Jones, Robert William
Jones, Robert William

Robert William (Bob) Jones was born on 25 July 1911 in Preston. His father was Thomas Henry Jones (b. 1884 in Ribbleton), a market gardener. His mother was Alice Ann Kirkham (b. 1883 in Preston). Tom and Alice were married in 1906. They had a daughter, Doris, in 1909 and then Bob in 1911. I think Bob grew up in Preston and the family lived at 34 Ainsworth Terrace, Thorn Street, Preston, but by 1939, Tom and Alice had moved to 142 Higher Walton Road. However, in 1935 Bob married Doris Molyneux (b. 1907 in Wigan), and they moved to 440 Leyland Road, Tardy Gate. Bob was a goods loader of heavy vehicles (his POW record gives his occupation as corn merchant) and Doris was a bandage packer working at Vernon’s Penwortham Mill. They had a daughter, Kathleen, in 1937.

Bob enlisted in the Army. CWGC gives his regiment as Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers (REME), and his rank as Craftsman. His POW record, however, says he was in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC). British forces arrived in Singapore in January 1942 and they surrendered a fortnight later. Bob then spent some time in Changi POW camp before being sent to work on the Burma railway.

Jones, Robert William

Changi POW Camp, Singapore

After the Japanese were defeated in the Battles of the Coral Sea (May 4–8, 1942) and Midway (June 3–6, 1942), the sea-lanes between the Japanese home islands and Burma were no longer secure. New options were needed to support the Japanese forces in the Burma Campaign, and an overland route offered the most direct alternative. With an enormous pool of captive labour at their disposal, the Japanese forced approximately 200,000 Asian conscripts and over 60,000 Allied POWs to construct the Burma Railway. Among the Allied POWs were some 30,000 British, 13,000 Australians, 18,000 Dutch, and 700 Americans. Between June 1942 and October 1943 the POWs and forced labourers laid some 258 miles (415 km) of track from Ban Pong, Thailand, to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. 

During this time, prisoners suffered from disease, malnutrition, and cruel forms of punishment and torture inflicted by the Japanese. Not only were the long days of the POWs filled with harsh labour and punctuated by physical abuse, but also the prisoners were provided with grossly inadequate food. The daily food allotment typically included small portions of boiled rice and spoiled meat or fish; rations were routinely contaminated with rat droppings and infested with maggots. In addition, there was a lack of potable water. Consequently, the prisoners were malnourished, dehydrated, and predisposed to illness. These factors, compounded by the unsanitary conditions in the work camps and the tropical environment, meant that disease was rampant. Dysentery and diarrhoea were responsible for more than one-third of all deaths on the railway. Other diseases included cholera, malaria, and tropical ulcers.

Bob Jones died on 2 December 1943, aged 32, and is buried at Kanchanaburi in Thailand, which is the closest settlement to the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai. More than 13,000 POWs died during the construction of the railway and were buried along the railway.

Rank: Private/Craftsman

Service Number: 7646913

Unit/Regiment: Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers

Date of death: 02/12/1943

Age: 32

Commemorated at: KANCHANABURI   WAR CEMETERY, Thailand

Memorial Reference: 2. B. 68.

Additional Information: Son of Thomas Henry and Alice Ann Jones; husband of Doris Jones, of Lostock Hall, Lancashire.

Jones, Robert William

Living conditions on the Thai-Burma railway