PUBLISHED: 2 March 2018
Maroochy RSL league member Stan Dellar has led a full life, his wartime story like so many is one of courage and tenacity to survive against considerable odds. Captured not once but twice by the Japanese, his story is one that is truly remarkable.
Stan was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire in England as one of six children.
At the age of sixteen Stan enlisted in the Territorial Army. A year later he joined a military training camp in Wilshire where he was made part of the regimental staff of the 18th Division which had 22,000 men.
In September 1939 at age 19 everything changed for Stan, he was called up for service the day before World War II was declared.
They then travelled to Wymondham, which would be home for the next few months. This is where Stan met the love of his life Vera; after six weeks they were engaged and married in December 1940. Shortly after Stan departed for Singapore.
Before they reached Singapore in December 1941 they were advised that their field equipment had been mistakenly sent to Basra in Iraq, but despite this, they remained optimistic.
“Every third person was given a rifle and a machete was given to others, some soldiers had nothing! Our field guns were replaced with World War I models with wood and iron wheels,” Stan said.
Mail was waiting for Stan when he arrived in Singapore with the news that Vera was pregnant.
The war did not go well for the allies and they were quickly pushed back and on 15 February 1942 Singapore surrendered to the Japanese.
“In Singapore the whole thing collapsed, it was a hopeless catastrophe and the Japanese were far superior, they ruled the skies,” Stan said.
“We were now considered prisoners of war, we were in a strange country with strange people, whose culture and life was very different to ours.
We were told we would be sent to Changi on Singapore Island, there was a huge army barracks district called Selerang and we had to march to it. It took almost two days, sleeping on roadsides, and we were only allowed to take what we could carry, which was not much.”
“It was sheer horror, one in three men died through starvation or cruelty. It was just horrible and I can’t describe it. It was non-stop work, all we had to eat was 90% rice and sometimes some vegetables… we were skeletons.”
Life at Changi was tough without enough to eat and plenty of hard work and discipline. The prisoners were forced to work building the infamous Thai-Burma railway. They were given hope that when they got to Thailand things would improve.
“When the railway was completed they shipped me back to Singapore and put 1,300 of us on a convoy to Manila on 4 July 1941; it took us three months to travel those 600 miles.”
Just before reaching Manila their convoy was attacked by American Air Force planes who mistakenly thought the ships were carrying Japanese troops.
“Our ship was dive-bombed, it sank around 21 miles out to sea, so I paddled on my own and it took me a whole day to get to shore. It was exhausting and terrifying” Only 67 men made it to the beach; some were picked up but most drowned with the ship.
Stan miraculously met up with another survivor and was quickly warned by local natives that the island was held by the Japanese who were already rounding up survivors.
We heard that survivors were being held at the local police station so we voluntarily handed ourselves in. “They put us all in a big room but they didn’t believe us that we were already prisoners of war” he said. They believed we were pilots who had earlier attacked the convoy.
“They kept us locked up there for 10 days eventually coming in with some shorts and shirts. They didn’t say where we were going, then took us to another prisoner of war camp.”
“There were about 513 left in that camp; 500 Americans and 13 British men” Stan said.
“I was there from October until about February and one night we were sitting around talking when suddenly all hell broke loose and we heard the Americans had arrived!
They killed all the Japanese and came and rescued us and we marched all night long until we got to the American lines.”
The 500 Americans were led away and the British soldiers were given clothing, towels, soap, blankets and all sorts of things that they hadn’t seen in three years.
“I can remember there were big frankfurts, I probably ate about 30 of them! Then we found tins of half peaches in syrup – none of us could walk after that,” he said.
After a visit from General McArthur they truly knew the suffering was coming to an end.
Arriving home on 10 April 1945 Stan was greeted by his 3 year old daughter for the first time.
In 1952, Stan, Vera and now three children moved to Australia as “10 Pound Poms”.
Now Stan is 97 years old and lives on the Sunshine Coast and when he reflects on his eventful life he is grateful for all he saw.
“I’d never want anyone to have to go through what we did, but I have lived a full life,” he said.
Stan has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but he says he tries not to let the past bother him. He has some advice for the younger generation of veterans.
“Do something for yourself and move on, just get on and do it. It helps,” he says.