James Kerr was 15 when he enlisted to fight in the Second World War. Within 2 years – right
around the time of his 17th birthday, he was already a Prisoner of War of the Japanese.
Jim was not aware Singapore had fallen when he and five other Australian army soldiers
from the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment were wandering through the jungles of Malaysia.
They were searching for food after an ambush against the Japanese on the Muar River went
wrong, leaving only 19 survivors out of 45.
Plans of stealing a boat and sailing across the Malacca Strait to Sumatra were eventually
abandoned and the group surrendered to the Japanese army.
Mr Kerr wound up in Singapore's Changi Prison which he describes as a "holiday camp"
compared to his imprisonment on the infamous camps on the Thai-Burma Railway, or Death
He marched into Konyu Camp on Anzac Day on April 25, 1943, spending about six months in
hospital before returning to work.
"When I say hospital it was a hospital in name only. It was just the same huts we normally
slept in, which was on bamboo platforms, no medicine of course," Mr Kerr said.
His ward was next to the ulcer ward where the horrific sounds and smells still remain with
"The orderlies would come around with a sharpened spoon and they would scrape the
putrid flesh away," he said
"Ultimately when the ulcers got that bad they chopped their leg off, so a lot of fellows lost
legs on the railway."
Despite the horror of the experience, Mr Kerr said they were not a beaten group of soldiers
and managed to keep their moral by looking after one another.
"[Even] as somebody else got malaria in your little group, he'd share his rice around," he
As one of the last three serving men in his regiment of 650 that saw over 200 men "left
behind", Mr Kerr remained philosophical.
"It's taught me that you make the most of what you've got and be appreciative of what
you've got. That's what we did as POWs," he said.