Name Robert William Barguss Rank: Private
Battalion Australian Army Medical Corps, 13th General Hospital
Place of Birth. Besseleigh England 21February 1905
Next of Kin Helena Barguss, his wife. He was the son of William and Sarah Barguss
Date and place of enlistment 26 May 1941 at Royal Park
Location on enlistment Koonwarra
Date and place of death 12 January 1944 on the Thai-Burma Railway, Burma section aged 38.
Location of grave or memorial
He is buried in Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery Myanmar. He is remembered on the memorial at Leongatha and on a memorial gate at the park in Koonwarra.
Relationship to Woorayl Shire
He lived in Koonwarra with his wife.
After their marriage he and May ran a dairy farm between Caithness and Minns Roads Koonwarra, known in those days as Bunkers Hill. Bob had been active in the local militia unit where he had risen to the rank of Company Quarter Master
The 13th Australian General Hospital was formed at Melbourne’s Caulfield Racecourse on 11 August 1941. Its personnel and equipment were assembled over the ensuing fortnight, and it sailed, from Melbourne, for service overseas on 2 September 1941. At the time of its departure the 13th comprised 18 officers, 44 nurses, 3 masseuses and 146 other ranks; it was equipped to treat 600 patients.
Arriving in Singapore on 15 September 1941, the hospital was set up at St. Patrick’s Boys School on the island’s south coast, but initially treated few patients. Many of its nursing staff were attached to other units or establishments, including the Singapore General Hospital, while those that remained spent much of their time training in the treatment of tropical diseases and modern military surgical practices.
Between 21 and 23 November 1941, the 13th relocated to the Malayan mainland and occupied a newly-built, but not quite finished, mental hospital at Tampoi, six and a half kilometres from Johore Bahru. The 13th was still at Tampoi when the Japanese launched their invasion of Malaya on 8 December. Their rapid advance forced the withdrawal of the 10th Australian General hospital from Malacca to Singapore, this left the 13th as the only Australian hospital in Malaya. As a result, it had to double its patient capacity to 1,200. At the time it only had 359 beds open but this grew to 945 by 18 December.
The 13th treated most of the casualties that resulted from the AIF’s battles in Johore, and, as the fighting got closer, it effectively became a large-scale casualty clearing station. It was the most forward surgical unit in the Australian army at the time. Eventually the Japanese were closing in and the 13th withdrew to Singapore on 23 January. Thirty-eight hours later it was re-established as a 700-bed hospital back at St. Patrick’s.
Like all medical units, the 13th was hard-pressed during the fighting for Singapore. It was subject to bombing, sustaining hits to both its kitchen and a ward, and had to operate under complete blackout conditions at night. Mounting casualties soon outstripped the hospital’s ability to accommodate and treat them and patients had to lie on the lawns around the hospital. With defeat imminent, the 13th’s nursing sisters were progressively evacuated on three ships. The last contingent of 27 left aboard the ill-fated Vyner Brooke on 12 February. On 15 February the 13th surrendered with all Commonwealth Forces in Singapore.
Between 22 and 23 February the 13th re-established itself in buildings at Selerang Barracks, part of the sprawling prisoner-of-war complex on the Changi Peninsula. On 6 March the Japanese authorities directed that only one prisoner-of-war hospital would be maintained in Changi and the bulk of the Australian medical units, including the 13th General Hospital, were merged with the British hospital at Roberts Barracks.
Bob was part of all the 13th General Hospital’s activities before and after the surrender. He was one of thousands sent from Changi by sea to Burma to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. He struggled against brutal treatment, malnutrition and tropical disease until he passed away on 12 January 1944.
Unit information from the Australian War Memorial website