The Hell Pits of Sendryu
A POW story of survival on the Death Railway and Nagasaki
Big Sky Publishing, 2018
Paperback 188pp RRP: $29.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, June 2019
Within a few days of arriving with 2/26th Battalion 2nd AIF in Singapore in February 1942, Jim Bodero became a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army and placed in Changi Prison. His story is written by a work colleague who met Jim almost 30 years after his wartime ordeal.
Jim’s pessimistic prediction that the war would be a long time in ending, and the POWs would become almost unrecognizable by then was ‘right on the money’. In April 42 he penned quite a long poem on the outcome of the war and carried it through all his future travails. Despite his outlook, much of his story is about the characters, capers and humour that sustained them during three and a half years of incarceration as slave labourers.
The capture and eating of a pig whilst in Changi, and the ‘Melbourne Cup’ held after arrival in Burma to work on the Thai-Burma Railway are excellent examples. [A pity there are two historic errors on page 68: The Governor-General does represent the monarch – it was King George VI at that time; and the Cup has always been held on the first Tuesday in November.]
The physical conditions, the treatment by guards, the lack of food and absence of medical supplies endured by the prisoners both in prisons and transport by ship are quite clearly expounded without undue emphasis placed on them. There is always an included bright side to almost every scenario.
In June 1944, 600 Australians left the Burma railway and went by train to Singapore prior to being shipped to Japan. Working on a dry dock in Singapore provided the prisoners with ample opportunities to sabotage the project. After an horrific month-long boat trip, made worse by the high possibility of sinking by Allied warships, they arrived on the north of the Kyushu Island and interred in Sendryu Camp. Their fate was to become coal miners.
With extremely harsh living and working conditions, prisoners became even more emaciated. Jim was caught in a mine collapse and badly injured. There being no food allocated to sick prisoners, he continued to work in order to eat. The end of eleven month’s mining misery came with the dropping of the second atomic bomb on nearby Nagasaki on 9th August 1945 – its shockwaves being clearly felt by those in digging coal. A short time spent with a Nagasaki family post the bombing saw much of Jim’s antagonism towards the Japanese dissipate.
After repatriation back to Australia on a British aircraft carrier, Jim’s body did not manage to recover – he remained extremely gaunt and incapable of eating a normal-sized meal. Despite a damaged a cornea and back injury from the Sendryu mine-fall, his claim for compensation was not recognised by the Repatriation Department: a resentment he carried for the rest of his working life.
This is a very readable account that pull no punches, but it is humor that shines through. A tale that took so long for Jim to be prepared to tell, and the reader is the ultimate beneficiary.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for providing this copy for review.