2/20 Bn AIF in Singapore and Malaya in December 1941.

The 2/20 War Diary reported:
1 December 1941: Several troops rejoined their Manchester MMG Battalion after secondment for a month where they had proved of great assistance to 2/20 Vickers Gunners; Lt Brooks and Lt Stanistreet and 12 O/Rs rejoined from time with the Manchester Battalion. The exchange was a great success.

2 December 1941: Two privates were sent to detention. 5 Officers and 122 O/Rs joined the 2/20 Bn ex GBD Officers (General Base Depot?).
This day the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle cruiser HMS Repulse docked in Singapore… they were joined by destroyers Jupiter, Electra, Express and Encounter, all of which ‘looked a bit battered’. There was no aircraft carrier so the navy ships would have no air protection.
Two divisions of 3rd Indian Corps were sent north to unleash “Operation Matador” should the need arise.

 3 December 1941 6 O/Rs marched out on an Armoured Car course… this was the only entry in the War Diary. Bill Gaden wrote that they were in the middle of a crisis and a monsoon so they decided a ‘crisoon’ had arrived. He saw some of his troops enjoying a three course meal from tins of food sent from home. He told his family : ‘A couple of nights ago a party of officers lead by Major Robertson each produced a couple of tins of something. We heated the lot over a primus and a tragedy occurred. The labels were boiled off the tins. The answer to this problem was obvious. As each tin was opened the contents was distributed evenly over all our plates and the final mixture was excellent to look at, awful to smell and surprising to taste.  From memory our feast included tins of hamburger steak, sausages (super greasy), tomato soup, tomatoes whole, brussel sprouts, baked beans, spaghetti, and more beans. The party was a particularly merry one and was improved by Major M who seriously announced, at one stage of the show, that “the fruit salad was hexalent”. He was eating baked beans out of a tin with a fork. The brussel sprouts gave off an awful odour. They nearly broke up the party, until we discovered it was the brussel sprouts.’

4 December 1941 The 2/20 had a War Plan for the Defence of the Left Sector, Mersing. They thought the enemy had three Divisions and would be able to send two ashore at night simultaneously, each in flights of one or more regiments (Three Battalions) at a time. The two Divisions could be ashore in 2 or 3 days under cover of darkness. It was thought they wanted to secure Mersing/Endau to use as a base to attack Singapore, to secure Jemaluang cross-roads and then cut the  Kluang-Jemaluang road near Kahang. It was realised they had the resources to attempt all three in the first phase of operation and the Allies needed to prepare for the possibility of simultaneous landings:-

1. At Endau: 3 Bns and other troops inc AFVs for use on Mersing road

2. Mersing River mouth and Four Mile Beach: 3 Bns and other troops equipped to cross river

3. Beaches astride Jemaluang river, a main attack to gain the road to Jemaluang.

The Units under the Command of the 22 Australian Infantry Brigade were:

HQ 22 Aust Inf Bde

J Sec Sigs 8 Div

2/28 Bn

2/19 Bn

2/20 Bn

2/10 Fd Regt

15 A/Tk Bty (.75mm)

16 A/Tk Bty (.75mm)

2/20 Fd Coy

‘B’ Coy 2/9 Fd Amb

Det 4 Water tpt Coy

Tonkanga 7 ton….4

Tonkanga 5 ton….1

Sampans 2 (with 2 outboard motors each

69 LAD

74 LAD

The War Plan for the 2/20 listed disposition of all the Brigade Group, with Forces  E, M and J covered, detailed in 7 typed foolscap pages of instructions for the defence of the Left Sector, Mersing.

The 2/18 were going to cover Brigadiers Point, Seaview, Artillery Hill, Lalang Spur, and Mosque Hill.

The 2/20 were allocated Reverse slopes of coastal ridge with details of several spurs, watercourses, river bends and headlands.

It advised there were 3 stages of readiness:-

Number 3, warning order is that normally in force ie at 12 hours notice to move to full deployment

Number 2,  to be assumed on code word SEAVIEW, included watching beacons to be manned day and night, offshore patrols, MMG beach defences manned 1830 to 0630 hours daily, 10 hours notice to take up initial dispositions.

Number 1, to be assumed on code word RAFFLES, units to be deployed ready for action, Bde and Bn HQ’s to be continually and fully manned, War code names come into use.

4 December 1941 seventy Japanese battleships and transport ships full of troops and equipment left Samah (on the Chinese island of Hainan) and headed south. The equipment included copies of maps of Malaya and Japanese-Malay dictionaries.

5 December 1941 Bill wrote a ‘short scratchy note’ home advising he was posting home his bank passbook, an ominous sign of his concern.

6 December, reconnaissance planes spotted 70 Japanese ships but did not have enough fuel to ascertain their destination. Bad weather costs the Allies vital time and information.

At 1800 on 6 December 1941, the 2/20 War Diary notes they were given the warning order ‘RAFFLES’. All troops moved to prepared defensive positions as per plan. The Adjutant remarked “Troops all very keen. Morale high.”

The 2/20 War diary of 8 December 1941 reported:-

0430 “Stand to” ordered. This became regular practice (later altered to 0530 hrs by Bde. J) All work concentrated on defensive positions. Very pronounced increase in amount of work done. The standard has been maintained. Commenced issue of quinine to all ranks as Malarial suppressive measure.

On this day at 0830 hours a Catalina flying boat from RAF 205 Squadron located the Japanese fleet but was shot down before radioing its position… the crew became the first casualties of the war between Japan and the Allies. Japanese bombers attacked Keppel Docks at the Singapore Naval Base 10 hours before the attack on Pearl Harbour. Why were the Americans not advised and therefore warned of their own vulnerability?

At 1545 the Japanese fleet were located well north of Kota Baharu with troops visible on the decks and the destination was obvious. At 1848 Japanese vessels were confirmed landed at Singora and Patani.

It was now far too late to instigate ‘Operation Matador’ so there could be no early strike against the enemy who took advantage of this  indecision.

(For those with a particular interest in ‘Operation Matador’ you need to read the book ‘Operation Matador World War II, Britain’s attempt to foil the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore’,  by Chit Chung Ong, Singapore, Eastern Universities Press, 2003.)

9 December 2013 It is with sadness that I advise of the death of former 2/20 Lieutenant Anthony Harold White (NX35100) born 16 July 1920 at South Yalgogrin, NSW. His locality was Mascot and next of kin was Arthur White when he enlisted on 22 July 1940.

Tony White was mentioned in a few letters Bill Gaden wrote home. On Christmas Day 1941 the Christmas ‘dinner’ included  roast pork and roast duck cooked by a couple of shearers’ cooks. The pig was caught and killed by a couple of lads from the North Coast and the ducks supplied by Tony White.

Following the Fall of Singapore AH White  was a POW with ‘B’ Force at Kuching and the chapter on ‘Borneo- Kuching and Sandakan’ begins on page 312 in Don Wall’s book ‘Singapore and Beyond.’

In September 1945 Bill wrote that Tony White, Frank Gaven, John Fairley  and Bill Carter had been in Kuching. Later he received a letter from his mother Vera advising those men were on their way home, and she wrote a month later to advise “Bob Stanistreet and Tony White were back home looking well and happy.”

Meanwhile back in 1941 …. The 9th and 11th Indian Divisions, under strength and with no back up and no tanks, were asked to hold exposed positions in northern Malaya,  against the Japanese 5th Division troops. First contact was the night of 7-8 December. Less than 24 hours after the Japanese landed the 11th Indian Division were reduced to a quarter of their strength… they’d been asked to do an impossible task

On 8 December 1941 Singapore was bombed. There was no blackout, the city was brightly lit. Luckily for the civilians the targets were the Keppel Harbour docks and the airfields at Tengah and Seletar. However 60 civilians were killed when  bombs dropped in ‘Raffles Square’. The Japanese advance continued down the Malayan Peninsula.

The 2/20 War Diary reported

10 to 12 December 1941: Commenced issue of Quinine to all ranks as malaria suppressive measure. 14 O/Rs taken on strength ex-GBD.

The 2/20 began patrols of the Jemaluang-Mersing rivers between the 74 and 79 mile pegs, a most likely place for landing. The civilian population of Mersing was evacuated and the township destroyed by the Engineers.

On 10 December HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, both bravely fighting without air protection of their won were bombed and sunk in what was then considered to be Britain’s greatest ever naval disaster.

On 13 December Bill Gaden wrote home: ‘The world must have suddenly gone crazy; nations seem to be declaring war on one another right and left’. He wrote of an amusing incident with Capt Arch Ewart who purchased typewriters which he then issued to each Company… they all wrote backwards in Chinese.  By this date the Japanese who had landed at Singora had reached the Alor Star airfield, so swift had been their advance that the fleeing airmen left hot porridge on the table.  The high octane fuel stored at the RAF Base had not been destroyed and the Japanese were able to use these “Churchill Rations” as they flew on bombing and strafing raids.

Preparations for Civil Defence in Singapore were few and far between. Churchill’s Special Emissary had written “There are no air raid shelters, no trenches, no tin hats or gas masks, for the civilian population… no preparations have been made for a system of food rationing, no registration of inhabitants nor identity cards.”

The 2/20 War Diary reported

On 16 December 1941 NX 20599, Sgt William George Robinson was killed accidently by explosion of an A/T mine at Mersing. His date of birth was 3 July 1918 at Bulli, NSW and his locality at enlistment was Crow’s Nest, with William Robinson being his next of kin.

Back in London Churchill was under increasing pressure from many theatres of war, Hong Kong was under heavy attack, Penang, Malaya was to be evacuated, an offensive against Rommel was launched in Africa and urgent calls for assistance came from Russia, Burma, Libya and Malaya. Churchill issued his first warning about Singapore: “Beware lest troops required for the ultimate defence of Singapore Island and fortress are used up or  cut off in Malay Peninsula.”

The Japanese occupied Penang and the intact radio station. They reached  Selama by 20 December and fought the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Lennggong. 100km north of Ipoh.

In his letters home Bill Gaden tried to relay a feeling of confidence to his family… on 16 December he wrote “Generally we are happy and cheerful. I always thought that life would be rotten in a situation such as this but really it is not bad at all. Up to date the Jap has not met our chaps at all. Heaven knows what the blighters will do next. Anyway we are ready for him and prepared to fix him properly.”

Parcels were still getting through and as Christmas closed in there was plenty of food tins arriving for the troops.

The 2/20 reported there was much evidence of the activity of a Fifth Column…their  passwords were broadcast before being received through the proper channels, signs including long strips of white material on roof tops, were found pointing to anti-aircraft and gun positions, as well as anti-tank minefields. Light boats with outboard motors and supplies of food were hidden in houses.

17 December 1941 the 2/20 War Diary was reporting  “General check began on Sanitation throughout the area and environs.”

19 December 1941 Lt Chave, Lt Blackford and 10 O/Rs taken on strength ex GBD.

21 December 1941 Capt CC Gibbings evacuated to hospital, malaria.

23 December 1941, 1 Cpl and 6 O/Rs marched out as part of ‘ROSE” force. This was to be a unit to operate behind enemy lines as the Japanese made rapid progress down Malaya. Corporal Bill Parker and his men moved to Port Swettenham to prepare for action making up part of the 50 Australian volunteers who came under the command of Major Angus Rose of the Argylls.  These were to be the first Australian infantry personnel to come into contact with the Japanese. Put behind enemy lines by boat they set up an ambush near the village of Trong. They fired the first shots on 27 December 1941 after the first vehicle in a convoy was taken out by Rose himself. Three trucks and a pick-up stopped within point blank range of the Australians who ‘riddled them’.  The story of their initial encounter with the Japanese is told in Colin Smith’s book ‘Singapore Burning’ (Penguin, 2005, page 293-6.)

NX72701, Pte Horne CD Died as a result of accidental explosion of HE grenade. (Don Wall’s book ‘Singapore and Beyond’ has him down as Pte Hanna ..page 29) Colin David Horne was born 12 July 1907 at Wee Waa, NSW, which was also his locality when he enlisted. His next of kin was Eliza Horne.

25 December 1941 Ptes Geary, O’Brien, Stoneman and Walker were taken on strength ex Civil Gaol and the next day 22 O/Rs were taken ex GBD.

 

On Christmas Day 1941 Bill Gaden wrote to his family:-

Xmas Day; and tonight is Xmas night. I have been thinking of you all – all day – and wondering where you are and how you managed to celebrate etc.

Our ‘dinner’ today was a happy occasion that I shall not forget for many years to come. We started with roast pork and roast duck and later crammed our tummies full of plum pudding, fruit salad and cream. The final course was supplied by our Comforts Fund – sweets and smokes. These things would have looked well on a white table cloth, but to us they looked marvelous amongst the rubber leaves in our part of the bush.

The pig was caught and killed by a couple of the lads from the North Coast and beautifully cooked by a couple of shearers’ cooks. The ducks were a present from Lieut Tony White. The party was improved for everybody by a present from Bn – one bottle of beer per man. I think the miracle of the day was the extent that your little Xmas pudding went. It fed the whole 16 in our group. I did not mention the money in it and the lucky members fairly yelled with delight when they struck it rich. I kept a large piece for myself and was rewarded with a 3d.

We swamped the pudding with brandy and tried to light it. There must have been too much wind, the brandy refused to blaze. We had to sleep all the afternoon. I still feel a little sick – too much pork.

The lads have all enjoyed this Xmas. They received parcels from the Salvation Army, the Australian Comforts Fund and our own Comforts Fund. I got a small packet of tobacco with a card with your writing on it.

A previous letter had advised :-You would delight in seeing one of the boys giving me a haircut with a safety razor. We have an old blunt pair of clippers but in any case the razor does a cleaner job. I still have plenty of hair on top but the sides of my head and the back have been shaved for ventilation. A lot of the boys are shaving their heads bald. I don’t think that’s necessary and I don’t like the fashion. The short hair bristles under a tin hat and the mosquitoes have a wonderful feast at night. The letter of Christmas Day reported :-A decent pair of barber’s clippers have been found and we no longer have to cut our hair with safety razors.

The festivities of Christmas Day would soon be relegated to memory as the Japanese advance continued and the Australian troops would be in the firing line in the very near future.

 

 

31 December 1941 NX42490 Pte AG Greese was drowned in the Mersing River. The Bn War Dairy has ‘Greese’,  Don Wall’s book has him as ‘Greese’ on page  29 but ‘Creese’ in the Honour Roll, the DVA Nominal Roll has ‘Creese’. Arthur George Creese/Greese was born 18 February 1913 at Pembroke Dock, UK and his next of kin was B. Harrison.

How sad that he drowned in the river.  It seems wrong that although an estimated 25-30% of the Battalion were listed as non-swimmers, there had been nothing done to address this issue. There had been plenty of time and opportunity whilst in Malaya. The Battalion had usually been located next to rivers. This was to have tragic consequences when men had to rely on confiscating local canoes  and when having to hold bridges during the fighting.

The General comment from Adjutant,  NX50546 Lieut Allan MacLean, in the War Diary: “During the month the evacuation of civilians from the district has taken place though there are still Natives in the inlying areas. Engineers have completed necessary demolition of Township of Mersing. No one has been allowed into Mersing without a pass from HQ stating on what duty engaged. On various occasions Japanese planes have flown over the area but no bombing has taken place.” Mersing was occupied by a Vickers Machine Platoon led by Lt Bart Richardson, coming under the defensive area of ‘B’ Company.

Mersing was prepared for an attack from the sea. Suddenly the Japanese advance down the peninsula changed all that and in January a reassessment was made of the threat developing overland.

On 12 December 2013  I wrote  a dedication in a copy of my book ‘Pounding Along to Singapore’ for four brothers who each served their country in wartime. Wallace Chavel Lewis NX50447 was with the 2/20 Bn AIF,  Clyde William Lewis NX50448 was with 2/19. John Henry Lewis NX171846 and later 237568 in the Army and Ronald Francis Lewis 35155 who served with the RAN  before joining the Army 26071 in the Korean War. We salute their service.

Wally Lewis was mentioned in my book as he and Don Wall NX36620 were the pair of 2/20 men who made an 8mm movie of the troops. On 3 October 1941 Bill Gaden wrote home to tell his mother, Secretary of the 2/20 Comforts Fund  “A couple of days ago one of our drivers told me  that he had taken several movie pictures of our lads working and playing in their various camps. He wanted to know if the Comforts Fund would like to see it.”

This movie is called ‘Malayan Moments’ and a digitised copy can be obtained from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, ID number  F03436. It was shot in Johore, Mersing Malacca and Singapore from August to December 1941. It is black and white, with no sound and lasts about 25 minutes

 Description … was ‘your’ soldier filmed?

Troops marching 2/20 Battalion Mersing, late 1941. Leaders following NX35012 Captain (Capt) R J D Richardson D Coy Serebam area. Battalion on route march. Lieutenant Stanistreet. Sgt Cullen. Sgt Berthold with towel around his neck followed by NX50447 Wally Lewis (died POW 21 January 1944 Japan); NX33004 Gordon Storey (died POW 27 March 1945 Borneo). Tall officer – later NX34852 Major W A Carter – Sergeant (Sgt) C Lewis (Wally’s brother), Capt Gibbings (Naoetsu POW) followed by CSM Lothian Sgt Dave Speer, Private (Pte) Percy Peak. Sgt. Wannen. Corporal (Cpl) Ron Spurway. Gordon Storey (died Borneo) with Bren gun. Close up of Gordon Storey with Keith Hollis behind. NX34885 Capt Frank Gaven leading. Trenches at Mersing 2/20 Battalion. Trenches 15 Platoon 2/18 Battalion Lieut. Jock Pringle leading. Seaview Hill. Trench digging Transport Pl. 2/20 Battalion. ‘B’ Company position Mersing. Training. Parade ground Mersing – HQ Company. Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Blackie (died Borneo) handing over to NX35117 Capt Lowe (KIA 9 February 1942 Krangi) Left Colonel Robertson (died Naoetsu, Japan) – Capt Lowe. Band under Cpl Woods (died Thailand). Movement of the battalion by transport from Port Dickson to Mersing August 1941. Mersing. 2/20 Battalion Endau. 2/18 Battalion line Mersing October 1941. Light Aid Detachment (LAD) in the field. Three Poole brothers from Yenda, NSW (Jack Poole on the right the other two brothers NX35866 Pte G. Poole died POW 1 October 1944 Japan & NX35707 Pte R.S. Poole died 14 June1943 POW, Malaya); Pte Don Wall in tent. This film was put together with aid of a table lamp. HQ Company 2/20 Battalion. David Thompson of Goulburn, NSW fixing fence. Near Endau waterfront Roger Mort (KIA). Unit carriers. Testing carriers – Bert Johnson (died Borneo); NX32936 L/Cpl Brinkman (died 7 March 1945 Borneo) – intelligence – died Borneo. Mersing camp. 2/10 Field Regt mascot Mersing. These shots taken St Patrick’s School occupied by 2/13 AGH Nurses and Nurse from 2/10 AGH – SFX10594 Matron Irene M. Drummond (massacred 16 February 1942 Banka Island), seated centre Sister Gorood on the right VFX61330 Lieut Vivian Bullwinkel (died 3 July 2000) only survivor of the Banka Island massacre). Lieut Bullwinkel appears again second on the left. Matron Drummond with Captain Conlan, of Lockhard NSW, Medical Officer, NX51547 Cpl N.J. Ferguson, (died POW 20 June 1945 Borneo), unit postman. Pte Joe Wilson in front of tent – Wilson won DCM at Mersing and survived the war. Inter-unit football at Mersing. August- September 1941 reinforcements arrive. Motor Transport Company based in Singapore (note these men were much older allocated to transport). Pte Joe Wilson DCM. General Gordon Bennett arrived with aide Lieutenant Gordon Walker. Bennett with CO of the unit – never questioned Pte Don Wall for having a movie camera. Commander in Chief Far East Air Marshal Sir Brooke Popham with helmet Brigadier Taylor – General Bennett. Brigadier Callaghan with car in background – he later took over from Bennett. Play day on Mersing river. All these houses were on front line position and were destroyed. The Mersing Bridge – later the centre span was blown out. Drying white bait. Mersing ‘A’ Coy area. Malay wedding Port Dickson. Australian Ted Doig talking to native. The bride looked like a stuffed doll. the groom arrives. ‘Toddy Walla’ Mersing. Scenes outside of camp. Edau river. Scene in Singapore. Singapore Harbour 1941 (October). Two AIF – from left Benjamin , McKenzie of Wagga Wagga 2/19 Battalion. Saint Andrews Cathedral used as hospital during the fighting on Singapore Island. Government building Raffles Hotel. War Memorial Padang. Enlarging Singapore 1941. Cathay the largest multi-storey building last days of Singapore – used as Hospital – was shelled with many dead and buried in shell holes at road junction nearby. Scene in Singapore. Haw Par Villa Pte Don Wall on an elephant. Primitive Malays beyond Endau. The village of Endau – ‘C’ Coy 2/20 outpost. Place was full of Japanese 5th columnist – note the one with helmet. Back in Seremban – Chinese funeral. Rickshaw driver telling me about No.1 prostitute. Scenes in Singapore. Scene – Seremban. Chinese school. Barracks Port Dickson. Aelphi Hotel barricaded. Singapore outside Anzac Club. Another funeral. Driving through Segamit. Mersing. Malay mosque Port Dickson. Port Dickson. Malacca Straits – these were the first shots to test the camera.

 

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