William James Durnan
- Born: 21 Apr 1904, Narrandera,,New South Wales,Australia
- Died: 6 Sep 1942, Malai P.O.W. Camp, Malaya at age 38
Cause of his death was Beri Beri whilst a P.O.W. in Malaya.
William enlisted in the Australian Military Forces on the 13th July 1940 in Narrandera at the age of 36. He was a Labourer, Single and Roman Catholic. He listed his father as his next of kin, residence Mt Crystal, Kamarah.
He was assigned as a Private to the 8th Battalion RRD (?) and joined them on the 1st September 1940 in Wagga. It is difficult to read his Service & Casualty Form in his Military Record, but it appears he was subsequently transferred to the 27th A/Tank Coy on the 13th January 1941 and then he was "taken on strength" in the 27th Infantry Brigade . On the 18th February 1941 he was appointed a "Spec. Group III" [Specialist??) On the 10th March 1941 he was sent to Bathurst to undertake a Mechanics & Fitters Course, rejoining his unit on the 21st March.
On the 11th July 1941 he was granted 'pre-embarkation leave" rejoining his Unit on the 24th July. He embarked on the 7th August 1941 on H.M.T. "DD", disembarking in Singapore on the 15th August. It appears he was admitted to hospital with appendicitis on the 31st October 1941, rejoining his Unit on the 19th December. His record denotes that he was posted to the "X LIst" on admission to hospital and struck off the "X List" on the 28th November. Presumably this refers to his non-availability whilst recuperating.
By the 16th February 1942 William was recorded as "Missing" in Malaya. On the 3rd July 1943 he was recorded as a Prisoner of War in Malaya. A note on his file dated 13th September 1944 reads as follows: "?????ship reports the receipt of an ?? card from QX14442 Gnr John Lawson in Malayan Camp in which he states 'Bill Durnan died'. The addressee of the card being Mrs E Lawson, 35 Martin St, Footscray, Vic. 'Bill Durnan' would appear to be identical with NX36748 Pte Durnan".
Sadly, the final entry reports that he died of Beri Beri whilst a Prisoner of War in Malaya.
William's father, Patrick, received a letter dated the 7th September 1945 from the Army informing him of the loss of his son. It reads:
"It is with deep regret that I have to inform you on behalf of the Minister for the Army, that advice has been received from the International Red Cross Committee, Geneva that your son NX36748 Private William James DURNAN died of illness (Beri Beri) in Malai Camp on 6th september 1943.
Realising the shock and grief this announcement will cause you, it is thought preferable to advise you by letter rather than by telegraphic means, and that some explanation is due concerning the receipt of information in respect to Prisoners of War.
Despite repeated representations by the Commonwealth Government to the Japanese Government at Tokyo through neutral sources, it has failed to comply with the terms of the Geneva Convention, one of which provides for the prompt interchange of information regarding Prisoners of War.
It is only during recent months that the Japanese have cabled information to I.R.C. Geneva, concerning Prisoners of War in certain camps, and it can only be assumed from the date of death as reported that Japanese Broadcast mesages, capture cards and earlier particulars furnished to the Geneva Convention have been in the possession of the Japanese some considerable time before being released.
With the profound sympathy of the Minister for the Army."
William is buried in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, Grave 1.H.17. This cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of Commonwealth P.O.W.s who perished during the construction of the Burma-Siam railway.
Kanchanaburi is 129 kilometres West-North-West of Bangkok. Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is situated in the North-Western part of the town along Saeng Chuto Road. The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar). Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre. The Japanese aimed at completing the railway in 14 months and work began in October 1942. The line, 424 kilometres long, was completed by December 1943. The graves of those who died during the construction and maintenance of the Burma-Siam railway (except for the Americans, whose remains were repatriated) were transferred from camp burial grounds and isolated sites along the railway into three cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar. Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is only a short distance from the site of the former 'Kanburi', the prisoner of war base camp through which most of the prisoners passed on their way to other camps. It was created by the Army Graves Service who transferred to it all graves along the southern section of railway, from Bangkok to Nieke. [ Source of Information on Kanchaaburi War Cemetery: http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Overseas/kanchanaburi.html
William Durnan's place on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial is highlighted here: http://www.awm.gov.au/roh/person.asp?p=147-6671.
William is also remembered with a simple Memorial Stone which sits upon his parents Grave in the Narrandera Cemetery.