SINGAPORE'S CHILDREN ARRIVE HOME
(Taken from the Daily Herald March 21st 1942)
kindly provided by Viscountess Portman
The children of Malaya are home - Priscilla Jane and Penny, Piggy-Pokey and Rosemary Jean. They came home yesterday after a 13,000 mile journey of thrills and horrors, bombed day and night as they waited for a ship to bring them back to England, chased at sea by Japanese planes (they saw one shot down), steaming through waters where U-boats lurked. Fifteen hundred mothers and children whom the ship's adjutant called "damned good scouts."
Rosemary Jean came home with her mother, Mrs Leslie H Eastman, and her doll Piggy-Pokey. The last thing Rosemary remembers in Seremban, the Malay States town where she lived, is a Christmas tree. It was standing in the lounge of her home glittering with little fairy lights, for Rosemary Jean had had a party for her friends.
"I will have that party for the children" her mother told herself, for Seremban had not a very party atmosphere in those last days.
Three days after the party, three-year-old Rosemary Jean found herself bundled into her coat and hat and told to hold tightly - very tightly - to Piggy-Pokey, her doll. Rosemary Jean held very tightly, especially when, at Muar, Japanese bombs came screaming down and left their friend's house a wreck. She held tightly when a fortnight later in Johore more bombs came screeching down and wrecked the house where they had taken refuge a second time. And on the quay at Singapore, she held even more tightly to Piggy-Pokey, the doll in the gay striped petticoat that a Chinese servant had made for her.
Day and night the Japanese planes came over. Rosemary Jean's world was a hell of noise and dust and hurrying Malays fleeing for shelter. Rosemary's father, a Company Sergeant-Major in the Malayan Volunteer Corps, saw them off. "Oh Daddy, Daddy", cried Rosemary and she clung tightly to her father as well as to Piggy-Pokey. Then the ship's siren hooted out and they had to take her away. The last she saw of her daddy was a gallant, smiling figure standing on the quay waving.
As the big ship moved out, Japanese planes, weaving a pattern of death in the sunny skies, sighted her and came zooming triumphantly over her decks. Rosemary Jean and the otherpassengers laughed when suddenly one of them, hit by the ship's AA guns, came screaming down in a black spiral of smoke to bury itself in the sea. They laughed, too, when the rest of the 27 planes went scurrying off.
After that it was parties for Rosemary Jean, boat parties. Fun for the little refugee girls - except when they remembered the farewell waving from the quay. Then seven weeks later - yesterday - Rosemary Jean met her Grannie, Mrs J H Brown of Kentish Town, NW. Rosemary Jean and Piggy-Pokey were home.
Priscilla Jane, three years old and her sister, Penny, aged two were luckier - at least until they got to Singapore.
The Last Train
They were on the last train from Kuala Lumpur with their mother, Mrs Ann Allin. Their father, a rubber planter, stayed behind with the volunteers. It was almost as though they were going on holidays. The railway carriage was air-conditioned and the journey quick. Once they got near Singapore it was different. It took Priscilla Jane and Penny and their mother six hours to get across the town to their ship, scurrying into air-raid shelters on the way. Once their ship got clear of the Japanese planes and submarines Priscilla Jane and Penny had a good time. The sailors, as sailors will, saw to that. Every day they had parties, often sports. It seems to Priscilla Jane and Penny like one long stream of Christmases and birthdays. So much so that Priscilla Jane hasn't got used to the humdrum shore life yet. Yesterday she kept on asking her mother - "When can we go to another ship's party?"
Penny and Priscilla with their mother Mrs G W Allin
But the women - the mothers and wives - want no more ship's parties when they come to the end of such an ordeal. Let Mrs Helene Wemyss, wife of a Johore rubber planter, tell her story of a reckless drive over the Johore Causeway.
"My husband Gordon told me one night that the Japs were only a few miles away. He said he would get me and little Malcolm over the Causeway in the old car if it was the last thing he did. There was an air raid and our spirits dropped when we found that the Causeway was already badly damaged. Gordon drove as he has never driven before over the narrow road that was left. There was a terrible lot of noise and bombs were falling all over the place and all the while Malcolm, aged six, was laughing and talking and thoroughly enjoying himself. Gordon told me he would stay in Singapore and fight. I don't know how he got on."
Mrs Hilda Okes, wife of 48-year old Henry Okes, a manager of Malaya Motors, told of the heart-breaking scenes when wives and children had to part on the quayside from husbands and fathers. "It was awful to have to sail away" she said and she, like many others, does not know if her husband is still alive.
Mrs Brade Sullivan, wife of the Chief Inspector of Police in Malacca, stepped out of the boat train into the arms of her sister, Mrs Peggy Shannon, a London business girl. "Oh thank God for good old London, it's the sanest place I've seen" she exclaimed. Between laughter and tears she told of her escape.
"We managed to keep a couple of jumps ahead of the Japanese by racing through the night in a motor convoy for Singapore. I left my lovely bungalow just as it stood. My wedding presents are there - or were. I was lucky to get away with my husband and nine-year-old daughter Maureen. Those last few days in Singapore were just terrible. Bombing went on night and day. We dare not go out even to do a bit of shopping. And we had been told for years that Singapore was impregnable. My husband stayed behind and I have not heard of him since."