• Artist on the Burma–Thailand Railway: the drawings of Jack Chalker

    Jack Chalker, serving in the Royal Artillery, was captured at the fall of Singapore. In October 1942 he was in a party sent to Thailand to construct the Burma–Thailand Railway.

    Chalker secretly made drawings of the various camps and conditions endured by the prisoners. He drew and painted on whatever materials he could find or steal from the Japanese, hiding his work in sections of bamboo buried in the ground, the attap roofs of huts, or the artificial legs worn by amputees in the hospital camps. His work provides a candid and moving record of the prisoners’ suffering.

    Works by Chalker have been donated to the Memorial by the families of Albert Coates and Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop. In 2002, a further major collection of more than 70 drawings and documents was generously donated by Tattersall’s Holdings Pty Ltd.

    The Japanese demanded “fit” prisoners to work each day. Despite their emaciated and sick condition, they deemed very few to be unfit. Those too ill to work had their meagre rations reduced and token pay denied.

    This drawing has special significance for Chalker. A Korean guard caught Chalker hiding his sketches and forced him to tear them up. He was beaten for two days. Chalker later discovered that this drawing had survived undetected in a pile of rags.

    AWM ART91811
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Two working men, Konyu River camp
    pen and brush and ink on paper
    drawn in Konyu, Thailand, in 1942
    acquired in 2002
    ART91811

    AWM ART90855
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Konyu River camp dysentery latrines
    pen and brush and ink on paper
    drawn in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 1999
    ART90855

    AWm ART90845
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Cholera hospital, Hintok
    watercolour with pen on paper
    drawn in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 1999
    ART90845

    Konyu River was the first camp Chalker was sent to. He arrived in Thailand after a five-day trip by rail from Singapore. Chalker recalled that 32 men were crammed into each metal boxcar, in stifling heat and with little food or water. The prisoners were then forced to march to their campsites.

    AWM ART91814
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Konyu River camp
    pen and brush and ink on paper
    drawn in Konyu, Thailand, in 1942
    acquired in 2002
    ART91814

    AWM ART91816
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Cookhouse, Konyu River camp
    pen and blue ink on paper
    drawn in Konyu, Thailand, in 1942
    acquired in 2002
    ART91816

    AWM ART91823
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Roman Catholic church, Chungkai
    pencil on paper
    drawn in Chungkai, Thailand, in 1943
    acquired in 2002
    ART91823

    When Chalker became too ill to labour any further he was sent to Chungkai where a large hospital camp had been set up in an attempt to care for thousands of sick and dying men.

    In early 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop arrived at Chungkai; recognising Chalker’s drawing talent, he asked him to start making secret records of the prisoners’ medical conditions.

    AWM ART91822
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    View from the artist’s hut, Chungkai hospital camp

    watercolour over pencil on paper
    drawn in Chungkai, Thailand, in 1943
    acquired in 2002
    ART91822

    Between April 1943 and January 1944, the Canadian surgeon Markowitz performed more than 120 leg amputations at Chungkai. On 19 January 1944, two days after Dunlop’s arrival, Markowitz was moved to another camp.

    While the two doctors did not actually operate together at Chungkai, Chalker has depicted them doing so as a tribute to the tireless efforts made by both men to save as many of their comrades as possible.

    AWM ART91848
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop and Captain Jacob Markowitz working on a thigh operation, Chungkai
    oil on cardboard
    painted in London in 1946
    acquired in 2002
    ART91848

    By the end of 1944 Dunlop’s medical team had moved to the major hospital camp at Nakom Paton, and Chalker went with them. He continued his secret medical and surgical drawings for Dunlop, and also recorded the people, events and landscape.

    AWM ART91836
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Nakom Paton base hospital
    watercolour on paper
    drawn in Nakom Paton, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 2002
    ART91836

    AWM ART91837
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Nakom Paton base hospital
    pencil on paper
    drawn in Nakom Paton, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 2002
    ART91837

    AWM ART90846
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Nakom Paton: alcohol distillery and vinegar plant
    watercolour with pen and ink over pencil on paper
    drawn in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 1999
    ART90846

    Even small cuts and scratches could turn into gaping and stinking tropical ulcers, caused by bacteria in the soil. Operating confronted doctors with a terrible choice: a bad ulcer could kill a man, but operating on weak men with inadequate or inappropriate drugs resulted in an appallingly high death rate.

    AWM ART90854
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    Tropical ulcer; Gunner Harper
    watercolour heightened with white over pencil on paper
    drawn in Nakom Paton, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 1999
    ART90854

    AWM ART90839
    Jack Chalker
    Second World War served British Army
    New arrivals: dressing ulcers, Chungkai
    watercolour with pen and brush and ink heightened with white on paper
    drawn in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1945
    acquired in 1999
    ART90839