Blencowe Brothers – Book Presentation – November 2017

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Blencowe-20 Blencowe-24 Blencowe-32 Blencowe-39

 

 

2/30th BOOK PRESENTATION

 

Presented to Chevalier College Bowral on behalf of the President and Members of the 2/30th Battalion A.I.F. Association in Memory of NX965 Clyde Herbert Blencowe 3rd November 2017

 

Books Presented:

Gallegan’s Greyhounds

Black Jack – by Stan Arneil

Splinters Story – by J.P. Walshe

The Blue Haze – by Leslie Hall

CD – One Man’s War – Diary by Stan Arneil

 

 

Presentation performed by Chris and Kerry Blencowe

 

Before we start on the presentation, I thought it might be an idea to give you some background on our involvement with Chevalier College.

 

Dad and mum had limited formal education which was common in those days in the bush.  Dad for example started school in Tumbarumba at age 8 and left to start working in his father’s business at age 14.  They did however understand the value of a good education and he and mum made a significant sacrifice to send us to Chevalier.

 

I was here as a border from 1962 to 1967 and Kerry from 1964 to 1967.  The friends I made here at Chev are still my closest friends today and this weekend we are celebrating our 50th reunion.

 

We would like to thank the school for allowing us to present these 4 books on behalf of the 2/30th Battalion Association and to give you some of the story of this battalion during WW2 and the part that Clyde Blencowe (our father) played in this.

 

The reason for telling this story is to make sure that the current generation is informed of this part of Australia’s history like the events at Gallipoli and the Western Front in World War 1.  The part that young men from all over Australia played in these remarkable events.

 

The story begins in November 1940 when the Australian Army appointed Lieutenant Colonel Fredrick Galleghan to set up a new Infantry Battalion – the 2/30th.   Galleghan was a soldier in World War 1 and saw combat in France on the western front.  He was a dedicated soldier and quickly rose to Sergeant.  He was wounded in action twice, the second time his injuries were such that he was sent home to Australia.

 

Galleghan’s part of this story is pivotal as he was a notorious disciplinarian and his experience in the first World War where he witnessed the needless loss of life of the ordinary soldiers and was determined to not repeat these mistakes when he selected the officers and men for this unit.

 

Galleghan (or Black Jack as he affectionately became known) was harsh and unbending in his discipline, he gave no concessions what so ever, but the fruit of his direction eventually paid off and the men achieved peak physical fitness and a pride in their ability.  He (BJ) had set out to make this the finest fighting unit in the Australian Army.

 

After their training in Tamworth and Bathurst, the unit including Clyde, who joined them in April 1941, set sail for Singapore on 29 July 1941.

 

The Battalion continued their training in Malaya and on the 8th December 1941 (the same day as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour) they also invaded Malaya and the fighting began.

 

The 2/30TH were selected to be the first Australian unit to meet the Japanese after they had swept aside the British and Indian divisions. The action took place at Gemas when Galleghan set up an ambush at Gemenchen Bridge on 14 January 1942.  In this single action, the 2/30th killed 1100 Japanese soldiers and slowed the advance.  They were engaged in numerous other battles as they withdrew to eventually defend Singapore.

 

The soldiers were shocked when they were told to surrender on the 15th February 1942.

 

This was the beginning of their time as prisoners of war under the control of the Imperial Japanese Army.  They were sent to Changi and this was turned into a POW Camp.  The Japanese in contravention of the Geneva Convention began using the soldiers as slave labourers to work on various projects in and around Singapore.   They were on very limited rations (mainly rice) and were worked very long hours so the health of most men deteriorated rapidly.

This continued until April 1943 when dad was selected as one of the 652 men from the 2/30th who were sent to Thailand on F Force – a part of 7000 Australian and British troops that were used to build the infamous Thai-Burma Railway (The Death Railway).  They travelled to Thailand on a horrific 5 day journey packed into small steel railway wagons, Dad was in Carriage 2, Train 5 with 26 other 2/30th men including Stan Arneil (the author of one of the books we are donating – and his personal diary is a detailed record of what happened to him and others like Clyde).  They arrived at Ban Pong in Thailand in an already weak and hungry state and began a jungle march of 300kms (the equivalent of Canberra to Sydney) over 15 horrific nights to get to a camp which was in a shocking state to begin building the railway.

The troops were starved, beaten and sent out to work many to die on the Burma-Thailand Railway. In extreme heat and cold, in debilitating humidity and torrential rain, these barefoot men shoveled mud, rock and stones. They suffered every imaginable tropical disease and got ulcers that inevitably turned to gangrene. Amputation with a crude saw and no anesthetic was common.

 

It has been estimated that 100,000 prisoners and natives died during the construction of the Railway, approximately 393 people for every mile of the track.  Troops died from every known tropical disease and from sheer exhaustion.

 

So constant was the torrential rain that the troops were wet for months on end, many of them had no shirts, others only Lap lap’s (which are a type of loin cloth worn by natives), and most in bare feet.  Men died in such numbers that the traditional “Last Post”, the haunting Bugle call normally played at military funerals was played only once per week, for all those who had died during the week.

 

F Force suffered the highest percentage of deaths of any Force on the railway.  Of a Force of 7,000 men, 3,096 died, forty four percent of its original strength, in nine months.  Many more died later as a result of the disease and privation they had suffered on the Railway.

 

The rate of deaths was so great that there was no time, and not sufficient men strong enough, to dig graves. The dead were cremated on bamboo fires and a handful of ashes of each man collected in a separate bamboo container cut straight from the bamboo.

 

Many of those who returned from the Railway never recovered their former health.

 

It was a period when the Australians concentrated solely on the business of living, almost “willing” themselves to live.  The British who comprised approximately half the Force were a happy go lucky lot but they did not have the apparent determination either to live or to take preventative action to reduce disease.  Whereas the Australians were fanatical in their efforts to prevent the blowflies contacting the rice and depositing the cholera germs, the British regarded such efforts as something of a joke.  The Australians scrupulously collected each single grain of rice which may have dropped on the ground when rice was issued and at meal times sterilized their dixies (food containers) in cauldrons of boiling water.

 

Of the 652 men of the 2/30th that left Singapore to work on the railway 459 survived.  That any of them lived was a testament to their training, discipline and mateships. In fact, the Australian POW had the best survival rate of any prisoners in the Asian campaign.

 

The surviving members of F Force re-joined the rest of the battalion in Changi in December 1943 and many of them took 6 months to recover from their ordeal.

By chance Black Jack was now the senior Australian officer and was in charge of all the Australian Battalions in Changi. He insisted that the troops maintain discipline as if they were a normal Australian army command. Changi was organised to save as many lives as possible. Even the Japanese soldiers were careful not to incur his anger.

 

The rest of their time as prisoners was spent on work parties in and around Singapore with starvation and sickness a constant companion.

 

The war finally ended in August 1945 and Dad and the rest of the 2/30th arrived back in Sydney in October 1945.  They had endured 3-1/2 years as prisoners and been away from home for over 4 years.

Black Jack was offered the chance to fly back to Australia but declined and insisted in coming back by ship with his beloved troops.

 

Clyde was discharged from the army in December 1945 and came home to Tumbarumba to live.  He resumed working for his father at LeCerf & Blencowes general store in Tumbarumba and he married our mum Mollie in October 1946.  Chris and I grew up in Tumbarumba, and Dad was involved in many community activities including the Football Club, Turf Club, Legacy and the Fire brigade. He continued working in the family business until he retired in 1983.

 

The experience these men had endured would be something that affected them in different ways. We were lucky to have Dads own words on how it affected him, and these were recorded under different headings when he was 78 for a 2/30th Battalion newsletter.

 

MATESHIP

The first mate I made when I joined the A.I.F. was Charlie Taylor.  We both joined the same day and his number was NX945 while mine was NX965.  We were never away from one another from that day until discharge.  He passed away a few years back from lung cancer.  He was a good mate, where mate-ship counted.

 

 

COMPASSION

I don’t know if I am a better person or not.  I always thought I had compassion for my mates.

 

RESOURCEFULNESS

I don’t think I set the world on fire with my resourcefulness.  I have always been a patient kind of person, never showed a lot of anger.  I just lived day by day and played along with what went on at the time, hoping that one day I would get out of the POW camps and back to civilisation.

 

COURAGE

Brave!  I don’t consider myself brave.  On a couple of occasions, I could have done with a change of underpants.  It never entered my head to run away or leave my mates.

 

COMMUNICATION

To my way of thinking, I have a lot of mates.  We communicate with one another with friendly personality.  Actions speak louder than words.

 

HEALTH

I had what most of the boys came in contact with, Malaria, Beri Beri, dysentery, rice balls, carbuncles.  After the war I had quite a few years back and forth to hospital with hook worms and dysentery, nervy gut and malaria.  Operations – hip replacement, prostate and kidney stones removed.

Tips.  To stay healthy, it would be no good telling you to watch what you eat, you ate what was available, which wasn’t much – Pray, pray and pray again.

 

 

SELF-RELIANCE

Hard to answer for me.  I do feel my training stood me in good stead.  I had quite a good grounding in the 21st Light Horse Regiment before going in to the A.I.F.

 

SURVIVAL AND FAITH

To my way of thinking they go hand in glove.  In the early days at Changi, at night, I would hope and pray to get back to Australia.  When we went to Thailand to work on the Railway, I used to hope and pray to get back to Changi.  I don’t feel it changed me much.  I feel I am still the same person.  I never left anything behind in Changi, only three and a half years of my life.  Before I left Australia to sail to Malaya my cousin said to me, when on final leave, “I will tell you a little prayer to say each night before you go to sleep.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me”.  I never forgot her and those parting words.  I still say them today.  Not very many nights did I miss saying them.  There were the odd occasions of course!

I have never forgotten Major Bruce Hunt, one of our doctors.  He stood up one night upon the Railway and gave us a good dressing down.  Morale was at a low ebb.  He finished up telling us to pull ourselves together and get back to Australia and get ourselves some little Australians.  Which I kept in mind.  To me he was our “Weary” Dunlop.

 

HOME AND FAMILY.

I wanted to join up of my own free will.  I didn’t want to be forced to enlist.  I missed my family very much and thought of them always.  I used to wonder what changes had taken place.  I never really thought I would never get home.

 

SELF ESTEEM

I always believed in myself.  I didn’t notice any changes in myself.

 

GETTING ON WITH LIFE AFTER THE WAR.

When we were released from captivity, all they told us was the Yanks had taken all our girls, you couldn’t buy this and that, everything was in short supply, coupons on tobacco, sugar, butter, tea, petrol, you name it!    I was wondering what we had to face up to.

One of the first people to greet me in Sydney with my family was my girlfriend who I thought of a lot over the years.

My immediate reaction was here is one the Yanks didn’t take.  How unlucky they were.  We married 2nd October 1946 and had two of the most wonderful young men anyone would wish for, two beautiful daughter’s-in-law and seven truly beautiful grandchildren, 4 girls and 3 boys (they have gone on to have 9 great grandchildren).  My wife and I consider ourselves two of the luckiest people alive.

For a while after I was married I used to stay our late at night a lot.  Looking back later in life I used to think what a heel I was.  I was never a drinker but I spent a lot time with my mates at the local pub, playing cards and pool.  I was obviously looking for the company of men.  It took some time to settle down and now I never think of going out at night.

I am not one to dream much.  I have had a couple of nightmares, one in particular I was pleased to wake up and find it wasn’t real.

 

When Dad passed away in August 2016 at age 98 he was acknowledged as one of the last 5 surviving members of the original 1300 men of the 2/30th who went to Malaya.

 

Galleghan returned to Australia a hero and was widely acclaimed for his effort on behalf of the 8th Division during their years of captivity.  His leadership had helped the Australians achieve the best rate of survival of prisoners in the Asian theatre.

 

In 1959 Galleghan was appointed honorary colonel of the Australian Cadet Corps. He was thrilled with the appointment. It kept him close to his favourite subject youth and it gave him the opportunity to talk about the things in which he believed, foremost being the obligation of Australians to Australia.

He was promoted to Brigadier General and finally was knighted in 1969.   He spent his years after the war working also for Legacy and looking out for members of the 2/30th Batallion.  Black Jack had no natural sons of his own.  He liked to think that his soldiers were his sons.

 

I would like to finish by quoting Stan Arniel from his Diary – One Man’s War.

They were wonderful young men who never looked back.  I count it as the greatest privilege of my life to have been part of that group.  Indeed, I wonder how it was that I was so fortunate to have shared those years with them.

To have retained one’s sanity and humanity for almost 4 years in inhuman conditions is a great achievement.

 

Lest we Forget.

 

Thank you for your attention today.

 

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