Ron Hassett remembers his mates, from his time as a prisoner of war in Singapore during World War II, at the Remembrance Day ceremony on Wednesday.
Ron Hassett remembers his mates, from his time as a prisoner of war in Singapore during World War II, at the Remembrance Day ceremony on Wednesday. Max Fleet/News Mail

Vet reflects on his time as POW

THERE are some things World War II veteran Ron Hassett prefers not to talk about, and his time as a prisoner of war in South East Asia is clearly one of them.

When conversation turns toward the war, Mr Hassett, 87, quickly snaps back to safer topics like his father’s service in World War I or his time as district health inspector in Bundaberg in the 1960s.

Despite his reluctance to dwell on the topic, Mr Hassett still marches proudly on Remembrance Day and pins the blood-red poppy to his chest for a minute of silence every November 11.

“It’s nearly four years as a young man we had to do without,” Mr Hassett said.

Another notable feature in Mr Hassett’s conversation style when talking about the war: there were no personal victories.

At just 19, Mr Hassett joined the Australian Imperial Forces as a part of the 8th division medical corps in 1941, despite having moved to Australia in 1938.

The young medic did not see much fighting, taken prisoner of war during the fall of Singapore in 1942.

Like most prisoners of war Mr Hassett was moved from camp to camp, and spent time in Malaya, Singapore and Thailand.

He also worked on the Burma railway.

Tropical diseases were inflicted on the men, which included dysentery, malaria, and beri-beri.

“There were no nurses. There was only one doctor for 700 men. It was a matter of survival,” he said.

These diseases were not the only illnesses the men had to deal with: a diet of a little rice and minimal greens played havoc with most of the men.

“We lost a lot of men with cholera,” he said.

“We were instructed not to bury them.

“We had to cremate them with whatever we could get our hands on.”

Despite all the years, there is one group Mr Hassett can not forget.

“Our doctors are the ones who were marvellous men,” he said.

“There are only two who are still alive that I know of.”

With the years going by, Mr Hassett said the numbers he served with, and who understood what they went through, were dwindling but they kept in touch.

“There is a whole division here who served there,” he said.

“There are not many of us left. There are two of us here who worked on the Burma railway.”

Mr Hassett was not released until the end of the war, along with all the prisoners who had been captured in Singapore. Upon his return to Australia he participated in the post-war training scheme, first becoming a plumber before completing a further course that would allow him to become a health inspector.

It was this job that brought Mr Hassett to Bundaberg for the first time, as the district health inspector in the mid-1960s.

However, before his move to Bundaberg, Mr Hassett got mixed up in the soccer-playing crowd, making the Australian team, which travelled to New Caledonia in 1950. These soccer skills also helped during his time in Bundaberg, where he coached schoolboy football.

Mr Hassett moved back to Bundaberg with his wife Val when he retired from his position of chief inspector of environmental sanitation in Brisbane in 1982.

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