Anzac Day 2020: Leading Aircraftsman Arthur William Brown

Leading Aircraftsman Arthur William Brown was the eldest son of Mr William Robert and Mrs Blanche Evelyn Brown of Rathmines Road, Auburn. He was the brother of Pearce, also an Old Carey Grammarian and a lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force. Arthur attended Carey from February 1924 until December 1932.

On leaving Carey, Arthur was apprenticed to a pharmacy in Camberwell. He was married to Miss Elsie Yates and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1940. He left Australia for Singapore in 1941 and was taken prisoner in Java, Indonesia in March 1942. Arthur was transported by the Japanese to the deadly Thai–Burma Railway as part of captive forced labour. The Japanese high command had decided to build a railway linking Thailand and Burma, to supply its campaign against the Allies in Burma. Relentless labour, malnutrition, physical abuse and inadequate rations in the deadly tropical environment caused huge loss of life. The railway construction earned the nickname ‘Death Railway’ with a terrible toll of nearly hundred thousand laborers during its 16-month construction. By the time the railway was completed in October 1943, at least 2815 Australians, 11,000 other Allied prisoners and perhaps 75,000 Asian prisoners of war (POWs) were dead.

Arthur was a qualified pharmacist and used his knowledge and skill to attend to the dire needs of the patients in the dysentery ward at Beke Taung camp on the ill-fated and tragic Thai–Burma Railway. Most labourers on the railway died from exhaustion, dysentery, infection, cholera, malaria and malnutrition, and Arthur himself would succumb to dysentery and die aged 25.

The School magazine, the Carey Chronicle, reported the sad news of Arthur Brown’s death in December 1945.

Letters donated to Carey by Arthur Brown’s brother, Pearce Brown, which were preserved by the family in sad memorial, attest to Arthur’s bravery and courage. These letters, from his commanding officer at the camp, Flight Lieutenant Donald Hackett and from Australian journalist Rohan Rivett who also interned at the camp, demonstrate his dedication and valour. Rohan Rivett would later write a memoir and first-hand account of wartime internment and unflinching descriptions of the appalling conditions faced by the POWs on the Thai–Burma Railway in a book titled Behind Bamboo. In these pages he describes Arthur:

‘Arthur Brown was indefatigable in his care for his sick mates long after he himself had been stricken by the disease. He died for others with a courage and resolution beyond praise.’

Sadly, other Old Carey Grammarian POWs were part of the forced labour who worked on the Thai–Burma Railway. This last sad roll call includes:

Private Eric Sandell, Sergeant Francis Knight, Private Ion Richardson and Leading Aircraftsman Rupert McClelland who sent an Imperial Japanese Army card from Moulmein in Burma. The card reports to his family that he was working for 15 pence a day and was with his old school friend Arthur Brown. He writes in his final emotional message ‘remember me to everyone, fondest love to all…’ 

For references in this article, please contact the Carey Archives office.

Joanne Horsley, Archivist
Community Engagement