“Roaring Reggie” Newton, much loved leader of many POWs, died on Sunday 31 July 1994 and was buried on the following Thursday. At the Service I remember the very obvious respect and affection so many men had for this wonderful old friend and I recall some of the anecdotes from his funeral. One was how he chipped the Japanese guards if their uniform was not up to standard and they were terrified of him… if he went into a POW hut at one end, they shot out at the other with cries of “Argh, Number One Australian.”
Reg’s obituary appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 6th August 1994. Headlined “Protector of ‘Death Railway’ POWs” it told readers that Reg Newton “emerged as an outstanding leader in the World War II Japanese prisoner of war camps on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. As a camp commandant of POWs he was often brutally beaten and ill-treated by guards while protesting against the conditions imposed on his men. His efforts were recognised as having saved many lives.” He was OIC of the ‘U’ Beauties and his 2IC was Capt Bill Gaden of 2/20 Battalion AIF.
More than 200 veterans and friends attended his funeral… among them Mr. Tom Uren, a former Labor Cabinet Minister and fellow POW. “He was simply one of the greats of the camps, a marvelous leader,” Mr. Uren said. Soldiers from the Australian Army provided the pall bearers at his burial and a lone piper was present to ‘play his soldier home’.
Lieutenant Colonel Reginald William James Newton was born in Sydney but began military life as a 15 year old Australian Military Forces camp cadet in Coonabarabran. At the outbreak of war he was a militia captain for the 5th Infantry Brigade at Parramatta. He went to Malaya as a company commander in the 2/19 Battalion.
After the fall of Singapore Newton was Allied commander of various POW camps in Malaya before being transferred to the “Death Railway”. In 1944 he commanded ‘Newton Force’ of Australian, British, Dutch and American POWs which was moved from Thailand to Japan.
In 1947 he was awarded the medal of Member of the British Empire” The citation read ‘ARMY – Distinguished service in the SW Pacific. Highly meritorious service as a POW in Burma and Siam. Reg received the award from the Governor General at Admiralty House on 24 January 1949.
After the war Reg Newton devoted himself to the welfare of ex-POWs and in 1978 he became an officer in the Order of Australia for his work. The Citation advised it was for service to welfare of ex-servicemen
One soldier from 2/20 Battalion told me that there were just two people he’d “like alongside him in a scrap”, one was Tom Uren…”not that I agreed with his politics but he was a good man”… and ‘Roaring’ Reggie Newton…. “these two men were second to none. Great blokes!”