Walter Sarkies VX27723 (Pte), who served as a machine gunner with HQ Company (Carriers) and later with A Company, and was a POW with F Force ('Pond's Party') in Thailand, died in Melbourne on 17 June.
Walter was born on 2 February 1923 in Glenhuntly and spent his youth in Reservoir. In June 1940, aged 17, he enlisted in the 2nd AIF, and after basic training joined the 2/29th at Bonegilla. At 18 Wal was with the battalion at Segamat (Malaya). When the Japanese entered the war in December 1941, his unit was assigned to defend airfields and he experienced bombing at close range with only the protection of a shallow slit trench.
Too young to become a carrier driver, he was reassigned to A Company. As part of a small unit he went behind enemy lines to bomb bridges to slow the Japanese advance down the peninsula. After successfully destroying two bridges, the unit found its way back to allied lines, following creeks and avoiding the Japanese. He was wounded in action against advancing Japanese as the unit attempted to rejoin the main body of the 2/29th which had been sent north to Muar. Unable to break through, the commandos regrouped with British gunners. After his wound was dressed at a British aid post (RAP), he was sent on the last train south to the makeshift Australian field hospital at Jahore Baru before being evacuated to Singapore. He was in hospital in Singapore when the Allies surrendered. A few days later, with other wounded he marched to the Selarang Barracks, Changi. Wal's closest friends, Tommy Hall and Donny McCallum, had been killed at Muar.
As a POW in 1942, Wal was with work parties ordered to build the Japanese Bukit Timah Hill memorial, and on the Singapore wharves. Later he worked making timber supports for the network of tunnels constructed under Singapore. In April 1943, Walter was sent to Thailand with F Force (Pond's Party). Disembarking from the train at Bampong, the men were force-marched, always at night after days of labouring, 160 miles north to Konkoita camp where they began work on the Burma- Thailand railway. In poor health since being wounded in January 1942, Walter succumbed to severe illness after only three days and was sent to a 'hospital' camp ("a funny name to give it", he said) back at Bampong. Walter attributed his 'good luck' in this to Dr Roy Mills. His friend Geoff Forster died on the boat that took these desperately ill men away from 'the line'. Walter remained at Bampong camp for some months before returning to Changi, having rejoined the F Force survivors as they came south.
In Changi hospital Walter took up drawing, with paper and pencils supplied by his friend Frank Day who worked in the camp library. The Walter Sarkies Collection of 41 drawings of Changi life is held at the State Library of Victoria. Walter remembered the day of the Japanese surrender, and the early days of freedom in liberated Singapore. Interviewed in 2011, he remembered the sweet taste of ice cream after years of near starvation. He also remembered 'marvellous' days and nights on the Esperance Bay, which brought the 2/29th home. Walter was 23.
In 1947 Walter married Betty. He had a lifelong career with Shell. He and Betty travelled extensively, including business trips to Japan. In later years, Walter and Betty lived with their son Richard at Wallan. Brian Cleveland represented the Battalion at Wal's funeral, which was held at Fawkner Cemetery on Thursday 21 June.
[Marguerita, the daughter of 2/29th veteran Bob Stephens, interviewed Walter Sarkies for the Battalion Association in 2011.]