How working in a mine saved Valley POW from the A-bomb


WHEN the atomic bomb exploded over the Japanese city of Nagasaki, one Yamba resident was just six miles away working in an under-sea mine.

Retiree Cliff Lowien was mining low-grade coal as a prisoner of war, and had no idea of the catastrophic events which had unfolded above him.

While working conditions in the mine were difficult, it did shelter Mr Lowien from the blast. When he resurfaced, it appeared everything had been flattened.

"The first thing we did was commandeer a lorry and found a brewery to have a drink, then we went looking for other POWs, and found some working at the ship yards," Mr Lowien said.

He was in Japan after travelling from Malaysia where the fittest and strongest POWs had been selected for work in the mines.

In Malaysia he was one of 61,000 Australians who laboured on the 415-kilometre Burma/Thai railway, alongside British, Dutch and American POWs, as well as 250,000 local Thai, Burmese and also Tamils (from India).

The railway was part of a plan to construct an alternative supply route from the West of the Malay Peninsula. It started from West Bangkok crossing Thailand and into Burma (Myanmar), finishing east of Rangoon.

It would also have been used to support an invasion by Japan into India.

"There was a reason it was called a death railway, so many things happened, I don't speak about it much," Mr Lowien said.

Men died in great numbers from dysentery, cholera, malnutrition, brutal beatings and some were worked to death.

Before going to war Mr Lowien worked in Grafton at a general store.

At the age of 17 he joined the Australian Army, and after training was posted to Malaysia as part of the 2/19 Battalion. His battalion fought in Malaysia at the battles of Maur and Gemas, as well as on Singapore Island.

This was the same battalion mentioned in Saturday's Daily Examiner article, 'Hell on earth'.

When he arrived back in Australia after the war, Mr Lowien finished school before attending university where he studied civil engineering. He worked for a year as an engineer before falling ill. He returned to Grafton and spent six months in hospital, where he met his future wife.

He is a life member of the Yamba Surf Club, which he joined in 1939.

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