Wallace Chauvel Lewis
- Born: 23 Feb 1918
- Died: 21 Jan 1944, Japan at age 25
- Buried: 1944, Yokohama War Cemetery, Yokohama, Japan
Cause of his death was Illness whilst Prisoner of War.
Wallace was probably named after his mother's brother, Wallace Hardie Jones, and his middle name was, no doubt, in honour of General Sir Henry Chauvel who had commanded Australian Desert Mounted Corps at the Battle of Beersheba in October of 1917, just a few months before Wallace's birth. This battle was the scene of the famous charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade which clinched the capture of Beersheba.
Wallace, or Wally as he was known, signed up with the Australian Military Forces on the 8th June 1940 in Martin Place, Sydney along with his brother Clyde. He was just over 22 years of age, single, and an Engineering Clerk & Storeman by occupation. At the time he was living with his parents in Hammer's Road, Northmead, Sydney. He recorded his religion as Methodist.
He was assigned the Service Number NX50447 and assigned to the Redbank Reinforcement Depot, Engineers (as was Clyde), 6th Battallion on the 21st June 1940. By the end of the month he had been transferred to the 2/20th Battallion of the Eighth Division's 22nd Infantry Brigade.
The men were based at Ingleburn for most of the succeeding months undergoing training. In early November the 2/20th left Ingleburn for Bathurst by train. Training schedules picked up considerably but there was also time for the first performance by the regimental band and for the holding of the first Regimental Ball at the Trocadero in Bathurst, which attracted over 1000 people.
On the 4th February 1941 the men of the 2/20th boarded the RMS Queen Mary in Sydney Harbour. With hundreds of small boats bobbing around on the water to farewell her, she sailed at 1.30 p.m., bound for Singapore. They were amongst the thousands of men being sent to the far flung British outpost to counter the rising threat of a Japanese invasion.
It was a two week journey to Singapore with the Queen Mary docking on the 18th February. Upon disembarking the men marched over the causeway to Johore Bahru in Malaya (now Malaysia) and boarded a train which took them up along the west coast to Port Dickson, about 75 kms south of Kuala Lumpur. The 2/20th would spend the next six months rotating between the bases at Port Dickson and nearby Seremban.
The next few months were all about training and acclimatising to the oppressive heat and humidity in their new location. In the latter part of June Wally spent two weeks in hospital with acute appendicitis. They had had no jungle training during their time in Ingleburn and Bathurst and so they had to come up to speed with the new environment very quickly. Even their brown coloured uniforms were more suited to desert rather than jungle warfare.
In their downtime there were regular sporting events held with teams for hockey and football fielded. Private Wally Lewis was a regular name in the players lists.
By the end of July the level of concern about an imminent invasion had increased. The Japanese had entered French Indochina and intelligence suggested that they were preparing for a seaborne invasion of the Malay Peninsula. In late August, the men of the 2/20th Battalion were deployed to the town of Mersing, a strategically important port town on the east coast of Malaya, about 100 kms north of Johore Bahru. Their objective was to create a defensive position to halt any Japanese advance by sea and land. C Company, comprising 120 men was despatched to Endau, 35 kms north of Mersing to establish a forward defensive position.
It was just after dawn on the 8th December 1941 that the Japanese landed in Malaya - at Khota Baru just south of the Thai border. Along with other aggressive actions around that day, including the attack on Pearl Harbour, it was to herald the start of the War in the Pacific.
By the end of January all hope for victory in Malaya was lost and as many troops as possible were evacuated across the 1.5 km Causeway linking Malaya and Singapore before the Causeway itself was blown up by depth charges. The 2/20th Battallion was amongst the last to cross on the 31st January. They had lost a lot of good men in the defence of Malaya, but Wally and his brother Clyde were among those who joined the 85,000 allied troops in Singapore.
The 2/20th were deployed to defend the north-west area of Singapore, stretching from the Sarimbun River to the Kranji River, and just across the Straits from Malaya. The terrain was predominantly mangrove swamps and jungle and completely lacking any kind of defensive fortifications. The 750 men had over 8000 metres of coastline to defend against thousands of Japanese invaders.
On the 7th February the north-west sectors were subjected to continual bombardment from enemy aircraft and shelling from across the water. It was to be a precursor to an amphibious assault which commenced the following night, the 8th February.
The bulk of the Japanese invasion force were concentrated on the north-west coast so thinly defended by the 2/20th, and their comrades in the 2/18th and 2/19th who were positioned further south around that section of coastline. The Japanese sustained very heavy casualties but they kept on coming and within a couple of hours the situation for the 2/20th was becoming very precarious. By the middle of the night Lt. Col. Charles Assheton, the C.O of the 2/20th, ordered his troops to withdraw and regroup at his HQ. In the wee hours of the morning on the 9th February the full extent of the losses for the 2/20th became apparent as they regrouped and Assheton made the decision to retreat.
What followed was a desperate movement south as the beleagured troops from all of the Battallions attempted to regroup ever southwards under continual harassment and attack from the advancing enemy forces.
We dont know if it was during the battle to defend the beach, or if it was in the ensuing mayhem, but Wally Lewis was wounded on the 9th February 1942, suffering gunshot wounds to his back and neck. He made it to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital where he would remain a patient for a month. Within a week of his admission to the hospital Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese and Wally became one of 50,000 Prisoners of War. So was his brother, Clyde.
Wally would spend the next nine and a half months within the confines of the Changi POW Camp. The story of Changi has been well documented, less so the story of the Naoetsu POW camp which was to be Wally's final destination. But there is one documented reference to Wally's time at Changi where in July of 1942 he helped bring some light into the lives of others in amongst the emerging horror of life in the Changi POW camp:
"Far from disappointing, though, was Jack Mudie's battalion concert party. To create an outdoor venue in which to perform, they cleared an area and built an ampitheatre, and even lighting facilities were erected. Jack and his fellow entertainers put on a great show for the men. One of the main performers was Private Wally Lewis, from Parramatta, whose musical talents would likewise be much appreciated at Naoetsu in the years to come." (Hells Heroes, Roger Maynard, p134)
Wally Lewis was amongst 550 Australians who were boarded onto the Kamakura Maru on the 29th November 1942. Most of these men were from the 2/20th, but there were also some from the 2/18th and 2/19th Battallions as well - they were designated "C" Force. There were also about 1400 POWs of other nationalities. Reaching Nagasaki after almost nine days at sea, the 550 Australians were divided into two groups, largely on the basis of an alphabetical distribtion. 300 men comprising those from the ranks with surnames starting with letters between A and S and a group of officers were hived off from the rest. The remainder were headed for Kobe where they were to be put to work in a shipyard. Wally and the other 299 men would board a train which would take them to the small industrial town on Naoetsu, situated half-way up the west coast of the island of Honshu in Japan, about 320kms from Tokyo. The journey would take two days and, after almost two years in the tropics, the men were greeted by freezing weather and snow when they arrived.
The full horror of what happened to the men at Camp 4-B did not become apparent until after the War ended. Of the 300 Australians at Camp 4-B, 60 would die there - including Wally Lewis - and those who survived were to suffer physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives.
It began soon after they arrived. In late December or early January the men put on a concert - Wally Lewis was, as usual, one of the performers. The Japanese guards in the audience felt that some elements of the performance parodied themselves (which they did). As a consequence they prohibited any future concerts. A number of the prisoners, including Wally Lewis, were severely beaten up by the Japanese after the concert. It was a taste of things to come.
The official War History described the camp as follows:
"...beatings and bashings were common; rations were at starvation level; the steel mill at which the men worked was a mile from the camp; the men were forced to run to and from work, and if they fell down they were beaten. Some men worked 12 and 18 hour shifts for as long as 110 days without a break, either in factories or on the wharves.... Res Cross stores were pilfered or not issued; men went to work barefooted although adequate supplies of Red Cross boots were available in the camp.
The brutal treatment, inadequate rations, and sever winters cased the death of 60 of the 300 Australians.... The wearing of overcoats was forbidden within barracks buildings although the temperature even within walls fell below zero during the winter months and snow drifts were as high as 16 feet. The two-storeyed barracks buildings became infested with lice, fleas and bugs. Mail was witheld in the camp office because the censor refused to release it for as long as two or three months."
(Australia in the War of 1939-1945. Series 1 - Army - Volume Vol4
Volume IV - The Japanese Thrust (1st edition, 1957), pp 619-620
Author: Lionel Wigmore)
Wally Lewis carried on his own dignified resistance to the brutality.
"Back at the Christmas Day concert, Private Lewis's irreverent performance had delighted his fellow Aussies, as always, but less so the prison guards. The 22-year-old from Parramatta had become a popular target from then on, with Katayama and Kuriyama in particular setting on him for no reason. There is little doubt that the regular beatings he would receive over the next twelve months contributed to his eventual death in January 1944."
(Hells Heroes p 185)
One such beating took place after Wally took it upon himself to cop the punishment for something he didnt do. It was in February of 1943 and someone had written a message of the wall of the latrine: Chin up - be free in June. A small message of hope in that god-forsaken place. When it was discovered, the guards announced that they were going to punish everyone in the camp since they couldnt determine who the culprit was. Wally told them that he'd done it, even though he hadnt. Katayama and Kuriyama took him into the office and laid into him with pick-handles for two hours. Afterwards, the badly beaten man was forced to stand to attention in the bitterly cold corridor for five hours.
On another occassion Wally had accidentally smashed a window in a scuffle with another prisoner. " When Oshima got to hear of it, he knocked Lewis to the ground with a vicious blow to the nose with his wooden club. Screaming in agony, Lewis was then kicked in the groin and the stomach by Oshima for a full fifteen minutes. Despite his condition, the severely injured man was then made to join the work party.
Wally continued to entertain and sustain his comrades with music, despite the torment dished out by his captors, and his own declining state of health. Another prisoner, Dudley Boughton, recorded in his diary for Christmas Eve 1943 that a guitar that had somehow been procured had found it's way into Wally's hands. "Wal" had been strumming it, singing a few songs, and had put on something of a concert in which he invited those who were well enough to sing along. (Hell's Heroes p246) It was to be Wally's last Christmas.
January 1944 was another freezing winter. Cases of pneumonia, diarrhoea and beri beri were rife amongst the starving and over-worked men. By the 5th January 1944 a total of 30 prisoners at Naoetsu had died. By the end of the month the total had risen dramatically to 53. On the 21st January 1944, Wally Lewis was one of those who finally succumbed to the deprivations. Officially his cause of death was recorded as pneumonia and croup.
As was the Japanese custom, Private Wallace Chauvel Lewis was cremated and his remains placed in a small wooden box, which, after the War was interred at the Yokohama War Cemetery in Japan. His memorial is located in the Australian Section A.D.2.
At the conclusion of the War many of the guards from Naoetsu were captured and faced the War Crimes Tribunal. Many of them were sent to the gallows for what they had done, others to very long terms of imprisonment with hard labour. For those who had directly tormented young Wally Lewis: Kuriyama was found not guilty of contributing to the death of Wally, but guilty of mistreatment and abuse of him and other prisoners and was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. He almost got the death penalty specifically for the treatment meted out to Wally. In the end he escaped with a vote of 3 to 2 against the death penalty because 9 months had elapsed from the time he had left the camp and the time Wally had actually died. Katayama was found guilty of mistreating prisoners and was sentenced twenty years in prison; Oshima received 46 years imprisonment with hard labour for severely beating six prisoners.
All three of Wally's brother's served in WW2 as well.
Noted events in his life were:
• He worked as an Engineering Clerk Storeman on 8 Jun 1940.
• He resided at the time of his enlistment on 8 Jun 1940 in Hammers Road, Northmead, New South Wales, Australia.