Tributes flow for one of our last survivors of Burma rail

SURVIVOR: Cec Dawson in his service photo taken 1941 and at a recent service. The Digger survived the horrors of Changi Prison.
SURVIVOR: Cec Dawson in his service photo taken 1941 and at a recent service. The Digger survived the horrors of Changi Prison. Contributed

ONE of our last surviving Second World War prisoners of war, Cecil Dawson, passed away last month.

Cec Dawson was one of Ipswich's true war heroes, beating the odds to survive more than three years at Changi Prison and working on the Burma-Thailand railway, yet, like many of our Diggers, he would not seek the limelight and spoke little of the horrors of the war.

Cecil George Dawson was born in central Ipswich and raised in the Fassifern Valley where his family had dairy farms.

His father Philip was a coal miner who developed respiratory problems from his work and moved to Harrisville to improve his health.

As a young boy he attended the Harrisville State School.

In 1935, he joined the Kalbar Troop of the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Cec and three of his brothers enlisted in the Army.

Cec enlisted in June, 1940, as the Japanese were moving south in Asia.

After training at Redbank and Brisbane, he fought in Malaya and Singapore for a year before Singapore fell to the Japanese.

He was evacuated to Java and on February 15, 1942, he became a prisoner of war when the Allied Forces on Java surrendered.

At first they were held at the infamous Changi Prison.

His family said he rarely spoke of his war experiences.

In a rare interview featured in The Boonah Shire Chronicles - Times of War, edited by Frank Hampson, Cec spoke of the horrific conditions when he arrived at Changi Prison.

"It was the beginning of the most inhuman and terrible conditions anyone could be expected to endure," he said.

Months after arriving at Changi he was sent as a member of 'D' Force to work on the "Death Railway", the Burma-Thailand railway, and was fortunate to survive his captivity of three and a half years.

In Times of War, Cec said he came close to becoming part of a toll that was estimated at "one life for every sleeper of the railway".

The brutality of the Japanese guards, long hours and harsh work in the extreme jungle heat, malaria, beriberi, hookworm and other diseases took a heavy toll on the POWs.

One of the lighter moments Cec recalled was slaughtering pigs for the Japanese cook in return for the head, offal, tail, trotters and fat off the hide to spice up their meals.

"It was the first meat we had since leaving Changi. My mates boiled it all up and made it into soup," he said in Times of War.

After winning praise of the Japanese cook, Cec told the cook to "Get stuffed", which the cook repeated, causing Cec to laugh, and luckily the cook laughed too.

"From then on I used to tell him to get stuffed whenever he passed by and he would laugh, and me and my mates would laugh," Cec said in the account.

"That was a bit of satisfaction for me."

After returning from the war Cec took post-war reconstruction training in the building industry.

He married Audrey in 1948 and settled in Ipswich where he became a well-known carpenter and qualified builder, particularly known and respected for his work on heritage homes.

They had three daughters and have been long-time residents of Brassall.

Cec worked for a local builder until 1960 and then as a registered builder himself until he retired in 1980.

He was one of five Ipswich prisoners of war who attended the unveiling of the National Prisoner of War Memorial in Ballarat.

Cec also returned to Kanchanaburi in Thailand in September, 2005, with four other Ipswich prisoners of war to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their release from captivity.

Cec is survived by his wife, three daughters and six grandchildren.

Topics:  obituary prisoner of war second world war veteran

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