Major Arthur Moon was an Australian surgeon and POW in the Tamuang and Chungkai camps during World War II. He worked alongside Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop and performed up to thirty operations a day with improvised medical equipment.
P.O.W. Operating- theatre. Tamuang. Thailand. September. 1944. [Plan number 2], H95.61/16
Moon commissioned Ashley George Old, an artist and fellow prisoner, to capture unusual diseases and war wounds. Old was planted in a hospital as a fake patient, so that he could paint subjects. He made do with makeshift art materials and produced works on stolen sheets of Japanese toilet paper and used wild jungle saffron as a substitute for yellow paint once his supply ran out.
Tropical ulcers in uncommon sites. [Number 1, Gunner A. Norman, upper left torso], H95.61/5
Old’s watercolours are anatomically accurate without being clinical. They depict human suffering, with visceral images including flesh eating tropical ulcers, pustules caused by cutaneous anthrax and a forearm shattered by a bomb. Whilst these are horrific wounds, Old manages to capture them with warmth and vitality.
Bomb Wound (air attack.) / Ulna and ulnanerve injuries. [Sargeant Butterfield, lower left arm], H95.61/9
Tropical ulcer leg. [Stage 3, Soldat Orie, lower leg], H95.60/22
It’s amazing that the fragile works survived. Moon buried them in a tin in the jungle when prisoners were being moved on to their final camp on the Burma-Thai railway. The first attempt by an officer to retrieve the tin after the declaration of peace failed as the environment of the former camp had changed beyond recognition. Later Major Moon returned to Tamuang and recovered the tin.
These watercolours and drawings, along with a series of photographs depicting daily life in camps, were donated to the State Library’s Picture Collection in 1994 by Moon’s nephew, Peter Jones, who acquired the collection in 1974 when his uncle died. The collection went virtually unseen until 1995 when the State Library held an exhibition in Queen’s Hall called ‘The Major Moon Collection: watercolours and drawings by artists in Prisoner Of War camps on the Burma-Thai railway 1944-1945.’ Now the collection is digitized and accessible to everyone through the Library’s catalogue.
You can search the catalogue using the search terms major moon collection and refine your search to items that have been digitized by clicking on the Online resources link, which sits underneath the Show only heading at the top of the margin to the left of the results list. You can also use the margin on the left to refine your search by Series name to include either the watercolours and drawings or photographs.
Written by Sarah Ryan
Librarian, Australian History & Literature Team
1. Rosario, V, 1995, ‘Perspectives on war’, Tirra Lirra, Autumn, vol 5, no 3, pp 19-20