2/20 Bn AIF in Singapore and Malaya in March 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. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, the book is available from me , follow the BOOK link…
The 8th Division sailed from Sydney on board troopship ‘QX’, better known to us as the cruise ship ‘Queen Mary’, on 4 February 1941, arriving 2 weeks later in Singapore. Bill Gaden was transferred straight from the ship to Middleton Hospital before being transferred to Alexandra Hospital whilst his battalion moved to Port Dickson.
1 March 1941 saw the completion of the first week of jungle training, a route march, medical and kit inspections. The soccer team were beaten 3-0 by the local Police team
3 March 1941 The troops were unhappy with the ‘reduced and altered’ British rations’.
4 March 1941 Five Bren Carriers were taken over from the ‘Loyals’ and the British Resident gave the officers a lecture on ‘Malaya’.
5 March 1941 saw officers attending afternoon tea with His Highness Yang Di-pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan and they “were entertained on arrival in a right royal and interesting manner.”
7 March 1941 Training progressed according to the syllabus. Some O/Rs were entertained by Mr Brunton who was manager of a large rubber plantation and showed the men how trees were tapped and then given a tour of the rubber factory.
10 -11 March 1941 the 2/20 took part in the Far East Defence exercise and arrived back at camp at 0400 on 12th. The exercise was of great value.
16 March 1941
Still on sick leave, Bill Gaden was recovering and would soon be able to leave the Alexandra Hospital. Meanwhile the 2/20 troops had been granted General Leave and received their first surface mail from Australia. Battalion spirit was encouraged when the 2/20 and 2/18 played an inter-battalion cricket match which was won by the 2/18th.
17 March 1941
The Battalion Sergeants won the football match played against the Officers who no doubt missed Bill’s input on the field. He was recovering in hospital and hoped to be granted leave to go into Singapore with Capt Reg Newton of 2/19, his room-mate at the Alexandra Hospital. The Battalion’s entertainment committee ran an in-house concert for the troops which was a ‘great success’.
18 March 1941
The Company Commanders all discussed a Battalion Exercise but Bill was still missing from the team. He and Reg Newton spent the afternoon in Singapore. They visited the Post Office, Robinson’s [a large European store], Yamada and Co [which sold good quality items including clothing, china and carved images] and Change Alley which Bill described as a seething mass of humanity. They visited a British regiment on the way back to hospital and were entertained with a beer or three.
19 March 1941
The 2/20 men spent their time on a training exercise engaging the enemy. They set up perimeter defence areas overnight and slept under mosquito nets maintaining an overnight blackout. Bill Gaden rejoined his unit for the first time since disembarking from the troop ship “QX” or Queen Mary, on 18th February 1941
20 March 1941
Following their exercise the troops ‘stood to’ at dawn and, after breakfast, returned to camp at Port Dickson by Motor Transport. Bill rejoined his unit and he wrote they were “camped in a beautiful spot close to the sea and within walking distance of a swim”. They had good quarters, tennis courts, football ovals and a golf course close by, but the lads only had time for football. He received three letters and a parcel from home.
21 March 1941
Several members of the Battalion were sent back to Singapore for detention. Bill wrote a lengthy letter home filling in has family on some more details of his and Reg Newton’s afternoon shopping in Singapore. He and his commanding officer Captain Moses explored the area and they collected some cane which they took back to camp.
22 March 1941
Soccer was on the agenda today. Capt Moses injured his knee in one inter-Company game and was taken to a local hospital. The Battalion team beat the Malay Volunteers 3-1 at Si Rusa. Bill remarked that they had a good team which should do well. Back home the Australian Women’s Weekly was reporting the troops were in excellent health and good spirits and were making friends with the local population. Each soldier had his own mosquito net but malaria was not considered to be a problem. Morale had been boosted by the presence of a Kangaroo mascot.
23 March 1941
Bill wrote that the small ebony elephants he had bought in Singapore to send home to his mother were packed and ready to be posted. He also discovered that the ants had found the tin of butterscotch he’d received in his parcel and then placed in a drawer. He wrote that “the little black blighters were all prancing among my clothes” and he hoped an airing in the sunlight would “burn them out”.
24 March 1941
Each day Bill travelled into the rubber and jungle by truck and worked with the troops as much as possible. He was still recovering from his time in hospital but hoped to be fully fit by the end of the month.
25 March 1941
Bill’s optimism about the soccer team last week proved correct, this day the team won 4-1 to beat the 3rd Bn FM Volunteers at Si Rusa. He bought and tried some breadfruit and remarked it tasted like a ‘mixture of pineapple and bananas’.
26 March 1941
Bill’s letter remarked how they stopped in a village and a group of local Tamil children swarmed round the truck and then excitedly lined up to have their photographs taken. One small boy was holding an enormous fish almost as long as he was tall.
27 March 1941
Several officer and men of the 2/20 were entertained by Mr and Mrs Brunton of Sepang. The troops were shown the rubber plantation and factory and were warmly received. The adjutant remarked how thoughtful and kind the Brunton’s had been. I wonder if they survived the Fall of Singapore.
28 March 1941
The 2/20 Battalion was about to move location as part of the rotation within the Battalions of the 22nd Brigade. This day would have been spent packing up and cleaning the Port Dickson camp so another Battalion could move in. There were also preparations for an exercise the troops would be conducting en route to the new camp.
29 March 1941
The whole unit were moved by vehicle to new quarters at Seremban. The ‘Retreat Parade’ was watched with great interest by the local population which was a boost to the troops’ morale.
Bill wrote to tell his family of the visit by some 2/20 officers to the home of the local Yam Tuam, a man referred to as ‘His Highness’ who lived in a Palace like a Sultan. Bill was fascinated by a magnificent collection of curios and antiques in large glass cases. I wonder what happened to all these treasures after the fighting in December 1941 and January 1942.
30 March 1941
Adjutant Lowe reported things were more difficult in the new camp as the Unit was separated and there were more duties to accomplish. Several officers left to go on exchange with Indian or British regiments. Bill commented that there were no taxis, only rickshaws but said he preferred to walk. He also mentioned they now had an excellent water supply and he had thoroughly enjoyed his first shower since Bathurst.
31 March 1941
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.