Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library

“Hadie” or “Curley” Webster was born at Bigga, N.S.W. on 18th June 1904. The second child of the family of 9 children of Mrs. Mary & Mr. Horace Webster. He was educated at Crookwell primary and Newington College Sydney from 1917 to 1922.

He gained the leaving certificate in 1922 with passes in English, Maths 1 & 11, Modern History, Chemistry and Geography. He was a prefect in 1922.

He had a brilliant record as an all round sportsman at school which culminated in his selection in the combined G.P.S. 1st XI. and the awarding of football colours in 1922.

In 1926 He played in a Goulburn District team against South Coast and was then selected in the Southern N.S.W. Country Week Team which included an up and coming youngster by the name of Don Bradman (later Bro. Sir Donald). A team photo is included in “The Bradman Albums”.

On 1st October 1925 he was initiated into Lodge Crookwell No. 232.

1n 1913 his uncle, Bro. Cyril Webster (initiated Bland 337- 1/8/23) had drawn lot 26 at Blow Clear in the land ballot, Hadie joined him in West Wyalong in 1927 and he immediately affiliated with Lodge Bland No.337 on 18th. May 1927. (Same night as a triple Initiation). He was a member of the Show committee for several years and rendered specially valued service as a ring steward. He was a keen follower of horse racing.

It was at this time that he met, courted and married Miss Alma Gemmell of Mirrool.

In the 11 years prior to WW11 as a talented left handed batsman and bowler he captained the West Wyalong District team in many O’Farrell Cup and inter-district matches. Hadie’s sister Connie married Dennis Cowper whose son Bob holds the record for a test innings in Australia.

On 21st. June 1940 he enlisted in the Australian army at Wagga Wagga. He was assigned to the 2/20th. Battalion 8th. Division. His service No. was NX35505. After training at Bathurst, Wagga Wagga and Ingleburne, he was farewelled at a function in the Blow Clear Hall, where, as reported in the W.W.Advocate 27/1/41 “There was a large attendance, dancing being indulged in to the music of Ken Emmett’s Orchestra. A dainty supper was served by the ladies” and he was presented with a wallet on behalf of the Girral Branch of the Wheatgrowers’ Union. He sailed for Singapore on the Queen Mary, leaving Sydney on 2nd February 1941. Hadie must have had a talent for soldiering and recognisable leadership qualities as he had been promoted to Warrant Officer 2nd Class and was appointed C.S.M. of “B” Company by the time of embarkation, just 7 months after enlisting.

During the voyage to Singapore, at least 2 informal meetings of Freemasons were held and it is possible that Hadie participated in these meetings.

In April 1941 Hadie was selected in the A.I.F. team from all army units serving in Malaya for a tour of Singapore. They played 4 matches. The 1st, a draw at the Singapore C.C. Padang, against a non European team captained by Lake Singh who had played for India V. England. The 2nd. , a 4 wicket win V. the British army. The 3rd V the R.A.A.F. and the 4TH V. The Singapore State Side.

On Sunday 8th. February 1942, shelling of the Australian positions across the Straits of Jahore signalled the beginning of the Japanese invasion of Singapore. During the withdrawal towards Singapore, Hadie’s unit was ambushed and a fierce exchange of fire took place. Of the approximately 76 men involved in the ambush, only 6 survived and made off to the jungle. 3 of them were wounded including Hadie who had been shot in the wrist. From the jungle they witnessed the execution of their wounded mates. The 6 soon became 4 as one of the wounded died and another became separated and lost. These 4 came across a Japanese sentry whom they killed and in the resulting uproar the 4 were separated and Hadie was alone behind enemy lines. Hadie survived by his own resourcefulness and scavenging ability and some help from the native Malays and Chinese for more than a month before he made his way to Singapore and surrendered on the advice of a Malay policeman. The Japanese officer tore off a piece of paper and wrote on one side in English “Please direct bearer to Changi Camp” and on the other in Japanese “This man is a prisoner…this man is going to Changi Camp”. When he said that he did not know the way to Changi he was told, “You go East and East is straight out the door.” After walking for about 2 hours he was stopped at a road block and given some food and milk before he was put on a truck driven by a couple of Aussies and given a lift the rest of the way. Thus began his 3 year internment as a guest of the Imperial Japanese Army (I.J.A.). When the field dressing was removed from his wounded wrist, the wound was found to be fly-blown, the action of the maggots eating the putrefied flesh was credited with preventing gangrene and saving his life.

The following notice was posted in each hut:

“ Herewith a consolidation list of I.J.A. and P.O.W. “DONT’S” which have been compiled from camp orders previously issued.

It is sent out in this form for your convenience, and once each month the list will be brought to the notice of the occupants of each hut.

I.J.A. Orders. Prisoners of war are forbidden:-

1. To carry sticks, except those employed as camp police or authorised by their doctor.

2. To leave their huts between lights out and reveille except to visit the latrines.

3. To talk to any of the Indian prisoners.

4. To move about or smoke during roll call. All must sit quietly on the end of their bed space without talking from the time the first bugle sounds until the dismiss sounds.

5. To bathe in places other than the bath-houses, except that bed patients may be bathed in their beds.

6. To pass beyond the bamboo fence in front of the buni.

7. To possess trumpets, knives, open razors, cleavers, digging tools or weapons.

8. To possess watches, rings, jewelery (sic) or other valuables without permission of the I.J.A.

9. To enter any I.J.A. building except for duty.

10. To visit other huts except on duty.

11. To have meetings, or distribute, or read any printed matter without permission of the I.J.A.

12. To purchase anything outside the camp.

13. To read any books, magazines or newspapers except those authorised by the I.J.A.

14 To lend, borrow, give, or receive, sell or buy clothing, or any other article wether it be personal property or otherwise.

15. To gamble in any form.

16. To sing the national anthem or use the national flag except as the cover on a coffin.

17. To play games or lie on beds during working hours, except in the case of sick patients.

18. To possess cash in excess of: - Officers, $50 W.O’s and N.C.O’s $20. Privates, $10.

19. To swim or bathe in the ponds.

20. To fish in the ponds or drains or anywhere in the camp.

21. To damage or make any alterations to buildings.

22. To remove fruit from or cause damage to trees.

23. To use catapults (these are classed as weapons).

34. To carry out cooking other than in the kitchens.

25. To pick up or possess pamphlets or other articles dropped from aircraft.

26. To point towards or make signals to aircraft.

27. To possess drugs, medicines, bandages, cotton wool, or instruments.

28. To sell cigarettes, paper or tobacco, other than on behalf of the canteen.

29. To smoke outside the huts, except when sitting or standing by an authorised “Smoking Pit”.

30. To smoke during air raids after dark.

31. To be outside huts during an air raid, except when in I.J.A. duty.

P.O.W. Orders. Prisoners of war are forbidden:-

32. To approach the I.J.A. administrative or medical “HQ”, or to make any special requests of the I.J.A. without the authority of the camp Adjt.

33. To eat any uncooked vegetables etc.

34. To wash face and hands outside the huts. This must be done in a bath-house or inside a hut.

35. To exhibit any notice or sign unless officially permitted by the I.J.A.

36. To enter the kitchen or stores, except on duty.”

Needless to say, most, if not all of these rules were constantly tested by the men. Many men left the camp at night and returned with food and other supplies. Joe Harrison, who had worked for Hadie before the war, was one such adventurous soul who repeatedly returned with a tin of condensed milk which he shared with his mates.

One day the camp was visited by a Japanese officer and a soldier sporting a “beautiful stinker”.

One of the chaps who was returning from such an escapade had donged him with a can of bully beef. The soldier had no luck in identifying the culprit. However, the Japanese quickly warned that if anyone was caught outside the wire they would be dealt with. This information was given out on parade to all ranks, but that night over 600 men were caught outside. Joe Harrison and Clarrie Doyle of West Wyalong were amongst those rounded up. Nothing was heard of them for 2 weeks when they returned very bedraggled, thin and in a bad state.

Life in Changi Prison was a strange mixture of idleness, regimentation and staying alive and out of trouble. Hadie was issued with a mug and a spoon which were the only eating utensils for the whole of his captivity.

Working parties sent from Changi to Singapore were seen as opportunities of scavenging extra food and P.O.W.s who were fit were happy to be selected.

The men kept themselves fit and amused with a variety of activities including organised exercise, parades, two up, church, concerts, lectures, amateur theatre, Masonic meetings, and sports of which the most popular was cricket. A match between the Australians led by Captain Ben Barnett, a test cricketer and England captained by Major Swanson, an Essex county player, was organised by Hadie and Barnett and played in the English camp. Hadie was umpire. Australia won!

An account of Masonic activities in Changi was published in the April 2005 issue of “Freemason” which quoted from a series of Masonic talks by Rt. Wor. Bro. F.S.Wheelan BEM PJGW. Who was captured in 1942 and was in Changi until the end of the war:-

“As early as April in our first year, regular Masonic meetings began to be held. Our average attendance was 28. Down in the hospital area – both the Australian and British hospital units had amalgamated – they were rich in Freemasons – the meetings were held in a rehearsal-like manner in the store room…They had the doubtful pleasure, with empty bellies, of sitting on cases of Marmite and bully beef – yet there was no record of anything being stolen. This was thought to be a fine idea, but one of the chaps reminded us that the Japs had put a veto on meetings of Masons and any prisoners found attending meetings of Masons would be severely punished. It was decided that the meetings should be held in the Command Church which was apart from the main buildings. The man who arranged this was our own Padre, RW. Bro. Jack Benjamin. There was no Masonic furniture so we made it. All the buildings over there are equipped with ceiling fans and the blades in our areas were made of aluminium. These began to go missing….Norman James pinched them, flattened them out and etched them with a broken hacksaw blade …. they were the working tools of the three Degrees. Someone set to work and produced a pair of wands from the architraves around the doorways and some bright spark sawed fifteen inches off the hospital broom to serve as a baton. But our most prized possessions were our tracing boards … produced by one of our English bretheren, evidently an artist … it was obvious that some of the colours were from the soil of the grounds on which we were imprisoned.” Rt. Wor. Bro. Wheelan goes on to give an account of a Masonic funeral where a young soldier was laid to rest in the presence of 92 Freemasons. He also talks about the meagre catering for the South including making coffee from burned rice. “Not a bad sort of coffee either- providing you haven’t tasted the real thing for a long time. When the Japs were finally put behind the wire, a wonderful Masonic Thanks Giving Service was held outside the walls of the jail. Again our beloved Padre was the speaker. That day he spoke to over 200 Masons drawn from 25 constitutions in all parts of the world.”

We don’t know for sure, but it is very likely that Bro. WO 11 Heyward B Webster would have attended some of those meetings. In the records of the meetings held in Changi I located a brother “R. P. Smith of Lodge Bland No.337” who attended a meeting on 18/3/44. I surmise that this is actually Bro. Thomas P. Smith.

The archives of the U.G.L. of N.S.W. & A.C.T. and The Grand Lodge of Victoria contain many interesting artefacts from the Masonic meetings held in Changi. The Tracing Boards are preserved in the Masonic Museum of the Grand Lodge of England, Great Queen’s Street, London.

On 10th May 1942 1000 men, including Curley Webster, under the command of Lt. Colonel George Ramsay left Changi to work on Airfield and railway construction in Burma and Siam. They were not to return for over three years. Many did not return at all. The first leg of their journey was a 10 day voyage in extremely crowded conditions from Keppel Harbour to Mergui. During this voyage, the possibility of taking over the ship was considered but rejected.

Whilst in captivity the men were able to follow the progress of the war with clandestine radios of their own manufacture. One such device at Tavoy was hidden in a room directly above the Japanese commander’s quarters. Another radio was concealed in a water bottle and operated on dry batteries which were obtained by fellows working in the Japanese cookhouse. If a Jap left a torch lying about, a prisoner would pinch a good battery and replace it with a dead one.

One year they convinced the Japanese that the first Tuesday in November was an important holiday in Australia and were given a day off and they conducted a Melbourne Cup Day race meeting with Bamboo horses, bookies and fashions on the field. The Japs thought they were mad!

One guard liked the men to sing whilst on the job. He would clap his hands in time as the men sang to the tune of “she’ll be comin’ round the mountain” The words “They’ll be dropping thousand pounders when they come.” were substituted.

The men were enthusiastic scavengers and never missed an opportunity of supplementing their meagre rations. Whether it was a straying Burmese goat, the camp commandant’s ducks or snakes from the surrounding jungle, all were welcomed as added protein. Fish were also sometimes added to the diet courtesy of the J.I.A. It worked like this; “The Japs would take a party to the river and the guard would throw a grenade into the water. After it exploded many fish would be stunned or killed and float to the surface. The boys would catch the fish but purposely let a few float on down the river and across a bend where some prisoners would be waiting and they would make no mistake about catching them….in fact I think we got more fish than the Japs.”(Webster’s Story p 61).

The men had some interesting nick names for their captors, these included, “The Boy Bastard”, “The Boy Bastard’s Cobber” (known as B.B. & B.B.C.) & “Boofhead” and “Dillinger”.

Many of Curley’s mates in captivity were old friends from pre-war days, These included former Newingtonians Dave Kelynack & Major Walter E Fisher and many West Wyalong & district men including; Harry Tindall, Jack North, Dan Fitzgerald, Butch Davies, Joe Delaney, Paddy Miller (a former bass player in the W.W. town band),Clarrie Doyle, Charlie Wilkinson (a member of Lodge Bland), Brian Meagher, Albie Hutchins, Jack Fennell, Dick Lawler, Doug Craig (a member of Lodge Bland), Harry Worner, Wal Davey, Joe Harrison , Merv Trevaskis & Charlie Schultz from Ungarie. A stained glass window in memory of Doug Craig adorns the South wall of St. Barnabas Anglican Church West Wyalong.

Joe Delaney was a great scrounger and he and a mate pinched some medical supplies from a passing troop train. The men also distilled alcohol for medical use. Most of it reached the hospitals! Joe had chest problems which sent him into a coma for 7 days, when he came to he asked for a priest to give him the last rites. The priest Father Corry told him he was getting better and to keep his spirits up. After a while Joe said ‘This being the case lend me a couple of bucks” Joe got his money and eventually returned to West Wyalong.

It was during this time that Hadie developed a nasty ulcer on his leg which eventually led to the leg breaking and he was 14 months in hospital. On one occasion he was to have the leg amputated and the local anaesthetic had been administered when the doctor was called away and the amputation never took place. There were some treatments for the dreadful ulcers the men suffered. One was to dangle the legs in the river and let the fish nibble at the dead flesh.

Hadie credited the camp surgeon, Lt. Col. Albert E. Coates O.B.E. with saving his and many other lives.

It was during Curley’s time in captivity that his wife Alma was notified by the War Ministry of his death. The March 21st. 1945 minutes of this lodge contain the entry, “Silence observed for the late Bro. Webster who died of wounds in 1943 as a P.O.W. in Malaya.” This minute was later crossed out and the words, “(since reported safe and well)” added. I have been reliably informed that an extended period of audible revelry more than compensated for the 2 minutes silence!

The 12/11/45 edition of The W.W. Advocate carries a report of Curley’s welcome home function:

“Gaiety, combined with an air of sincere respect, characterised the atmosphere at Blow Clear Hall on Tuesday night last, when a large gathering assembled to welcome home Warrant Officer Hayward Webster who was a prisoner of war in Japanese hands for over three years.”

The chairman was (Bro.) Albert Meacham and Mr. T. J. Wilson jokingly declared that “W/O Webster now belonged to the numbers of those selected few who had enjoyed the privilege of reading their own obituary notice…. Speaking on behalf of the West Wyalong RSSAILA, (Bro.) H.H. (Bert) Andrews said that it was certainly a proud occasion for him to be welcoming home a soldier wearing the same colour patch as he himself had worn during the Great War.” Music was provided by Miss Marie Sloan and (Bro.) Fred Butcher.

His war injuries prevented Hadie from playing cricket after the war. In addition to his wounded wrist, the sever injuries and ulceration to his right leg required months of treatment including extensive skin grafting.

He did not return to farming after the war but worked for Roy S. Messner & Co., later to become Goldsborough Mort then later Elders.

He was first President of, and worked diligently for, The West Wyalong R. S. L. sub branch and was the second President of the Services & Citizens Club in 1947/48. Almost by accident he found himself working part time at the S & C Club doing their books.

His children, Bro. Brian Webster and Wendy Duff, recall that he did not hold a bitter grudge against the Japanese as a race. Years later when Bro. Graham and Wendy Duff hosted a Japanese Lion’s Club exchange student, Hadie just laughed and advised, “Give him plenty of rice.”

His eldest grand-daughter married a young Japanese man and he now has two very Australian and quite delightful great grand daughters who are Eurasian.

Heyward Bales Webster died aged 73 in Wagga Base Hospital on 21st February 1977.

References:

“Webster’s Story” Heyward Bales Webster.

“Sporting Champions of the Bland” Patrick O’Kane.

www.awm.gov.au (Australian War Memorial)

Lodge Bland Archives.

U.G.L., N.S.W. Archives. Peter Court.

Newington College Archives. John Benn.

Bro. Brian Webster.

Mrs. Wendy Duff.

“Freemason” V37 N2 April 2005.

West Wyalong Advocate.

Files prepared by Joyce Pereira @ W.W. Library.

Lecture prepared by V. Wor. Bro. John Scascighini.