Former POW Cliff Lowien shares his story
WHEN Clifford Lowien enlisted in the Australian Army on November 14, 1941, he was full of pride.
"I felt patriotic, I can remember the first morning I went into action on the coast of Singapore," he said.
"I really felt like I was doing something.
"I still feel like I did make a difference too."
Some time after being deployed, Mr Lowien and his mates would become prisoners of war (POWs), unsure of what the Japanese had in store for them.
"We were just told by our officers that we would be capitulated," Mr Lowien said.
"Some of the others tried to get on a boat to get away but that was sort of frowned upon.
"We hadn't been officially told that we had surrendered, so it would have been desertion."
Mr Lowien's superior officers were given orders by the Japanese to march their soldiers some 25km to Changi barracks.
Despite the circumstances, a young and curious Mr Lowien wasn't afraid of what lay ahead.
"I wasn't scared. At the time I was 17 years old, I wasn't scared of anything," he said.
"I am a lot wiser now though."
He said the initial months spent at Changi were "the good days of being a prisoner of war".
Japanese frontline troops guarded them, and Mr Lowien said they were deferential towards the Australians.
"We put up the best fight and they respected us for it," he said.
"I got a hiding now and again though."
The POWs were forced to survive on meagre rations.
"There were weevils in the rice but the doctors told us to eat them," Mr Lowien said. "It was a source of protein for us and we never left a single grain of rice in the bottom of our dixies, we valued every bit of food."
Medical supplies were hard to come by with many POWs battling disease and illness.
"You had to open your mouth and if you had teeth you were considered 'healthy'," Mr Lowien said. "It was like another world."
Despite the hardships, Mr Lowien said he and his mates tried to maintain their sense of humour.
"There was an old saying we used to say to each other; 'You'll never get off the island', but we were just having fun," he said.
Despite their dire circumstances, Mr Lowien and his mates were all confident of returning home to their families.
Mr Lowien said one of his mates would say "I'll drag you back to Australia if it's the last thing I do, mate".
After some time in Changi, Mr Lowien was sent to Singapore where he worked on the wharves for about six months.
He then returned to Changi before being sent to Thailand, where he worked on the Hellfire Pass on the notorious Burma Railway.
"It was all hammer and tap," Mr Lowien said. "I had a big chisel and a 5kg hammer to chip away at the rock until you got a hole about a meter deep.
"That hole was then filled with dynamite.
"It was hard work, and we worked all day swinging that 5kg hammer.
"There was no medicine and not enough food."
More than 12,000 POWs, including more than 2700 Australians, died during the construction of the Burma Railway but Mr Lowien was able to find reason to smile amid the horror.
"I was on light duties and was tasked to take the rations from the Japanese cookhouse out to the Japanese engineers on the rail line," he said.
"I had to take out four dixies full of food.
So I used to eat a little bit out of each one and then I'd spit in it before I gave it to them.
"Thankfully they never found out."
After another stint back in Changi, Mr Lowien was shipped to the coal mines in Japan.
"It was snowing and we only had light uniforms. It was very cold," he said.
"It was warmer down in the mine though."
During their time in Japan, the POWs noticed Allied planes flying over the mine.
"We could tell the war was over because of the way the Japs were acting and all these planes flying over," Mr Lowien said.
Some weeks later, the POWs were transported home to Australia, via the Philippines.
And though the soldiers were welcomed home, some habits from their POW days took some time to fade.
"When I got home from the war, I was staying with my grandmother," Mr Lowien said
"Without thinking, I would grab flies out of the air and eat them and she used to rouse on me."
"Flies were another source of protein for us over there, we didn't think any-thing of it."
- Born in Toowoomba on April 1, 1922.
- Enlisted in the Australian Army on November 14, 1941.
- Private Clifford Edward Lowien.
- Discharged February 6, 1946.
- Member of the 2/19 Battalion.
- Spent time in Changi prisoner of war camp, then worked on the wharves in Singapore before returning to Changi.
- Then sent to Thailand to work on Hellfire Pass. Returned again to Changi before going to Japan to work in coal mines.
- After the war ended, went from Japan to the Philippines, then home to Australia.