THE LOYAL REGIMENT
2nd BATTALION: IN FORTRESS RESERVE AT SINGAPORE, 1939-1942
The Singapore garrison began mobilising on the 2nd September, 1939. Two days later the main body of the 2nd Loyals (Lieutenant-Colonel G.G.R. Williams), accompanied by 250 coolies, crossed Keppel Harbour to Blakang Mati, where digging and wiring were carried out to strengthen the island's beach defences. D Company was allotted the task of guarding the ordnance depot on the adjoining islet of Pulau Brani; while C Company, with the carriers, armoured cars and mortars, remained behind at Gillman Barracks to act as a mobile force for the defence of Labrador sector, the coastal ridge overlooking the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. The work on Blakang Mati was completed within a week, and the 2nd Loyals then returned to their Barracks.
Training was now resumed, with particular emphasis on movements by road.
Apart from training, the 2nd Loyals provided an officer and thirty-two men for the shipping examination guard at Penang from the middle of April until the 22nd June. In July the whole Battalion were employed in improving the beach defences on the south-east coast of Singapore Island, but the following month they resumed responsibility for the defence of Keppel Sector, which included the coastal ridge known as Labrador, and the islands of Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani.
After the collapse of France in June 1940 the Japanese became increasingly aggressive, and towards the end of that month occupied part of the Hong Kong peninsula in an attempt to blockade the colony. In view of these developments the British troops at Peking and Tientsin were withdrawn two months later, and the two battalions at Shanghai sent to Singapore. The Singapore Infantry Brigade had now become unwieldy, and on 14th September was divided to form the 1st and 2nd Malaya Infantry Brigades. The latter was made responsible for the Changi Area, which included the beach defences on the south-east coast of Singapore Island and at Pengerang Hill on the mainland opposite.
The 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade comprised the 2nd Battalion, East Surrey Regiment who, on the 22nd February 1941, were replaced by the 2nd/17th Dogra Regiment; the 2nd Loyals; and the Malay Regiment. It also had under command, three battalions of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, who could be called up in the event of an emergency; but later these volunteer units were formed into a separate brigade, which was charged with the defence of Singapore town and Kallang airport. The 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade remained responsible for the protection of the south-west coast, only part of which, as far as the Sungei Pandan, was fortified. It was commanded by Brigadier G.G.R. Williams, who had been promoted to command the Singapore Infantry Brigade a fortnight earlier, and who now established his H.Q. at Mount Washington. He was succeeded in command of the 2nd Loyals, on the 1st September, by Major M. Elrington, M.C., hitherto the second in command of the Battalion.
On the 7th October, 1940, the 2nd Loyals handed over Keppel sector to the Malay Regiment and returned to Gillman Barracks. Battalion training was begun the following day and continued for three weeks. On the 1st November, being now in the brigade reserve, the 2nd Loyals became responsible for guarding a number of vulnerable points, including the boom defences at the mouth of the Sungei Jurong, and also for defending the western part of Singapore Island.
A few weeks previously the Japanese, now allied with the Axis powers, had occupied some airfields in northern French Indo-China. This brought them to within little more than 1,000 miles of Singapore, and so transformed the whole strategical situation. The garrison of Malaya was therefore strengthened during the autumn by the 11th Indian Division, and steps were taken to send further reinforcements. In November all the troops on Singapore Island were placed under the command of Major-General F.K. Simmons as Fortress Commander, with H.Q. at Fort Canning.
On the 3rd February, 1941, the Singapore garrison was reorganised, fewer troops being allotted to the beach defences. This enabled the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade to be re-constituted as the Malaya Command's mobile reserve, for which role it was provided with an increased scale of weapons, carriers and transport, as well as supply and medical units. To exercise the Brigade in it's mobile role, a week's training was carried out in March in the Kluang and Yong Peng area of central Johore, which was destined to become a battle-ground for the 2nd Loyals the following year.
Towards the end of April 1941 the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade were sent to the mainland to support the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, who were then manning the beach defences recently constructed on the east coast of Johore. Brigade H.Q. were established at Jemaluang, and on the 25th April the 2nd Loyals moved to Mersing for training. They were still there in July when the Japanese occupied southern French Indo-China, which is less than 300 miles from the coast of Malaya. Thus the threat of invasion instead of being a remote possibility had now become very real indeed.
On the 29th August the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade, who had reached Singapore six months earlier, took over the defence of eastern Johore, relieving the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade who became Malaya Command's reserve. The 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade, less the 2nd/17th Dogras who were posted elsewhere, now resumed their former passive defence role on Singapore Island. The Malay Regiment, recently renamed the 1st Battalion, The Malay Regiment, in view of the formation of a second battalion, returned to Normanton Camp, a mile west of Alexandra, and took over responsibility for the beach posts between the mouth of the Sungei Jurong and Labrador. B Company, 2nd Loyals, with a machine-gun company of the 1st Manchesters, were entrusted with the defence of Keppel sector, but did not move out to Blakang Mati until the 25th November. The main body of the 2nd Loyals, who were quartered at Gillman Barracks, constituted the Fortress Command's reserve, and were held in readiness to move to the western part of Singapore Island if required.
The primary object of the Singapore garrison was to protect the Naval Base. Consequently no defences were constructed on the northern shore of the island, though shortly before the war plans had been drawn up for some outer landward defences in southern Johore. This work had been suspended mainly for financial reasons, and the only defences actually completed on the mainland of Malaya were at some airfields and on the east coast. On Singapore Island some preliminary work was carried out on a projected defence line between the headwaters of the Rivers Jurong and Krangi. Progress was also made on a reserve line designed to cover the Depots Area at Alexandra, which Lieutenant-Colonel Williams, as he then was, had assisted in reconnoitring in 1940.
During the spring and summer of 1941 fresh reinforcements had arrived; and Lieutenant-General A.E. Percival, who had been appointed General Officer Commanding, Malaya, in May, decided in the event of invasion not to relinquish without fighting any part of the country with it's rich resources in tin and rubber. This forward policy involved watching 250 miles of frontier and 500 miles of the east coast, almost all of which was suitable for assault landings. The III Indian Corps (Lieutenant-General Sir L.M. Heath), which was composed of two Indian Infantry Divisions and an independent Brigade, was given the task of defending the Thailand frontier and, if possible, forestalling any invasion from that quarter.
The 8th Australian Division (Major-General H.G. Bennett) was made responsible for the defence of Malacca and Johore. Each of these three divisions had only two infantry brigade groups under command, and there were no tank units.
A state of emergency was declared on the 29th November, when all ranks were recalled to barracks and the volunteer forces called out. Two days later the Singapore police, supported by detachments of the 2nd Loyals, rounded up a number of Japanese suspects in the western part of the Island. Like most units the Battalion was short of certain types of equipment, including anti-tank rifles, of which there were only eleven. On the 7th December, however, they were allotted nine armoured cars, to man which a special section was formed and trained under Captain J. Baker.
In the early hours of the 8th December without any warning or declaration of war, the Japanese opened hostilities on the Americans and British by bombing raids on the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hawaii, where the U.S. Pacific Fleet was put out of action by the attack on Pearl Harbour. The raids on Singapore were directed mainly against the airfields, but caused over 600 civilian casualties in the congested Chinese quarter of the town. Later the Japanese attacked the airfields in northern Malaya, and effected landings on the east coast of northern Malaya and of Thailand, which was rapidly overrun. The fighting on the frontier developed unfavourably for the III Indian Corps, who were reinforced four days later by the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, Malaya Command's only mobile reserve.
At sea the position was even worse, for on the 10th December a battleship and a battle cruiser, which had reached Singapore only eight days previously, were sunk by torpedo bombers. This disaster had a most unfortunate effect on morale throughout Malaya, white apart from the fact that, as there were no aircraft carriers available and only a few Dutch submarines, the Japanese had now gained complete command of the seas.
The most serious weakness was in the air, where the British aircraft, mostly obsolescent types, soon proved to be quite out-classed by the Japanese, both in numbers and performance. The airfields, which had been constructed on the mainland during the previous three years, would have been of the utmost value had the Royal Air Force succeeded in mastering the Japanese. In the circumstances, however, far from being an asset they proved to be a liability, necessitating troops being detailed for their defence. When eventually they fell into enemy hands, they facilitated the invasion of Malaya.
After the departure of the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade the 2nd Loyals, less B Company, constituted the only reserve for Fortress Command. On the 16th December the Battalion moved to a more central position at Tyersall Park. All their heavy baggage was now packed up and stored at Gillman Barracks; while the colours were hermetically sealed in special containers at the works of the Diethelm Aluminium Company, and then deposited with the mess plate at the Hong Kong and Singapore Bank. It may be mentioned here that after the war the colours and silver were recovered quite intact from the bank vaults, and then despatched to the Depot, Preston.
At Tyersall Park one company with supporting troops was held in readiness to move off by motor transport to any part of the Island, to deal with landings by sea or air. Guards were found at Fort Canning and elsewhere, and arrangements made for internal security in the town. On several occasions cordons were formed round specified areas, which were then searched by the police for spies or hostile agents. One such operation was carried out on the 2nd January, 1942, in order to locate an enemy wireless transmitting set. It involved moving by motor transport to the neighbourhood of Tengah airfield, on the western side of the Island, and then searching a square mile of bush country. The wireless set was found, but unfortunately the straits had been left unguarded and the operator escaped to Johore. In spite of these pre-occupations Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington managed to arrange for all ranks to undergo a special weapon training course.
The previous July, when the Japanese navy had begun mobilising, a detachment of twenty-four men from the 2nd Loyals, under 2nd Lieutenant G.G. Withers, had been sent to Sarawak. The garrison of this extensive territory consisted of only a single Indian Army battalion, which was mainly employed in protecting the landing-ground at Kuching, the capital; and the detachment's task was to carry out a scorched earth policy, coupled with internal security. The Japanese bombed both town and airfield on the 19th December, causing some casualties, including one of the Loyals, who was wounded. Two days later, having completed their mission, the detachment returned to Singapore.
Authorities: War Diaries of the 2nd Loyals and 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade; Brigadier G.G.R. Williams' MSS Notes; Brigadier M. Elrington's account in The Lancashire Lad, September 1947-December 1948; Lieutenant-General A.E. Percival's The War in Malaya.
Within a month of the beginning of hostilities, the Japanese had overrun the northern half of Malaya and inflicted heavy losses on the III Indian Corps. To disengage the two hard-pressed Indian divisions, General Sir Archibald Wavell, gave orders on the 7th January, 1942, four days after his appointment as Supreme Commander in the South-West Pacific, for a general retirement of 150 miles to Johore. The retreat was begun on the 10th January, and completed without incident four days later, although for much of the way the two divisions had to share the main trunk road and railway. The 11th Indian Division, which had suffered the more severely, passed into reserve south of Yong Peng, while the 9th Indian Division took up positions just within the Johore border, with the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade in depth astride the road and railway between Gemas and Batu Anam, and the 22nd Indian Infantry Brigade in the neighbourhood of Jementah, on the road from Batu Anam to Malacca. The gap between these two brigades was patrolled by Bren gun carriers.
The 9th Indian Division now came under the orders of Westforce, and improvised formation commanded by the Australian Major-General H. Gordon Bennett. This force also comprised the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade, two of whose battalions were in position on the main road in front of the 8th Indian Brigade, one east and the other west of Gemas, while the third was in reserve near Buloh Kasap. Westforce had also under command the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade, which had reached Singapore only the previous week and had been sent straight to Malacca. This brigade had since retired down the west coast road to Muar, where it had the task of watching twenty-five miles of the River Muar, as well as the coast south-east of that town. Two battalions were forward, with four companies across the river, which can only be crossed by ferry, and the third battalion was ten miles further back, at Bakri on the road from Muar to Yong Peng. The wide gap between the 22nd and 45th Indian Brigades was unguarded except for a long range Australian patrol sent out from Jementah to the neighbourhood of Mount Ophir on the 15th January.
On his arrival at Segamat Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington had been ordered by Major-General A.E. Barstow, the commander of the 9th Indian Division, to put the town into a state of defence; so for the next two days the 2nd Loyals were kept busily employed in digging, wiring, felling trees and clearing the foreground. In this work they were assisted by an Indian Pioneer Battalion, whose Commanding Officer also undertook to defend part of the perimeter. While thus engaged the 2nd Loyals were bombed and on one occasion dive-bombed, but sustained no casualties, though their neighbours, the pioneers, were less fortunate.
On the afternoon of the 14th January the Japanese advancing down the main road ran into an ambush laid for them by the foremost Australian battalion at Gemencheh, fourteen miles west of Gemas. Having been effectively checked in that area it seemed likely that they might try and outflank the Australians by infiltrating by secondary roads to Jementah. The 22nd Indian Infantry Brigade, who were covering that flank, had incurred such heavy casualties up country, that their commander, Brigadier G.W.A. Painter, considered them incapable of putting up an effective resistance. So on the evening of the 15th January the 2nd Loyals were ordered to relieve the 2nd/18th Royal Garhwali Rifles, the leading unit of this brigade, at the thirty-nine and a half milestone on the Segamat-Jementah road.
On reaching their destination after a ten-mile march, the 2nd Loyals found that they had not been expected until daylight, and consequently had to carry out the relief tediously company by company. The position they took over was in front of the Sungei Penarah, a tributary of the River Muar. D Company was placed over a mile in front of the river, with A Company in close support. The H.Q. and C Companies were further back, but also in front of the Penerah bridge. An outpost platoon, furnished initially by C Company, but later by A Company, was stationed four miles further forward at a blown bridge near Jementah. The Battalion's position was unsatisfactory as it could be approached from the left rear by a loop road guarded only by this outpost platoon. To improve matters Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington moved D Company early the following morning to a position immediately behind the Penarah bridge.
This adjustment still left the loop road unguarded, but it was not until the 17th January that Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington could obtain permission to modify his dispositions, and for the anti-tank guns to be re-sited to conform with them. He then moved A Company to cover his left flank, and withdrew the H.Q. Company behind the Sungei Penarah. Meanwhile the troops were employed in making road blocks and laying anti-tank mines. The 2nd Loyals were in touch on their right with the 2nd/12th Frontier Force and a battalion of the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade, both on the Jementah-Batu Anam road; but their left flank was open, and patrols to the south and west failed to gain contact with the enemy.
Important developments were taking place lower down the Muar valley, far beyond the range of the 2nd Loyals' patrols. On the 16th January the Japanese launched their main attack on the Johore line in the Muar area, employing a guards division. They crossed the river, landed on the coast south-west of it's mouth, and captured the town of Muar. The 45th Indian Infantry Brigade, which had suffered crippling losses, then concentrated at Bakri, ten miles further back on the road to Yong Peng. The same day a Royal Air Force patrol reported that a Japanese company had crossed the River Muar about eight miles south of the 2nd Loyals' position, apparently with the object of cutting the main line of communication between Segamat and Labis. Thereupon Major-General Bennett took the 2nd Loyals' armoured-car section under his own direct command, and detailed four armoured-cars to escort any traffic passing along this section of the main road.
On the 17th January Major-General Bennett sent the reserve battalion of the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade, with four of the 2nd Loyals' armoured-cars and some anti-tank guns, to reinforce the hard-pressed 45th Indian Infantry Brigade at Bakri. He also moved a battalion of the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade from the east coast to Bakri, where it arrived on the morning of the 18th January. The 2nd Loyals' armoured-cars played a large part in maintaining communications on the Bakri-Yong Peng road, and their commander, Sergeant J. Quinn, was later awarded the M.M. for assisting an Australian unit to withdraw from a exposed position after being himself wounded.
Meanwhile Lieutenant-General Percival, having no other troops available, had sent the 53rd Infantry Brigade to Yong Peng, although it was quite unseasoned, having reached Singapore from England only seven days previously after an eleven weeks' voyage. Two of it's battalions were detached, one being sent to the east coast and the other to Batu Pahat on the west coast, leaving only the 6th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, under command. This latter unit took up a position on the morning of the 17th January at Bukit Payong, a hill six miles south-west of Yong Peng, where the Muar road passes through a defile. The following day the 6th Norfolks sent one platoon five miles up the Muar road to guard the Parit Sulong bridge, and another to patrol the fourteen miles of road between there and Bakri.
As the Japanese advances in the Muar area threatened the main line of communications of all the troops in northern Johore, Lieutenant-General Percival gave orders on the 18th January for a general retirement south of Segamat. That night the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade withdrew to Buloh Kasap, while one of the Australian battalions from Gemas passed through them and occupied Segamat. To avoid congestion on the main road, the other Australian battalion from Gemas was diverted at Batu Anam down the road leading to the 2nd Loyals' position and thence to Segamat.
At midnight the 2nd Loyals, less C Company, withdrew three miles down the Jementah-Segamat road to the bridge over the River Muar, behind which they then took up a defensive position. Less than an hour later C Company crossed the Sungei Penarah, destroyed the bridge, and then remained behind the river as a rearguard to cover the Australian battaliobn's retirement. The Australians arrived about midday on the 19th January, and as soon as they had moved off down the road to Segamat, C Company followed them and rejoined their own battalion. At 1.40 p.m., when the Muar bridge was blown, the enemy were not in contact, but later in the afternoon some Japanese accompanied by a German officer arrived on the further bank to inspect the damage.
Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington now received orders that the 2nd Loyals were to be transferred that night from the 9th Indian Division to the 11th Indian Division, whose H.Q. had been moved to Yong Peng, fifty miles south of Segamat. The advance party, which he accordingly despatched to Yong Peng, was redirected successively to Rengam, Ayer Hitam, and finally back to Yong Peng, where it arrived after dark, having meanwhile covered 150 miles. At 7 p.m. the same evening the 2nd Loyals were relieved at the River Muar position by the 5th/11th Sikhs, a battalion of the 22nd Indian Infantry Brigade, and marched back through Segamat, where the main street had been set on fire by fifth columnists. Three miles further on they were picked up by some Australian motor transport, and at 4 a.m. on the 20th January, having passed through Yong Peng, reached their destination, a rubber estate two miles up the road towards Muar.
The 2nd Loyals had been thus hurriedly transferred to the Yong Peng are on account of the critical situation that had arisen further up the Muar road. Three days earlier, when the 6th Norfolks had occupied the Bukit Payong ridge, two companies had been placed forward, one on either side of the road, with a third company in support at the foot of the hill. Their fourth company was about two and a half miles further back, immediately behind a causeway nearly a mile long that crosses a marsh. Between the ridge and the causeway the jungle had been cleared from the sides of the road, thus forming a narrow tract of open country. On the 18th January the 6th Norfolks were reinforced by a composite battalion formed from the 2nd/16th and 3rd/16th Punjab Regiment, both of which had suffered extremely heavy casualties earlier in the campaign. This Indian battalion took up a position in reserve, immediately in front of the causeway.
On the afternoon of the 19th January a Japanese force, that had landed on the coast near Batu Pahat the previous day, attacked the 6th Norfolks' left forward company and drove it across the road. A counter-attack by the 6th Norfolks having failed to regain this company's position, two companies of Punjabis were deployed in a right flanking movement. This attack was also halted, and the cutting through which the Muar road passes remained in enemy hands. That evening the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade, whose line of communication had now been severed, was ordered by wireless to fight it's way back to Yong Peng.
We must now pause and follow the fortunes of B Company, 2nd Loyals (Captain P.D. Leighton). This detached company had remained on Blakang Mati until the 16th January, when it had been hurriedly moved to Gillman Barracks at a few hours' notice. No further orders were received until the morning of the 19th January, when the company, comprising four officers and 112 men, squeezed into eight 3-ton lorries and their own two 15-cwt trucks, and set off for Batu Pahat. On reaching Ayer Hitam, however, they were diverted to Yong Peng, and on reporting at the 53rd Infantry Brigade's H.Q. were ordered to move forward to Battalion H.Q. of the 6th Norfolks. When Captain Leighton arrived there at 3 p.m. fighting was still in progress. Two companies of the 6th Norfolks were deployed astride the road, at the foot of the Bukit Payong ridge, with two companies of the 16th Punjabis on their right.
Brigadier C.L.B. Duke, the commander of the 53rd Infantry Brigade, who had come up to the Norfolks' H.Q., now ordered Captain Leighton to turn the enemy's southern flank. B Company promptly quitted their transport and advanced across open country until clear of the 6th Norfolk's left flank, which rested on thick jungle. Having fortunately brought some heavy native knives with them, they hacked their way through the undergrowth until just before dark, when they formed a zareba for the night, 100 yards from the top of the ridge and about half a mile from the cutting. At 7 a.m. the following morning, the 20th January, they set off again through dense jungle, and at 2 p.m. emerged on the reverse side of the hill, overlooking the cutting and enemy's positions. The whole area was being shelled by our own 25-pounders, and there were no signs of the 6th Norfolks, who were to have delivered another frontal attack.
As his men had had nothing to eat since leaving Singapore early the previous evening, and there were no means of communicating with the artillery or Brigade H.Q., Captain Leighton decided to withdraw by the way he had come. B Company regained the left forward company of the 6th Norfolks about 5.30 p.m., and were then ordered to return to that unit's H.Q., which were reached after an hour's hard work in cutting a way through the jungle parallel with the main road. The famished troops were then taken back by motor transport to the 2nd Loyals' position near Yong Peng, where they were given a good meal.
The 2nd Loyals had had a quiet day. Having taken up new positions in the dark on the two previous nights, the troops were suffering from lack of sleep, and Brigadier Duke had agreed that they should be rested before being committed to action. About noon, however, C Company had moved forward a mile or so and relieved the 6th Norfolks' reserve company at it's position behind the causeway. The night passed without incident, and the following morning A Company also moved up to this position behind the causeway. Though unaware of the reasons for the moves and counter-moves in which they had been involved, the 2nd Loyals were in good trim and ready for any eventuality.
Authorities: War Diaries of the 2nd Loyals and 53rd Infantry Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel M. Elrington's account in The Lancashire Lad, September 1947-March 1948; Major P.D. Leighton's account in the Regimental News Letter, May and August 1946; Lieutenant-General A.E. Percival's, The War in Malaya; Major-General H. Gordon Bennett's, Why Singapore Fell.
2nd BATTALION: REARGUARD ACTIONS IN THE JOHORE CAMPAIGN, 1942
During the 20th and 21st January the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade group fought their way back along the Bakri-Yong Peng road for some fourteen miles, but were unable to take the bridge at Parit Sulong. They were separated by some seven miles from the foremost troops of the 53rd Infantry Brigade, who, as already related, had been driven off, and had been unable to retake, the high ground at Bukit Payong, over which the Bakri-Yong Peng road passes. When, at midday on the 21st January, the 53rd Infantry Brigade were placed under command of West Force, Major-General Bennett immediately issued orders for the 2nd Loyals to attack at 2.15 p.m. and seize this tactically important feature. These orders did not reach Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington until 2 p.m., and the attack had then to be deferred as there was insufficient transport to move all the troops, some of whom were six miles away.
During the afternoon Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington reconnoitred the enemy's position with his company and platoon commanders from the area occupied by the 16th Punjabis. The road approaches the Bukit Payong ridge at an angle, so that the Indian troops on the right of the road were some distance in front of the 6th Norfolks' left forward company on the left of the road. As the flanks were hemmed in by dense jungle, it was apparent that the attack would have to be made frontally; and as the previous attacks, unsupported by artillery, had failed, a preliminary bombardment was considered essential for success. To secure surprise the attack was eventually postponed until dawn the next morning, and the companies, who had begun to move forward, returned by motor transport or on foot to their former positions.
The 2nd Loyals embussed at 4.15 a.m. on the 22nd January, and reached the start line in rear of the 16th Punjabis well before 6.40 a.m., when the artillery bombardment was due to begin. The attack was to be carried out by A and C Companies, with B and D Companies in reserve. Owing to faulty ammunition and difficulty in registering, the artillery did not open fire as arranged, and for three hours the 2nd Loyals lay out in the open waiting for the bombardment to begin. Nine Japanese bombers and four fighters then appeared, and for nearly an hour bombed and machine-gunned the 2nd Loyals and 16th Punjabis from a height of 500 feet. As a result both battalions had casualties; six men of the 2nd Loyals being killed, and Lieutenant R.B. Pigott and five men wounded.
The element of surprise had now been lost, so at about 11 a.m. Brigadier Duke very prudently cancelled the projected attack. B Company relieved the left forward company of the 6th Norfolks at a quarry on the left side of the road, and D Company took over the right forward company's position across the road, with C Company on it's right. The H.Q. and A Companies were placed a mile further back down the road in reserve, and the 6th Norfolks occupied both ends of the causeway. The 16th Punjabis remained in their exposed position on the right of the road, in front of C Company. The whole area was overlooked from Bukit Payong, and during the rest of the day the troops were subjected to sniping from both flanks, machine-gun fire, and intermittent bombing from the air.
Even had the 2nd Loyals been able to seize the Bukit Payong ridge, they would still have been some miles away from Parit Sulong. Lieutenant-General Percival later expressed the opinion that a single battalion could not possibly have fought it's way forward such a long distance and relieved the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade, who by then were hemmed in on all sides, and being attacked by tanks that had followed them up the road from Muar.
At 9 a.m. on the 22nd January the survivors of this beleaguered brigade were ordered to take to the jungle, and after great exertions nearly 1,000 Australians and Indians eventually succeeded in making their way back in small parties to the British lines. To assist these gallant troops to escape, Major-General Bennett ordered the 53rd Infantry Brigade to maintain their positions for forty-eight hours, and refused to allow the 16th Punjabis to be withdrawn from their exposed position. In the early hours of the 23rd January, however, he modified these instructions, ordering Brigadier Duke to begin his withdrawal at midday, to deny the causeway to the enemy until 7 p.m., and to be clear of Yong Peng by midnight.
Major-General Bennett also sent direct orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington to leave one company of the 2nd Loyals in position, and to withdraw the remainder of the Battalion and join the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade south of Yong Peng later that morning. At 5 a.m., on receipt of these orders, Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington sent off an advance party under Major H.K. Watkins, the second in command, with instructions to report at the 65th milestone on the main road, about midway between Yong Peng and Ayer Hitam. He also issued orders to his company commanders, detailing the times at which they were to retire. Two hours later, having been summoned to meet Brigadier D.S. Maxwell, the commander of the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade, he set off for Yong Peng.
On Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington's return to 53rd Infantry Brigade H.Q. about 9 a.m. the 2nd Loyals were just beginning to retire as ordered. All being in train he then set off to rejoin Brigadier Maxwell, with whom he spent the next few hours reconnoitring a reserve position for the Battalion south of Yong Peng; that eventually chosen being near the 63rd milestone on the main road. The 2nd Loyals were to cover the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade, who were organising a position on the main road three miles north of Ayer Hitam, which was intended to form part of Malaya Command's main line of resistance.
The H.Q. and A Companies, and two platoons of C Company moved back in succession through the edge of the jungle, and after crossing the causeway took up an intermediate position which Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington had selected two miles in front of Yong Peng. At this juncture Brigadier Duke came to the conclusion that the position at the foot of Bukit Payong could not be held with only B Company, 2nd Loyals, and the two companies of the 16th Punjabis, and therefore decided to retain D Company, the remaining platoon of C Company and a section of carriers. To give the survivors of the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade group more time to escape, he also deferred the time of the rearguard troops' withdrawal from midday until 2 p.m.
This was running a grave risk, as enemy tanks were known to have reached Parit Sulong the previous day, and the open country between Bukit Payong and the causeway was ideally suited for their employment. To make matters worse the two anti-tank guns emplaced in the forward area were withdrawn at midday. Half an hour later the 16th Punjabis began retiring under heavy shell-fire, as well as mortar fire directed on them from the front and flanks. D Company, 2nd Loyals, and the remaining platoon of C Company, who were on the line of the Punjabis' retirement, both suffered from this bombardment.
At 1 .45 p.m., when Brigadier Duke visited B Company, all seemed well; but ten minutes later, as this company were about to retire, seven enemy medium tanks appeared at the road block 300 yards in front of their position. Captain Leighton ordered the platoon nearest the road, who were covering the road block, to withdraw to a small wood on their left flank, which was already occupied by the left forward and reserve platoons of his Company. After this had been done he directed the whole company to leave this wood and take cover in the jungle on their left rear, while he himself stayed behind with a party of two officers and four other ranks, armed with Bren guns, to cover their withdrawal. Great execution was done on the Japanese infantry accompanying the tanks, as they attempted to remove the road blocks; but the tanks, which were supported by two battalions of infantry, soon dominated the situation. The rear party withdrew to the jungle, where Captain Leighton collected eleven more rank and file, all who could be found, and then set off by a circuitous route for Ayer Hitam.
There was less cover on the right side of the road, and D Company, the platoon of C Company, and the section of carriers were soon overwhelmed. Major J.A. Raven, commanding D Company, was last seen throwing a grenade at a tank, and both he and Lieutenant G.G. Withers of the same company were later reported to have died of wounds. One carrier received a direct hit from a shell, and the crews of two others were all killed or wounded. Captain J.C. Johnson, who was commanding the carrier platoon, disarmed one Japanese and killed another, but was himself wounded in the leg. The surviving troops took to the jungle, and made their way back as best they could.
The gallant resistance put up by the 2nd Loyals disorganised the Japanese attack, and when the tanks eventually resumed their advance they were halted by an anti-tank gun that had been placed in front of the causeway. The Japanese infantry gradually infiltrated through the jungle bordering the road, and at 3 p.m. attacked the forward companies of the 6th Norfolks, who maintained their position for three hours. In view of the likelihood of a renewed tank attack Brigadier Duke then ordered gaps to be blown in the causeway and the troops were withdrawn, abandoning the anti-tank gun.
A party of about twenty men from B Company and some small groups from D Company had succeeded in getting back through the jungle and across the causeway before it was blown, and then rejoined the main body of the Battalion, which had re-formed on the intermediate position about two miles in front of Yong Peng. There the troops had a light meal, that was brought up from B Echelon through the initiative of the Chaplain, the Rev. P. Cazalet. D Company had ceased to exist, and C Company had lost it's commander, Captain J.A. Gardner, as well as Lieutenant D.C.F. Carter and his platoon. The remnants of B Company were attached to the H.Q. Company, which henceforward had to function as a rifle company. The casualties incurred by the 2nd Loyals in this ill-conceived action were estimated at about 200 killed, wounded or missing, and they were reduced to little more than 550 of all ranks.
That evening the 2nd Loyals marched back through Yong Peng in the rain, and were given the task of picketing four miles of the main road south-east of the town so as to guard against Japanese infiltration from the left flank. During the night the Quartermaster, Captain W.J. Holohan, turned the cook lorry into a travelling canteen, which moved up and down the road supplying the various detachments. Towards morning on the 24th January the convoys and troops of the Segamat force and 53rd Infantry Brigade ceased to come through, and the bridge at Yong Peng was blown.
The 2nd Loyals now moved back by motor transport to their previously selected position near the 63rd milestone, four miles north of Ayer Hitam, which was reached at 8 a.m. without interference from the enemy. The frontage was narrow, being hemmed in on both sides by jungle, and there was no cover from the air. C Company was placed forward astride the road, with it's left platoon covering a road block. A Company in support, and the H.Q. Company in rear, both occupied positions on some high ground on the right side of the road.
About 10 a.m. some enemy cyclists appeared and were engaged with small-arms fire; and 2nd Lieutenant I.T.A. Wade, the intelligence officer who had been sent up to observe, was wounded. C Company continued to hold off the Japanese for two hours, but as they were being fired on from both flanks by Japanese who had infiltrated through the jungle, Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington ordered them to retire through A Company. This withdrawal was carried out under cover of fire from the 2nd Loyals' mortars, whose action was limited, however, by the fact that they were equipped with trucks instead of carriers. Most of the leading platoon, who were covering the road block, had to take to the jungle on their left flank, and some of them were cut off, including Lieutenant P.F. Fuller, their commander, who did not succeed in rejoining the Battalion until four days later.
After C Company had retired, A Company blew up some culverts and then withdrew in their turn. In the course of the action Lieutenant J.W. McNaughton and nine men of his platoon got cut off, and it was not until twelve days later that Lieutenant McNaughton and two men managed to make their way back to Singapore Island. The Japanese did not follow up the 2nd Loyals'' retirement to the 61st milestone, where the Battalion took up a position on high ground at about 1.30 p.m. There they were bombed by low flying aircraft and suffered some casualties.
At 5 p.m., on orders from the 27th Australian Infantry Brigade, the 2nd Loyals withdrew two miles to the 59th milestone, where they took up an outpost position on a hill half a mile in front of Ayer Hitam. There was open ground on the right flank, but on the left flank conditions were less satisfactory, as the jungle came up close to the road. A company of the 2/30th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, commanded by Major Anderson, was already in position on the right side of the road. C Company was placed between the Australians and the road, and A Company across the road protecting the left flank. The H.Q. Company formed a refused right flank on the Australians' right. The main body of the 2/30th Battalion, which had distinguished itself by ambushing the Japanese at Gemencheh ten days earlier, were in position further back covering Ayer Hitam. This formed part of the main line of resistance, from Jemaluang on the east coast, through Kluang and Ayer Hitam, to Batu Pahat on the west coast, which Lieutenant-General Percival intended to be firmly held.
The night that followed was uneventful, and dull wet weather on the morning of the 25th January prevented enemy aircraft from reconnoitring. About 11 a.m. an enemy patrol which appeared on the crest of the hill in front of the 2nd Loyals' position was engaged with rifle fire, and from then onwards there were similar incidents. At 4 p.m. the Japanese launched a frontal attack, supported by mortar and machine-gun fire, but were beaten off. They next attempted a flanking movement on the right, but this was held by the Australians and the H.Q. Company. The various company positions, the road, and a bridge some distance in rear, were all shelled by artillery and mortars, to which our own artillery and the 2nd Loyals' mortars replied. Lieutenant S.E. Bell of C Company was wounded at this time. About 6 p.m. a renewed attack against the right flank was again beaten off by the Australians and the H.Q. Company.
Towards dusk the Japanese made a concerted attack, not only from the front and right flank, but also on the left and rear of A Company whose position they had enveloped by a wide turning movement through the jungle. Captain F.K. Beattie, who was commanding this company, promptly led a counter-attack with bayonet. Many casualties were incurred in this fighting, including 2nd Lieutenant A.H. Gouda, who was killed, and Lieutenant A.B. Cleator, who was so severely wounded that he could not be got away and later died in enemy hands. Lieutenant J. Turner, of the mortar platoon, was wounded by a mortar bomb about this time. In the short respite gained by the counter-attack, Captain Beattie withdrew a platoon to guard the road bridge in rear, and by so doing possibly saved the whole Battalion from being cut off.
It was now 7.40 p.m., and the 2nd Loyals had been out of touch with their supporting artillery and with the rear for nearly three hours. Shortly before telephone communication broke down Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington had been informed that his Battalion was to be withdrawn at dusk and sent back to Singapore by motor transport. In any case the position was no longer tenable, so after consulting the Australian company commander, he ordered a retreat. The enemy was now firing down the road, and the troops had to make their way back through the marsh on either side of it. C Company, now under command of Captain P. Rogers, held on doggedly to their position, although out-flanked, thus giving time for the remainder of the Battalion to cross the river in rear, whereupon the bridge was blown. C Company, who were now cut off, broke up into small parties, most of whom, including Captain Rogers, managed to swim the river and rejoined the Battalion some days later.
On reaching the outskirts of Ayer Hitam the 2nd Loyals could find no trace of the 2/30th Battalion, A.I.F. Unknown to them, Lieutenant-General Percival had decided that afternoon to abandon the Kluang-Ayer Hitam-Batu Pahat line, in view of Japanese landings further down the west coast. The 2nd Loyals marched through Ayer Hitam, and some miles further south found the 2/30th Battalion, A.I.F., established in a new position astride the main road, with the 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, in support. The march was continued with periodic halts, for the troops were now very tired, for about fourteen miles. The Battalion was then taken by Australian motor transport to the 41st milestone, and from there by R.A.S.C. transport to B Echelon at the 231/2 milestone. Hot food was ready there, and after a good meal the troops again embussed, this time for Bidadari Camp, north of Singapore town, which was reached at 8 a.m. on the 26th January. In the previous four days' fighting the Battalion had incurred about seventy casualties and had lost seven carriers. It was reduced to twenty-three officers and 489 men.
The numbers reported missing would have been much higher had not many small parties and even single individuals succeeded in rejoining the Battalion, usually after great exertions and hardships. The experiences of Captain Leighton's party, which consisted of Lieutenant B.M. Wardle, Lieutenant F. Handley and fifteen rank and file, may be given here as being typical of the others. When B Company was cut off and took to the jungle on the 23rd January, Captain Leighton decided to make for the Batu Pahat-Ayer Hitam road. His party started off westwards, skirting the base of the Bukit Payong ridge, and after passing through a large rubber estate, spent the night in the jungle.
The following morning the Loyals' party turned south-eastwards, and when moving through extensive rubber plantations nearly ran into an enemy cyclist company. After a good meal at a Chinese house, whose occupants refused any payment, they moved in a north-easterly direction until some dykes were encountered, when they had to turn north. About 6 p.m., when about six miles from Yong Peng, they obtained biscuits and coffee from a Chinese shop, and shortly afterwards sugar cane from some friendly Chinese, and on each occasion all payment was refused. Moving on eastwards the party passed through some unfriendly Malay hamlets, and then sheltered for the night in a rubber plantation.
On the morning of the 25th January the Loyals were joined by a similar party of Indian troops, who shortly afterwards went off in a different direction. On reaching the Sungi Behok, a river forty yards wide, Captain Leighton found Captain Johnson with three men of the Loyals on the opposite bank, only one of whom was unwounded. Contact was gained by means of a small dugout canoe, and after the casualties had had their wounds dressed, some friendly Chinese produced biscuits and condensed milk. On ferrying themselves across the river the now enlarged party was joined by nine Australian survivors of the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade group.
The combined parties marched eastwards for three miles to the Sungei Sembung, but had to retrace their steps as this river was too wide and swift for the wounded men to swim across. They then struck off southwards until a Chinese village lower down the Sungei Sembung was reached, where they were given some food and ferried across the river. Here Captain Johnson and the other two wounded men were placed on a light railway truck, and by this means taken to the Batu Pahat road, a distance of about three miles. Having collected four more Loyals' stragglers on the way, the party marched the seven miles to Ayer Hitam, carrying Captain Johnson on a hand-cart. An outpost of the 2/30th Battalion A.I.F. was contacted just before dark, and after a meal the Loyals' party were taken by motor transport to that unit's H.Q. Captain Johnson was evacuated by ambulance, and the remainder of the party marched back some fourteen miles to the 41st milestone, where they rejoined their own Battalion.
The enterprise and determination shown by this and other parties of the 2nd Loyals in rejoining their units demonstrated the high morale of the Battalion under the most adverse circumstances.
Authorities: War Diaries of the 2nd Loyals and 53rd Infantry Brigades; Lieutenant-Colonel M. Elrington's account in The Lancashire Lad, September 1947-March 1948; Major P.D. Leighton's account in the Regimental News Letter, May and August 1946; notes by Brigadier C.L.B. Duke; Lieutenant-General A.E. Percival's, The War in Malaya; Major-General H. Gordon Bennett's, Why Singapore Fell.
On reaching Bidadari Camp on the morning of the 26th January, 1942, after their arduous campaign in Johore, the 2nd Loyals enjoyed a much needed rest. Two days later the Rev. P. Cazalet, the Battalion's Chaplain, held an open-air service which was attended by all denominations. A Company (Captain F.K. Beattie) was by now reduced to fifty-six men, and B Company (Captain P.D. Leighton) to only thirty-five; while C and D Companies, with a united strength of eighty men, were combined to form CD Company (Captain T.R. Brook). The appointment of Adjutant, relinquished by Captain Brook, was taken over by Captain E.W. Paque,. Lieutenant P.F. Fuller and some men who had been missing for three days rejoined on the 27th January, and subsequently others returned from hospital, rest camps and extra-regimental employment. Unfortunately all the first line reinforcements had been detailed for various duties, and altogether about 100 men remained detached from the Battalion, with the result that the strengths of the rifle companies remained deplorably low.
On the 30th January the 2nd Loyals received orders direct from H.Q. Malaya Command to take up a position covering the southern end of the Johore causeway, which connects Singapore Island with the mainland. Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington and his company commanders reconnoitred this area in the morning, and in the afternoon the Battalion moved there by motor transport. CD Company were placed astride the main road and railway, so as to cover the causeway, with A Company on their right, and the H.Q. and B Companies in support, east of the main road. At the northern end of the causeway the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade held a small bridge-head to cover the retirement of the III Indian Corps and 8th Australian Division. The retreating troops thronged the causeway throughout the night, unhindered by the enemy, and at 8 a.m. on the 31st January, after they had all crossed, the causeway was breached in two places.
The larger gap was seventy-five feet wide, and the remainder of the causeway was obstructed with wire, booby traps and anti-tank mines. An Indian straggler managed to negotiate all these obstacles safely shortly after the demolition had been effected. So also did Lance-Corporal D. McCormick a week later, after having endured considerable privations since he had been cut off from the Battalion on the 25th January.
Singapore Island was now divided into three military areas. Major-General Simmons ceased to be the Fortress Commander; his responsibility being limited to the Southern Area, which included the beach defences on the south-east and south-west coasts. The defence of the Northern Area, including the north-east coast, was entrusted to the III Indian Corps, which comprised the 18th Division, most of whose troops had now reached Singapore, as well as the two Indian divisions. The 9th Australian Division, with the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade under command, had the task of defending the Western Area. Many units had been so seriously weakened by their fighting on the mainland, that the garrison could not guard the Island's seventy miles of coast effectively.
On the 1st February the 2nd Loyals were relieved at the causeway position by the 2nd/30th Battalion, A.I.F., and returned to Bidadari Camp. That afternoon A Company, the carriers, four armoured-cars and B Echelon were sent to Gillman Barracks under the command of Major F.G. Barnes. Their main role was internal security, for it was thought that rioting might break out in Singapore town. This detachment, with the two companies of the 2nd Battalion, Malay Regiment, then stationed at Normanton Camp, constituted the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade's reserve. The married families had already left Gillman Barracks, and the nurses at Alexandra Military Hospital were now evacuated to Singapore town.
The same afternoon the main body of the 2nd Loyals crossed Keppel Harbour to Blakang Mati, where Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington took over command of the coast artillery and a machine-gun company of the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force who were manning the island's beach defences. B and CD Companies' role was to defend the unfortified northern shore of the Island, and to counter-attack at any point where required. Some stragglers rejoined the Battalion during the first week in February, including Lieutenant J.W. McNaughton and two men who, after being cut off during the action at the 63rd milestone, had made their way back through southern Johore, and then crossed the straits in two canoes which they had been lucky enough to find. Blakang Mati was occasionally bombed, and a few casualties were incurred at CD Company's H.Q. on the 3rd February, but the enemy aircraft reserved their attention mainly for the harbour and docks.
On the 5th February the 2nd Loyals observed a large liner on fire at sea. It proved to be the Empress of Asia, which unknown to them was carrying the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion, formerly the 5th Loyals, besides and anti-tank Regiment, a field company R.E., and some R.A.O.C. and R.A.M.C. details. The convoy of which it formed part had left Bombay on the 23rd January, and on the 4th February had been attacked by enemy aircraft without sustaining any damage or casualties. Nevertheless the stokers of the Empress of Asia had downed shovels and come on deck, with the result that the ship had fallen behind the rest of the convoy. The other three ships reached Singapore safely the following morning, and were the last to do so before the capitulation.
On the order being given to abandon ship, H.M.S. Yarra drew up alongside and the troops filed quietly on board, without their arms or equipment as directed by the destroyer's officers. The troops in the forward part of the ship, who owing to the flames were unable to board H.M.S. Yarra, slid down ropes to the sea and were picked up by small craft. After being landed at Singapore docks, the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion were taken in lorries to their billets; Battalion H.Q. and the H.Q. Company being establish at Choon Guan school. The next two days were spent in re-equipping, and the Battalion then moved to a tented camp in a rubber plantation near Sembawang, at the eastern end of Singapore Island, where they were held in divisional reserve.
On the night of the 8th February, after an artillery bombardment lasting three days, two Japanese divisions effected surprise landings on the north-west shore of Singapore Island, where the mangrove swamps had been considered impassable. They succeeded in infiltrating between the forward defended localities of the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade, which were widely spaced over a frontage of nine miles, and at about 8 a.m. the following morning reached Tengah airfield. The 44th Indian Infantry Brigade on the southern flank of the assault landing were not engaged, but the coast battery at Pasir Laba at the western extremity of Singapore Island was so heavily shelled that it had to be abandoned. The detached company of the 2nd Malay Regiment which had been guarding this battery was then withdrawn to Normanton Camp.
The 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade was not directly affected by these developments. Nevertheless Brigadier Williams felt uneasy about his right flank, as the 1st Malay Regiment, who were manning the beach defences between the mouth of the River Pandan and the western entrance to Keppel Harbour, had only one rather isolated company guarding the boom defences of the River Jurong. He therefore employed the 2nd Loyals' transport to move the two companies of the 2nd Malays, then in reserve at Normanton Camp, to the River Jurong, where they took up a position between the west coast and Jurong roads.
In view of the initial advantage gained by the Japanese, Lieutenant-General Percival decided to withdraw to the line of the Kranji and Jurong Rivers, and during the 9th February reinforced the 8th Australian Division with two Indian Infantry Brigades, both however considerably under strength. That night a third Japanese division gained a footing on Singapore Island between the Johore causeway and the River Kranji, thus turning the proposed line of resistance between the Rivers Kranji and Jurong. The following morning they infiltrated through this line and almost reached the main road some two miles north of Bukit Timah. Lieutenant-General Percival ordered the 8th Australian Division to counter-attack, so as to restore the Kranji-Jurong line, but circumstances soon showed that this was quite impracticable.
As the situation was obviously deteriorating, Brigadier Williams obtained permission on the morning of the 10th February to employ the 2nd Loyals to strengthen his right flank. He thereupon ordered the main body of the Battalion to cross to the mainland from Blakang Mati, and take up a position in brigade reserve on Ayer Raja road. In the meantime he sent A Company, with the carriers and armoured-cars, from Gillman Barracks to the junction of Ulu Pandan and Reformatory roads, where they took up a position facing north-west.
That afternoon the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade became demoralised under attack both from the ground and the air, and retired precipitately down the west coast road to Pasir Panjang. These Indian troops, who were only partially trained, rallied in the village and then marched up Reformatory road to the area occupied by A Company, 2nd Loyals. Their retirement left the forward companies of the 1st and 2nd Malays on the line of the Sungei Jurong completely isolated, so that evening Brigadier Williams withdrew these companies behind the Sungei Pandan. A Company, 2nd Loyals, then took up an extended outpost line covering the end Malays' right flank.
The main body of the 2nd Loyals was delayed in crossing Keppel Harbour by an air raid, but using their own transport reached their destination on the Ayer Raja road at about 6 p.m. CD Company were placed forward near the junction of Ayer Raja and Reformatory roads, covered by A Company's outpost line. B Company, in support, was established astride the Ayer Raja road, with Battalion H.Q. and the H.Q. Company on their left flank, about midway between Reformatory and Buona Vista roads. Battalion H.Q. was joined later that evening by the H.Q. of the 2nd Malays.
During the 10th February the Japanese made considerable progress, and entered Bukit Timah village from the north and west. That evening an improvised formation withdrawn from the 18th Division and known as Thomforce after it's commander, Lieutenant-Colonel D.R. Thomas, was ordered to counter-attack and retake the village. This force, which comprised two infantry battalions, with the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion acting as advance guard, started off at midnight from a position just north of the Bukit Timah road. The advance was led by ten wheeled carriers, which actually succeeded in entering the village, but several of them were then put out of action, either by tanks or anti-tank guns, and their commander, Lieutenant J.M. Wyse was killed.
The main body of the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion attacked astride the Bukit Timah road, with C Company (Captain A.F. Holt) on the right, and B Company (Captain R.O. Spencer) on the left, while A Company (Captain B.B. Dutton) carried out a left flanking movement. Few of the troops succeeded in crossing the railway, however, and in the afternoon of the 11th February Thomforce was ordered to withdraw. The three battalions took up a defensive position near the racecourse, north of the Bukit Timah Road, about 6 p.m.
There was some infiltration on the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade's front during the night of the 10th February, and at one time a platoon of CD Company, 2nd Loyals, commanded by Lieutenant D.C. Stewart, was surrounded by enemy patrols. Early the following morning, when A Company were concentrating near the junction of Ulu Pandan and Reformatory roads, they were involved in some bayonet fighting before they succeeded in gaining touch with the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade,.
On the morning of the 11th February Brigadier Williams shortened the frontage of his brigade by withdrawing the two Malay battalions from the Sungei Pandon to a line just west of Reformatory road. One company of the 1st Malays occupied Pasir Panjang, while another company took over the defence of a post which had been constructed on hill 125, 1,200 yards north of this village, in connection with the beach defences. Two companies of the 2nd Malays were deployed north of this hill, with their right flank covering the junction of Ayer Raja and Reformatory roads.
A Company, 2nd Loyals, moved southwards down Reformatory road and took up a position on the 2nd Malays' right. They were not in touch with the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, who were somewhere to the north again; so to cover their right flank CD Company moved a short way up Reformatory road. The carrier platoon was divided; one section being placed in close support to CD Company, and another in reserve near the junction of Ayer Raja and Reformatory roads. The third section was sent to join the 1st Malays in Pasir Panjang village, where it assisted in driving off some Japanese patrols. Apart from this clash there was no fighting on the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade's front during the 11th February. The armoured-car section, now reduced to four vehicles, was joined during the day by five armoured-cars manned by the Federated Malaya States Volunteer Force. Reconnaissance was carried out up Reformatory and Buona Vista roads, but owing to road blocks the armoured-cars could not reach the Bukit Rimah road. In these operations Captain J. Baker, who commanded the section, was mortally wounded.
The Buona Vista Battery of two 15-inch guns, which was sited near the junction of Ulu Pandan and Reformatory roads, was blown up in the early hours of the 11th February. Later in the morning the enemy attacked in that area, where the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade resisted stubbornly, but some elements of the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade retired to the Buona Vista road. During the night of the 11th February there was some patrol activity on the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade's front, and our own artillery, in ignorance of the positions occupied by the 2nd Loyals, laid down harassing fire west of Reformatory road, fortunately without causing any casualties.
At dawn on the 12th February the Japanese attacked the position held by the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion near the racecourse, north of the Bukit Timah road. The attack was held, but Captain J.V. Schofield, the medical officer, and the Rev. R.C. Chalk, the Chaplain, were both killed when attending to the wounded. The Japanese also continued their attacks in the Ulu Pandan area. Some lorry-borne infantry, who were reported by a 2nd Loyals' armoured-car patrol to be moving down Reformatory road, were dispersed by artillery fire. During the morning the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade's positions were heavily shelled by the enemy artillery, who were now assisted by an observation balloon, and they were also dive-bombed at intervals.
In the afternoon the troops on either side of the Bukit Timah road were ordered to withdraw: the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion to Adam road, and the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade to Holland village. The remnants of the 6th/15th and 44th Indian Infantry Brigades retired at the same time and passed through the 2nd Loyals' positions on Reformatory road, later moving to the railway bridge west of Holland village. CD Company was now in contact with the enemy, and obtained some good artillery targets; while A Company was closely engaged and suffered some casualties.
By 5 p.m., when Brigadier Williams visited the joint H.Q. of the 2nd Loyals and 2nd Malays, the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade was in a pronounced salient, with a considerable gap between the 2nd Loyals and the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade. He therefore decided to leave the 1st Malays in their well fortified position on hill 125 and in Pasir Panjang village, and ordered the 2nd Loyals and 2nd Malays to withdraw their forward companies across Reformatory road that night. Three hours later the joint Battalion H.Q. was shelled by mortars, which inflicted some casualties on the 2nd Loyals' H.Q. Company and the 2nd Malays' H.Q. staff.
The withdrawal was begun at 9 p.m. and carried out without incident; the whole scene being lit up by the blazing oil at the Normanton depot, which had been set on fire to deny it to the enemy. An hour later CD Company took over B Company's position astride the Ayer Raja road, with A Company on their left. B Company moved back towards the Gap cross-roads, and Battalion H.Q. were established in some piggeries behind these cross-roads. The 31st Battery R.A., numbering about eighty gunners, took up a position in front of the Buona Vista road, on B Company's right. After the 15-inch guns at Buona Vista Battery had been made unserviceable, Major H. Jackson, who commanded the Battery had attached his personnel to the 2nd Loyals. The gap between the 31st Battery and the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade was filled by three rifle companies of the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, who had been placed at Brigadier Williams' disposal.
During the night of the 12th February the north and east coasts of Singapore Island were evacuated in order to release troops to hold a perimeter, which was to include the reservoirs in the centre of the Island upon which Singapore depended for it's water supply. This area was now threatened both from the north and west, but on the 13th February the enemy's main offensive was directed against the positions on the coastal ridge held by the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade. The attack was carried out by a Japanese division which had been only lightly engaged since it's landing on the night of the 8th February.
At dawn on the 13th February CD and A Companies, 2nd Loyals, were found to be in a blind position, and their dispositions had to be modified. Their left flank was covered by the 2nd Malays, who during the night had taken up new defensive positions on top of Pasir Panjang hill, point 177, supported by four Australian carriers armed with Vickers machine-guns. The 2nd Malays, who had had considerable casualties in the previous day's fighting on Reformatory road, posted their reserve company on Buona Vista hill, point 270, the summit of the coastal ridge.
The Company of the 1st Malays holding hill 125 was heavily shelled by artillery and mortars for two hours on the morning of the 13th February and incurred heavy casualties. The survivors were then withdrawn, and the hill was occupied by the Japanese. The Australian carriers prevented the enemy from crossing Reformatory road for a time, but later withdrew, and in the afternoon the Japanese captured Pasir Panjang hill from the 2nd Malays. This unit had now only one effective company, and in spite of their stubborn resistance the enemy succeeded in working their way along the coastal ridge and taking Buona Vista hill. As this enemy advance outflanked the forward companies of the 2nd Loyals and 1st Malays, Brigadier Williams decided to readjust the dispositions of both these units, and at the same time take the 2nd Malays out of the line for rest and reorganisation.
On Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington's orders CD Company retired through B Company, without incident, to a position immediately behind the Gap cross-roads. A Company were withdrawing in their turn, when at about 4 p.m. the enemy attacked the remnants of the 2nd Malays, driving them back towards the cross-roads. Some Indian Sappers and Miners in position behind the cross-roads mistook the retiring Malays for Japanese, and for the next half hour B Company found themselves under fire from the Indian troops in the rear, and from the enemy in front and on the left flank. Fortunately there were few casualties, and the 2nd Malays were withdrawn into reserve. By this time B Company's flank had been turned, but nevertheless they maintained their position in front of the cross-roads, where they linked up with the 1st Malay Regiment. Contact with the troops on both flanks was also maintained by the 2nd Loyals' armoured-cars, now operating alone as the F.M.S. Volunteer Force's vehicles had been withdrawn elsewhere earlier in the day.
Brigadier Williams, who went up to the 2nd Loyals' and 2nd Malays' joint H.Q. about 5 p.m., had already asked for reinforcements to counter-attack and retake the Pasir Panjang ridge. Only a single company of Jat Infantry was forthcoming, however, and it did not reach Alexandra cross-roads until nearly dark, too late for a counter-attack to be organised. As the Gap cross-roads position seemed untenable, Brigadier Williams issued orders about 6.30 p.m. for his Brigade to withdraw after dark to the Alexandra Depots Area defence line. This was all the more necessary as his Brigade was once more in an exposed salient; the 8th Australian Division having retired from Holland village during the day, and organised a perimeter defence round Tanglin Barracks and Tyersall Park.
The 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade retired without incident. The oil tanks at the Normanton depot were still burning, as were those on the island of Pulau Bukum three miles off-shore; and the north coast of Blakang Mati was almost hidden by flames from the oil drifting on the surface in Keppel Harbour.
On the 2nd Loyals' right, the 5th Bedfords crossed Alexandra road and took up a position just behind it, with their left flank company covering the end of Ayer Raja road. On the seaward flank the 1st Malays got away from their isolated position in Pasir Panjang village by means of some trucks, covered by the 2nd Loyals' and some Australian carriers. They occupied Buona Vista village and the eastern end of the coastal ridge. The 2nd Loyals marched back along Ayer Raja road, passed in single file through the blazing Normanton oil depot, and occupied the defences in the Gillman Barracks area. Thus by a curious stroke of fortune they found themselves defending the barracks that had been their home for so many years.
2nd BATTALION AND 18th RECONNAISSANCE BATTALION: THE LAST PHASE AT SINGAPORE, 1942
By the 13th February, 1942, the situation at Singapore was critical, as the Japanese had gained possession of the reservoirs upon which the town depended for it's water supply. That evening Malay Command issued orders for the evacuation of certain key personnel and specialists. The 2nd Loyals were not affected by these instructions, as Brigadier Williams decided to take no action upon them in view of his Brigade being so heavily engaged. The 18th Reconnaissance Battalion despatched a party, but it was late at the rendezvous and proceeded no further. This was perhaps fortunate for those concerned, as most of the shipping used for the evacuation was sunk by enemy action with great loss of life.
On the 13th February the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion was ordered to move into reserve for a rest, and took up a position about half a mile behind Adam road. The following morning Lieutenant-Colonel Fitt, who had been severely burnt while on board the Empress of Asia, handed over command temporarily to Major D.R. Mullineux. The Battalion took up a defensive position on Mount Pleasant road, where they were attacked several times. The Japanese succeeded in crossing the road on several occasions, but each time were driven back, and at the time of the surrender on the 15th February the Battalion's positions were still held intact. Their casualties since reaching Singapore included about fifty-five men killed. Lieutenant T.E. Fitzgerald died at sea on the 14th February.
South of the Bukit Timah road the 8th Australian Division continued to hold their perimeter covering Tanglin Barracks and Tyersall Park. An R.E. Field Company that had been placed under Brigadier Williams's orders was in position at the junction of Alexandra and Tanglin roads, and the three companies of the 5th Bedfords were astride the railway, east of Alexandra road. To ensure the effective co-operation of the left flank company, Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington supervised it's deployment opposite the end of Ayer Raja road. In front of the 5th Bedfords' position, in what was shortly to be no-man's-land, lay the Alexandra Military Hospital, which was still occupied by patients and staff.
The 2nd Loyals had two companies forward on the western side of Alexandra road. B Company and the 31st Battery R.A., on the right, occupied the Officers' Mess and some of the officers' bungalows, turning out some refugees who were then sent off to Singapore town. CD Company, on the left, manned the defence posts between the Tiger Brewery and Alexandra road. A Company was in support behind Alexandra road, with Battalion H.Q. in the Sergeants' Mess. The H.Q. Company was dispersed, and the Regimental transport concealed in Heap Guan San, the native village situated between the coast road and the barrack blocks. These buildings had been turned into an Indian General Hospital. They were marked with a red cross, and the Japanese refrained from shelling them.
The 1st Malays held Buona Vista village and the eastern end of the coastal ridge. They also occupied two posts near the junction of Alexandra and the coast roads. The Chalet spur, which lay between these posts and the Tiger Brewery, was not occupied as it could be covered by enfilade fire from CD Company on the north, and from these two posts on the south.
Shortly before the 2nd Loyals returned to their barracks, their rear party, including Lieutenant P.F. Fuller and Lieutenant E.W. Ingham, had arrived from Blakang Mati; and later Captain J.C. Johnson rejoined from hospital and Lieutenant E.R. Hind from extra-regimental employment. The Alexandra telephone exchange was destroyed, prematurely as it proved, on the evening of the 13th February, so Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington was out of touch with Brigade H.Q., now transferred to Mount Faber, until a telephone cable had been laid the next morning. At 3 a.m., when his Battalion were in position and ready for action, he reported to Brigadier Williams, who then issued orders for a withdrawal east of Singapore River. After consultation with Southern Area H.Q., however, these orders were cancelled.
Japanese artillery, aided by an observation balloon, began shelling the Gillman Barracks area at 8.30 a.m. on 14th February, and the regimental transport in particular had losses both in men and vehicles. Brigadier Williams had some difficulty in making his way up to the 2nd Loyals that morning, as the Alexandra Depots Area was being bombed, most of the hutments were on fire, and there was a risk of the main ammunition magazine blowing up. By then the 2nd Loyals were under mortar fire, as well as being dive-bombed from time to time. Alexandra Military Hospital fell into the hands of the enemy soon after midday, when staff and patients were shot or bayoneted in the wards, passages and even the operating theatre. A high ranking Japanese officer later formally apologised for this atrocity.
Enemy patrols who attempted to enter the bungalow area in front of B Company's position during the morning were prevented from doing so by the 1st Malays' company on the ridge between there and Buona Vista village. About 2.30 p.m., however, some Japanese began advancing down Ayer Raja road, supported by fire from captured British mortars, but they were repulsed by B Company, 2nd Loyals, and the 5th Bedfords' left flank company. About an hour later the enemy began infiltrating through the bungalow area, and then tried, unsuccessfully, to cross a local road immediately in front of B Company's posts. During this period the barrack area was heavily shelled, and both A and the H.Q. Companies suffered casualties.
The stretcher bearers were indefatigable and displayed great gallantry, especially the following day, when the wounded had to be rescued under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire at close range. Out of twenty-five stretcher bearers, fourteen became casualties; and Corporal C. Wanless, who was in charge of them and particularly distinguished himself, was later awarded the M.M. for his devotion to duty. As no ambulances were available, Captain J.G. Jesson, R.A.M.C., the Battalion's medical officer, who was unsparing in his exertions, arranged for six of the Loyals' 30-cwt. Trucks to be employed in evacuating casualties to hospitals in Singapore town.
About 4 p.m. the Japanese brought up an infantry gun, with which from the cover of a bungalow they fired at point blank range into B Company's positions, particularly the bungalow occupied as company H.Q. The crew of this gun were knocked out by Bren gun and mortar fire more than once, with the result that the enemy could only fire single rounds every half-hour or so,. The fighting then spread to the Tiger Brewery area, but darkness came on before CD Company could be heavily engaged, and all the Loyals' positions remained intact. There was considerable patrol activity during the night, and our troops were handicapped by having no wire in front of them.
During the afternoon the 1st Malays had withdrawn from Buona Vista village, and about 6 p.m. their company holding the ridge between there and the Loyals' positions was overrun after a most gallant resistance. One of the two posts on the coast road near it's junction with Alexandra road had already been destroyed by shell-fire, and the other was evacuated by the 1st Malays towards dawn. The unit was now reduced to four platoons, who took up their position on Bukit Chermin. A report of this withdrawal did not reach Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington, who was therefore unable to take steps to guard his left flank.
Brigadier Williams now organised a reserve defence line on the forward slopes of Mount Washington and Mount Faber, and withdrew his H.Q. to the neighbourhood of the civil prison in Singapore, which was accessible by road from all parts of his Brigade's now extended front. In view of reports of Japanese landings on Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani, which were later discovered to be unfounded, he detailed the 2nd Malays to watch the waterfront facing Keppel Harbour.
At dawn on the 15th February the shelling of Gillman Barracks, Mount Washington and the coast road was resumed, both by artillery and mortars. Pressure was again maintained on B Company, but the main attack was delivered against CD Company. As long as the mortar section supporting this left forward company could fire on the corner of the brewery and adjoining quarry the enemy were held, but eventually the supply of bombs ran out . This enable the Japanese to rush the Chalet spur, from which they overlooked CD Company's position, causing many casualties. They were dislodged for a time by a daring raid, carried out by four volunteers under Lieutenant J. Simpson, using hand grenades, but all four men were wounded in this operation. After a temporary respite, the enemy worked their way forward through the dead ground on the left flank, previously covered by the 1st Malays' post on the coast road, and reoccupied the Chalet spur. One by one CD Company's posts were silenced.
B Company was almost equally hard pressed. At Company H.Q. Captain N.A. Landrock was wounded, and later C.S.M. McFadden and C.Q.M.S. Leigh died of wounds inflicted by the Japanese infantry gun. During the morning enemy artillery shelled the bungalow occupied by Company H.Q., and by 1.45 p.m. the upper floor had been so badly damaged that everybody was withdrawn to the ground floor. Major P.D. Leighton was able to keep Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington informed of the situation, thanks to the work of the signallers, under Lieutenant G. Baker, who kept the lines between Battalion H.Q. and the forward companies in repair. Acting on this information Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington concluded that the two platoons of A Company available for counter-attack would be inadequate to restore the situation in CD Company's area.
Being unaware of the new location of Brigade H.Q., Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington asked the commanding officers of the 5th Bedfords and 1st Malays to meet him so as to concert plans for withdrawal. It was then decided that the 5th Bedfords, who had not been heavily engaged, should move back to Henderson road, and the 2nd Loyals to Mount Washington, while the 1st Malays were to remain on Bukit Chermin.
B Company, 2nd Loyals, who were to be the first to retire, received their orders at 2.15 p.m. Before leaving the shattered bungalow occupied as his H.Q., Major Leighton, who was now using the Bren gun, fired off three magazines at the Japanese infantry gun. His right forward platoon got away just in time, as half a minute later the trench they had been occupying was wrecked by a direct hit. 2nd Lieutenant P.G. Edge, the commander of this platoon, and his runner were under fire from four Japanese standing on top of a bank, when the latter were quickly disposed by Major Leighton and his runner, who had just previously taken shelter unobserved beneath the bank. B Company withdrew across Alexandra road to the anti-malarial drain, bringing their wounded with them. They then retired through A Company's position and the Depots area to the prearranged checking point at the bridge where Henderson road crosses the railway. There the company was found to muster only twenty-five men and three officers, including Major Leighton, who for his gallantry on this and previous occasions was awarded the M.C.
CD Company, under Captain T.R. Brook, had concentrated at their Company H.Q., as one by one their posts became untenable. Covered by fire from A and the H.Q. Companies, they moved back in their turn to the checking point, where their numbers were found to be reduced to three officers and seventeen men. B and CD Companies were now amalgamated to form a single company of two platoons. The troops were badly in need of rest, so this composite company was placed in reserve at Marlborough Camp, 400 yards east of the Ordnance Depot.
Major F.G. Barnes had formed the H.Q. Company into three platoons, which assisted A Company in covering the retirement of the forward companies. Both support companies then moved back to Mount Washington, covered by a barrage put down on Alexandra road by our own artillery, who had by now expended nearly all their ammunition. Major Barnes was badly wounded during a reconnaissance of the new position, and handed over command of the H.Q. Company to Captain P. Rogers. The retirement was completed by 4.30 p.m., and was not followed up by the enemy. A Company occupied Mount Washington, and the H.Q. Company the area between there and Henderson road. The 2nd Loyals were heavily shelled in these new positions, which were very exposed, and at 7 p.m. they began digging in.
Two days earlier most of the drivers and mechanics of the motor transport group had been formed into two platoons, under Captain J.P. Morrish, the transport officer. After destroying all their unessential vehicles they took up positions covering a block on the coast road, where they linked up with the 1st Malays on Bukit Chermin. The gap between the transport group and A Company was filled by a platoon of the Leicestershire Regiment, a platoon of Dogras, eighty artillery-men, and some R.A.O.C. details who had been armed to meet the emergency.
A reduced B Echelon had been established near Brigade H.Q. From there, towards dusk, a lorry laden with hot tea was driven up to Marlborough Camp, guided by the Rev. P. Cazalet, who later received the M.C. for his services in the campaign. The tea was distributed to the forward companies by Captain W.J. Holohan, the Quartermaster, who was taken up to the forward slopes of Mount Washington in a car driven by an anti-tank gunner officer. About 7.30 p.m. A Company fired on some Japanese who appeared on the high ground above Gillman Barracks. These were possibly the last shots fired in the Malayan campaign, for at 8.40 p.m. a car approached from the rear with it's head-lights on, and it's occupant, the brigade intelligence officer, then reported that Lieutenant-General Percival had capitulated, and that all firing was to cease at 8.30 p.m.
The forward companies were immediately withdrawn to Marlborough Camp, where the Battalion concentrated for the night. Just before 10 p.m. Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington sent the following soldierly message to his company commanders: "I congratulate you on fighting so well. Through no fault of yours you have been ordered to surrender. Remember the lads who have fought and died, and show the same spirit of duty and discipline in defeat. Do nothing to bring discredit on the Loyals as prisoners of war. God bless you."
So terminated what Winston Churchill in the House of Commons described as "the greatest military disaster in the history of the British Empire". The 2nd Loyals had fought to the last with the utmost courage and devotion, under the most discouraging circumstances. Their losses had been heavy indeed. Apart from the killed and the wounded who were missing, 130 casualties had been dealt with, of whom eighty were evacuated by the Battalion's own transport, and twenty-five by the R.A.M.C. and Australian Army Medical Corps. The Battalion was reduced to 289 of all ranks, 150 of whom belonged to B Echelon. The calmness, courage and good judgement shown by Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington who had remained imperturbable in many difficult situations, had inspired all ranks, and his gallant conduct was recognised by the immediate award of the D.S.O. C.S.M. Moffatt, who had displayed courage and leadership on several occasions received the D.C.M.
On the 16th February the 2nd Loyals were ordered to lay down their arms and remain in the Marlborough Camp area. This camp had been an R.A.O.C. establishment, so the troops were fortunately able to collect some food, clothing and medical stores. During the day they were visited by a Japanese patrol, whose commander congratulated them on the splendid fight they had put up. The following day the Battalion set off for the prisoner of war camp that the Japanese had established at Changi. After passing through Singapore town and marching about twelve miles, the troops were ferried the remaining six miles by means of some lorries which the transport officer had managed to secure.
The camp at Changi accommodated all the Singapore garrison except the Indian Army units, who were allotted a separate camp in the middle of the Island. The 2nd Loyals occupied Malay Lines in the area allotted to the Fortress troops, and the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion part of the 18th Division's area. At first the prisoners of war were free to move about anywhere in the camp, but after a month each area was segregated by double apron wire fences, which were later patrolled by renegade Sikhs. Men who had been taken prisoner during the recent fighting, or who had been extra-regimentally employed, as well as those discharged from the camp hospital, rejoined the Battalion, whose strength rose with a few weeks to 600.
Orders were given by the Japanese to H.Q. Malaya Command, and then transmitted through formations to units, as before the surrender; for in contravention of the usual procedure, officers remained with their troops. Officers had to remove their badges of rank, however, and wear a single star on their left breast. Rations were cut by more than half, but were supplemented by vegetables bought from local Chinese. Owing partly to the bad food, and partly to the failure of individual soldiers to take the necessary sanitary precautions, dysentery and dengue fever broke out in the densely populated camp; and later there were cases of malaria and beri-beri. For the whole camp of some 60,000 men, the deaths averaged two a day.
Bathing in the sea was soon forbidden, but various forms of recreation were organised, including educational lectures, and open air cinema, an amateur concert party, football, cricket and gardening. Working parties had to be provided for various jobs; the largest, 2,000 strong, being employed for eight weeks in making an avenue through the jungle near Bukit Timah to commemorate the Japanese victory. Towards the end of May the camp occupied by this large working party was left unguarded for a week, while the camp staff were being changed, and the prisoners of war were allowed to roam freely in the town, where they were welcomed and fed by the Chinese inhabitants.
In July, when Malaya Command were called upon to find 3,300 prisoners of war to go to Japan, most of the 2nd Loyals elected to move as a unit. On the 14th August the Battalion paraded for medical inspection, making with others a party of 1,000. Two days later this party were taken by motor transport to the docks, where they were disinfected and then embarked on a cargo ship of 3,500 tons, already crowded with some 300 Australian soldiers. Shelving for the troops to lie upon had been constructed in the four holds, and cooking and sanitary conveniences of the most primitive nature provided on deck. This ship sailed in convoy on the 19th August, and after calling at Cape St. Jacques, French Indo-China, four days later, reached Takao, Formosa, on the 29th August,. Apart from men employed on working parties, the troops remained aboard, and the ship did not sail until the 15th September. The prisoners of war were then taken not to Japan, as promised, but to Fusan, Korea, which was reached on the 22nd September. The food on board was disgracefully inadequate, consisting mainly of rice, and by the time the troops landed on the 24th September they were weak with hunger.
After a long and wearisome march round the town the party was divided. Fifty officers and 450 men, including the 2nd Loyals, then entrained for Keijo, the capital, which was reached the next morning. There they were lodged in a cotton warehouse standing in a stockaded compound, which was to be their place of detention for the next three years. Labour parties had to be provided for various employment, but the officers of the 2nd Loyals steadfastly refused to perform any manual work, as was their right under international law, even though it meant going on short rations.
The officers and men of the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion remained in the camp at Changi until November 1942, when all those fit for employment were moved by goods train to Thailand. There they occupied bamboo huts thatched with palm leaves, and were employed in constructing the Bangkok-Rangoon railway. Their rations were meagre in the extreme, but were occasionally supplemented by food bought from the local villagers. The railway was finished in the middle of 1943, after which work was carried out in the camps. The officers were segregated from their men in February 1945.
Among the prisoners of war on the Thailand railway were Captain M.L. Webber, of the 2nd Loyals, and his twin brother. At the gravest risk to themselves they operated a hidden wireless set, thus obtaining the latest war news, which was of the utmost value in maintaining the morale of their comrades in adversity. Captain Webber was subsequently awarded the O.B.E. for his courage and devotion to duty.
Deaths from sickness, under-nourishment and ill-treatment were excessively numerous among the prisoners of war in all areas. Among those who succumbed were Captain J.F. Whiteing, M.C., Lieutenant T. Murdoch and Lieutenant R.B. Pigott of the 2nd Loyals, and Lieutenant B.L. Hill, Lieutenant J.A. Hollick, Lieutenant F.G. Swindells and 2nd Lieutenant C.D. Strelley of the 18th Reconnaissance Battalion. The inhumanity displayed by the Japanese Army will always remain a blot on their escutcheon.
At the beginning of August 1945, when the Russians were approaching Keijo, the Japanese threatened to shoot the officers imprisoned there, but the situation was saved by the surrender of Japan on the 15th of that month. After some weeks of suspense an American company appeared on the 9th September, when their commander's first remark to Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington was: "Say, Colonel, who d'ya want shot?" Shortly afterwards the survivors of the 2nd Loyals embarked for the Philippines. From there they were taken in H.M.S. Implacable to Vancouver, and eventually reached England in October. The men had maintained good discipline during their long ordeal in captivity, and had fully maintained the reputation of their Regiment. For his fine leadership during this trying time Lieutenant-Colonel Elrington was awarded the O.B.E.