In 1942, Dunlop was sent to Java, Indonesia to help treat allied and Australian troops who were stationed there in order to counter the Japanese threat. In March of that year the Japanese captured Weary’s hospital in Bandoeng, Java.
Weary could have escaped but he would not hear of leaving his patients and became a prisoner of war (POW). All POWs were taken by ship to Singapore and from there some, including Weary, were railed in crowded rice trucks and sent to Thailand.
The Japanese utilised these men to build a continuous strategic rail line between Burma and Siam (now known as Myanmar and Thailand respectively).
Over four hundred kilometres long, this ambitious Japanese engineering project became known as ‘The Railway of Death’ – it has been estimated that including POWs and native labour, the construction of this railway cost one hundred thousand lives.
Weary led the first Australian group to arrive in Thailand and to work on the now infamous Burma – Siam Railway. In his dual capacity of Commanding Officer and Surgeon he had the care and responsibility for over one thousand men.
This group became known as ‘Dunlop Force’ or ‘Dunlop’s Thousand’.
Weary’ s medical skills, compassion and dedication to duty inspired his fellow POWs. He displayed extraordinary courage in attempting to improve the harsh living and working conditions imposed by his captors.
With scarce medical supplies and lack of proper instruments, the prisoners manufactured needles and artificial limbs from bamboo – improvisation was the order of the day and often made the difference between death and survival.
The men were required to work by Tokyo time, waking at 3am to begin their daily trials. Commonly breakfast consisted of one mug of rice and one of watery tea, while lunch and dinner would consist of rice with the occasional egg, but very little else.
Working from early morning until well into the night, the men were pushed to the brink of exhaustion; they were emaciated to levels they did not expect they could endure. Slow starvation and wretchedness was the order of the day. Weary bravely wrote:
“I have a conviction that it’s only when you are put at full stretch that you can realise your full potential”
Weary used his position as a doctor and Commanding Officer to protect his men. Having the awesome responsibility of deciding who was fit enough for work and who could remain behind to perhaps survive, he would often stand up to the Japanese soldiers, frequently with dire consequences for himself.
He was once made to kneel on gravel and hold up some heavy stones for many hours while a bamboo shaft was placed behind his knee.
But Weary never wavered; he always stood fast for his men.