35TH LAA Regiment - Royal Artillery
This Regiment was born on 2nd September 1939 when War was a foregone conclusion - a rash of yellow posters appeared on the hoardings of Oxford appealing for recruits to defend Oxfordshire against air attack - age 25 to 50.
The 89th was the first Battery formed and it was quickly at strength in October 1939 Recruiting for 144th got going in the last month of 1939.
The 35th Regiment carried five Batteries, with Headquarters in Oxford, Abingdon, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Reading. The 89th were out on Aerodrome defence at the end of October 1939. By the end of the year, most Batteries were manning vital points sprawled over the Southern Counties. Early in 1940 the Regiment was reduced to three Batteries: 78th, 89th and 144th. Regimental Headquarters were at Black Hall, St Giles, Oxford until the movements started which culminated at Middlesbrough and mobilisation for service abroad.
Embarkation was on the luxury liner the Empress of Japan at Greenock which sailed down the Clyde on 13th November 1941 in convoy. They arrived in Durban on 18th December where shore leave was allowed on 19th December and a good time was had by all. The Regiment changed ships from the Empress of Japan to the Narkunda, about 18,000 tons and left Durban on 24th December but where to? Rumours were rife, but it was felt certain it would be Singapore. A few days after they left the Maldives they passed many small islands and eventually passed Sumatra and Java. As the ship neared Singapore all the guns were fully manned and ready for action if need be. Overhead, the Air Force of the Dutch East Indies was keeping watch for the enemy by sea and air. Singapore was finally reached on 13th January 1942.
After landing at Singapore they were taken by bus to a Camp known as Chick-A-Boo very close to the village Nee-Soon. Some days later it appears two troops of the 89th went across the Johore Causeway first into Malaya and were followed by the 144th. It wasn't possible to hold the hordes of Japs streaming down who had reconnoitred and planted the ground years before and so those two troops of the 89th came back through 144th who were on the roads and doing very good destruction among the Zeros. They came back across the Causeway into Singapore, prepared to make a stand. The 78th and the remaining two troops of 89th had gone off to Sumatra to reinforce the 6th Heavies. The order came to evacuate Singapore and the remainder of 89th got out. They were sunk on the journey in the Banka Strait, all but L/Bdr Ralph Spencer of Nottingham being saved.
The 144th got out of Malaya and came back to Singapore to find the other two Batteries evacuated. The Japs then blew into Singapore and for the 144th and RHQ it was all over.
The Japs dropped from the sky on Sumatra, making it too hot for this brave and harassed little remnant looking mainly to their fists for freedom and they got out to Java, leaving a few behind who could not be rounded up. It finished in Java. They all had a good go but the curtain finally came down.
It would appear there was a definite segregation of Batteries for 89th largely got to Japan, 78thto Borneo and 144th remained on Singapore. The 89th suffered the torture epic on the voyage from Java to Japan in the Singapore Maru, an unbelievably awful voyage and 25 men of the 35th Regiment were buried at sea, in all 84 men were dropped overboard during this terrible voyage.
The 144th was split up shortly after being taken. A party of 100 was sent to Saigon in French Indo-China and later to Hanoi. This party had the most fortunate record of any, for 95% returned home, almost a normal death rate for Far Eastern Service. The remainder of 144th, together with RHQ, continued their imprisonment on Singapore until 18th October 1942 when they were included in a party of about 600 prisoners who were taken to New Britain. They went ashore at Rabaul and made camp at Kokopo some 30 miles distant. In November 1942 over 500 of the fittest men of this party left for the Solomons. It was later learnt they were to build an air strip for the Japanese on the small, remote island of Ballalae, just south of Bougainville. Of the 82 who remained at Kokopo, only 18 survived but of the 500+ who went to Ballalae, there were no survivors. They died of the usual tropical illnesses, were killed in the many Allied bombing raids on the island and the remainder were massacred in approximately June 1943 when they were of no further use to the Japanese. In this tragedy Lt. Col J Bassett, Major Bullock and RSM Broadfoot were among those lost.
The 78th in Borneo was fairly intact until the beginning of 1945 when disease, malnutrition and hopelessness began to take their toll, then the deaths took place rapidly up to and past VJ Day. Of the men who were sent to Sandakan in British North Borneo, from Kuching, where the bulk of the 78th were imprisoned, none returned. The graves in Kuching, Borneo, all had a cross made by Gunner W V Richmond of the 78th. In fact, all the graves in the Borneo camps had identification marks and were taken care of by the War Graves Commission. The exception is Japan where cremation seems to have been the rule and here, in the Fukuoka Group, a large wooden cross had been erected, surrounded by a fence. Under the cross were the funeral urns containing the ashes those who had died.
This ends the short sad epic of the 35th LAA Regiment RA.