Featured Jenolan History


by Kath Bellamy

This is something I have said at times while touring caves at Jenolan. Of course I am referring to names and initials written on parts of the caves. Graffiti: something we deplore today which defaces and ruins much of our natural and built landscape. This practice was recognised as damaging the cave environment by John Lucas and others but only after Mr Lucas had left his mark for posterity. The effort to stem the practice is evident in the Grand Arch and its success is shown by the absence of obvious names in the Orient, Ribbon, Baal, River and Cerberus. Lucas, Imperial (Left and Right) and Elder caves are decorated with graffiti. Much of this is of great historical significance. The names of early explorers, visitors and especially dates are valuable pieces of information. Along with these treasures are many names of ‘ordinary’ visitors, the cave tourists. We may have wondered about “RW” in the Exhibition Chamber and “Dinky” who seems to have accompanied the Whiteleys into Elder in July1949.

In the Chifley Cave (Left Imperial) is the area known as Flitch of Bacon which is situated close to the exit into the Grand Arch. This area has numerous names on the walls including those of Jeremiah Wilson and Voss Wiburd. Recently I was photographing some of this graffiti and noticed a serviceman’s name and Queensland enlistment number from 1941. I decided to do some research to see who he was, how he may have come to visit Jenolan and importantly, what happened to him. Here is the story I found about Sergeant Mervyn Evans (known as Bill) who visited Left Imperial Cave on 22nd June 1941 and wrote his name on the wall.

QX14699 Mervyn Evans was born to George and Daisy Evans on 14th March 1916 at Bundaberg Qld. He enlisted in the Australian Army at Kelvin Grove, Qld. on 15th July 1940. He served with the 2/26th Battalion Letters written by him to his sister between 1941 and January 1942 are held in the Australian War Memorial Archives. In these letters up to August 1941, he describes pre-embarkation training and living conditions in army camps including Bathurst. It is at this time he visited Jenolan. From August 1941 to January 1942 he describes his voyage, living conditions, local conditions in Malaya, entertainment, local people, importance of mail and Australian Comforts Fund reading room and clubs. He describes attitudes towards the RAAF who are known as “Blue Orchids” and assessment of the Japanese advance in Malaya. Singapore fell to the Japanese and at 8.30pm on February 15 1942 the order to cease fire was given. The Australian troops became Prisoners of War. The Japanese practice was to use prisoners for labour. Work parties or Forces were dispatched from Singapore to various destinations. The Burma Thailand Railway construction area included the Kanchanburi camp which is 50 kilometres north of Nong Pladuk. Many prisoners were brought here after the railway was completed at the end of 1943.Mervyn Evans died of illness on 2nd December 1943 aged 27 at Kanchanaburi.  He is buried in the war cemetery there and his name is on panel 53 at the Australian War Memorial.

                 Members of 2/26 at Bathurst station, onroute for overseas deployment.     

The plaque at the cemetery in Thailand reads: “In honoured remembrance of the fortitude and sacrifice of that valiant company who perished while building the railway from Thailand to Burma during their long captivity. Those who have no known grave are commemorated by name at Rangoon, Singapore and Hong Kong and their comrades rest in the three war cemeteries of Kanchanburi, Chungkai and Thanbyuzayat.”


In August 1956 Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop made a pilgrimage back to Kanchanaburi and Chungkai and wandered along the lines of gravestones of ’friends who rested in the quietness and beauty’. The sight of their names, of the mountains rising ever higher above the Kwai Noi River, of ‘the jungle grown thick and green to hide the scars of camps where living and dead skeletons used to be so plentiful’, filled him with a dragging sadness. Mateship was recognition of the importance of another human being’s existence.A POW said ‘I don’t think any man would have done it on his own. One man carried me back. I don’t remember quite how it happened, must have been after I had the cholera. I fell or something and he carried me home on his back – and he wouldn’t have been a well man himself. That was mateship, but you didn’t think anything of it.’ ‘It’s difficult to explain, that feeling. Even in Bathurst you wouldn’t let the Battalion down, you wouldn’t let your mates down.’ Maybe Mervyn visited Jenolan with some of his mates from Bathurst.

On the JCHAPS weekend in February I went into Chifley Cave with Gordon Mills (Jeremiah).  I wanted to check some details of the graffiti in the Flitch of Bacon and I mentioned to Gordon about my research on Sergeant Evans.  Gordon told me about his great uncle who became a POW at the same time.  He was:

                                                                             NX20156 Corporal Russell Wilfred James AASC No.1 Coy. 22nd Brigade.                                                                              

                                                            He was born in Bathurst on 18th January 1901 to Alfred and Matilda James.  He enlisted at Paddington

on 14th June 1940. He was one of over 2000 Allied prisoners of war held in Sandakan POW camp in North Borneo, having been transferred there from Singapore as a part of B Force. The 1494 POWS that made up B Force were transported from Changi on 7th July 1942 on board the tramp ship Ubi Maru, arriving in Sandakan Harbour on 18th July 1942.  B Force was put to work constructing air fields in North Borneo.


Corporal James, aged 44, died as a prisoner of the Japanese on 2nd April 1945.

He is commemorated on Panel 21 of the Labuan Memorial and Panel 82 at the Australian War Memorial. 


References: AWM Archives. Getting on with it; 2/30th Battalion AIF. One Man’s War; Stan Arneil.  Weary, The Life of Sir Edward Dunlop; Sue Ebury.



Corporal Russell Wilfred James