Ron Stanton: reflections of a former POW

WORLD War Two veteran Ronald Stanton was one of the special guests at the Bega Anzac Day main service earlier this year. 

In the BDN Anzac Day issue, Mr Stanton shared the story of his life, including being a POW in Changi.

It is reprinted here in honour of the fallen Digger.

OBITUARY: Ron Stanton fondly remembered

Ronald David Stanton was born on October 11, 1921, at Bankstown.

Ronald spent his youth at various jobs, due to the hard times of the depression, but mainly helping out of the family farm.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, other members of the Stanton family enlisted for service, and Ron lost a brother in active service on Crete.

Ron enlisted on October 27, 1941 while residing at Canley Vale, Parramatta.

He was aged 20 years.

After a short period of limited basic training and battle preparedness, he was posted to 2/19 Australian Infantry Battalion, 8th Division, and was told of his impending embarkation for the Middle East.

He, with other members of his Battalion, did embark in early 1942, but while at sea, they were diverted to the then Dutch East Indies, and landed on the now Malaysian coast to help the British and Dutch Army repel the Japanese advance down the Malay Peninsula.

With bitter “hand to hand close fighting”, with light arms and bayonets, and the Japanese “leap frogging” along the coast, the virtual untrained and inexperienced Commonwealth and Dutch forces were forced to retreat from the Malay Peninsula, to the “impenetrable fortress” of Singapore.

Ron’s Australian Infantry Battalion was positioned in the mangrove swamps of Singapore Island to face the impending invasion of the Japanese.

The causeway from Malaysia to Singapore was damaged, consequently the main Japanese invasion forces landed on Singapore’s muddy beaches from motor launches.

Again Ron’s Infantry Battalion encountered fierce hand to hand fighting as the Japanese landed, but in Ron’s own words, he was confident the Australians were “holding their own” in the battle.

Singapore City at this stage was being heavily bombed by Japanese aircrafts, and the civilian casualties were very heavy.

Because of the high civilian casualties, the British “hierarchy” decided to surrender to the Japanese in 1942, and because of this, all other forces in Singapore including the Australians were forced to surrender also.

Ronald David Stanton then became a POW, and was transferred to the notorious Changi POW prison in Singapore.

While in Changi, Ron was sent to work on the docks at Singapore for 10 months.

Then, in July 1943, 5000 POWs (British, Dutch and Australian) were shipped by rain to Bangkok, and then to Kanchanaburi, Thailand, to work on the infamous Death Railway between Burma and Thailand.

They travelled 25 soldiers to each open railway truck, no chance of sleep or toiletries, and on arrival after four days travelling, were placed in various camp sites along the construction route.

Ron endured and survived the brutal treatment of the forced labour camps to build the railway, which was never completed.

He saw many of his mates die due to brutality, disease and hunger.

In his own words he survived, by not antagonising the Japs, by keeping his faith and by scrounging with the locals to find additives for the continuous steamed rice, such as peanuts, eggs, vegetables, hibiscus leaves (which were supposedly to save you from becoming impotent) and even the local grubs.

These additives were to keep up the necessary vitamin supply.

He even worked in the ration store for a while and was able to scrounge there also.

Ron did suffer badly from malaria attacks, and incurred bad leg ulcers.

All POWs were severely disciplined to wash their hands at all times, with spring water, to avoid dysentery if possible.

It is estimated that as many as 16,000 POWs and 49,000 civilian forced labourers died from disease, malnutrition and harsh treatment during the rush to complete the Thai/Burma railway.

After the Pacific war ended, Ron returned to Australia in late 1945, and was discharged on January 18, 1946.

He had served as a member of the Australian Infantry Forces for four years and three months, but of this time he was a POW for three-and-a-half years.

Ron returned to work on his family farm at Tilba Tilba, where he settled and married a local girl.

He and his wife came to Bega to reside some 14 years ago.

They celebrated 66 years of marriage on April 6.

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