Stories of Remembrance

Navy, Second World War (1939-45)Able Seaman Arthur Bancroft,Royal Australian Navy Reserves

There goes my home. Everything I owned was in that home. I wasn’t worried, I wasn’t scared, just a strange feeling to think you're losing your home.
Arthur Bancroft

At 19 years of age, in November 1940, Arthur Bancroft joined the Royal Australian Navy. In March 1942 he was serving on board HMAS Perth when she was sunk by the Japanese in Sunda Strait, survivors were taken as prisoners of war to the infamous Burma-Thai Railway.During his incarceration Arthur risked his life to keep his diary. The diary, made of scrap journals and rice paper, was kept buried beneath his bunk. In the diary he captured the stories and thoughts of his mates, their memories and their poems.

An ear and throat infection during training changed the story of Arthur’s life. Originally trained in the communications branch he missed the draft during his time in hospital. Arthur’s determination resulted in him being drafted as a seaman and sent to Flinders Naval Depot (HMAS Cerberus); “I joined the Navy to fight a war not to hang around here.”

In October 1941 Arthur was assigned to HMAS Perth. Arthur was known amongst his ship mates as “Blood”. On 1 March 1942 Perth was sunk by a Japanese invasion convoy. When Perth was sinking Arthur swam 50 yards to get away. After almost a week in the water Arthur and his fellow survivors were taken as Japanese prisoners of war.

Back in Subiaco, Western Australia, Arthur’s sweetheart Mirla, the sister of his best mate, had learnt of the news that Perth had sunk. No one back home knew how many survivors there were or what had happened to them. Eight months later they broadcast names over the radio and a friend heard Arthur’s name. That was the first Mirla heard that her love was still alive.
From the start of Arthur’s incarceration prisoners were unshaven, still covered in oil from the ships wreckage and only allowed to wear the g-string that was issued to them. During a two day stop at Singapore Arthur and four other men were issued with a Red Cross parcel to share. It was the only care package they received. Arthur got underpants and a handkerchief but what he really appreciated was a can of condensed milk which he was later able to trade for a hot water bottle which he carried through the Burma jungle. It was in Burma that they were told they were going to build a railway and to build it over a dead man’s body if necessary. This was certainly the case. The secret diary that Arthur managed to keep and bring back to Australia tells the story of his comrades and those who didn’t survive.

Arthur married his sweetheart when he returned home at the end of the war. They remained married until passing of Mirla in March 2011.

  • Name Arthur Bancroft
  • Service Number F3239
  • Date of Birth 24 November 1921
  • Place of Birth Fremantle, Western Australia
  • Date of Enlistment 18 November 1940

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