Wednesday 28 June 2023

Harley Daley: life as a POW

This week I got to know the man that our Campbelltown Library is named after a little better. Harley or HJ Daley served proudly on Campbelltown Council as General Manager for an incredible 41 years. Harley was captured by the Japanese and made a POW at Changi Prison in Singapore during World War II. After a visit from a family connection this week, the war diary of Harley was lent to me which allowed me the privilege of reading the harrowing and powerful moments of his time as a POW.

Harley left Campbelltown with an expectation that he would serve his country for a relatively short period. Little did he know that it would be five years before he would return to his friends and family as well as his beloved Campbelltown.

Harley enlisted on 13 June 1940 and served in the ill-fated 8th Division. He wrote that he was always keen to do anything of importance on the 13th. Three years to the day after he enlisted he wrote in his diary "Three years since I signed on the dotted line and wanted to be a soldier. When I look back, what a waste it has all been." His diary began on 10 March 1942. He wrote "As I sit here in my cell (?) - at least I am a prisoner of war - I will commence what I have promised myself for some time and relate some incidents from our stay in Malaya which no doubt will be of some interest in later years."

There are many entries where Harley describes the appalling conditions of the camp. On 19 November 1942 he describes how he "Inspected new camp site - lousy - and crawling with bugs. Anyway we are quite accustomed to them but it is a bit tough when you have to push them out of bed in order to crawl in." Harley would quite often describe the food- or lack of it. Eating rice was a daily struggle. Malnutrition was rife and he would often write about men he saw such as on 21 December 1942: "Three more parties have arrived during the past 3 days and I have never seen men in such a sad state. Many of them are just able to walk owing to malnutrition and are covered with sores." Harley too struggled with malnutrition and would occasionally write about his drop in weight. On 17 May 1945 as the war was near an end he wrote "Weight steadily dropping and I am now down to 9 st. 1lb.

Significant milestones were always noted in Harley's diary but often written in an understandable  melancholy tone. "19 March 1942: What a birthday. I am on liquid diet and could not even keep that down- feeling lousy. Have a good position on top balcony but the bugs are terrible." He would always remember and write about family birthdays, describing the pain of not being with them to celebrate. He would receive letters from his wife Gleam but quite often it could be over a year before they arrived. On 3 May 1944 he received a letter from Gleam dated March 1943. He would often express his disappointment of the absence of photos of the family in the letters he received.

Eventually the war came to an end and somehow Harley Daley had survived Changi. On 11 August 1945, only days after the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed Harley wrote "Jack Lennon woke me at 0400 to say that Japan had agreed to Allied terms of unconditional surrender." A month or so later on September 18 how the big day had arrived and that they embarked about 11am on Duntroon and had lunch on board with plenty of meat!

The last entry in Harley's diary was on October 6 where he wrote: "And so we reach the final stage. Had a rehearsal this morning for disembarkation tomorrow at No. 11 Wharf, Woolloommoolloo. Then to Ingleburn - fancy finishing up there. Expect Harry and Jim will be there- hope they bring a bottle. Even now it is hard to believe that within 24 hours we will be back with our families, away from all this monotonous routine, bickering and whingeing. Oh to be free again. We have had a remarkable trip- 19 days on the ship and this is the first without sunshine. I will now start packing- "And so Tomorrow".

Harley James Daley, the man known as 'The Father of Modern Campbelltown' died in 1987. He pre-deceased his wife Gleam. He had two daugters: Del and Cheryl.

Harley's diary is unavailable to the public.

Written by Andrew Allen

Harley and Gleam in period costume at the official opening of Glenalvon during the sesquicentenary celebrations in 1970.

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