The story behind the Walter Loxton Chapel -
a tale of one man’s extraordinary bravery, endurance and sacrifice...
Walter Thomas Loxton was born on July 13, 1919, at Renmark. The son of Emma and Walter Loxton, he was one of eight siblings. The close-knit family eventually settled in Edwardstown. Strong and agile, Wal loved swimming, dancing and boxing, until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 changed everything.
Within days of turning 21, in July 1940, Wal enlisted at Wayville into the 8th Australian Infantry Force. He was assigned to the 2/2 Reserve Motor Company, whose motto “Equal to the Task” suited the energetic, new recruit.
In early February 1941, Wal sailed from Sydney to Malaya. His letters home showed his selfless, caring spirit. Later that year he wrote:
“You wanted to know if I wanted anything Mum, well I’d sure like to be home for Christmas, but otherwise I’m pretty right thank you. I’m getting together a parcel for you all.”
When Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942 Wal became a prisoner of war. Enslaved to labour on the construction of the notorious Burma-Thailand Railway, he endured torture and punishment over two years in extreme tropical conditions. A strong, loyal bond was forged with his mates in the "A" force, under Brigadier Arthur L Varley.
13,000 allied POWs died. Malnourished, but strong of will and muscle, and cheerful in nature, Wal lifted the spirits of his comrades.
One of the 900 fit Australians, he was selected to work in the mines in Japan. On 9th September 1944, 1318 POWs were crammed aboard the Rakuyo Maru, almost half were Australians. The eleven-ship Japanese convoy refused to fly the Red Cross flag indicating POWs were aboard.
Three days into the journey, in the South China Sea, a wolfpack of four American submarines was ordered to attack the convoy. Two torpedoes hit the Rakuyo Maru. The Japanese crew and guards abandoned ship, taking every lifeboat. The prisoners, most locked in the hold, were left to fend for themselves. Eventually, they got free and into the water.
Japanese boats picked up their own survivors, fending POWs off with revolvers, before steaming away. The American submarines, unaware POWs were aboard, pursued the convoy.
For three days men, clung helplessly to pieces of wreckage in waters slick with oil, before the USS submarine Pampanito passing back through the area, spotted survivors. The crew rescued many before calling back the three other submarines for help. They had only a few hours to search before a typhoon moved in. When winds hit 60 knots, the rescue was abandoned, sealing the fate of the remaining survivors.
Of the 1318 men on Rakuyo Maru, just 159 were rescued.
Lance Corporal Walter Thomas Loxton was not among them. The selfless Wal had given the ultimate sacrifice for his beloved country.
Peace, for which so many lives had been given, was declared on 15 August 1945.