For those who didn’t happen to catch the new Channel 9 program In Their Footsteps (http://channelnine.ninemsn.com.au/intheirfootsteps/) on Sunday night, it is well worth watching. We tuned in to the first episode and were particularly enthralled because the focus in this installment was on the life of Sailor and WWII Serviceman, PO Tommy Johnson, whose experiences throughout WWII greatly resembled those of my husband’s Great Uncle Walter Mervyn Dorman.
Walter, known as Merv, was born on the 3rd July 1905 in Leichhardt NSW. He was the eldest son of Walter Henry Dorman (1883-1961) and Alice Lillian Dora Power (1182-1961). In 1919, at the age of 14, he enlisted as a Cadet with the Australian Army and on the 24th June 1940 he joined the 2/12 Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers.
Walter was captured by the Japanese and we believe sent to work on the infamous Burma Railway along with approximately 60,000 Allied POWs. He survived this horrific experience and returned to POW camps in Singapore.
On the 4th September 1944, Merv was one of 1317 POWs placed aboard the Japanese ship Rayuko Maru bound for Japan. On the 12th September 1944, the Rakuyo Maru was torpedoed by the US Submarine Sealion, unaware that Allied POWs were on board. 1159 POWs from the Rayuko Maru and the ship it was travelling with, Kachidoki Maru, perished. Merv survived this event and although American submarines later returned to rescue some POWs, Merv was one of the 136 survivors who were picked up by the Japanese ship Kibitsu Maru and transported to Japan.
In Japan, Merv and his fellow POWs were destined to see out the war working in Japanese mines and shipyards until the American Occupation Forces emancipated them in September 1945. Tragically, after all he had been through, Merv died in a hospital in Tokyo on the 21st May 1945. He missed out on his freedom by a few short months.
Merv is buried in the Sydney War Cemetery at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.
Some related links –
Royal Australian Engineers Homepage – http://www.army.gov.au/rae/
“Railway of Death” – History of Burma-Thailand Railway – http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww2/anecdotes/deathrailway.html
“The Survivor” by Darryl Kelly – An extract from this fascinating book which details the life of Bill Webb, a fellow POW and survivor of the Rayuko Maru – http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww2/anecdotes/survivors.html