His battery, 501, had been ordered from Kajang to Jitra (Sungai railway station) on the night of 10/11th December. By then the Japanese were already at the Malayan border. The reason for the delayed order is hard to understand. By now the Japanese were only 20 miles from Jitra, and crossing the border. The British gunners had little time to prepare their positions. Their difficulties were compounded by torrential monsoon rain, heat and mud - jungle conditions for which they had not been trained.
Their job was artillery support of Jitra, manned primarily by the 11th Indian Division. According to 137 Regt War Diary, all three batteries took up positions at Tanjong Pau at 01 30 on 11th December. A map in the 22 Mountain Regt file shows 137 Regt's guns near the main road at Jitra, covering the western part of the front, including the railway.
The conditions at Jitra have been been described by two surviving officers.
Lt Rawle Knox:
"There is a certain stretch of road which is burned into my memory; it runs from the 8th to the 28th milestone north of Alor Star in the State of Kedah, Malaya. Near the 8th milestone, towards the end of 1941, the swollen military encampment at Tanjong Pau steamed in the damp green confines of a vast rubber estate. The monotonous rows of grey trunks topped by flatly spreading foliage might have been an army of oversized parasols on parade, almost completely shutting out the hot sky. Just beyond the 28th milestone the road disappeared behind a slight hill into Thailand and neutrality. . . The Japanese obviously regarded it with much interest. . ."
"The side roads that sprouted off at intervals were militarily almost useless. Red laterite tracks, they twisted like devils' tails and after every fall of rain resolved into a vivid greasy slush, guaranteed to bog down a convoy of vehicles within a few miles. Clearly the main road had to be defended. .
"Red ants leapt at us out of the long lalang grass and ate ferociously at the space between stockings and shorts. Leeches looped up to us through the paddy fields and unerringly found any undefended chink. . .
"The infantry were soggily constructing what was called, with a hollow, mocking laugh, the Jitra Line. The idea was that we would hold a position across our one and only road south of Jitra. . . Work on this scheme did not get under way before the monsoon began to drench us daily in black skyfuls. We would build gun pits and find them under water before they were half finished. .
"RAF Buffalos at Alor Star had been trying for days to chase off a Japanese plane that came over regularly to photograph our poor old Jitra Line. . . By teatime on 9 December we had managed to make our gun position fairly comfortable, and the gunners were quite impatient for the Japanese to arrive. . . Suddenly a burst of light machine-gun fire came from the left and behind us, followed by another and another. Orders came through: we were to pull out; we had better hurry, the Japs were nearly round us.
"It was a pattern we got to know far too well in the next couple of months. Three nights later the Japs were through the Jitra Line . . . and we had seen the last of the road and all its works. The sorry trek to Singapore was on."
Lt C.A.R. Smallwood:
"In the minds of all of us will live the memories of long night marches in convoy, when the fierce desire to sleep had to be fought with a mental tenacity greater than any called for by day; of the succeeding dawn when the drowsiness passed, leaving only the dull ache of tiredness; of the whistle of shells, all of which were alarming at first, though we later learnt to distinguish those which felt at a safe distance; of the steady hum of circling planes, the louder roar as they dived, the rush of the bomb and the tense moment of uncertainty before it hit the ground. . .
"The night marches were our sorest trial. They were the reality of Japanese superiority in the air. While the planes wheeled overhead we could not move without risk. We moved by night. We fought by day. In our impotence we watched the Japanese airmen searching for their target, coming closer to make doubly sure, then diving to the attack. There was a rattle of small arms fire and somewhere behind the pompom-pom of a Bofors; but always the planes soared away unharmed".
Jitra falls Japanese tanks and infantry crossed the Siam-Malaya border on 11th December. The main force, from Singora, headed for Jitra, pushing back the demoralised 11th Indian Division units which had tried to launch Operation Matador.
Over on the east coast, at Kota Bharu, Indian troops put up fierce resistance to the Japanese landings. They wiped out one third of the infantry which landed from barges on Sabak beach. The Indians refused to surrender and died in their pillboxes. Some of these can still be seen, near the Japanese war memorial.
In the only effective recorded British air action of the campaign, Hudsons and Vildebeestes from RAF Kota Bharu sank two Japanese troopships.
The main Japanese objectives were the west coast road and rail links to Singapore. Jitra was now threatened by frontal attack and by a pincer thrust from Pattani. Gen Yamashita's plan was to outflank Jitra, thus capturing the main British defenders of Malaya and hence Singapore.
The British hastily withdrew from Jitra on the night of 11th December, abandoning personal possessions in their efforts to save the guns, according to Lt Hartley's brother officer, Lt Harold Payne.