Working on the Thai-Burma Railway
In 1942 Neil McPherson was among the 22,000 Australian men and women made prisoners of war when the Japanese conquered South East Asia. Each man was sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway, which the Japanese planned to use to transport its soldiers.
“I was a POW for three-and-a-half years,” Mr McPherson said. “Hunger was the worst thing because we only had one topic of conversation:… food.
More than 12,000 POWs, including more than 2,700 Australians, died in captivity by the end of the war..
“I was stricken down with malaria and that was a very difficult time, because you spent a lot of time in fever, perspiring and also delirious.”
(words Aaron Fernandes)
Private Neil McPherson was 19 the first time the Japanese took a shot at him. He was guarding a Dutch airfield in Java with his mate Bluey Rowe. A corporal told them to dig a gun pit in a jungle clearing.
Neil and Bluey had dug a few feet in into the dirt when a air-raid siren sounded. Three Japanese zero fighters screamed in low and fired on the gun pit. Neil and his mate flattened themselves against the dirt until the plane’s flew off. When they clambered out, they found the clay walls pocketed with bullet holes. “Camouflage it next time” the corporal grunted…
(words Tom Gilling)
Neil now 96 and living in Albany WA
The plan was simple, fly down to Albany in the morning to meet and photograph Neil and then fly back in the afternoon.
What I didn’t anticipate was the terrible weather that would affect that day.
I arrived at the airport that morning and check in as usual only to find that the flights coming into Perth were delayed 2 hours. The massive wind was blowing from the south coast which meant it was probably crazier in Albany. Not the perfect day for flying.
After a turbulent landing in Albany my mind was only on getting to Neil asap..the clock was ticking.
As luck would have it, of the 2 cab companies in Albany, one of them had fallen on hard times and gone out of business. This meant there was only 1 cab company to deal with the entire towns needs.
Of the 30 people on my flight,10 needed a cab in to the town centre.
So the cab company put us all in a maxi taxi and ferried us around the town one by one… I was the last.
I was now loosing valuable time to spend with Neil. In desperation from the back of the maxi cab, I rang the airline to see if I could change my return flight. There was nothing for two days. I now had only a short time to be able to photograph Neil… I was now worried.
I finally arrived, I grabbed my gear from the back of the cab and rushed in.
I shook Neil’s hand, and his calm face immediately slowed my frenetic energy. I took a moment just to chat to him. As he sat down, this humble man then talked of his wall of memories and showed me his medals. To hear his story takes ones breath away. I was so impressed by this man and his history.
The light from his window was soft and showed his face with great detail.
This was a simple photoshoot, but one that I will always remember. It was a reminder to me to just slow down and be grateful.
Neil McPherson is one of the great Australians who struggled through the war so we may enjoy our lives today… we must never forget that.
UPDATE: Mr McPherson passed away on 30 March 2019 in Albany. May he rest in peace.