Sketch by Jack Chalker

Singapore

This was a very hectic day for us, we moved to the other side of the island, to what was in peacetime the Naval Base, and the first thing to catch our eyes was a dummy Anti-aircraft gun in a sand bagged gun pit. Not a very auspicious beginning. A party went back to the Wakefield to collect our baggage, and returned with the news that she had been bombed. Having one bomb down her Hold killing 5 American sailors. This was the prelude to 15 very hectic days and nights, with the fireworks increasing daily in intensity. Culminating in the never to be forgotten, ‘black’ Friday, February the 13th. Everything seemed to happen this day. I think everyone realized this was the end, and I mean actually, not literally, as we had been ordered to fight to the last man. There was to be no Dunkirk here.

Singapore was a besieged city, in every sense of the word. With shells. mortars and bombs being poured in from all sides. I was later given to understand that over 30,000 civilians alone were killed in the last 3 days of hostilities, and that was the real reason for the surrender. (I was to meet Gen. Percival G.O.C. Singapore on many occasions after we returned to blighty, but that’s another story). Singapore was a city gone mad, an experience which beggars belief, and many were the hair-raising exploits suffered by our boys. Bill Hockey, my best pal at this time, having a bad dose of shell-shock, when he narrowly missed being hit by a shell, that just cleared his head and landed in a garden below, in which were a number of soldiers in trenches. One was blown up and the others buried. I was with Bill immediately after, as we were digging them out. It was when we got back to our billet (a Masonic lodge) that reaction set in, he broke down crying like a child, grabbing hold of me, every time there was an explosion close to us, and there were many. After stuffing his ears with cotton wool, we sent him away to hospital.

Another very harrowing experience I had was when a party of us were returning to the Ammo. Dump at Seltar Airdrome, we had been guarding for a week, having returned to H.Q. through’ a confusion of orders. we had been sent back. Jim Phillis was leading the way on a ‘combination’ with Corporal Shief, another Leeds lad, in the side-car. A party of us were following behind, in a 3 Tonner with our kit. I was sat beside the driver, complete with rifle at the ready, and half a dozen hand grenades on the seat beside me. It was pitch-dark, suddenly we heard a crash in front of us, and Jims rear light flickered and went out (the only lights we were allowed to use) and we heard shouting. I was out in a flash and arriving on the scene was horrified to see Jims front wheel under the radiator of a big American G.M.C. 5 Tonner with trailer, and an Indian driver. Jim was lying flat on his back across the pillion his face covered in blood, which had come in contact with lorries radiator. I felt sure he was dead, as I helped lift him to the roadside along with the Corporal, we then had to remove the wreckage of the ‘combination’. I stopped a D.R. who happened to be passing, and as he was going to a First Aid post, promised to send an ambulance, which arrived very soon. It was after dealing with the driver and D.R. that I returned to the scene of the accident, and was pleasantly pleased to find Jim talking to the other lads. He was still suffering from concussion, and couldn’t grasp the fact that he was now at Singapore, or that he had been in an accident, but he knew me all right, also Stan Shief whom we had only met since coming to the island, so I guessed as far as his head was concerned he was O.K.. One of his hands was very badly crushed, his leg hurt pretty bad also his neck hurt. Stans trouble seemed to be a broken Patella of his left Knee, causing him much pain, otherwise he seemed O.K. Eventually the ambulance, complete with W.O.G. driver, who did not understand English, and I soon learnt did not know where the hospital was, as I accompanied them riding in the back with Jim & Stan. I had to keep getting out to inquire the way and we were several times in danger of riding into the ‘Nip’ lines. We eventually arrived at the Alexandra Hospital to find some terrible sights and learned from the M.O. that several thousands had died in the last few days. There was a story came to light after we were taken prisoners, that during the retreat of our troops in the face of the enemy on Singapore island, one Coy. of an Indian Division had retreated through’ the grounds of Alexander Hospital and used the balconies and balustrades as cover to return fire. Needless to say the Japs had followed them through’ the hospital and many doctors and nursing staff had been executed. Even patients on operating tables had been bayoneted at the hands of the Jap Stormtroopers. This of course comes under the heading of atrocities, but the real culprits were the Indian Troops, or their leaders who were supposed to be mainly British. After seeing Jim & Stan safely into beds, I returned to the W.O.G. driver and got him to take me back to H.Q. to find the lads had returned safely, and so ended another episode for me.

Our next near thing happened on the Sunday, the day of capitulation. We had been called out of our Masonic Lodge billet, on parade, to be told that we had packed - in and cease fire was to be at 4pm. when a plane was heard approaching very low. We were hurriedly dismissed and just got back inside when a terrific explosion occurred. I dived under the billiard table along with many others. We were safe but covered in debris. When we finally ventured out we found a deep crater in the road, on the spot we had occupied on parade a few minutes earlier.

We went into the city later, on an orgy of destruction. The city being in flames in many places. We just added to it destroying lorries, guns and ammo. In fact anything we considered would be useful to the Japs. Then about 10 pm. just as we were returning to our billets the all clear sounded and peace and an earsplitting silence reigned, and our hearts were very heavy. Many there were who broke down and openly wept. Also there were many who heaved a sigh of relief. More of the latter than I care to admit and they were not afraid to tell you so. The following day saw the entry of the conquering Nippons into Singapore.

 

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Changi

 

 

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