SX11961 Private Kenneth Laurence Carmichael
Kenneth Laurence CARMICHAEL was born in Yorketown on 8 July 1917, the third son of Frederick Laurence CARMICHAEL and Winifred Jane Carmichael (nee Latty).
Ken, as he was known, was 23 years old, single, and farming at Waitpinga when he enlisted in the 2nd AIF on 26 March 1941. At the time of his enlistment, Ken was serving in the 18th Machine Gun Light Horse Regiment, a militia unit. He reported for duty at the Regional Recruiting Depot (RRD), Wayville and the next day was granted seven days leave without pay to return to Victor Harbor. On return from leave in early April, he was transferred to the 3rd Training Battalion (Machine Gun Wing) where he undertook basic training before being relocated to Command Headquarters, Woodside for further training.
On 4 August 1941, Ken was given seven days pre-embarkation leave in preparation for overseas service. On 19 August, he was allotted to the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion (3rd Reinforcements) and the following day the unit entrained to Melbourne and then onto Sydney. On 3 September 1941, the reinforcements embarked for the Middle East aboard the converted liners Ile de France and EC Transport GG arriving at the Suez Canal on the 23 September 1941.
The 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Seaforth Blackburn VC, had arrived at the Middle East in mid-May 1941. The Battalion travelled to Palestine, where it joined the 7th Division, which was preparing to invade Syria and take it from the Vichy French. Allied forces began the invasion on 8 June and the Battalion was soon engaged in heavy fighting against the Vichy French. They suffered many casualties, but by the second week of July, the Syrian campaign was over.
The reinforcements joined the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion on 2 November 1941 and remained in Syria as part of an occupation force for the rest of the year.
Japan entered the war on 7 December 1941 and the 7th Division was recalled to Australia. In January and February 1942, units from the 7th Division began to return to Australia. The 2/3rd MGB, less ‘B’ Company, together with 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and 2/6th Field Company, embarked from Suez Canal on 31 January 1942 aboard the troopship Orcades. On 17 February 1942, two days after the Fall of Singapore, the Orcades reached Oosthaven in Sumatra, before going on to Batavia in Java and disembarking the troops the following day. The Japanese were already moving through the Netherlands East Indies and it was decided that these divisional units would make a stand on Java.
The small Allied force that was intended to defend Java was built around the 2/3rd and other units aboard Orcades, as well as a battery of American artillery already on Java and a squadron from the 3rd King’s Own Hussars. Lt-Col Blackburn was promoted to Brigadier and was placed in command of this force, which was known as “Blackforce”.
The Japanese landed on Java on 28 February 1942 and Blackforce went into action at Leuwiliang, near Buitenzorg, on 4 March. They fought the Japanese for two days but on 8 March, Dutch forces surrendered and the next day Blackforce was ordered to lay down its arms by the Dutch commander. Those who had survived the fighting, including Ken, who had been wounded during the conflict, and other Victor Harbor locals, Vic Honeyman, Max McGee and Lionel Catt, were presumed captured by the Japanese. In August 1942, a Japanese radio broadcast reported they were prisoners of war.
The Australians remained at a Japanese POW camp in Java, and often used for labour, until February 1943. Most were then taken by boat to Singapore where they were put aboard trains to Ban Pong in Thailand to be used as labour to build the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. Ken’s service record does not specifically show that he was sent to Thailand or Burma where many comrades died from ill-treatment, starvation and disease.
The railway was built from both ends and on completion in October 1943 the fittest of the prisoners were transported back to Singapore and then shipped to Japan on unmarked “Hell Ships” to work in the coal mines and Japanese industry. Many lost their life or drowned at sea following US submarine attacks on Japanese shipping in the South China Sea which were later suspected of carrying prisoners of war.
Following unconditional surrender of the Japanese on 15 August 1945, Ken was found and liberated from a POW camp supplying labour to an underground coal mine near the Japanese village of Ohama. He was then evacuated to Manila and after brief hospitalisation and further health checks, Ken and many other hundreds of Australian ex-POW’s, embarked aboard the British troopship Formidable and sailed for Sydney where they disembarked on 13 October 1945.
Following more hospitalisation, medical treatment and rehabilitation Ken was demobilised on 7 December 1945. He returned to farming and later married Waitpinga girl, Kerris DENNIS; there were two children of the marriage. Ken and Kerris took over a portion of her parent’s property at Waitpinga, which they farmed until his death on 10 December 1989, at the age of 72. Ken is buried in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Service file of SX11961 Kenneth Laurence CARMICHAEL purchased from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ), and made possible by a grant from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The grant also made possible the scanning of the photographs featured on the Waitpinga Pictorial Honour Roll Boards No 1 and No 2, along with the digital restoration of a number of the images of servicemen and women featured on the Waitpinga Pictorial Honour Roll Board No 3.
Australian War Memorial database ( www.awm.gov.au ).
Wikapedia: entry for 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2/3rd_Machine_Gun_Battalion_(Australia) ).
Trove Newspapers (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/title/832 ).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, July 2011.