2nd Lt. Robert Hartley
137 (Army) Field Regt.
Born Blackpool, England, 31st December 1911
Killed in action Tebong, Malaya, 10th January 1942
By J.M.Ramsden, nephew
In 1996 my old aviation friend Tony Lucking, a retired soldier and engineer whose many interests include military history, visited World War 2 Malayan battlefields in 1996. I asked him to look out for the grave of 2nd Lt Robert Hartley, my uncle, who was killed in action against the Japanese in Malaya on 10th January 1942 at the age of 30. I supplied all the information known to our family.
Tony found Lt Hartley's grave in the British war cemetery at Taiping. He put a poppy on it and took photographs. He reported that the grave, indeed the whole cemetery, is immaculately tended by local people employed by the British and Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Tony later uncovered details of 137 Regiment's actions, and much that was new to me about the campaign as a whole. He could find nothing about the circumstances of Lt Hartley's death, either from the War Graves Commission records or from the Royal Artillery archives in London.
He kindly lent me maps and documents. I have also been helped by two surviving officers, Harold Payne and A. Burt Briggs, whom I traced with the help of Tony Lucking's leads. Both officers were near Lt Hartley when he was killed. They were captured when Singapore fell to the Japanese five weeks later.
An Australian historian told Tony Lucking that the Imperial War Museum in London had a tape recording by 2nd Lt Harold Payne, an officer in 137 Territorial Regiment RA, together with other interviews. We listened to them in Lambeth, in an annex to the main IWM.
I started with a recording made in 1980 by Harold Payne, president of the Far East Prisoners Organisation.
Orders to Sail
Taiping War Cemetery
Journey up Malaya
Kajang to Jitra
Retreat to Tebong
Brief History of the Regiment
Map of Malaya
The War Diaries for 137 field Regt September-December 1941 are in the Public Record Office. Those for January and February, up to the surrender of Singapore, have not survived. The Imperial War Graves Commission may have further records.
The photographs of the 25 pounder gun, together with its Morris Quad (four-wheel drive) towing vehicle and ammunition limber, were taken in The Imperial War Museum of Land Warfare, Duxford, and in a museum about five minutes from Weybourne, North Norfolk -the Muckleburgh Collection, which has a fine collection of military vehicles, tanks, equipment and guns. The museum's "logo" - displayed at the main entrance - is the 25 pounder gun, one of the classic weapons of World War 2. It was the standard 137 Regt gun as used by 2 Lt Hartley.