THE horrors of life in Japanese concentration camps will be relived by Highfields veteran Dr Bob Goodwin in less than a week.

Dr Goodwin, 92, will join three Australian Second World War veterans once held as prisoners of war on a return journey to Thailand this Anzac Day.

The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of work starting on Hellfire Pass, a notorious part of the Burma-Thailand railway.

The four men, all in their 90s, were forced to work on the railway under appalling conditions after capture by the Japanese.

They endured sickness and starvation as they cut a railway pass through the Tenasserim Hills by pick, shovel and dynamite.

Dr Goodwin's ulcerated toe was amputated without anaesthetic.

Members of the Military History Section Field Team crossing a trestle bridge near Kinsaiyok, Thailand, Photo Department of Veteran Affairs
Members of the Military History Section Field Team crossing a trestle bridge near Kinsaiyok, Thailand, Photo Department of Veteran Affairs Contributed

More than 60,000 Australian, British, Dutch and American prisoners were used to build the 420km railway. More than 2800 Australians died on the track.

"Bamboo fires were lit at either end of the cutting and lighted wicks were rammed into crevices in the rock wall to provide night lighting," Dr Goodwin said.

"Construction had fallen behind schedule... and the Japanese were in a constant state of panic, screaming out 'Speedo! Speedo!' as they belted anyone appearing to slow down.

"The Japanese pale faces and the POWs' near-naked bodies stood out in the flickering light.

"Years later, this scene was likened to Hellfire, depicted in Italian poet Dante's Inferno."

Building Hellfire Pass took the life of more than 2800 Australian prisoners.
Building Hellfire Pass took the life of more than 2800 Australian prisoners. Contributed

Bob's story

Bob Goodwin was an insurance clerk in Brisbane before he enlisted in July, 1940, with the 2/10th Field Regiment.

Following training in Brisbane, he served as survey officer of the regiment in Malaya and Singapore.

In the days before the fall of Singapore, his regiment was engaged in the north-west of Singapore, supporting the 22nd Brigade.

By February 10, the regiment had withdrawn to Singapore Harbour.

As the Japanese closed in on the city, the 2/10th remained in action, firing some 2100 rounds on Buket Timah village, then moving to Tanglin golf course, where it encountered enemy artillery fire and air strikes.

The regiment ceased firing on February 14.

Dr Bob Goodwin with wife Marie, whom he married soon after the end of the Second World War.
Dr Bob Goodwin with wife Marie, whom he married soon after the end of the Second World War. Chris Calcino

Bob was taken prisoner when the garrison surrendered on February 15, 1942.

He was held at Changi, Buket Timah and River Valley Road and transferred to Thailand in May, 1943.

In Thailand, he worked on the Burma-Thailand Railway, including at Hellfire Pass, and was sent back to Singapore in December 1943 when work on the railway was finished, spending the remainder of the war in Changi.

He was liberated in September 1945 and discharged in December 1945.

Australian and British prisoners of war (POWs) laying track on the Burma-Thailand railway. Photo Department of Veteran Affairs
Australian and British prisoners of war (POWs) laying track on the Burma-Thailand railway. Photo Department of Veteran Affairs Contributed

Of his time on the railway, Bob remembers working on the "bloody cutting", which he notes was not called Hellfire Pass at the time.

He recalls lying on bamboo alongside 12 to 14 men to keep off the wet ground, and the deep blackness of the night as all forms of lighting had been confiscated by the Japanese guards.

The only light was a faint glow from the cook's fire some 50 yards away.

After the war, Bob matriculated and qualified in medicine, working as a general practitioner for 15 years.

He married his wife Marie in 1947.

Dr Bob Goodwin and wife Marie on their wedding day in 1947.
Dr Bob Goodwin and wife Marie on their wedding day in 1947. Chris Calcino

He later specialised as a cardiologist and became a leader in this field of medicine, working for 25 years as officer-in-charge of the Heart Foundation.

He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993.

In 2009, the Heart Foundation also recognised Bob's service and awarded him the Heart Foundation award for "Keeping Australian Hearts Beating for Fifty Years".

He has published three books about his experiences, and other stories of the war.

He now lives in Highfields.



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