Records of life in a Japanese POW camp, buried in 1943.
Thailand, 1943-1945, S. Walker, watercolour, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 4234

Thailand, 1943-1945, S. Walker, watercolour, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 4234

In 1942, after serving in the Middle East,  Sydney doctor Arthur Moon sailed to Java with Colonel "Weary" Dunlop. With the fall of Java, they became Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) and worked together at the hospital in Hintok. After Moon was moved to Tamarkan Dunlop said,

We were told that one MO must go to K’buri base hospital, so after a brief discussion Major Moon started to pack immediately. This is a serious loss as Arthur has done magnificent work with the sick and is one of the most thoroughly loyal and capable souls living.

Moon became Senior Medical Officer at Tamarkan and took up his post on 1 May 1943.  When Moon arrived at Tamarkan camp the prisoners had been working 18 hours a day to build a bridge over the Mae Klong River. An event later made famous in the movie, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai".

Moon’s arrival coincided with the finishing of the bridge and as the camp was forced to function as a base hospital for British, Dutch and Australian POWs across Thailand. This decision had been made in April 1943 after the Japanese became more concerned about the number of deaths in their forced labour camps. The deaths were slowing down work on the Thai-Burma railroad.

The camp was not a proper hospital and remained essentially unchanged from when the bamboo huts served as the quarters for workers. The medical supplies were minimal and conditions harsh. Luckily the camp, under the command of Philp Toosey, was well-ordered and disciplined and this went a long way to help with hygiene and the organisation of Moon’s medical staff, mainly made up of enlisted soldiers.

On 3 May the first party of sick men arrived by barge at Tamarkan and after this, about 100 arrived every day. Many were delivered at night and left in the rice fields where parties had to be sent out to find them. On arrival they were stripped of their clothes, deloused and given a  ‘Jap-happys’ piece of fabric, worn as a loincloth. Two weeks after the first arrivals the medical supplies for 1500 men consisted of 4 aspirin tablets, 1 bottle of fruit salts, and half a bottle of cough syrup.

Patient list, Tamarkan POW Camp, 1943, A. Moon, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 4234

Patient list, Tamarkan POW Camp, 1943, A. Moon, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 4234

Moon was forced to use all of his medical skills and ingenuity to overcome the almost unimaginable problems he faced in the camp. Bamboo whisks were used to remove the clotting agents from blood to enable blood transfusions. Ulcerating wounds were treated with medicine made from local plants.  In his 1943 camp report, Toosey made the following entry,

I watched the doctor in my camp – a certain A. A. Moon, an Australian gynaecologist – cut off the leg underneath a mosquito net with a local anaesthetic, his main tool was the cookhouse saw, admittedly sterilised and sharpened up for the occasion.

On 19 December 1943 Moon was moved from Tamarkan to Chungkai where he was reunited with Weary Dunlop. Later he was moved to Tha Muang. Before leaving the camp at Tamarkan, Moon buried some of his medical documents in a tin in the hope they would provide a record of events at the camp.

Inside the tin were: plans of their burial ground which listed the names of the dead and date of death; a list of all the Australian personnel who had landed in Java with Moon in 1942 ;  a daily list of activities in the hospital from May to November 1943 and a list of the names, addresses, military numbers, and ailments of people Moon treated.

After the Japanese capitulated in 1945 Moon recovered the documents adding his further reminiscences to these documents in subsequent years. This extraordinary set of documents, the Arthur Alexander Moon Papers MLMSS 4234, were presented by Mrs Christine MacDonald to Hornsby Library and in March 1984 were transferred to the State Library of New South Wales.