On this ANZAC Day 25th April 2018 I remember my Great Uncle, Private George Thomas VIDLER – NX47809 service number in the Australian Army – my Grandmother Marjorie Edna MOSS nee VIDLER’s brother & my Mum’s Uncle. He joined up in 1940, and sailed off to war in 1941 never to return. He was caught up in the horror that was the Fall of Singapore and the construction of the Thai Burma Railway.
To my Mum she knew him as ‘Uncle Bill’ as what seemed to be the norm for those times in our family, everyone had a nickname & was known as that rather than their given name.
George Thomas Vidler was the second son of George & Grace Emmaline Vidler born on 22/3/17 at Chilcotts Grass. He had an older brother John Richmond b. 9/4/1915 and five sisters, my ‘Nanna’ the eldest, Marjorie Edna b. 19/5/1911, Gladys Berth b. 3/101912, Grace Elizabeth b. 16/2/1919, Elsie May b 13/5/1923 & Valerie Lola b. 24/2/1928. They lived on a farm at Chilcotts Grass/Tregeagle just outside Lismore on the Northern Rivers of NSW not far from where I live now. The family farm and house was restored in more recent times but was destroyed in a fire a few years ago.
Singapore, Thailand & Burma must have seemed a long way from his family farm, his life in Australia & the family he left behind.
He was ‘taken on strength’ on 12/11/1940 into the 2nd Infantry Training Battalion, Tamworth, NSW (6th Infantry Training Brigade) & on the 29/7/1941 embarked for Singapore on board the Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt (HMT FF).
Looking at this Paybook photo – From the collection of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B883, NX47809 I can clearly see the family resemblance with his nephew’s, my Uncles, and some of my cousins.
This is a brief outline & acknowledgement about George Vidler’s WW2 service, the Fall of Singapore & the Thai Burma Railway where he died. I will hopefully over the next little while, to add to this post as I talk to some of the remaining family members who knew him. Below is the information I have been able to find from the excellent Australian War Memorial website and the website for the 2/30th Australian Battalion.
Singapore fell to the Japanese invasion on 15th February 1942, an account of which can be found on the Australian War Memorial’s excellent website. They have a webpage about the 2/30th Battalion here.
The specific 2/30th Battalion website tells us that Private George Thomas Vidler was part of the Singapore work parties of Thomson Road, Mount Pleasant, Caldecott Hill and Bukit Timah which was involved in the construction the Shinto Shrine ‘Syonan Jinja’ commemorating the fallen Japanese soldiers in the taking of Singapore campaign. It was destroyed at the end of the war – an account of the The Shinto Shrine can be found Jon Cooper a battlefield archeologist along with his Series on Youtube called The Battle for Singapore.
Prisoners in the camps where George Vidler was listed, at Thomson Road, Caldecott Hill and Bukit Timah “worked on two major projects (also called The Shrine Job):
construction of a hill top Shinto shrine, granite steps leading up to the shrine, approach roads, and a small bridge over part of MacRitchie Reservoir
construction of two memorials, to Japanese dead and Australian dead, on the top of Bukit Timah Hill”
Further information and some accounts of this time can be found on the 2/30th Battalion website here. Image Source: 2/30 Bn. Archives – From Then to Now, the life story of Rob Wells – Link here George Vidler was part of “D” Company, 2/30 Battalion AIF at Batu Pahat, Malaya, November, 1941 & can be seen in the photo below in the back row, third from the left.
As the war progressed and the need for more prisoners to work on the Thai Burma Railway increased it is recorded that George Vidler was to become part of ‘F’ Force. The 2/30th Battalion website outlines:
“”F” Force was a working party of prisoners of war of the Japanese. It consisted of 7,000 men, of which 3,662 were Australians, the others British. The purpose of this working party was to assist in the construction of the Burma/Thailand Railway linking Bangkok with Rangoon. The force was formed at Changi and the first of thirteen trains left Singapore on April 18, 1943. Each train contained approximately 600 men crowded into rice trucks, 28 men to each truck. The last train departed on April 26, 1943. Each train took five days to make the journey, Singapore to Bam Pong, Thailand.
Most of the 2/30th travelled in Train 5, which departed Singapore on 23/4/1943. After arrival at Bam Pong, they were then marched 330km to various camps north. The men from Train 5 arrived in Shimo Sonkurai on 18/5/1943. The main camp for the Australians was Shimo Sonkurai (No 1 Camp) and Changaraya (No 5 Camp). These camps were located in the centre of the cholera belt. Consequently the Australians were to lose 1,060 men from various diseases, mainly cholera, in the period April to November 1943.”
George was on Train 5 in Truck 19 along with 26 others.
I cannot imagine what he went through along with all these Prisoners of War – the conditions they endured, their deteriorating health & starvation alongside the grueling physical toll expected of them day after after in difficult terrains & weather, and the debilitating illnesses that swept through the camps. The thought of them being marched 330km is almost unfathomable in both their own physical conditions & the conditions of the terrain. The losses of men on the construction of the Thai Burma railway were simply devastating.
George Thomas Vidler, ‘Uncle Bill’ was never to return records stating he ‘Died of illness Doi Kanburi (Cardiac Beri Beri) on 3/1/1944’ in ‘Siam’. His memorial is in Kanchanaburi Cemetary, Thailand.
In 1989 George’s sister Elsie & her husband Frank visited the Kanchanaburi Cemetary in Thailand. George Vidler’s memorial reads:
G. T VIDLER
2/30 INFANTRY BATTALION
3RD JANUARY 1944 AGE 26
HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE
The inscription at Kanachanaburi Cemetary reads:
“In honoured remembrance of the fortitude and sacrifice of that valiant company who perished while building the railway from Thailand to Burma during their long captivity. Those who have no known grave are commemorated by name at Rangoon Singapore and Hong Kong and their comrades rest in the three war cemetaries of Kanchanaburi Chungkai and Thanbyuzayat”