2/20 Bn AIF in Singapore and Malaya in April 1941
‘Pounding Along to Singapore’ is the book I wrote about the 2/20 Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF) who were sent to Singapore and Malaya in 1941 as part of the 8th Division. Captain Bill Gaden’s letters to and from the family provide the timeline along which the story of the 2/20 Bn is woven, from inception in June 1940 to the end of the Second World War. Other threads come from the 2/20 Battalion’s War Diary and Routine Orders, newspapers and magazines of the day, interviews with some of the men who survived the eventual POW years and came home and other reports from the time. This book is available from me, follow the BOOK link.
The 2/20 Battalion Routine Orders advised that each Company had to provide their own fire in the Company kitchen, to be lit at 0430 hours daily and Quarter Masters could draw the mess rations at 16.30 hours daily. The Vegetable Fatigue was to report to the Company kitchen immediately after the evening meal. But only potatoes appear on the menu of the Restricted Number 2 diet which consisted on 6 ounces of bread, 1 pint of porridge, ½ ounce of butter for breakfast, 6 ounces of bread, 4 ounces of meat, 8 ounces of potatoes, 2 ounces of rice for dinner and 6 ounces of bread, 1 pint of porridge, 1 ½ ounces of butter was considered adequate for supper.
8 April 1941
The Adjutant reported that some of the officers attended dinner at the home of the British Resident of Negri Sembilan. Bill wrote to tell his family that the lads of the 2/20 were trying to learn the local language. One soldier was trying to converse with a young boy who told the Australian “Your Malay is incomprehensible, speak English!” The children were taught English at school and had soft pleasant voices and were delightful to listen to. In this town they greeted the soldiers with “Hello” but in another town it was always “Hello Joe!”
10 April 1941
GOC AIF visited the 2/20 Battalion today and lunched in the Officer’s Mess. In the evening a number of troops from the Unit HQ staff were entertained to “dinner of the true Chinese style” by a local noted Chinese merchant.
11 April 1941
This day was Good Friday so a church parade was held on the Bn HQ Padang.
Easter Sunday in 1941 was on 13 April when a Communion Service was held at St Marks Church, Seremban and a team from the 2/20 Battalion played a cricket match against the 2/19who had an easy win. In Australia Adele Shelton Smith’s articles from Malaya had started to appear in the Australian Women’s Weekly.
15 April 1941
The 2/20 troops settled into the routine of sport most afternoons, with cricket, hockey, soccer and even boomerang throwing taking place on the local padang. However military training took a very large part of their days. A weekly syllabus was organised so the Companies rotated through a variety of ‘stations’ learning about new weapons, navigating through the jungle, negotiating the large drainage ditches and practicing attacks on specific locations.
17 April 1941
The countryside in Malaya was composed of many rubber plantations. The troops of the 8th Division were told there would be a fine of £5 per tree imposed on any soldier who damaged one during training… As Russell Braddon (NX8190) of 2/15 Field Regiment remarked “Nothing could have been more calculated to interfere with mobility and efficiency.”
18 April 1941
A Divisional exercise was held this Friday with the 22nd Infantry Brigade participating. The Adjutant JM Lowe reported it was very interesting and useful experience was gained. The troops would have been able to make use of their experience gleaned from the Battalion exercises held during the earlier days of the week.
19 April 1941
The CO was admitted to hospital with a serious case of heat rash. A concert was performed to entertain members of the local community. Called the “All in Fun Revue”, it was a great success, with Major Dick Cohen responsible for its organisation.
25 April 1941
The 1941 ANZAC Day commemorations (which officially was named in 1916) was for the 25th ANZAC Day, and the 2/20 Battalion joined other troops of the 8th Division to recognise the service of their fellow countrymen in earlier military campaigns.
On 25 April 1941 the unit ’embussed’ and travelled to Kuala Lumpur for a Parade. Lieutenant-Colonel J Thyer was in command of the troops with Major A E Robertson the commander of 2/20. The parade took place on the Selangor Club Pandang. The ceremony was ‘simple but very satisfactory’. The salute was taken by the General Officer Commanding (GOC ) Malaya, and others present included the British Resident of Selangor, the Sultan of Selangor and the GOC of the AIF. The men had a meal at the Kuala Lumpur racecourse and then had two hours of leave in the city.
The Routine Orders for 25 April 1941 also reported that some of the troops attending the local picture theatre in Seremban were buying a ticket for a 25 cent seat but were then sitting in the 60 cent seats. They were admonished that if the practice continued the discount would end for everyone and “disciplinary action” would be taken!
The cricket team to play a Seremban XI at the weekend was named as WOii Webster as Captain with Capt Gaden, Lieut Brooks, Sjt Salter, Cpl Spurway, Ptes Brinkman, Bourke, Steel, Want, Barter, Dean and Cook with the reserve being Pte Jennings.
28 April 1941
The local executive of the Services Club organised a free dance for 100 troops. It was a ‘most successful evening and appreciated by the troops’. A couple of days earlier the 2/19 Battalion held a demonstration exercise to show the rest of the 22nd Brigade the actual movements of transport and personnel of a Battalion HQ during operation from one harbour to another. ‘Valuable experience was gained’.
The Police Band performed a ‘Beat Retreat’ on the local Station Padang and troops were invited to attend, there was an official enclosure for the officers.
The Singapore Swimming Club Carnival was held and the local water polo team beat the AIF team by five goals to one, it being scored by RGW Cornforth.
29 April 1941
The Unit held its first sports meeting in Malaya but mid-afternoon heavy rain caused its postponement. A conference was held at 8 Div HQ where the exercise held on 18 April was criticised and thoroughly discussed. A large number of important points were raised which were of great value. This exercise had started with the 22nd Brigade following an ‘enemy force’ withdrawing along the Malacca-Port Dickson road and the ‘enemy’ had fallen back to the Pasin Puteh Estate… the subsequent action progressed according to orders received.