Singapore then Malaya
On disembarkation one of the things that sticks in my mind is marching to our camp in teaming rain, and only being able to see the squad in front form the knees up. The rain was so intense and the spray, and steam was like a knee high fog. After settling in our quarters we walked down the road to a canteen. The only clothes we had on were our gas capes as everything else was soaked.
The time came for us to get down to business. We went up the east-coast and relieved the Australians. Our spell in action there was short lived. One thing I did notice though was that we had been fed a lot of bullshit, by an officer and a sergeant, about the Japs fighting abilities. They were supposed to be poor shots, scared of the dark and badly equipped etc. I don’t know if these two had seen any action, if so it must have been very different to what we experienced!
I remember during a quiet period somewhere we were near a deserted village and I noticed a well. You beauty, I thought, and I whipped all my clothes off and was having a lovely wash when the HQ siren started whining. I heard the RSM shouting take cover. I dived under this wog hut and shortly before I had flattened out I was up and jumping about like crazy. I had dropped on a red ants nest! These ants were nearly three quarters of an inch long and meaner and hungrier that hell. Somebody told me afterwards that the RSM was going crazy shouting at me. I didn’t hear him or the plane or the bomb blasts.
The Japs cut us off and bottled us up so we all had to go into the jungle. It was heartbreaking walking along the road past all our trucks and equipment. Our platoon officer, Captain Gray, told Jim Quadling and me to stick close to him. We crossed the bridge and turned left and soon we were in mangrove swamps. Mortar shells and machine gun fire made things a bit more hectic at first. Somewhere in that swamp Jim and I heard a voice say, “here, give us a hand”. Both Jim and I had rifles, we made sure they were safe, went a few yards back and handed the muzzles to SM Spencer. With quite a bit of effort we got him out and we moved on again.
Eventually we came to a river where Captain Wallace, a semaphore volunteer, had fixed up our river crossing in Malay canoes. Safely across we started a long leg of our escape route along the riverbank. Some way along the track I heard a noise off the track. I thought I heard someone asking for help. Hold you hard, I thought to myself, that might be one of those slit-eyed bastards. So I eased over a bit closer, heard two voices and recognised the Norfolk lingo. One bloke Ben Neville and the other Fisk(?), both from our Battalion, B and D Company I think. They had been in an ambulance but both decided to go with the crowd and take their chances. One thing for sure they had a bloody tough trek to the first aid post on the main road. When my water ran out that was much worse. As blokes past us I gave someone my rifle. By this time Ben was delirious and I was half carrying him. He had taken a bullet through the thigh and he only had socks on his feet. The other bloke, Fisk, had been shot through the privates. Can you imagine what he must have suffered.
Eventually we arrived at a check-post. Major Woods and Major Kerrison were there. They gave us a drink, we had a short rest and then off on the last short leg to the first aid post. On this last leg a corporal from the 6th Battalion helped Fisk and I helped Ben again. I still can’t understand how so many blokes passed us on that track and not one of them helped out. Major Kerrison said that he would see that I got a mention in dispatches but unfortunately for him he was killed shortly afterwards.
On getting Ben to the first aid post we soon received help. Ben and Fisk were being stretchered and Ben asked me to take his socks off. As I took the remains of his socks off the skin came off with them. It was good to see Ben, after the war, when our FEPOW branch was formed in Dereham. The look on his face said it all, he was one happy man because at last he could thank me.
Very soon we were on our way up the west coat of Malaya. At Batu Pahat our headquarters was at a school. A Jap spotter plane flew over low and someone fired at it. The plane returned the fire but by this time I was in a building that had timber walls and ceiling. I lit a cigarette and leaned back against the wall and a burst of gunfire came through the ceiling and the wall above my head. I’ll tell you what Jimmy Quadling, had you been in my boots that would have been curtains for you as the bullets passed through the wall just above my head.
On taking up positions on the Singapore Naval Docks we had our Battalion Headquarters and our signal platoon HQ was not far away. We had a few light-hearted moments there. Ron Patterson dressed up in women’s clothes and, if I remember correctly, did some cooking for us. One day I had on a civvy hat and a bright shirt and had to go to the HQ at the double and on going inside the CO asked “who the bloody hell are you?” I’d forgotten about the clothes I had on and thought I would be scalped, instead the CO just said, “get those clothes off”.
Have you ever seen anybody scared of a frog? Captain Gray said to me one day, “jump on the back of the motorbike”. Once on he said, “when I tell you to hold tight, hold tight”. We had to turn at a crossroads and at that point you were a machine gun target. Sure enough as soon as we turned the corner there were bullets bouncing up the road. We sorted out the route for our telephone cable and then back to base. After dark Al Jarvis, myself and another bloke got busy cable laying. At one point we had to cross the road. A large culvert was handy for a road crossing. I gave Al the cable and said, “take that through the culvert”. He looked inside and started through then we heard a big old bullfrog that started a racket. Al came out of that culvert like a bat out of hell. There wouldn’t have been a thing on this earth that would have got him back in there again.
On the way to our next position we were bombed on some crossroads. A few blokes were injured and one killed. I was one of several who were close enough to slit trenches to take cover. When we got out of the trench I was amazed at the number of blokes who had taken cover there. They must have been packed in like sardines.