Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Ewen Livingston McColl "died while POW Malaya"

Who could be more homesick than someone who, miles from home and prisoner of a merciless enemy, knows he will never see his home and family again.  Ewen Livingston McColl died far from the hills and fields of his birthplace, Tapanui, and far from his wife, Kitty, and their Canberra home.

McColl was born in New Zealand (though his service file says Canberra) and joined The Canberra Times in February 1928 as a reporter. He played cricket for Northbourne. McColl enlisted in Canberra in June 1940 but took the oath at Victoria Barracks on 2 July 1940. McColl arrived in Singapore in August 1941 and was one of the first party of Australians to encounter the Japanese after they invaded Malaya a few months later in December. He became a prisoner of war on 15 February 1942 when the Japanese captured Singapore. His wife received a postcard in February 1943 saying that he was "quite well", however, McColl died from cholera on 26 June 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.   -ACT Memorial.

Ewen's unit was the 27th Brigade of the Australian Army and, after training, it was posted to Malya in August of 1941 as a response to the threat of Japanese forces.  When those forces attacked that December, the Brigade experienced a fighting retreat in confused conditions - an easy way to describe a very unhappy experience for Ewen and his fellow soldiers.  Eventually the surviviors reached Singapore and formed part of its defence.  

On the night of January 9, 1942, the Japanese landed in the 27th Brigade's area of the island and suffered heavy losses from the Brigade's small arms fire as well as burning oil from nearby storage tanks. These had been emptied onto the waters of the Johore Strait to prevent their contents being used by the enemy and eventually the oil caught fire.  The Japanese managed to bring tanks across the water and the 27th were forced to retreat inland.  On February 15th the Singapore garrison surrendered and Ewen was one of the many soldiers taken prisoner.  One third of the 27th Brigade did not return home from captivity.
Many relatives received postcards from their loved ones in Japanese captivity, bearing short messages which were all they were allowed to convey.  None of the messages were less than hopeful - the Japanese saw to that.  Kitty McColl received hers after a year of waiting for news.  Nearly two more years passed before she learned that her husband was dead. 

Tapanui Cemetery.

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