Sketch by Jack Chalker

Aftermath

We presume that, after the war, the Imperial War Graves Commission found the graves by the railway station at Tebong and reunited the bodies at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Taiping.

Harold Payne remembers registering the deaths and burials at Tebong police station, deeming this the correct thing to do - though we can well imagine that there wasn't much time for such formalities. Perhaps Lt Hartley's duplicate tag was handed in there, and recovered after the war by the War Graves Commission.

The survivors got to Singapore. Harold Payne and his men found some old French 75mm guns and set them up outside Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Their only action before the order to surrender on 15th February was to shoot a local Malay whom they spotted at night in a window signalling with a torch. He was presumed to be indicating British positions to the approaching Japanese.

By the evening of 15th February, 85,000 men - including fresh reinforcements just landed at Singapore - were made prisoners of war. Some 25,000 British and Commonwealth troops had been lost in the 13 long  retreat  down  the  Malayan  peninsula.  The  Japanese  had  4,600 casualties.

At least Bob Hartley was spared the next four years of brutality which the prisoners suffered at the hands of the Japanese "Kempeitai" and Korean guards. The cruelty was such that Harold Payne, according to his wife, has never really recovered. He still has nightmares, as he records on his Imperial War Museum tape. He adds: "After coming home the early days were very terrible. My wife fortunately understood".

Neither he nor Burt Briggs has really wanted to talk very much about the fighting, the retreat, the attack on the train, the recovery of the dead and injured, or the surrender. So many questions remain unanswered, but asking them seems intrusive. Both men have been very courteous but have avoided direct answers, tending to cover up their feelings with jokes.

For example, Burt Briggs told me of a "very la-di-da officer," called Sebag Montefiore, who asked Bob Hartley where he carne from. "Lancashire, sir".

"Lancashire  eh?  I  played  rugby  against  Lancashire.  Do  you  play rugby?

"Yes sir, I play for Fylde".

"Fylde? Never heard of it".

"I also play for Lancashire".

"Do you by God? Who's the Lancashire captain these days?"

"I am sir".

And Harold Payne recalled that, on the voyage to Singapore, he was sunning himself on deck of the Dominion Monarch when he was ordered to take the pay parade. The duty pay officer was apparently unwell. Payne conducted the parade shirtless and without a cap - for which indiscipline, he says, Bob put him on a charge (or pretended to do so).

How typical of Bob that, half a century after his death, two of his fellow officers - telephoned out of the blue by a complete stranger -should have recalled him with jokes.

To appreciate the cruelties which Bob escaped one must listen to the end of Harold Payne's tape in the Imperial War Museum, or read The Railwayman by Eric Lomax (1996), or watch the Channel 4 tv series on life as a Japanese PoW (2000).

The capture of Malaya and Singapore was a shattering blow to the Allies and, in the longer term, to Western prestige and influence in Asia.

The fall of Singapore and Hong Kong seeded the independence movements which shaped the powerful SE Asia we know today.

Taiping

 

Brief History of the Regiment

 

 

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[2nd Lt. R. Hartley] [Orders to Sail] [Journey up Malaya] [Japanese Invade] [Kajang to Jitra] [Slim River] [Retreat to Tebong] [Aftermath] [Regiment History] [Map of Malaya]

 

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