutenant with the 2/1st Fortress Company, Royal Australian Engineers, and a prisoner of war of the Japanese, 1941-1945, interviewed by Tim Bowden
  • Listen to Part 2 of Edwin Harry Medlin, as a lieutenant with the 2/1st Fortress Company, Royal Australian Engineers, and a prisoner of war of the Japanese, 1941-1945, interviewed by Tim Bowden

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