Sergeant Len Baynes
Unit : 1st Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regiment.
Served : France, Singapore (captured).
Camps : Changi, River Valley, Chunkai, Tamarkan.
"The Will To Live"
I, Sgt. Len (Snowie) Baynes, was a member of the (Territorial) 1st. Battn., The Cambridgeshire Regt. A few of us were mobilised a week before the outbreak of WW2 to defend Duxford Aerodrome against ground and air attack. After a few weeks we were replaced, and began infantry training at Weeting Hall, Brandon, Norfolk. Bored, I volunteered to join No.11 Independent Coy. and was situated under canvas on the Dell Football ground at Southampton. We were trained by members of The Royal Navy to row whaleboats, ready to land silently on enemy shores. After Dunkirk we became No.1 Commando, and we were deployed in defence of Cornwall at Carbis Bay, when an attack from the sea was expected.
We later moved Sedburg, climbing
mountains with half hundredweight on our back, practicing mountain warfare, and
thence to Gourock, Scotland, where we embarked on a cattle boat, to go to defend
Norway; but after five days we returned to base, as Norway had been captured by
the Germans. I was recalled to my regiment after a few months, as they were
expecting to embark for overseas. Eventually we did embark, originally bound for
North Africa, but were deflected at sea, and sent to Singapore, instead, having
had no training in jungle warfare. There, after a catastrophic campaign, we were
captured by the Japanese, eventually to build a railway in Thailand for them,
where disease and ill treatment at one time reduced me (and others much worse),
to weigh 4 stone.
There follows an account of our experiences in World War Two.
Chapter 1 - How WW2 Began
Britain disarmed during the thirties, our passive government deciding to rely on The League of Nations, with what was called 'Collective Security'. Meanwhile, Germany was re-arming fast. Hitler and Mussolini joined forces, forming 'The Axis', and Hitler later made a non-aggression pact with Stalin. Too late, a couple of years only before war was declared, we decided to re-arm, without putting the nation on a war footing. After war broke out late 1939, we sent all our available forces to help France defend her borders (The Maginot Line) against the anticipated German assault, and began all-out re-arming.
For several months Hitler consolidated his gains in Poland, Czechoslovakia etc. in what was called 'The Phoney War'. Then he quickly conquered the low countries, which left The Allies' flank exposed. The French defence rapidly collapsed, and after retreating, leaving our flank exposed, they capitulated. In our weakened state, Japan took the opportunity to attack, and as we had disbanded our Far Eastern Fleet, we could no longer defend our Far East empire. In France, we were left with our only stratagem; to get out of the country as quickly as possible, in order to be able to fight another day. This entailed fighting a rearguard action against the quick-moving Panzer tank divisions across the whole of France, to Dunkirk. As our troops neared the Channel, Britain called for every available ship and boat to assemble on our south coast, ready to cross over and evacuate our troops when they reached Dunkirk. They came in their thousands, from small launches to trawlers. When the day came for the rescue the bad weather eased long enough for them to cross. Many were lost from air attack, but the majority of our men were saved, although all their equipment and weaponry was lost.
'Collective Security' had failed. Britain and her Commonwealth faced the world alone, with her factories, towns and cities being devastated by the overwhelming superiority of the Axis airforces. Ships bringing supplies of food and equipment were sunk by the enemy submarine fleet. Our forces in North Africa were being pushed back by Rommel and the Italians, as we could not supply them from the sea. That was when Churchill made his presence felt with his famous 'We shall fight them . . . .' speech.
After that Britain really got its
nose to the grindstone. Our wooden Hurricane fighters' parts were made in
cottage workshops all over the country; metal Spitfires parts were made in every
car factory and engineering works. Ford turned over its workshops to producing
Rolls Royce Merlin engines, the finest aircraft engines in the world. Finally
the time came when, in 'The Battle of Britain', the Luftwaffe found it was
losing its bombers to the Hurricanes and Spitfires faster than it could make
them, and the worst of 'The Blitz' was over. However, Hitler had by then made
his greatest mistake. His plans to invade England across the channel, when we
were at our weakest, were postponed, while he reneged on his Non Aggression Pact
with Stalin, and, hopeful of another quick victory, he attacked Russia.
Then came the turning point. In America Roosevelt instituted 'Lend Lease', under which he supplied us with armaments and food, (buy now and pay later). When the Germans began sinking American ships on their way to us, Roosevelt declared war on Germany. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour finally brought the mighty USA completely into the war, victory was no longer in doubt. Christians Believe that The Hand of God was Behind Our Victory.
Chapter 2 - A Very Important Job
Equipped With Secondhand Uniform and Rifle From 1914 War, a week before the war was declared, a part of "A" Coy 1st Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regt. was mobilised, and posted to RAF Duxford. I, one of that party, was then 20 years of age, and a part-time private soldier, having been in the "Terriers" for somewhat less than a year. This all took place at very short notice. It appears that some brilliant researcher at The War Office had uncovered the fact that Duxford (a key RAF station, involved in the defense of the country, and where many of our then rare Spitfires were stationed), was entirely without ground defence or ack/ack on the base.
Our territorial regiment had, in theory, been trained in the use of the Bren machine gun, but since we only had one of these for the whole company (instead of the ordained one per section), we were far from familiar with this weapon. That hardly mattered, however, because that one Bren gun could not be spared. So we arrived on station with only the clothes we stood up in, and our 1914-dated, Short Lee-Enfield rifles. My ammo, as I recall, was stamped 1917. Although I am now 85, my memories of the following couple of months remain very clear. Before thinking of fighting off the Luftwaffe, we had to find somewhere to doss down, as the RAF quartermaster, it seemed, was disinclined to share the airmen's (or Brylcreme boys', as the squaddies called them) accommodation with common soldiers. In the end it was the Padre who provided the solution; following the Barnardo dictum, "No-one turned away", he allowed us to sleep on the floor of the church hut.
Although about half of our number were old soldiers, this was my first experience of the barrack-room. We were to sleep on the floor, one row of beds along each side of the long building. My spot was next to friend Bernard Webster, with whom I had joined up, and a couple of spaces further along was the bed of Peter Cumberledge. He was a clean-cut young fellow, then rather shy, and obviously well brought up. Opposite were two old soldiers, White and Lander rough diamonds both, and each of them six-footers (I stood a little over five-feet - five inches). That first evening, as we settled down on our beds, this pair decided to have what was their idea of "a bit of fun". With a tin of blacking in hand, they announced that they were coming over to blacken Cumberledge's private parts. Seeing the terror in the lad's eyes, I jumped up and stood between the lad and the old soldiers. There was ice in my heart, and I nearly wet my pants as I managed to look White, the ringleader, in the eye, and to growl, "Leave him alone!" To my intense relief and surprise, the pair turned and went back to their own spots without a word.
The next day, further research revealed a first world war weapons store somewhere or other. We were introduced to half-a-dozen grease encased Lewis guns, and one tattered manual. I think it is generally accepted that this particular machine-gun is the most complicated and difficult to learn automatic weapon that was ever devised, with over a couple of dozen different "stoppages" that it was necessary to learn by heart; and none of us had ever seen one of these guns before. One of our new toys was placed on a trestle-table outside, and our Lance Corporal Furness was given the task of instructing us in the dismantling and re-assembling of it. Now this particular NCO was of very limited mental and practical ability, to say the least, and his vocabulary consisted mainly of four-letter words. Added to that, he was impatient and short-tempered; but he was all we had. By undoing a screw here, and a bolt there, the first four hours of concentrated cursing saw the gun dismantled.
We went off to eat, and when we returned to our moutons we found Furness there before us, standing with the gun's oil-brush in his hand, and an expression that was a cross between bewilderment and frustration on his face; and he was supposed to be teaching us. We all gathered round and waited for the action with interest. For a quarter-hour or more he picked up piece after piece, in the hope of finding two that might be prepared to marry. Then, having a practical turn of mind, and a lamentable inability to resist showing off my wisdom, I was unable to remain silent any longer, and attempted to indicate to him how the first two bits could be assembled. Furness had only been waiting for a chance to "kick the cat" as the Australians put it, and rounding on me with an expression of uncontrollable fury, he thrust the oil-brush at my face. I just had time to turn my head, and it went in my ear. While our squad was trying to learn, another was erecting sand-bagged gun emplacements round the perimeter of the base, and a wooden platform for another on the roof of the main hangar. This was accessed by a series of long ladders, reaching up there from the ground. By the time we'd learned which end the bullets were meant to issue from Lewis guns, it was time for us to take up our firing positions. As there were so few of us, we had to man the posts for four hours on and four hours off, twenty-four hours a day, instead of the regulation two on and four off. Then we heard over the radio that war had been declared, and knew it was all for real now. We all hoped the Luftwaffe would never find us, as those guns in our hands would not have been much more use than pea-shooters.
One day, after about a week, those of us that were off duty were working away on our trestle-table by the main hangar, trying to familiarize ourselves with the intricacies of our Lewis guns, when there was an almighty explosion, the sound of which seemed to come from everywhere at once. We looked at each other in panic, thinking that the first bomb had fallen from the sky. But a few seconds later Furness came almost falling down the ladders, moving really fast for probably the first time in his life. It was the only time I was ever to find him speechless; as he tended to stammer when stressed, all he could do was to mouth a string of 'F's! It hadn't been a bomb. Furness had been on duty on the hangar-roof ack/ack post, when the corrugated-iron roofing beside him had suddenly become like the lid of a pepper pot, while simultaneously had come the terrifyingly loud explosion which was followed by the rapid descent of our lance corporal to terra firma. It seemed what had happened was that someone in the hangar had been demonstrating a safety device on the Spitfire, whereby the red button that fired all eight of the Stirling machine-guns in the wings at once, only worked once the plane had taken to the air. It must have been out of order, and the Spitfire at rest points upward fairly steeply. The burst from the eight rapid firing guns in that enclosed space had sounded like one great explosion.
A few days later we were all vaccinated against small-pox, and, as far as I was concerned, it was for the first time. I spent a most miserable month with vaccine-fever, but daren't report sick, as it would have meant that I would be returned to the regiment, thus to be separated from my friend. I needn't have bothered though, as we were all shortly to have another medical examination (the one we were given on joining the "Terriers" had been no more than the formality of a cough!). My friend, who had bad eyesight, was categoried, and posted to Blandford before we left Duxford.
Because of the sudden urgent need for pilots in those early days, and the fact that it takes some time to learn to fly those sophisticated planes, many of the air-crew were insufficiently trained, and from our gun emplacements we would watch the ham-fisted attempts to take off and land. Often on landing, a pilot would apply the wheel-brakes too soon, or too hard, and the Spitfire would tip up onto its nose as it came to a halt. At that time the alloy three-bladed variable-pitch air-screws cost, we were told, £1000 each - a considerable sum then, and the blades would curl back like flower petals, as they made contact with the ground while still turning.
Before the first couple of months had elapsed, others took over the task of defending Duxford, and we rejoined our regiment in Cambridge. Although I only lived three miles away, I was not allowed to sleep at home, so I was billeted with a policeman's family, in City Road, which was one of the back streets behind our East Road Drill Hall. Our cookhouse was situated in Zion Baptist Church, opposite. The airforce had decent cooks, and our meals at Duxford had been good. I soon discovered that was rather different from the army. My first pudding, for example, was smothered with a bright orange semi-transparent custard, made from custard powder and water, with no milk or sugar; it was bitter and uneatable. But we were to have worse, much worse, before we returned to civvy street.
Chapter 3 - After Dunkirk
There was a long spell when the regiment saw little or no action, and I was getting bored. So when volunteers were asked for to serve in a special force, although not knowing what it entailed, I volunteered, and after a tough medical, was posted to 'No. 11 Independent Company', stationed in bell tents on The Dell Football Ground in Southampton. We were told that Churchill had decided to form these highly mobile groups to land across the channel, sabotage enemy installations, and return safely (in theory).
The companies were issued with binoculars, compasses, and Thompson Sub Machine Guns, nicknamed Tommy Guns, (all then in very short supply), so there were not enough of these to go round. Captain (Bang Bang) Cannon was our platoon officer, and Corporal Baynes (me) his second in command. Cannon was a 'wide boy', and several times he send me out in the middle of the night with a couple of volunteers, to filch equipment from the next platoon, commanded by Capt. Hockey, also from Cambridge (later to be killed in action). Eventually the penny dropped, and he was heard shouting in the officers' mess tent, something about "Snowie Baynes and his forty f****** thieves."
We trained hard during the daytime and after dark, being taught by The Royal Navy to row a whaleboat fast and silently, as these were the means we were going to use for our landings. We eventually boarded a ship at Dover with our whaleboats, but before we could sail, we had to disembark, as it was thought Gerry was assembling a fleet to invade across the channel. We were reformed with other similar companies, and renamed No. 1 Commando; yes, the very first one. Our commando moved into a hotel in Carbis Bay (near St. Ives), in Cornwall, to repel any German attack in that area. There were no sea defences, and we spent the first weeks filling sandbags, and carrying hundreds of them up onto the flat hotel roof, as well as making gun emplacements at ground level. I was promoted to sergeant, and taught the men unarmed combat, and also weapon training.
After a couple of months the scare died down, and I was able, among other things, to play Rugby with the Redruth Miners Team. Before long, having been warned they were shortly going into action, Major Mapey of our Cambridgeshires, sent for me, and I returned to my old regiment.
Chapter 4 - A Long Way Round
It began when, at four o'clock on a misty afternoon we boarded S.S. Orcades in Liverpool harbour. Most of us were pleased and excited at the prospect of seeing the world; after many false alarms and three 'embarkation leaves' we were now itching to go. Although we had not been informed of our destination, since we had been trained for open desert warfare and were now issued with tropical kit, we assumed we were off to North Africa. On the thirteenth of October, 1941, at 7.30 a.m., after remaining docked for three days, we at last heard the rattle of anchors weighed, and our ship nosed slowly out of the harbour. At the age of under twenty-two I was leaving England (lovely name) for the first time.
The Americans had not at this time entered the war. Half-way over the Atlantic, nevertheless, their navy joined our convoy, and we saw our own warships disappear over the skyline in the direction of home. Our navy had only been able to spare two or three small ships in those difficult days, but the Yanks did the job in style. Their escort included an aircraft carrier, Catalina flying-boat and several more warships. We said "Good old Roosevelt", and felt much safer. We called at Halifax (Canada), where we landed and marched straight onto the S S West Point, (recently converted to a troop ship from the liner ‘Miss America’, or so we were told by a member of the crew). Then docked at Trinidad, but not allowed off the boat, and a few days later at Cape Town, where we disembarked, and stayed for three days. Our next port of call was Bombay, and thence by train to spend two weeks in Ahmednagur, where we drilled at 5 am because of the blistering heat once the sun rose. After returning to our ship in Bombay, (still without any idea as to where we were to finish up), we steamed south yet again. Now the sergeants were paired off to form a team for twenty-four hours a day submarine watch, two hours on and four off. I was paired with Vic Wilson, who would show me his sweetheart's picture, and tell me he knew for certain that he would never see her again.
Then, on the twenty-eighth of January, 1942, twelve days after leaving Bombay, we saw land on the horizon, off the starboard bow. One of the American crew told us that the land we could see was Java. We knew at last into which theater of war we were probably about to enter. During that day, when we came under attack from several Japanese planes, all the British troops were sent below the waterline. We heard the heavy thud of bombs exploding, and the lighter bangs of anti-aircraft fire but had no idea as to how the attack was going. When it was over and we were at last allowed back on deck we found that our ship had not been hit, although we later discovered that several others in our widely spread-out convoy had not fared so well. This was our introduction to the Japanese.
As we pulled into the docks next day, three Hurricanes passed over our heads and we cheered at the sight of those friendly bullseye markings. That was the only opportunity we were to have of seeing them, or any other of our aircraft; they were the last of our airforce to be evacuated from the area. We had arrived in Singapore. During our long voyage the world situation had completely changed, although we had no means of keeping up with the news. The attack on Pearl Harbor had intervened, and America was now in the war with us. We were in the war with them too, having just lost two of our best battleships off Malaya. We had declared war on the Japs after the Pearl Harbor catastrophe, and the British had sent the warships as their contribution to the Far Eastern war at sea. After hurriedly disembarking between air raids, we marched away, and were housed in temporary billets at Bournemouth Road in the Katang District of Singapore City.
Singapore itself is an island about twenty miles long. separated from the province of the Malayan (now Malaysian) mainland, which is an isthmus, by a narrow channel known as the Straits of Johore. A causeway existed joining Singapore Island to the mainland, and it carried both road and rail traffic, also the main services, including the sole source of Singapore drinking water.
Chapter 5 - The Chaos Begins
That first day was spent in manoeuvers among the trees of local rubber plantations. Next day we marched off along the North-bound highway, to go into action for the first time. We were dive-bombed by Japanese Stuka planes as we went, and were glad of the drainage ditches that ran most of the way beside the road. After each of the Stukas dropped its one big bomb, it would return again and again to machine-gun us. Private Gates was one of those scruffy types that no-one wanted in their platoon. The first time we experienced the terrifying sight and scream of a diving Stuka, it caused us all to dive into the nearest ditch. But no, not all; the rat-tat-tat of our Bren gun caused me to lift up my head in shame, as Private Gates stood out there alone firing his automatic weapon from the hip in the approved anti-aircraft fashion.
We crammed so much into those first few days, that my first impressions of Singapore remain very hazy, but it is the smell of that oriental city that first comes into my mind. It is made up, as I later discovered, from a mixture of garlic, fish, joss-sticks, frying oil, charcoal and probably much more; I came to like the smell, and now think of it with some nostalgia. Next I recall bamboo poles poking out of windows, hung with beautifully clean washing. The Chinese women seemed to carry on with their daily chores right through the battle for Singapore, philosophically drawing their water from the wells, cooking outside their houses over their little buckets of charcoal even when there were bullets flying. I think also of the wealthy Chinese gentlemen who passed by. We were told one could tell their wealth by the number of their wives. These preceded their husbands, each one with a springy bamboo pole over her shoulder, baskets suspended at each end of the pole carrying various kinds of merchandise. The women moved with strange bouncy steps which made them appear to move forward in a series of jerks, but this no doubt saved energy, as the upward bounce helped to carry them forward. There were on average five or six wives per husband. I was told that once a man acquired enough cash to purchase a couple of wives he need work no more, only supervise. From then on the profit on their labour would enable him to go on purchasing wives at an ever increasing rate! If true, no wonder the young men in China turned to Communism - probably more to establish an equal distribution of wives than cash! Old Chinese ladies passed us, with minute feet only three or four inches long, Their big toes had been tightly bound under their feet in childhood until they became dislocated and were forced into the soles. Their tiny shoes had the heel in the center so that the old dears had to balance on two points, and were consequently only able to take six-inch steps, travelling at a snail's pace.
Four days of digging trenches, moving on, being machine-gunned and dive-bombed, more moves - trenches - bombs, and all the time without a clue as to what was happening. We knew not whether the enemy were a thousand, a hundred, or maybe only ten miles distant. Our platoon officer had told us we were not to fire at the enemy aircraft that were constantly bombing us, in order not to give our position away. However, I saw him open fire on a Stuka with his Tommy Gun, which has an effective range of only about twenty yards, while our effective Bren gun had to remain silent. On the fifth of February we came under direct shellfire for the first time, and knew that the Japs were indeed close at hand. (We had just dug in under rubber trees, near the Straits of Johore.) As we heard later, the enemy had moved down the mainland so rapidly by leapfrogging sea-borne landings continually behind our front line, so that there was never a front to hold. Now all that separated us from them was a narrow strip of water. Our sappers had blown the causeway up, but how long would that delay the enemy?
During the night, without our knowledge our own 55th Brigade artillery unit dug their twenty-five pounders in not far behind us. With first light they fired their opening salvo, and I thought for a moment that our end had come, as the ground rocked and the shells whistled low over our heads; but once I realized that it was our own battery firing, it seemed an auspicious beginning to my twenty-third birthday. The guns across the water were soon silenced; what a pity our boys had so few targets; with our camouflaged enemy dispersed among the heavily wooded landscape, we had very little to fire at. Our division had been trained for open desert warfare, and knew nothing of the right tactics for these circumstances. Our well-trained gun teams were knocked out one after the other by Stukas over the coming days.
We were moved around many more times during the next two days, each time digging fresh trenches, and always under air attack, At dawn the next morning we vacated our newly dug trenches yet again, and dug in near an evacuated R.A.F. camp, around the foot of a wooded hill, in the district known as Bukit Timor. This was the neighborhood we were to hold, under constant attack, for the next four days; although the Japs tried their best to dislodge us, we never retreated. Our C.O. was decorated, he later told us, for our stand. During that day we were constantly moved around as the situation developed, and the Japs probed on different fronts; by the time four o'clock came, having already dug ourselves in three times, we were too tired to do much more than scratch the surface of the sun-baked ground in the place where we were to need to be dug in most of all. Our latest position was close to the R.A.F. hutments, and there was only barbed wire separating us. Looking across I saw the interesting initials N.A.A.F.I. (military canteen) over one of the buildings, and it was a long time since we had eaten. I made my way over and entered the building through the unlocked door. It appeared that our airmen did not use their canteen for eating, as not a single comestible could I find, but literally thousands of bottles of everything from exotic Cherry Brandy and Creme de Menthe, to whisky and beer. As I left, a machine gun opened fire on me from a position a couple of hundred yards away. I moved much faster on the way back than I had done when I came, and knew for certain now that the Japs had crossed the water. That evening we all came under small-arms fire; the enemy was now infiltrating the woods all round us. It was at this time that our officer and his batman disappeared, and we didn't see him again until just before the capitulation. So I was from then on responsible for the platoon. Looking back on the day's events as I peered out that night, I thought with shame of my actions earlier on. I professed to be a Christian, yet when a small half-naked Malayan boy had approached me, holding out a little hand smashed by shrapnel, I sent him off unaided. As he wandered slowly away, Lance Corporal Berry, one of our stretcher-bearers saw him and dressed his wound.
The sun rose on Friday the thirteenth of February; I am not superstitious, but this was to prove a very unlucky day for us all, even though it started off well with some breakfast arriving for the first time, from our base camp, and before eight o'clock. I decided to take the food round to each section position myself, finally sitting on the edge of Cpl. Malin's trench to eat my own. As Malin had cracked up under fire, I had to spend most of my time with his section as they would otherwise have been leaderless. Growing out of the trench side, a few inches from my head, was a sapling about two inches thick. As I was about to bite my first sandwich, a volley of machine-gun fire came from the direction of the R.A.F. campsite, and before I could dive into the trench the sapling disappeared, leaving a shaving-brush-like stump sticking a few inches out of the ground. That first volley caught many of our company out of their trenches, and many were killed and wounded. The small-arms fire continued for some time, keeping our heads down; then we heard the deeper sounds of mortars as they were brought to bear, and the bombs began to fall closer and closer to our trench as they bracketed us. We soon realized that it was only a matter of time before we received a direct hit.
Suddenly there was an extra loud whine, and a thud followed by a small bang right beside me. Looking round I saw the tail of a mortar bomb sticking out of the trench wall, a wisp of smoke was percolating through the earth. We had had our bomb, and it was a dud. We knew of course that bombs never fall twice in the same place! In fact the Japs now cut down their rate of firing, the furious bombardment having probably used up their ammunition supply. As we were to discover, their troops had no headquarter support as had we. They carried their food (mainly rice) and ammunition round with them on handcarts.
Chapter 6 - Fighting in Singapore
As this trench was only half-dug when the bombing started, we tried to deepen it by scratching furiously away with our entrenching tools. Every time a head showed bullets whistled by. Knowing that the adversary could rush us at any time, we popped up our heads at different places every few seconds, and by this means lost no more men for the time being. There were seven of us in the trench and it was by no means easy to deepen it at this stage; nevertheless when, about four hours later, Capt. Stick came along some dead ground the other side of the triple dannert barbed wire, we were nearly deep enough. ‘You are to hold that position to the last man, or until you receive other orders,’ he shouted.
Some time later, Tommy Beatty, our young Company Sergeant Major, came along the same route, and crossed the wire to approach us to within a few dozen yards. He called out a few words of encouragement, telling us that he was on his way to try to find out what was wrong at our Company H.Q. I told him that the open space he would need to cross to get there was under heavy enemy fire, but he carried on with a cheerful grin. He was only twenty-one or two, having obtained rapid promotion through keenness and hard work. When it came to the test he did his job at least as bravely as the oldest in our ranks. A few hours later we discovered that when he ran the gauntlet of that open space he was hit in the abdomen by a burst of fire. He lay where he fell, conscious all that day in the blistering sun with his bowels exposed to the heat and flies, yet refraining from calling for help lest he cause further casualties. (Two days later, a captain from another company was to take refuge in our trench having lost his own company. After receiving a harmless neck wound he roared loud enough to be heard at our Regimental Aid Post (R.A.P.) a quarter of a mile away, insisting that stretcher bearers come and carry him over the bullet swept ground. He got off and walked when he reached safety.)
There was at this time much wrong at our Company H.Q. as our Company Commander had been killed along with one of his officers. Our C.S.M poor Tommy was hors de combat, and my own officer had left us at the commencement of the action, leaving me, a sergeant, in charge of the platoon; so with many N.C.Os also dead, command was sadly depleted. Late that night a party of our brave stretcher-bearers crept out and rescued Tommy and got him away to base hospital. Incredibly, he survived, though with terrible scars. The two sections which formed our center and left positions, had open ground all around them, and were therefore quite unapproachable under fire. This was one of the many mistakes we made in our introduction to jungle warfare. We had been taught that it was essential to give each section a good clear field of fire, which was probably right in the desert; but here, where a high degree of mobility, infiltration and sniping were the order of the day, the field of fire made us sitting ducks for the enemy concealed under and up the trees and shrubbery all around us. It was easy to be wise after the event.
Later, L/Cpl. Kelly, one of our company runners, brought me an order to leave our trenches and take the platoon up the hill behind us to ferret out snipers who were firing at Battn. H.Q. from the hilltop. (It was then thought that only a few snipers had infiltrated through our lines under cover of darkness.) I drew up a plan of action; upon my giving the order, all were to jump out of the trench together, spreading out and making for the cover of the trees. Private. Hoskins was instructed to crawl along the dead ground to take the same message to our two other sections. Advancing up the hill, we were to meet under a water tower, which was situated on the hilltop. When I gave the order all obeyed (except Cpl. Malin who decided to keep the trench warm for us pending our return). We proceeded up the hill and heard the click of bullets hitting trees as Japs across the valley caught glimpses of us. We reached the water tower, and found that it had been hit by a bomb which had knocked it partly onto its side. I counted ten dead men from another regiment around the area; they were part of a party sent earlier to 'remove the snipers'. We lay quietly under cover for a few minutes, awaiting the arrival of our other two sections, but we waited in vain. We did not then know that Pte. Hoskins had been shot dead long before he could pass on any message.
Carrying on up the hill, we reached
the crest. Heavy firing from the other side of the hill indicated that a very
large force was over there, and not just a few snipers for the five of us to
deal with. I gave the order to toss one hand grenade each over the top,
intending to pop up while the enemy's heads were down to gather what information
we could. This failed to work, and the bullets came faster than ever,
accompanied by a few mortar bombs. Then we heard a different sound, as a salvo
of three inch mortar bombs landed just behind us, A few seconds later another
salvo passed over our heads, and landed in front; we then knew that we were
watching the handiwork of our own mortar platoon. B.H.Q. had realized by now
that instead of snipers up here, a major attack was developing on our rear. I
had a very healthy regard for our Mortar Platoon, and yelling for the men to
follow, broke cover and ran as fast as I could go back down the hill.
Chapter 7 - The Battle for Singapore
We returned by way of the next section trench, to find out why the others had not rendezvoused with us. I got as close as possible and called out but received no reply, and saw no-one. A machine gun opened up on us from a hundred yards away however, and we knew that we had been heard by the wrong people. Later we discovered that our boys were in the trench but could not put out their heads as a machine gun was trained on them. On the way back to our trench we passed Company H.Q. which was also situated in the center of an open space. We could see no sign of life there either, and returned to our own position; I landed feet first on Cpl. Malin. All this time we had continued to hear the mortar barrage that our boys were laying down and it proved successful in preventing the Japs from breaking through over the hill, until we had re-deployed to face our rear.
Our platoon area was separated from the rest of the battalion by coils of triple dannert wire. This consists of coils of springy barbed wire about three feet in diameter, two stretched out on the ground closely wired together, with the third coil on top of the other two. We had not been back very long when an officer from another platoon, Lt. Doans, called to us from the other side of the wire, saying that he did not think B.H.Q. realized that we were still holding out on that side, and suggested that I bring my men across to join his company. I told him that Capt. Stick had told us to stay put, so he went off shouting that he would see Stick and get his instruction confirmed.
About an hour later Capt. Stick appeared from among the trees the other side of the wire, shouting and waving his arms. The firing prevented us from hearing what he was shouting, but we took it for granted that he was confirming Doan's earlier instruction to cross over. Triple dannert is no mean obstacle, and this was under direct small-arms fire, so I knew that we should be very lucky to get over unscathed. I instructed each man where he was to cross, so that we should be widely separated targets and then gave the order to go. I have always been a very poor jumper with my shortish legs, and back home in shorts and sports shoes no reward could have enabled me to clear even four feet. Now I was in heavy army boots, carrying full equipment loaded with Bren Gun ammunition, bombs, and with a short Lee-Enfield rifle in my hand. As I charged across open ground towards the wire, I silently prayed wordless prayers, and felt something pour through my veins before I sailed through the air to clear the wire. Reaching the cover of the bushes we gathered together panting; miraculously, we were all there. Capt. Stick came striding up, face black as thunder. ‘Is this what you call defending your position to the last man?’ he growled. ‘I suppose you realize this means a court martial?’ He would not listen when I tried to explain why we had returned, and for the moment I hated him more than I feared the bullets out in No Mans' Land. My men had been standing around listening to the one-sided conversation; I turned my back on Stick and shouted, ‘Come on boys, it's back over the wire.’ A terrible groan went up, and Beacon, who was close to breaking point, breathed ‘Oh Sarge’ in a way that said all.
Stick looked back over the wire, and said grudgingly ‘You'd better stay over here now and dig yourselves in.’ ‘You did hear me say that I am prepared to take the men back, didn't you, Sir,’ I emphasized. ‘I'm ordering you to stay where you are now, so don't argue!’ was his reply. So we wearily dug ourselves yet another trench; but by now we had learned a little more and our new position was the best so far. We were in the edge of the trees, with a good field of fire, and, as we thought, with barbed wire between us and the enemy. There was even a lull in the firing to enable us to dig a good trench; however the firing had stopped only to enable the Japs to re-deploy so that they could try to find a softer spot on our front. During this lull also, the men from our other two sections, who had been pinned down all day, were able to leave their trenches and join us - those of them who were left. Thus we found ourselves under the direct command of an officer for the first time since the fighting started. It was good now to have someone to look to for direction, with so many lives at stake. Capt. Stick came round again at four thirty that afternoon, asking for volunteers to return over the barbed wire to look for wounded. The firing had more or less died down now so Sgt. Hanton and I decided to go ourselves. We found a gap that had been cut in the wire a few hundred yards away, and made a dash through. A short distance along we found three of our boys lying in the grass with bullet wounds. I examined them, and found out that they all had flesh wounds, so after binding them up with their own field dressings, we shouted for some of our men to come over and assist them to our R.A.P. (Regimental Aid Post).
Before the action, and back at home, I had been very apprehensive as to how I would react to torn flesh, never having even witnessed a bad accident. When the crunch came I was surprised how calmly and competently I was able to carry out first-aid, and indeed found that I had a definite gift for this work. Next, we found dear old Simpkin. He was a Gloucester man, slow speaking and thinking, but the salt of the earth. Although both of his legs were badly smashed he had managed to drag himself all that way through the scrub, until stopped by the barbed wire. He had lost much blood and was in considerable pain; there was unspeakable joy in his eyes as he saw that we had returned to help him. I had always found it rather difficult to understand his rich brogue; now as I heard him croaking I put my head close to his face in order to catch what he was trying to say. ‘Zorry oi've laast me bombs zarge, but oi've still got me rifle.’ It lay in the grass beside him. It had been drilled into us all never to part from our rifles, and he had dragged it along with him. I thought then of Colour Sergeant Whiskin, old soldier who had left the reserve troops he was leading earlier that day, dumped his rifle and made a dash for our trench; he lay in the bottom of it through the firing, and later persuaded the stretcher bearers that he had dysentery and was carried to safety. His reserves lay useless in the grass where he had left them. I stayed with the badly wounded Simpkin while Hanton returned over the wire for help, and a few minutes later a party appeared carrying an old charpoy (Indian bed, made from wood and string). Gently we lifted Simpkin onto the bed, and he was taken back to our R.A.P., where our doctor sent him off to base hospital.
Hanton and I next found Parkhurst, who was also wounded in the legs and could not walk, but appeared to be without broken bones. We decided to carry him, by fireman's lift, back up the hill to our R.A.P. rather than risk waiting for stretchers; I took first turn, with Hanton carrying our rifles. We got through the wire and were half-way up the slope that was between us and our destination. I was just about to stop to exchange roles with Hanton, as I was beginning to tire, when I noticed spurts of dust rising from the ground as a machine gun opened fire on us. Tired or not, I managed to run flat out up the steepest part of the hill, staggering with my burden into the R,A.P. Although it was some time before I was to have an opportunity to remove my clothes, when I did I was to discover that I had sweated blood. Until then I had thought it to have been a figure of speech, that Our Lord had sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemane. During the whole of the battle I seemed to bear a charmed life, having been missed so many times. Towards the end I began to realize that I was not going to be hit, and consequently became a little less frightened. We rested only a few minutes, then made the return trip through the world of bullets to rejoin our comrades, finding that our positions had not yet come under fire again.
Chapter 8 - The Battle for Singapore Continues
Right throughout the fighting, the enemy were so well camouflaged, and made such good use of cover, that we scarcely saw them. Firing from fresh positions was always our first indication that we had a new front to face. We were eventually able to discuss what had been happening during this stage of the fighting, and heard that B.H.Q. were continually receiving conflicting reports. No sooner had they given orders for one of our companies to dig in to face a given front than another report would come in to say that the Japs had been seen on one of the flanks which should have been covered by another regiment, and each newly exposed flank would mean our re-deployment, and to us, the digging of yet another lot of trenches.
We started this battle as a regiment, part of a brigade, defending a section of a continuous front: when the fighting ended, we were defending an island around our Regimental Headquarters. Thus, at a quarter past five, when he was facing what we thought was our front, Sgt. Hanton received a bullet in his bottom; I bandaged him up and sent him off to the R.A.P. The enemy was again behind us, so we turned each alternate trench in our section of the front to face the other way. All hell seemed to break loose again at ten o'clock that night, as about a dozen mortars were brought to bear on us. The Japs made very good use of mortars right through the action; if we dug in where small arms could not reach us, a concentration of mortars was patiently brought up, and quickly brought to bear.
At the height of this bombardment, a message was received that I was to leave my position and take my men to Mr. Beardman, who was situated a few hundred yards away on our left flank. It was thought that the bombardment might be a decoy to enable the enemy to make their main attempt at penetration there; so off we went. We were given a stretch of the road to defend, and as there was no time to dig trenches we spread ourselves along the anti-malarial ditch which ran alongside the road. ('Anti-malarial because they were in place to run the storm water off quickly, before puddles formed allowing mosquitoes carrying the malaria causing parasite to breed.) It was quite dark now, and we could hear the Japs’ voices not many yards away across the road. Every now and then we would think we saw a movement, or a glow among the trees, and released a few rounds. Three-quarters of an hour later, our scouts reported that the enemy had withdrawn, so we returned to our last position.
As dawn broke, we were ordered out of our well-dug trenches again. The regiment on our left had gone, either wiped out or withdrawn, so our whole battalion was to be re-deployed. Although it had not occurred to our C.O. to withdraw, it would have been no easier for us if we had, since, as we later discovered, there were as many Japs behind us as there were in front. We now found ourselves on a stony hillside opposite our Battalion Headquarters, situated among dozens of bamboo huts thatched with palm leaves (known as ‘attap’), which had earlier been used as a transit camp. It seemed the main body of the enemy had moved on, leaving a smaller party to keep our heads down. We dug in therefore as quickly as we could, under only sporadic firing, which lasted all day. As we were unable to see where it was coming from we had virtually no targets ourselves.
That evening, at six o'clock, our platoon officer returned, and almost immediately there followed the worst attack of the campaign. From a quarter of a mile away a large force opened fire on us with small arms and mortars, and they kept it up until darkness fell. Then the enemy began to advance on us, and at last, through the gloom, we were able to see them and to let them have it. Three tanks pulled out from among the trees. (Our tanks had all been left behind in India, as Command had thought them to be unsuited to this type of terrain.) These Jap tanks opened fire on us with their two-pounders, but our trenches were now deep and well-placed so little harm was done. The Jap infantry moved in behind the tanks, as they started to advance on us, and we gave them all we had. From over on our left we heard our mortar platoon go into action, the deep thud of their three inch weapons mingling with the other sounds of battle, and we began also to see the flashes as their bombs exploded among the enemy.
We clearly heard for the first time the strange sound of Japanese voices as they shouted their orders; heard for the first time also the screams of their wounded. I recall the satisfaction we derived from killing those enemy fathers, husbands, sons. Pte. Martin was in charge of our heavy Boys anti-tank rifle, and when the tanks appeared I crawled over to his trench. Being a weapon-training instructor, I felt that I could probably make the most effective use of this, our only anti-tank weapon, and said so. Martin, however, suffered from no such illusions; having carried it up hill and down dale for many months on our route marches and mock battles back home, he had no intention of missing out on this, the very first opportunity of firing it in anger. ‘Not b ..... likely Sarge . . .'. I decided to overlook the insubordination. As had been drilled into him, Martin aimed for the joint between the turret and the main body of the tank, and with a fearsome explosion the first tank disappeared in a flash followed by a cloud of smoke. We heard later that the mortars had claimed this success, but Martin and the rest of us had at that time no doubts about it. When the smoke cleared away, we saw that the other two tanks and the infantry were withdrawing to the trees from which they had emerged. The firing petered out, and a strange stillness fell over the land.
Dawn saw us alert, and confident, awaiting the next attack; but that sun rose on our last day of freedom. I had remained awake all that night, and had by now had virtually no sleep for many days; so when no attack had materialized by 8 o'clock, I told my officer that I was going to lie down in one of the huts, and was soon sound asleep on a charpoy in the nearest one. At twelve, noon, I awoke to the sound of bullets tearing through the thin hut walls, and lost no time in diving back into our trench. Now the earlier bombardment resumed, but this time accompanied by heavy fire from our rear as well, as the snipers who had passed through our thinly held lines in the darkness the night before, opened fire unseen from close at hand. Firing into our trenches from the rear they were able to take heavier toll than the main barrage. Cpl. Ginn was standing beside me as we searched the trees behind for a glimpse of the snipers, who had by this time killed two of our men and wounded several more. ‘I reckon there's one of the b ..... 's up that palm tree,’ he said. Standing on the step he took aim with his rifle, muttering that he would put in a couple of rounds and see what fell out of the tree. As his finger squeezed the trigger, he gasped, and slowly sank to the ground. I quickly knelt down beside him, but he was beyond help, and another section was without a leader.
During the next hour, we lost several more in a similar way. Although the firing did not let up, the enemy remained invisible, and all we could see was the shell of the one tank we had destroyed; we were again in that most unsatisfactory position of being targets without ourselves having anything to fire at. When we took pot shots at likely hide-outs for snipers in the palm trees, none fell out. It later transpired that Jap snipers tie themselves in the trees, so that if hit they remain suspended, thus not giving us the satisfaction of knowledge of success. A party of Australian troops now retreated through our lines. They were weaponless and very disheveled, just about all-in. They told us that they had withdrawn from up country, where fighting had virtually ceased; this was our first intimation of the way things were going up country.
To our surprise after this latest depressing news, we heard cheering, and then saw what seemed to be R.A.F. barrage balloons rising into the sky. Our planes must be coming back then, if they were putting balloons up round the airdrome, we hoped. Shortly after that, we saw a plane approaching from the direction of the balloons, and risking the bullets, took off our tin hats to wave. We soon put them back as we recognized the Stuka entering its dive, and a large crater appeared immediately in front of our Battn. H.Q. We were soon to learn that Japanese observation balloons look very similar to ours. Shells from field guns the enemy had in position behind us now began to fall more accurately as the balloon directed their fire. The next few hours were a nightmare. Men fell to right and left; the huts all caught fire, and some fell burning into our trenches. Many who were not burned to death died later of their terrible burns, including my old friend Sgt. Wilson, who in his agony, asked me to shoot him. When on submarine watch together on board ship, I remembered how, as he held his fiancées picture in his hand, he told me he had the conviction that he would never see her alive again in this world. Dear God, I breathed as I looked into that awful burned face, let it all be a dream. I shouted for the stretcher-bearers, and faithful as ever, they ran over and collected him. I hope they were able to ease the pain of the few days he had yet to live.
As the fire burnt itself out, Mr. Doans came running over, telling me that we must now shorten our lines, so I was to take the men to new positions in front of B.H.Q. We were well dug in, but I knew that the open ground we were now to traverse was covered by a Jap machine gun placed only a hundred yards away in what was left of a burnt-out hut. I asked for a couple of volunteers to stay behind with our Bren gun and fire at the Jap while the rest of us broke cover. Utting and Winton instantly claimed the job, although we all knew that they were unlikely to survive.
As their gun began to chatter we left our trenches and ran for our lives. Three-quarters of the way across I halted to signal our rearguard to follow, but I saw that they were already on their way, Winton firing his gun from the hip as he ran. We lay down and opened fire with our rifles, and kept the enemy's heads down long enough for the two to reach us, Who could have guessed that so many of our boys would reach our new position in safety. Mr. Doans and my officer had crossed over with us, and both were lightly wounded in the dash; there were also half-a-dozen other ranks missing, we knew not at that stage whether they were killed. It is certain that those of us who did get through owed our lives to Utting and Winton. Like most war heroes they received no medal for their valor. After taking stock, I found that I now appeared to be in sole charge of the remains of two platoons, as neither officer returned from the R.A.P., where they had gone to have their wounds dressed.
I had received no instructions at this point, so deployed the men in temporary fire positions, dashed into B.H.Q. to try to obtain firm orders, and found the Old Man and the Adjutant in the basement. Having told them that I had the men available, I asked where they wished me to place them. However, they seemed to be in a daze, and I received no answer. ‘Shall we remain where we are then, and defend H.Q.’ I asked, and this time received a nod from the Adjutant. Returning we all found ourselves craters to occupy, as there was no chance now to dig in, and wearily awaited the next attack. At a quarter to three, I received what I hope will be the greatest shock of my life, as a messenger came with the order to lay our weapons down in front of us and surrender.
Chapter 9 - The Fall of Singapore
I find it quite impossible to describe my feelings when the order to surrender came. Until now we had felt that we were holding our own, and anticipated pushing the Japs back off the island before many more days had passed (we were still optimistically awaiting the arrival of Allied aircraft). Our wildest guesses had not taken into account the possibility of abandoning the territory to the enemy; we had been told that the island must be retained at all costs, since it was an essential link in our communications with Australasia. In any case we did not think of throwing in the sponge while any of us remained alive, that was not the British way. I crept round the position passing on the order, adding the instruction to remove the rifle bolts and bury or otherwise hide them. Pte. Tanner stood six feet two, and had proved himself in the fighting to be a very brave soldier; when he heard the order, he stood there unashamedly with tears streaming down his cheeks; his were not the only tears that sad day. I felt as though my bowels had been painlessly removed; my mind refused to work properly, and I was unable to grapple with the situation. Hardly a word was exchanged between us as we silently remained there awaiting further orders. Talking about this afterwards, we agreed that we were still undergoing a feeling of bitter shame, with our arms lying useless on the ground and our country's enemy only a hundred yards away.
Events on the remainder of the island had been going very badly however, and we were one of the few regiments not to have been forced to withdraw from its allotted area. Singapore had no previously prepared positions for defense against an attack from the mainland of Malaya, and the story of the big unmanageable guns pointing out to sea is now familiar. For the previous few years our military people had taught the necessity for all round defense in modern warfare, yet still Singapore's only big guns were concreted in positions facing out to sea. As it took a long time to point them in any other direction, these, our main defensive weapons, were hardly used. This was at a time when nearly every army in the world was training paratroops, and our potential enemy had been advancing through the Chinese mainland for years. A few thousand pounds worth of concrete pill boxes strategically placed, a few mobile guns or tanks, and Singapore could well have proved, like Gibraltar, an impregnable fortress.
No plans seemed to have been worked out for the deployment of troops, should the Japs do the obvious and attack from the dry land, instead of sailing into the muzzles of our big guns from seaward. At the time of surrender, as we were to learn later, the enemy had penetrated nearly everywhere. Singapore City was full of leaderless men making for the docks in the hope of getting away on a ship from this doomed place. We were also told later that the order for surrender was given because the Japs had cut off Singapore’s only water supply, which came from the mainland, and that we were giving in for the sake of the civilian population. Oriental people fully understand what face-saving is all about, and in the weeks that followed, they showed no gratitude to us for laying down our arms for their sakes. The Malays spat on the ground when they saw us during the first days after our surrender; but they were soon to learn that there are worse masters than the British.
We seemed to wait in our trenches after the arrival of the cease-fire order for a very long time without anything happening. An hour and a half after we received it, men dug in fifty yards away in the center of a lawn decided to climb out of their trenches; a machine gun opened fire on them, and they all lay still around their position. I ran back to our R.A.P. to try to borrow a Red Cross flag to take out over the lawn and fetch in any wounded. Dodging a hail of bullets from that same machine gun, I found our Medical Officer and explained my mission, but was told that since some of our men had fired on Japanese stretcher bearers, they had ceased to respect the Red Cross, and were firing indiscriminately at both stretcher bearers and ambulances. I was told to stay quietly with my men until further instructions were received. Again, it was later that we learned Indian troops had fired on the Japs from the windows of Robert’s Hospital, and this was responsible for the retribution.
Stepping out through the front door of the house wherein the R.A.P. was situated, and seeing an ambulance standing there, I looked in over the tailboard. Within seconds I came under machine gun fire from an unexpected direction and tracer bullets whizzed past me like fireworks and into the ambulance. Although it seemed that I could have touched these bullets, again they all missed me. I jumped to cover into an alcove built in the wall of the house, and as I did so the ambulance burst into flames as a tracer bullet penetrated the petrol tank. The fire spread and the ambulance became an inferno; the firing did not ease up, and I began to feel the intense heat. Soon I had to choose between roasting and stepping out again into the line of fire. The house was built on a slope, and like most of the dwellings in that area it was built on piers, high off the ground. I leapt out of the alcove and fell flat on the ground in a spot where I could roll back under the house, and managed to accomplish this in one movement. I lay there for a few seconds, getting my breath back, and watching the tracers fly past, almost within reach of my hand.
Then the heat increased, and I realized that the fire had spread to the house, so crawled to the rear of the under-floor space. There I saw teams of men carrying the wounded to safety out of the back door, and they were not being fired on. I met Capt. Coppin at the rear of B.H.Q. and stopped for a second to speak to him before carrying on behind the house. A steep bank arose a few yards from us, and I thought we were safe from fire for the moment. I continued on my way, but half-way along, two Japs armed with a light machine gun suddenly appeared from behind a hedge, only four yards away. One yelled something that sounded like ‘shoot’, and the other released a burst of fire at me from point blank range. Before I could move, I felt a pain in the back of my neck, before diving under the building and rolling out of range. I put my hand up to my neck: no blood, I had only been hit by chips of brick from the wall. Capt. Coppin had quite a shock when we came face to face later on. He had watched my progress from the corner, and seeing what had occurred reported my death to H.Q.
It later transpired that the Japs had brought up their veteran troops; as we had defended our ground so well, they thought we were a crack regiment under the direct command of General Wavell. These enemy companies acted more or less independently and had few lines of communication; their leaders had therefore not been able to inform them of the cease-fire; this was our worst period, as, without weapons, we were picked off one by one. However, I continued to remain unscathed. Had I seen myself in a Western, being missed so many times at point blank range, I would probably have classed it as impossible fiction. Once again I reached my men unharmed, and as we awaited the next move our thoughts dwelt on what we had heard of the way the Japs dealt with prisoners. We had been told of soldiers' bodies found with their hands tied together with barbed wire, and riddled with bullets; that they liked torturing their captives before disposing of them. We knew that the Chinese, whom they had been fighting for several years, did treat their prisoners in that way. Our comrades out on the lawn had been shot down in cold blood. We did not discuss these things as we waited in silence, each kept his thoughts
Chapter 10 - Captured!
At three o’clock in the afternoon, under the hot humid Singapore sun, the Japs at last stepped out from among the trees surrounding us. One even descended from a palm tree growing beside our B.H.Q., where he must have been since the previous night. We now knew how we had incurred many of our hitherto inexplicable casualties. Approaching with finger on trigger, our adversaries were taking no chances; they halted a few yards from us, and what we presumed to be an officer stepped forward. He was wearing one of the traditional Japanese two-handed ceremonial swords, and with every step he seemed in danger of tripping over it. (We later became very familiar with the sight of these swords; they told us that they were handed down from father to son, but later on I saw a Jap blacksmith making them from old lorry springs, and fitting them with Woolworthsy tinse-bound handles.) The ordinary Japanese soldiers were our biggest surprise, as they appeared like pieces of jungle, walking. Their uniforms, if such their shabby and mud-colored clothes could be called, were hung about completely with leaves and twigs. We had done nothing like that.
Although we had of course heard that the Japanese are a short race, we had not dreamed that they were as small as this; as we saw that they hardly came up to our shoulders it was hard to take in the fact that it was to these mites that we were surrendering. Our amazement and shame were complete. ‘Numbar One!’ shouted the officer. Not knowing what he meant, none of us moved. A moment or two's silence, then louder and angrily, ‘Ingerissoo numbar one, speedo!’ A few weeks later none of us would have failed to get the message which could be interpreted as ‘Englishman in charge come here quickly!’ We were however spared the pain of finding out what was meant the hard way, by the appearance at that moment of a party approaching from H.Q., led by our Commanding Officer. ‘You Wavellca?’ asked the Jap, as the party stopped a yard or two away, ‘No, me Lt. Col. Carter’, replied the Old Man. The officer chattered for a while with his henchmen, and then, turning round, said firmly, ‘You Wavell!’, in a voice which brooked no argument. It was left at that.
Capt. Stick sidled up to me as the officers were led away from us, and grabbed my hand in his firm grip. 'I don’t know whether we'll ever meet again, Sergeant, but in case we don't, I'd like you to know I think you did a good job’. The boys who bad been shot out on the lawn still lay where they had fallen, as no-one had been able to approach to see whether there were any survivors. I walked up to what I thought was a Jap N.C.O., and pointing to where the men were lying, made him understand that I wanted to go over and see whether there were any still alive. He impatiently shook his head. I decided to take a chance, however, and turning my back on him, walked out over the lawn. A hullabaloo broke out behind me and I had a job to resist the temptation to look back; but unlike Lot’s wife, resist it I did, and the next thing I knew was that a Jap soldier was trotting along behind me, his fixed bayonet held close to my back. Nevertheless, he did not interfere with me, and was evidently there to prevent me from pulling a fast one. There were no survivors around that trench. Sentiment had played little part in my feelings while the fighting continued. As I now lowered the head of one of my young lads, lifeless on to the turf, I had difficulty in holding back my tears.
At this early stage, I had learned a lesson that was to stand me in good stead during the years of captivity that were to follow; namely, that it was often possible to ‘get away with murder’ by presenting a bold front to the Japs, whereas humble pleading was usually ignored, and the pleader likely to be beaten. We were now lined up and searched; anything found that took the Japs' fancy, together with any potential weapons were taken away. Our C.O. held a conference with our captors, and we were then herded together on the top of the bank behind B.H.Q. where I had so narrowly escaped being shot. The C.O. was allowed to stand on some higher ground, and prepared to speak to us. (A voice behind me whispered ‘They're letting him say good-bye before they polish us off’.) Col. Carter, in a breaking voice tried to tell us that he was proud of us, and that a late dispatch from Command H.Q. had informed him that he had been decorated for the regiment's performance. 'If you leave here alive, I want you all to remember your regiment; never let its name down.’ As the Japs led him and the other officers away, we shouted our good-byes.
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