Guide to the papers of Dr Rowley Richards


Title: Papers of Dr C R B Richards MBE OAM ED.

Date range: 1942-1984.

Reference number: PR01916.

Extent: 7 boxes.

Location: Private Records collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.

Abstract: Dr Rowley Richards served as medical officer to the 2/15th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery during the Second World War. The collection comprises Richard's diaries and notebooks covering 1941 to 1944; meticulous medical records on the condition of unit members in POW camps in Changi, Burma, and Japan; personal correspondence and records; post-war medical reports and nominal rolls; records relating to Richard's post-war career, including President of the 2/15th Field Regiment Association; photographs and research materials related to the writing of the The survival factor. Post-war material includes a prisoner of war subsistence claim to the Defence Department, for which Richards prepared the medical section.


Administrative information

Provenance: Donated by Dr Rowley Richards in September 2001. As President of 2/15 Field Regiment RAA AIF Association, Dr Richards also donated their records (AWM PR01966).

Processing and collection guide completed in 2004.

Access: Open.

Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. Dr Rowley Richards retains copyright on his personal papers. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.

Preferred citation: Papers of Dr Rowley Richards, AWM PR01916.


Additional information

Related collections:

  • Papers of Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, AWM PR00926
  • Papers of Gunner George Sprod, AWM 3DRL/3110 and AWM 3DRL/5040
  • Papers of Brigadier A L Varley, AWM 3DRL/2691
  • Papers of Lieutenant-Colonel William Jeater, AWM 3DRL/3589
  • Papers of Lieutenant Norman Martin White, AWM PR00410
  • Papers of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Henry Kappe, AWM MSS1393

  Subjects: Prisoners of war; Prisoner of war camps; 8 Division; 2/15 Field Regiment; Medical records; Diaries; Correspondence; Surgery.


Biographical note

Dr Rowley Richards was the medical officer for the 2/15th Field Regiment in the Second World War. He served with his unit in Malaya and Singapore and subsequently as a prisoner of war in Changi, the Burma-Thai Railway ('Anderson Force' III Group), Saigon and Japan. Dr. Richards was taken prisoner on 15th February 1942 when Singapore fell to the Japanese. For the next three and a half years he served as a medical officer, and during this time he kept comprehensive diaries and meticulous medical reports on the condition of unit members. Following the war his experiences were published in the book The survival factor. From 1946, he was president of the 2/15th Field Regiment Association and is currently Life President of that Association.

Scope and content note

Dr. Richard's personal diary commences on 7 December 1941 with the receipt for the order for the Regiment to proceed to battle stations in southern Malaya. The diary was kept in a small, loose-leaf notebook and carefully wrapped and concealed in Dr. Richard's pack. It covered the period in action, capitulation, Changi, Tavoy in southern Burma and the Burma-Thailand Railway.

The second section of the diary covers the period 25 December 1942 to 28 January 1944 at Tamarkam near Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai in Thailand (Siam) and covers the construction of the railway.

On arrival at Tamarkam on 14 December 1943 everyone was thoroughly searched and the first part of Richard's diary was found and confiscated by the Japanese without major repercussions. The second part of the diary was not noticed.

Prior to leaving Tamarkam on the 'Japan Party' fearing that they would fall victim to United States submarine attacks, Richards left the second part of his diary with Major John Shaw who carried it in the false bottom of a billy can. He returned it to Richards in Australia in December 1945.

Richards did however, carry a six-part summary of the diary and a table of rations and illnesses which he buried in a bottle under the cross of Corporal Gorlick on Paulau Damarlaut, an island off the south west coast of Singapore Island on 11 August 1944. The summary was subsequently recovered by the Australian War Graves Commission and returned to him on 15 February 1947, just two and a half years after it was buried.

A one- page condensation of the summary was secreted in the tubing of Richard's stethoscope but was lost when theRakuyo Maru, on which he was travelling from Singapore to Japan, was sunk on 12 December 1944 in the South China Sea. Eighty Australian survivors, including Richards, were rescued by a Japanese frigate and transferred to a whaling mother ship which carried him to Japan. He spent the last twelve months of the war in Sakarta on the north west coast of Kyushu with 28 other Australians and 281 British. 

During the period in Sakarta Richards kept medical records on his men and some personal notes but did not keep a diary.

With the end of the war, Richards helped prepare a medical report, nominal roll and other reports relating to the Sakarta camp. He kept a personal diary from the period 15 August 1945 to 12 September 1945.

A major strength of the collection is Richard's meticulously kept medical records and reports. These include medical records of Anderson Force Burma from 1942 to 1944; a dysentery register compiled in Changi in 1942 and weekly Tavoy medical reports; Burma-Thai Railway medical reports; detailed graphs and tables of rations and sickness on Burma-Thailand Railway; Sakarta medical reports 1944-45; 'A-Force' death registers and certificates for 1942-44; and medical reports on Sakarta and Japan relating to subsistence claims.

SERIES 1: Diaries, 1942-1945

This series comprises diaries written by Richards from 1942-1945, including a personal and medical diary. Entries cover rations, lists of soldiers who died during the building of the Burma-Thailand railway, and a handwritten list of medical supplies.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
1/1 Transcript of diary buried at Paulau Damarluat, 11 August 1944. Entries, 25 December, 1942.- 13 September 1945. 1
1/2 Transcript of diary with amendments, 25 December 1942 - 28 January 1944. 1
1/3 "Buried summary" . Transcript of diary, 24 December - 28 January 1944. Also includes handwritten version, envelopes and handwritten original list of Anderson Force food rations, 1942 covering camps at Tavoy and Tan-Yin. Two pouches made from gasmasks were used to enclose the diaries when they were buried. Summary returned to Richards on 15 February 1947 by the Australian War Graves Commission. 1
1/4 List of names entitled 'Deceased on railway' as recorded by Sergeant Armstrong, Anderson Force, December 1942 - May 1944. 1
1/5 Medical diary entitled "A-Force-Tavoy" for period 28 May-6 June 1942. 1
1/6 Original and typescript copy of Sakarta diary; a notebook including wireless message, 10 November 1944, letter-cards and telegrams, report on sinking, 1 December 1944, 'A few important dates', 1942-44, 'Emperor's speech, 15 August 1945. Also includes handwritten narrative based on the diary entries. 1
1/7 Diary, 27 March 1944 - 13 September 1944. Notes on evacuation. 1
1/8 Notebook of names and addresses of fellow prisoners of war, kept by Richards in Sakarta, 1944-45. 1

SERIES 2: Medical records, 1942-1945

Medical records created and collected by Richards during his imprisonment. The records include admissions to Tavoy hospital, lists of rations at Tavoy and on the Burma -Thailand Railway and reports on the increase of cholera and malaria in the camps.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
2/1 2/15 Field Regiment, medical appendix to war diary, 15 February 1942. 1
2/2 Handwritten report, entitled 'A-Force Tavoy', 14 May -15 August 1942. 2
2/3 Notebook entitled 'Anderson Force, Group 3 Burma, medical records, 11.11.44'. Medical admissions to Tavoy Hospital, May 1942. 2
2/4 Letters relating to medical records, Tavoy 1942. 2
2/5 Medical records, Tavoy 1942. 2
2/6 A Force special medical report, 14 May - 15 August 1942. 2
2/7 Dysentery and diarrhoea reports, Tavoy-Burma Railway, 1942. 2
2/8 Infection rates of various diseases and rations at Tavoy and on the Thai-Burma railway, 1942-43. 2
2/9 Notebook entitled 'Anderson Force, Group 3 Burma Medical Records 11.11.44' Contains records 1942-44. 2
2/10 Handwritten copy of "A " Force Tavoy list of death and illnesses for 28 May - September 1942. List of primary illness for Anderson Force, 'average per week' nd. Comparative diagram for Tavoy and Anderson. 2
2/11 Death registers and death certificates for Ramsay Force and Black Force, 1942-1943. These were not kept by Richards. 2
2/12 Anderson Force disease percentages at Tanyin, January 1943. 3
2/13 Typed letter to Lt Col T Hamilton, Senior Medical Officer, 25 May 1943 expressing concern at the rate of sickness in Tanzun camp. Handwritten letter to Lt Col Anderson concerning hygiene at Tanzun, 31 May 1943. 3
2/14 Handwritten list of medical supplies with Japanese translation, Thai-Burma Railway 1943. 3
2/15 Typed medical report on beri beri and malaria written for the Japanese Camp Commander at Tanzun Camp [nd]; typed report and handwritten draft to Mr D Murchison, Red Cross representative, about the expenditure of Red Cross money for the purchase of food for sick men from Williams Force and Anderson Force, 30 June 1943; typed medical report for AIF POW camp at Hlepauk expressing concern of Lt-Col Anderson and medical officers over the increase in sickness, 21 October 1942. 3
2/16 Typed list of anti-cholera precautions written by Lt-Col T Hamilton, Senior Medical Officer, Thai-Burma Railway, 1943. 3
2/17 Exercise books entitled 'Anderson Medical Records 11.11.44' recording information about prisoner of war who contracted malaria, jaundice, beri beri and cholera. 3
2/18 Handwritten copy of a report by Major Fisher on pellagra at Tanyin Camp, 11 February 1943. 3
2/19 Letter to Dr Higichi from Tanyin Camp submitting daily ration figures for period since his last visit on 13 February, 1943. Notes severity of pellagra and infected wounds. 3
2/20 Official report written by Richards to Lt-Col T Hamilton about the increasing malaria and cholera at Tuazan Camp, Burma, 27 May 1943. 3
2/21 Official report written by Richards to Mr D Murchison, Red Cross representative, A force, regarding the expenditure of Red Cross money on food supplies for sick men at Taunzan Camp, 30 June 1943. Medical report to Lt Col Hamilton recording incidents of cholera, diarrhoea and malaria, 30 June 1943. 3
2/22 Handwritten nominal roll for the 2/15 Field Regiment, including details on their location at camp or hospital at Atchungki [nd]. 4
2/23 List of sick party left at Moji, 1944 ; summary by fortnight of Japan party showing weights, 1944-45. 4
2/24-2/25 Medical records, Sakarta, 1944-45. 4
2/26 Clinic notes on smallpox plus expanded handwritten notes, Sakarta 1945. 4
2/27 Typed report on prisoner of war camp, Sakarta, August 1945. 4
2/28 Graph summarizing data, June 1942-December 1943 collected for Anderson Force sickness and deaths. 4

SERIES 3: Other prisoner of war records, 1942-1979

Records collected by Richards during his imprisonment. These include a nominal roll of the 2/15th Regiment, a handwritten report about the sinking of the Rokyo Maru in December 1944 and newspaper cuttings on conditions in the prisoner of war camps.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
3/1 'With the AIF in Malaya' 8 Division certificate, nd. 4
3/2 Nominal roll of 2/15 Field Regiment handwritten on ledger paper. Produced in Changi, post 1942. 4
3/3 Copy of nominal roll of 2/15 Field Regiment. 4
3/4 Japanese government currency notes. 4
3/5 Paybooks, 1942. 5
3/6 Handwritten report of sinking of the Rokyo Maru, 1 December 1944. 5
3/7 Nominal roll of British, Australian, US and Dutch prisoners of war at Sakarta, August 1945. 5
3/8 Newspaper cuttings on conditions in prisoner of war camps, 1942-1979. 5
3/9 Notes of of interviews with survivors picked up from Rokyo Maru, 1944. 5
3/10 List of missing from sinking of Rokyo Marutorpedoed, 12 September 1944. 5
3/11 Postwar records relating to camp Kumi 40 in Saigon, including a copy of a nominal roll with next of kin details, 1944. 5

SERIES 4: Personal correspondence and papers, 1942-1984

Filed in this series are prisoner of war cards sent from Richards to his family, 1944-45, service documents including a military driving licence and post-war interviews and correspondence, discussing the possibility of Richards publishing a memoir.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
4/1 Service documents including record of service book, military driving licence and demobilizations procedures book, 1942. 5
4/2 Menus and souvenirs, nd. 5
4/3 Correspondence to Richards family relating to his prisoner of war status, 1942-1945. 6
4/4 Photocopy of letter from Richards to Colonel Wright, 7 July 1944. 6
4/5 Prisoner of war cards from Richards to his family, 1944-45. 6
4/6 Prisoner of war interrogation report written by Lt Col John Williams. 6
4/7 Correspondence with G H Edwards and B V Cordunes relating to activities at Bulgowlah Boys High, 1960-1966. 6
4/8 Transcript of interview with journalist Olaf Ruhen for the War Crimes Commission, 1944. 6
4/9 Biographical notes on Rowley Richards [nd]. 6
4/10 Transcripts of tape recordings with Richards for a Readers Digest article, [nd]. 6
4/11 Illustrated card and photograph from George Sprod, 1970. 6
4/12 Correspondence with Joan and Clay Blair in 1978 concerning the publication of Return from River Kwai. 7
4/13 Letter from Mrs N Hayes discussing the possibility of Richards writing a memoir, 1984. 7

SERIES 5: Post war reports and records, 1945-1963

This series comprises medical reports on Sakarta and Japan relating to post-war subsistence claims; a transcript of a broadcast from Richards in 1945; a written report from Richards to the War Crimes Tribunal in 1948; and a report on a visit to Japan written as Commonwealth Medical Officer in 1960.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
5/1 1939-1945 -The war dead of the British Commonwealth and Empire. 7
5/2 Medical reports on Sakarta and Japan prepared for a subsistence claim, 1945. 7
5/3 Transcript of a broadcast from Manilla August, 1945; post-war sketch map of the camp site at Paulau Damarluat drawn by Richards for the Australian War Graves Commission, 1946. 7
5/4 Handwritten reply by Richards to questions from the War Crimes Tribunal, 5 January 1948. 7
5/5 Submissions, 14 June 1950, to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. 7
5/6 Report written by Richards as Medical Officer, Krait Force, 22 January 1960. 7
5/7 Medical reports written by Richards relating to 9 LAA Royal Australian Regiment, March 1963. 7