My experiences since the beginning of the invasion of Malaya
This record is merely a factual account of what happened to me, and also to my wife so long as we were together, since the outbreak of war with Japan. It is not intended to criticise the governments of the SS [Straits Settlements] and the FMS [Federated Malay States] or the policy of our military and naval leaders, nor to go into any questions relating to the causes which led to the ultimate occupation of the whole of the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore.
I feel however that I should briefly refer to the employment of Volunteer forces purely as military forces in wars such as have nowadays to be coped with. I think it has been established beyond doubt that civilian Volunteer soldiers, whose training takes place during peace time in a haphazard and irregular manner and who cannot be permanently removed from their civil occupations, are entirely unsuited to meet the fully trained soldiers of a military nation, armed with all the most modern weapons and fully supported by their aircraft. Our Volunteers and LDC [Local Defence Committee] should have been trained solely for the purpose of assisting in the difficult task of maintaining law and order and inspiring confidence in the civil population, and acting in support of the police forces.
One thing stands out clearly as a result of enemy air raids and the advance of enemy forces that our civil authorities had in no way visualised the situation which might arise in our towns and villages as a result of a blitz air raid. The ordinary people were left without any real advice or leadership, and thus chaos ensued. The Volunteers and LDC throughout Malaya could and should have been much more effectively used in stamping out looting etc than in guarding posts on the coast against an enemy who never appeared. In any event they would with their inadequate equipment have been no match against up to date war machines of the enemy.
There is one other matter and that is the evacuation of women and children and overage males from those places which were occupied by the enemy. There does not appear to have been any organised scheme for the removal and disposal of civilians from the towns, and this is probably due to the optimism and complacency with which the authorities both civil and military had viewed any attack by the Japanese on Malaya. The possibility of defeat never entered their heads and therefore never entered into their plans or calculations. But notwithstanding the situation which was allowed to arise and develop that Singapore was impregnable.
From the beginning of the year 1942 evacuees and refugees from the northern districts were flowing into the City and yet until the eleventh hour no steps were taken to get them away. There was no plan whereby the women and those men who could not be employed and were over age could be removed. During the whole of the month of January there was time to evacuate thousands of those refugees in safety and decency. The last minute hurried flight of the citizens, both men and women, from Singapore, some under orders from the Governor, others on their own account, was too dreadful and chaotic to bear detailed description.
When the first batch of women and children evacuated from Penang on 13th December 1941 arrived in Singapore, all those who had children were immediately put on board a steamer and sent to Java and from there to Australia. Among them many were wives of men who were serving in the Penang Volunteers and were entirely dependent on their husbands’ earnings. Yet no provision had been made for the payment of allowances to these dependents although provided for in the Ordinance, and in fact the allowances had not even been paid. Reliance was placed on the fact that most of the firms in Malaya had agreed to pay their salaries to all those serving in the Volunteers as and when called up for training. For this reason it had not been considered necessary to settle this question of allowances, and the Government taking advantage of the patriotic spirit shown by our commercial firms, shirked their responsibilities, and allowed these dependents to proceed to Australia without any means for maintaining themselves. Even as late as the end of January 1942, no steps had been taken to set up a tribunal to adjust and settle claims. Officers were fully protected but NCOs and the rank and file were not.
1 December 1941 (Monday)
The sudden mobilisation of all forces in the Colony and Malay States on 1st December 1941 was the first intimation to the public that the relations between Great Britain and Japan were causing serious concern. Nevertheless people did not take much note of it or alter their mode of life, nor was any official pronouncement made, except that it was a precautionary measure. We in Penang remained in ignorance of the fate that was to befall us and everything went on as usual.
3 December (Wednesday)
On Wednesday night (3 December) Vi and I attended a Shakespearean Recital at the Odean Theatre by Miss Marie May which was in aid of the Red Cross Fund. There was a great gathering of the people of Penang and the hall was crowded. Little did anyone realise that it was to be the last gathering at a function in Penang for many a day.
8 December (Monday)
The bombshell fell on the morning of 8th December. We woke to a bright and sunny morning. Vi was going down the Hill [Penang Hill] with me in order to deliver dresses and other garments to the Red Cross Sewing Party at the Runnymede Hotel, which had been made by her and her sewing party on the Hill.
The bus arrived at 8.20 am. Mackay of the Eastern Smelting Co was already inside. As we piled ourselves into the bus, with two large suitcases, market basket, my attaché case and typewriter, I jokingly said “We are off to Australia”. Mackay replied “Are you really going?” I laughed and said “Oh no” or words to that effect. He then said “Haven’t you heard? We are at war with Japan”. He then told us of Japan’s surprise air attack on Singapore, Manila and Pearl Harbour, Hawaiian Islands and her immediate declaration of war against Gt Britain and the USA.
We did not think that anything was likely to happen that day so we proceeded down the Hill, Vi to the Runnymede Hotel and I to the office. Vi said she would collect our granddaughter Bronwen and take her up the Hill as had previously been arranged with my daughter Gwynedd.
At about 10.30am the first warning air raid siren sounded over Penang and shortly after Japanese planes were flying over the town. No bombs were dropped and they flew away after about 45 minutes. None of our planes went up and they had a clear and unimpeded flight over the town and surrounding district.
I stayed in the office until 3.30pm and then went up the Hill. I was the Senior Warden in charge of ARP [Air Raid Precautions] on the Hill and had twelve wardens under me. We had been formed in August and I had divided the Hill area into three sections with Headquarters at the Police Station. The sections were (1) Summit and Tunnel Roads, (2) Lower Tunnel Road and Viaduct Road on the west side of the Railway15, and (3) Tunnel Road and Viaduct Road on the east (from Tunnel Station to the Crag Hotel). These three sections were each to be patrolled by the wardens who were to report to me any breach of the “blackout” regulations. The patrols were under Nagar Singh, Govt Health Officer, Kunail Singh, Overseer PWD, and Das, foreman in charge of Gardens coolies.
On arriving home I found that Vi had brought up Bronwen and her amah [nursemaid] and also Ian Knight. Gwynedd could not come as she was working in the Navy Office. Vi was busy completing our blackout which she made very effective. It took much time and trouble, all wasted had we only known.
I changed into ARP uniform and went to Headquarters, where I was met by all my wardens. At about 5.15pm the second air raid warning was sounded and several enemy planes came over, flying over the ridge of the Hill down towards Bayan Lepas Aerodrome, and circling round over the town. They proceeded to Butterworth and dropped bombs on the aerodrome and several dumps were set on fire.
I arranged that the three patrols should go out at 7.45pm. They went out and returned about 9pm and reported to me that most of the Chinese bungalows were crowded with men, women and children and that they had to speak to several of the occupants as to the inadequacy of their blackout arrangements. They stated that many of them did not understand what had to be done. I then realised I should have to visit these bungalows myself. The two chief offenders were the occupants of “Grace Dieu” and Cher Wor Lok’s bungalow. Two of the wardens were then left on duty until midnight, and I returned home.
9 December (Tuesday)
On 9th December I went to the office having arranged for Nagar Singh or Kunail Singh to take charge should anything happen in my absence.
I arrived at the office without mishap. The warning was given at 10.30am. Planes came over the town, but did not drop any bombs. My partner (Ross) did not appear at the office that day and I presume he had been on night duty. He left the office on 8th December as soon as the first warning was given and I did not see him again until Wednesday morning.
I left the office at 3pm and returned to my duties on the Hill. There was another warning at about 5.30pm, but the planes kept over the Province [Province Wellesley which is the part of Penang on the mainland]. Two of our planes went up, a Blenheim and a fighter, but were unfortunately quickly put out of action and shot down, one into the sea.
10 December16 (Wednesday)
On the next day (10th) I went to the office. The warning was sounded at 9.55am and 14 planes came over and bombs were dropped. . The Municipal Electrical Office (Town Hall) was hit, the Pitt Street Power Substation which was completely destroyed and the Central Fire Station, Beach Street was badly damaged, two fire engines being destroyed and many firemen killed and wounded. The All Clear sounded at 11.10am and I went to the 2nd Magistrates’ Police Court to defend two Chinese boys accused of being members of an illegal procession in Campbell Street. It was a case of no importance, but the magistrate (Bellamy) refused an adjournment. However we did not proceed far as at 12 noon the magistrate was ordered to report to Volunteer Headquarters at once, and that was the end of the case!
My partner was in the office that morning, but we never had a chance of conversing and he had left when I returned from court. I did not see him again17, nor could I get him on the telephone until Monday afternoon, he never tried to telephone me and I did not know that his ARP Headquarters had been moved. I returned to the Hill early in the afternoon and went on duty. The previous afternoon I had visited most of the bungalows with Nagar Singh and had warned occupants they must put out all lights if they could not black out effectively and that action would be taken if they did not comply with the regulations.
My wife was wonderful throughout all this trying time and showed courage and fortitude throughout. She was more than a help and support to me and I do not know how I should have got along without her. In that afternoon planes dropped bombs on the Bayan Lepas Aerodrome and destroyed four of our planes. It is said that the pilots were there but could not go up without orders!
11 December (Thursday)
Thursday 11th December, the day of Penang’s doom, was bright and sunny. Vi had her weekly sewing party as usual at the house and I went to the office, little suspecting what was in store for me and how that day was destined to end our hitherto peaceful and happy life and probably alter the whole course of our lives in the future.
The warning was sounded at about 9.10am, just as I had arrived at the Library. I did not stay there, but went to the office and told the syce [driver] to put the car in Logan’s Archway. Beach Street18 was full of people eager to see the planes. They came over the first batch of nine, glistening in the sunlight. They were over Beach Street and suddenly dived. I rushed into Mercantile Bank and then there was a crash and bombs were dropped further up Beach Street. Then there was a lull, I came out of the Bank shelter and crossed Beach Street. I saw the planes again and rushed up Logan’s Archway and sheltered at the bottom of the circular stairs. There were about 12 of us there, including Heah Sing Whatt, 3 of my clerks and the syce. There was a terrific bang and rush of air up the Archway which shook our door and threw us all backwards, but no one was hurt. We opened the door and found the passage choked with dust. After it had cleared, I went out into the yard and saw the remains of incendiary bombs still burning. The bomb had fallen on the Mercantile Bank and another fell near the Dispensary and swept through the shop. All windows in that part of Beach Street were smashed and the inside of offices and shops ruined. On going outside I saw flames coming out of the workshop of the Robinson Piano Co. I immediately called for help and after a time a stirrup pump was produced and the fire was put out. I returned to Beach Street and found the planes coming over again, so ran into the Chartered Bank and sheltered there.. This was the last flight over that part of the town. I told the syce to bring the car, which although suffering from the effects of “blast” was still able to go. I went to the office by the back entrance and then observed that a big pile of [gunny] bags under the veranda of Hagermeyer’s office was on fire. The syce and I pulled the sacks away and so saved the offices; if I had not seen it then nothing could have prevented the whole row being destroyed. I received no injury except a burnt hand. I should have mentioned that the furniture workshop of Pritchard & Co in Union Street was set on fire and was at this time blazing into the sky. No fire engines appeared on the scene. I went into the office, which was deserted. Parts of the ceiling and partitions had been blown out by blast, but I had no time to put things straight. I collected a few documents and then got into the car. The syce was badly shaken and I was no better, but he said he could drive. In Light Street I saw that “Phyllis’” shop and the front part of Khoo Sian Ewe’s house were completely gutted by fire.
The Air Itam [or Ayer Hitam] Road was an indescribable sight, thousands of people in all sorts of conveyances and walking with handcarts, perambulators or any kind of wheeled vehicle stacked with their belongings, trecking God knows where for safety. I was told that there were over 50,000 people who had taken refuge in the Air Itam and Paya Timbong Valleys.
The Hill Railway Station was crowded with people wanting to go up and there I found Mrs Cooper and Mr Lewis of the Georgetown Dispensary also going up. My nerves were not as good as they should have been, and altogether I think I must have looked a sorry sight. On arrival at the top I got Nagar Singh to dress my hand and then went home and Vi who was much relieved to see me safe and sound. A stiff brandy ginger ale did something to prevent a nervous breakdown, which I felt was very near at hand. From the Hill we could see fires burning in many parts of the town. Bombs fell on the Central Market, Penang Road Fire Station, Magazine [Circle], shops in Campbell Street, premises of the Singapore Cold Storage, an oil mill at Sungei Pinang and other places. Vi had telephoned Mrs Watts, wife of HK Watts, Manager of the Glugor Estate, who was living alone at Sungei Aea as her husband had been mobilised, to send her daughter Anne to us and come up herself. Anne arrived with her amah and Mrs Watts came up at about 7pm. She was very plucky driving herself alone from Sungei Aea to the Air Itam Station [ at the bottom of the Penang Hill Railway] as the roads were infested with bad characters on the lookout for what they could steal. Gwynedd also arrived as the Navy Office was suddenly closed and transferred to Singapore.
Planes came over again in the afternoon and bombed the aerodrome at Bayan Lepas and Butterworth [Butterworth on the mainland opposite Penang Island], otherwise the evening and night were uneventful. The closing of the Navy Office should have been a warning to us that Penang was not going to be held, notwithstanding the preparations which had been made.
I did not go to the office again and I do not know what became of my car. I gave the syce permission to collect his family and take them to his mother’s house at Glugor and never heard from him again.
The question of fresh food now became a serious problem as the Cold Storage could not guarantee to send up food as before and in fact we did not get anything more from them. They were selling on a cash basis and the shop was open from 6 to 10am. However we had a fair amount of tinned milk and other food, also rice and flour.
On Thursday afternoon the Deputy Food Controller19 sent up 20 bags of rice and 10 cases of milk for distribution among the coolies on the Hill and other people. Later he sent up another 10 bags of rice and milk, flour and cocoa. This relieved my mind, as coolies and others had begun to complain that they had “no makan” [no food]. They were stored in the PWD [Public Works Department] storehouse and Kunail Singh was to distribute on a rationing basis according to the numbers in a family. We soon got it working and everyone seemed to be satisfied when they realised they were not going to be allowed to starve.
12 December (Friday)
On the 12th Dec planes were over Penang again at 9.15am and dropped bombs in the Pulau Tikus area [rat island near the coast] and machine gunned in Burmah Road, North Beach and other streets. When they returned in the afternoon they encountered the first real resistance. Some of our fighters went up and shot down nine out of 12 of the enemy planes.
13 December (Saturday)
On the 13th Dec occurred the first breakup of the family. There were the usual warnings but the planes principally confined their attention to ships in the harbour. Mrs PN Knight came up the Hill and brought some meat, bread, fruit etc, which were very welcome as we had had a further addition to my party. At about 10am a man (from Penang Harbour Board) and his wife with two infants appeared on our doorstep. They were looking for accommodation. Their house in Kelawei Road had been incessantly machine gunned and the wife was obviously on the verge of a collapse. All their servants had run away. As for some unknown reason the Government bungalows could not be used, although they were all unoccupied, we had to offer them shelter until I could see whether anything could be arranged. The day wore on without incident except the usual air raid warnings. At about 4pm whilst I was on duty at the Police Station I received a telephone message from the CPO [Chief Police Officer]
(Oakshott) informing me that the Resident Councillor had ordered all European women and children to be evacuated from the Hill and directing me to give the necessary instructions. I proceeded to ring up the various occupants and gave them the orders. It was a long and tedious task and was not finished until after 6pm. Vi refused to leave me, also Mrs Brash, Mrs Poelmann, Mrs Flinter20 and one or two others. I informed the CPO who agreed I would not compel them to go. I went to the Station and arranged with the Stationmaster he was to run the trains every quarter of an hour until all had been got away. On my return home at 6.30pm only Vi was in the house with Anne. Mrs Watts had not then returned from Glugor. She arrived in time to pack her suitcase and catch the 7.15 train. We were now alone and the house seemed very empty. I had not been able to say “Good-bye” to Gwynedd as I was still at the telephone when she left21. We were both very tired after all our labours and went to bed shortly after 9pm.
14 December (Sunday)
We were up again at 5.30am and prepared ourselves for another day. Vi came with me to the Police Station, but we had a quiet day, and no warnings at all. I should have taken this opportunity to put our house straight and hide some of our treasures, but somehow it had not dawned on me that we might be the next persons to be ordered down the Hill. I was on duty that night with Das until midnight and Vi came with me.
15 December (Monday)
On the next day (15th) we were up early and I was informed the Bus was out of order, which meant I should have to walk. The usual warning came at 9am and others during the day and a few bombs were dropped. At 12 noon I received a message that Mr Rogers was coming up the Hill and would I meet him at the Upper Station. I had just returned home so had to walk all the way back. At about 12.45 Rogers arrived and told me that the RC [Resident Councillor] had ordered all Europeans to evacuate the Hill. I told him I could not go as I was in charge and I could not desert them all.. He said I must go down and be at E & O [Eastern and Oriental] Hotel at 6.30pm and that martial law was in force. I returned home and broke the news to Vi and told her I should stay. However later Rogers telephoned to say I was to go. Then began a hurried packing and putting things away, and ultimately we were ready by 5pm and caught the 5.15pm down. We were given a sad but very hearty send-off by the Station staff and most of the ARP wardens and that was the last we have seen of them. The servants were very good. I had not sufficient money to pay them any wages, but we gave them a considerable number of stores, rice etc. Our dog “Patrick” was not in the house when we left and there had not been time to have him put down. We asked Naga Singh to look after him. And so we left our home, which had been our very own for just 2.5 months, and all our treasured belongings. It was tragic, but there was no use looking back. We were going out into an unknown future and did not know what was in store for us. Vi was very brave. I had managed to telephone Balfour Ross before I left. He seemed very surprised that I should have been ordered to go and said he would try to see me at the E & O Hotel that evening. He did not come.
And so we proceeded down the Hill for the last time for many a day, leaving behind us our lovely and happy associations and I think the goodwill and affection of all those with whom we had come in contact during a period of nearly six years21. It was a terrible break with the past and even now I cannot bear to think of it. Rogers and John [his son in law JSA Lewis22] were at the Lower Station to meet us. We put our suitcases into the Customs van which John was driving and got into Rogers’ car and were driven to the E & O Hotel. There was a large crowd of people in the lounge all waiting to be sent off “somewhere”. We had drinks with John and at 7.30pm were put into cars, or rather packed into them. It was raining heavily and our progress along [Weld] Quay was agonisingly slow. At last we were allowed to disembark and found ourselves at the FMS Railway jetty. The luggage could not be found, so we had to proceed without it. Mr Watts appeared on the scene and helped us and we scrambled on board a railway launch stumbling over packages etc in the dark, but managing to keep together. The lower deck was packed with Indian soldiers and their baggage which added to the confusion and made it impossible to find one’s luggage in the dark. At about 10.30pm we left the jetty and proceeded slowly to Prai [a town near Butterworth on the mainland opposite Penang Island]. We looked for our luggage and could only find my despatch case and Vi’s revelation case; her small suitcase and mine containing all my clothes could not be found and in fact we have never seen them again. This was a great blow to us and it seemed as though the little we had left to us was to be taken from us. We found seats in a 3rd Class carriage (later we found that all the carriages were 3rd Class), hard narrow wooden seats, most uncomfortable.
16 December (Tuesday)
The train left between midnight and 1am and we had not had anything to eat since our very hurried lunch. Rogers had given us a basket with cake and biscuits, but it was too dark to open them up. And so the long night went on with the train making interminable stops on the way. We arrived at Ipoh at about 10am. There was no food for us, but later tea appeared produced by a canteen service which was very welcome. At this stage there was an air raid and we all had to find shelter, the only being the booking office lounge which seemed as safe as anywhere. There were two raids which held us up until 1pm and then at last we were off again. We arrived at Kuala Lumpur at 4.50pm and found that a meal had been prepared for us, but Vi would not eat anything then, but wanted a bath. We went to the Station Hotel and changed and bathed. By this time most of the travellers had assembled in the lounge and we were informed we would have to stay in KL and that we could not go to Singapore unless we had got accommodation. We had none and did not know what to do as I had very little money. Vi had taken her PO Savings Bank Passbook but that was in the lost suitcase. We decided we would stay the night in the Hotel Lounge and were preparing a “shake-down” when a lady came up and offered us a shelter in her home. She was Mrs Gildersleaves whose husband was in the Survey Department. We gratefully accepted and having secured our limited luggage we were motored to her house which was near the vicarage. The Gildersleaves were very kind and good to us and did all they could to make us comfortable and happy.
17 December (Wednesday) to 1st January 1942 (Thursday)
The next day we went immediately to the Govt PO Savings Bank (Accountants Office) and after some delay obtained a new Passbook for Vi and an order to withdraw $100. We then went to the Station to see if we could find our missing luggage but there was no sign of it. After making some small but necessary purchases we returned to our new home. We stayed with the Gildersleaves until Friday 19th December. The day before Vi met our old friend WL Blythe who said we were to go to him as his spare room would be free on the next day. He came for us and drove us to his house in the Lake Gardens and there we stayed until 1st January 1942. All this time I was told I could not go to Singapore but on 31st Dec I went to see Mr Pendlebury who was in charge of evacuees and told him I must get to Singapore in order to arrange my affairs and he finally gave me a permit to travel by train by the nightmail on 1st January with sleeping accommodation. Blythe was very kind and made us very comfortable.
We had constant air raids and used to shelter with the Chinese cook, his wife and two children in an alcove in the pantry. It was a tight fit. We lived a very quiet life with nothing to do and nowhere to go, as we had no conveyance and the house was some distance from the town.
We had a very pleasant break in the monotony on Xmas night when we had our Xmas dinner with the Leggatts24. They lived about 7 miles outside KL on a rubber estate. The turkey and sausages and plum pudding tasted very good. The biggest air raid was on or about 22nd or 23rd Dec when Govt offices were heavily bombed, the Accountants Office being completely gutted. We were fortunate to have got Vi’s new Passbook before this happened.
2 January 1942 (Friday)
Our journey to Singapore was quite comfortable and we arrived at about 7am. John, who had left Penang with the Volunteers and last evacuees by steamer the day after we had left, was at the Station to meet us. He had Tiny’s25 car for us but could not give us any accommodation, so we went to the KPM to see whether Paul Maesland could help us. Sybil, the children and Mrs Wallace had already sailed for New Zealand. He insisted upon our going to his house for the night although it was full up with people from Ipoh. They were all very kind and considerate, but not so the Japanese as there were two raids in the night and we all had to take shelter under the staircase.
3 January (Saturday) -- 8 February (Sunday)
On the next day (3rd January) we went to town and I visited the Banks and also sent numerous cables. Whilst at Little’s, Margaret Tokeley came up to us and after hearing of our adventures and that we had no home, she offered us a room in her house for 2 or 3 nights, until Mary Miles ( who had just got married to an Army Officer) went there. Gabriel Collins was also staying there, she also was married about a fortnight before war broke out and her husband was in the Navy. Margaret’s husband was in the Singapore Volunteers and therefore mobilised. We gratefully accepted and moved in the next day. Margaret lived at No 32A Scott Road.
We had also been to the Billeting Office and put our name down for accommodation and I saw Farrar at the Manpower Office who took me to see the Solicitor-General. However there was no job offering as all the Government legal service was now congregated in Singapore and it was a hard job to fit them in. We were constantly meeting people from the north, some had jobs, many had not, the only posts offered being that of [Fire] Watchers. This was no use to me as I had no means of getting into town, so I remained without employment. However I was kept very busy trying to put the office affairs with the Banks in order and cabling money home to various clients. Also we had great trouble in getting Vi’s money out of the Savings Bank which we had decided to put into my account with the Chartered Bank which I had changed into our joint names. It took 3 weeks before her money was paid. We stayed with Margaret until 8th January when we were billeted with KV Guthbe at Swiss Cottage Estate, a municipal home as he was the Sewage Engineer. Margaret had looked after us splendidly and her food was excellent, far superior to any we had in Singapore. There were now 4 or 5 raids every day or night, but on the whole it seemed to me the people of Singapore were not facing up to the fact that the island might be invaded; except for air raids they really felt they were secure and safe. There was far too much “wishful thinking” and a refusal to face up to facts and realities. I blame the optimistic attitude of Government for this and pernicious law against making any statement likely to lead to alarm or despondency in others, the most pernicious law that was ever passed which had the effect of stifling realistic thinking or criticism.
Whilst in Singapore I attended the Rotary Club’s meetings at which I met several Rotarians from other Malayan clubs; but there must have been a large number of Rotarians from “up-country” who never availed themselves of the privileges of attending the meetings of the Singapore club and thus meeting fellow Rotarians. The club on the proposal of the President (HR Cheeseman26) agreed to be responsible for the cost of the lunches of all visiting Rotarians which was a very friendly gesture.
During this time Vi had not been inactive, and had joined the Ladies’ Red Cross Sewing Branch where she met many women who she knew, including Mrs Hogan27, Mrs Jules Martin, Mrs Gregory Jones etc. She also helped with Mrs Cuthbe at the services Canteen at the YMCA, usually in the afternoon from 2pm to 6pm and generally had a very busy time.
Mr Cuthbe used to motor us to town and we called for him to take us back. I met Richard Sydney several times, he was trying to be of use but apparently his efforts were not being properly appreciated. From what he had told me he had been and was working in the thick of things, but he did not seem optimistic for the future unless there was more real leadership shown than had been.
I forgot to mention that Vi was helping Mrs Joyce Prentis in her War Work Sales Room on 3 days a week from 9.30am to 1pm. It was in the Arcade which I considered a most unsafe and dangerous place. However Joyce said that when the warning was sounded they moved into the Mercantile Bank’s basement. On several occasions I went with them and in fact most of the mornings seemed to be spent there, so that a little later Joyce decided to close the Sales Room until things had cleared up. She then asked whether we would like to stay with them. This suited us splendidly as the EA Browns28 and their daughter had parked themselves on the Cuthbes, as their house in the Katong area had become untenable and there was not sufficient accommodation for all of us. We therefore left on 3rd February and went to the Prentis’s who lived off Stevens Road under “Holywood” and “Balmoral”.
The air raids now increased in numbers and on 7th or 8th February it was obvious heavy attacks were being made on the north and north-west of the island. Our nights were sleepless owing to the artillery and heavy gunfire. Eventually the Japanese landed and could not be driven off and that was the beginning of the end.
9 February (Monday) – 11 February
This was my 59th birthday and during that day shells began to whizz over the house. On Wednesday morning (11 Feb) we were told by an Australian Staff Sergeant that we should leave the house as there was a battery placed behind us on the hill and one below us, which was bound to direct the enemy’s fire to us. Accordingly Vi, Joyce and I hastily packed some belongings and went in Joyce’s car to the Fullerton Building. We were not permitted to use the Singapore Club premises so had to park ourselves in the Baggage Room which was a beastly place but had a few chairs. Vi and Joyce scrounged around for some food and later Roger arrived from the [Censor’s] Cable Office. It was with great difficulty that we were permitted to borrow a plate and knife and fork and two plates from the Club; everything was against the rules. Even in cases of extreme emergency and danger we cannot get away from “red tape”—are there no sensible men in the world? I begin to wonder. At this time I caught a cold which as usual attacked my throat and brought on my hacking cough. Vi and Joyce slept on the floor and I in a chair, but evidently I was very restless and kept them awake by my coughing which did not please Joyce. During the day two men joined in our al fresco meals, Birmingham (PWD—Public Works Department) and Davidson (from Kedah). They were very helpful and got us bread and some tinned food. The air raids were now continuous, lasting all day and most of the night and the shelling of the town added to the pleasure of life. Throughout all this Vi was marvellous and never lost her courage or nerve and was a wonderful help by reason of her cheeriness in such trying circumstances. Kellagher was staying in the Club and used to visit us and was always very cheery and helpful. He lent me a mattress on Thursday night. Vi and Joyce were also given mattresses. JK Bennett also called on us from time to time. All business seemed to be at a complete standstill and everybody in the residential area was now quartered in offices, basements of shops or anywhere they could find a shelter. And still the bombing went on, and no RAF fighters to stop them—Singapore was completely at the mercy of the enemy. They had I was told all been removed. One wonders sometimes why we did not capitulate and save a great loss of life and destruction of property. When the story of the defence and fall of Singapore comes to be written, it will be a sorry tale, reflecting little honour or glory on the British Empire.
12 February (Thursday)
On Thursday afternoon at about 4.30pm I met SN King who asked why I did not clear out. I said I did not know of any boat leaving. He told me one was leaving at about 5pm but probably would not get away before 6pm and that I could get a permit from Aitken for Vi and myself. I returned to our “camp” and told Vi and after considerable discussion and on the advice of Birmingham and Davidson we decided to have a shot at it. Joyce also on the persuasion of Roger agreed to go with us. We all got into Birmingham’s car and went to the Supreme Court and were given permits to leave by the “SS Laburnam”. We returned and collected our baggage and went to No 2 Wharf, but were told the boat had gone and in any case was full up. So we all returned to our quarters and had “pahits”[bitter gins]. We then learned that an order had been issued for the destruction of all spirits and liquor by 12 noon the next day (13th), and that all currency notes had been called in from the Banks by the Treasury for destruction. There was no news or any official intimation as to what the position was; in fact it was really apparent that the authorities had given up any hope of defending Singapore.
13 February (Friday)
Friday the 13th was an eventful day in our lives. Kellagher telephoned the Evacuees’ Office to find out if there was any boat sailing, but could get no information. At about 1.30pm a contingent of the MAS arrived for the purpose of using the Baggage Room as a Casualty Station. We were deliberating as to what we should do when Bisseker29 came in and said there was a boat leaving that afternoon and he would get us permits if we went to the office of Fraser & Co. Joyce Prentis30 had previously been told she could go with some Red Cross nurses, but must not mention it and she would be called for. Vi and I went to Fraser & Co’s office and there obtained a permit signed by Bisseker for Brigadier Simson [Symonds], Director of Civil Defence. Birmingham and Davidson also got permits.
We were told to be at Wharf No 2 at 2.30pm. We all went and found a large crowd in front of the gates which were guarded by soldiers. The order was given for all the women and children to pass through. After great difficulty Vi managed to get through with her suitcase but I had the permit. Then began an interminable wait whilst hospital nurses and women of the MAS came up in cars, lorries etc and were admitted first. It was a stupid procedure the result being that wives and husbands were separated and some of them never saw each other again. The crowd in front of the gates increased and at the same time there was shelling going on around us. It was a blessing that bombs did not come over us; we should have been decimated if they had. At last I managed to get through the gate having been given a new permit signed by Brig Simson as the guard would not accept those signed by Bisseker. I could not find Vi and was told she had gone to the wharf where the launch was. I got into a car just as a shell dropped somewhere near and was driven to the wharf. I walked along the wharf to where the launch was only to find that Vi had not arrived, and so I went back and was much relieved to meet her just coming through the second barrier. It appeared that as she had no permit the guard refused to let her through, although she had been admitted at the main entrance, so she went back to look for me and we must have passed each other . However she met Middlebrook31 who told her I had gone after her. He gave her a permit and thus we got together again.
We had only just arrived at the jetty when planes came over. We crowded together at the side of one of the godowns with our heads covered with my top coat, and down came the planes in two lots. It was ghastly and I fully expected that our days were numbered. The wharf was crowded and so was the launch. Fortunately for us the godown alongside the one under which we were trying to take cover was hit and not ours. When calm was restored some wounded were carried to the launch and then the women were told to go on and so Vi and I were again separated. After a time I heard my name called and I was told to get on the launch. Vi had made a fuss and so they called me. EJ Kennett and other husbands were left on the wharf and the launch went without them. We arrived at the boat and went on board. It was very crowded and there was no accommodation, so Vi and I sat on some baggage just over the engine room and there we spent the night.
It was now about 6pm and no sooner had we got ourselves settled than there were explosions all around us, whether shells or bombs I cannot say, probably both. Then we started to steam out of the harbour and we were able to have a view of Singapore and a most distressing and ghastly sight it was too. Huge oil dumps burning in various parts of the island, the smoke ascending several hundred feet in the air and large parts of the city were ablaze, a regular inferno. Who could ever have imagined that Singapore would be reduced to such a mess32.
14 February (Saturday)
The night wore slowly on in which we dozed in fits and starts. The name of our ship was the SS Kuala33. In the morning at about 6.30am we lay off an island which I subsequently learned was called “Pom Pong” one of the islands of the Lingan Archipelago. We were first told that the ship would stay there until evening and that all passengers would be disembarked and landed on the island. We had breakfast or at least those who were fortunate did and then the order for disembarking was countermanded and we were told we should remain on board and that the ship would be camouflaged. Who was responsible for this lunatic procedure I do not know, but it cost us dear, particularly as an enemy reconnaissance plane had flown over us at about 7am and spotted us. The SS Tien Kwang was also lying off the island full of evacuees.
We now began to meet some of our fellow passengers and then Vi came and told me that Joyce Prentis was on board, so that all the absurd “hush-hush” about the departure meant nothing. The boat was full of Hospital and MAS [Medical Auxiliary Service] nurses, also men of the PWD service, most of them in uniform as commissioned officers though why or for what purpose, God knows. Others we saw were Mrs Cherry34, Mrs Robertson (ARP)35, Mrs EJ Bennett, Mrs Hogan, Mrs Walker, Mrs Allen36 (Penang), Mrs JLA Clarke37, Husband38 and Coals (PWD) etc. Boats were sent ashore with volunteers to cut trees to camouflage the ship and soon many of us were busy trying to make it look like a forest. Our efforts were not very successful. We had just finished and I had gone down to put my sweater on, on Vi’s advice as I had a cough, when planes came over. I was between decks and had no chance to go up, so waited, bombs fell around us, but did us no damage. I then dashed on deck to look for Vi and found her on the top deck with other women and in a most dangerously exposed position. I took her below deck. We could not find Joyce. I had previously been collecting our baggage preparatory to finding a place to park ourselves and had left it by the foot of the companion way. We went down and then the planes came over again, in two waves, bombs fell ominously near and the noise was terrific. Then there was a rush of steam and we knew that the boat had been hit. We scrambled up on deck as the place was getting full of steam and unfortunately did not even pick up Vi’s handbag for which I blame myself, but the whole thing seemed to drive everything out of one’s mind except the one object of getting away.
We neither of us had lifebelts, but when we got on deck Birmingham insisted upon Vi taking his. No sooner had we fastened it, when somebody shouted for a lifebelt for a wounded girl. Vi said “what shall I do?” I said “that is for you to say” or words to that effect. She gave up her belt. There were others standing near with belts but no one volunteered to give them up. And so there we were, neither of us could swim except for a few yards and had no belt. I saw them letting down a rope ladder and rushed to the side and there was a lifeboat. I made Vi go down the ladder and she managed to get into the boat. I followed, the boat moved off and so with a prayer on my lips I let myself fall into the sea. I soon came to the surface and managed to clutch hold of the boat, but was told I could not get in as it was full but I could hang on to the ropes. Vi told me where they were so I clutched hold of one and was towed along. The current was very strong and did its best to carry us away from the island, but the oarsmen pulled like blazes and kept a fairly straight course, although not in the direction they wanted to go, which in any view was a blessing as we should have been in the thick of falling bombs. We heard the planes coming over again and then bombs hitting the water on the right side of the boat near the SS Tien Kwang. I was on the left side. They came again and this time they fell on the left side of the boat. I could see them bursting in the water in all directions and it was then that many people in the water were hit and drowned. Incidentally where they fell was the direction which they had been trying to get the boat to go. At last we reached the island and I scrambled upon some loose stones and then we had another salvo of bombs. Vi was sitting up in the boat waiting for the others to get out and I was dreadfully anxious as she had no cover.
However she got safely ashore. We then proceeded into the island, which consisted of one sharply inclined hill rising to about 600ft. We climbed up and met DM Miller (Chartered Bank) who had been on the SS Tien Kwang . We reached the ridge at the top and found a number of them already there, most women in various states of undress; we were a sorry crowd. After considerable discussion we decided to go down to the other side in the hope of finding water. On our way down a very steep ravine we were again visited by planes, presumably coming over to bomb and sink the SS Tien Kwang which was still afloat. The SS Kuala had caught fire and had sunk. After they had gone we scrambled to the bottom of the hill, but no water could be found. It was an uninhabited island consisting of a hill rising steeply from the sea on all sides, covered with trees and scrub and masses of creeping plants whose roots were firmly embedded in the ground in all directions, After walking on the small strip of shore a small piece of flat land was found and there we all stayed put with no water or food. Later we heard that a spring had been discovered on the other side near where we had landed.
At about 6pm a launch appeared and took away some of our seriously wounded. The skipper left us a barrel of water and said a ship would be sent at night to remove us. A small portion of water was doled out and later we were given a little bully beef and a biscuit and with that we found a resting place and tried to settle ourselves for the night. A strong wind blew up and it was bitterly cold. I do not know how Vi managed to survive it, as she had only her dress and belt having given up her silk slip to make a bandage for a wounded person. Before this we had been told that a party of naval volunteers would board the SS Tien Kwang and, after getting some stores and provisions from her, would take her out to sea and sink her. They got the stores but could not move her so they scuttled her where she was and she sank in the deep. All this time we had seen no sign of Joyce Prentis39 and were told that she had been clinging to a lifebuoy but after one of the salvo of bombs was not seen again. I think this must also have been Mrs Hogan’s fate.
15 February (Sunday)
On the next morning (15th Feb) we were given some water, bully beef and a biscuit at 8am and were told that the next meal would be at 5pm! We ate one moiety, Vi insisting upon giving me some of hers, which worried me very much as I considered she required sustenance as much as I did but it was no use arguing on about it and I had to give in. I think it was only natural that I should be anxious and worried. I felt that I had let Vi in for this awful experience and that I should have got her away when we first arrived in Singapore, although I doubt whether she would have gone without me and at that stage I could not have got a passage. We found a place to lie on and remained there until the afternoon when we were told that all those able to walk were to go to the camp on the other side where the water was. We did so and found a mass of people lying about, in all we totalled between 60 and 70 survivors. There we met Mrs JB Ross40, Mrs Allen, Sturt, Scott-Ram [both of whom were interned in Padang], Stocks (Mercantile Bank), Mrs EJ Bennett, Mrs Lucy Walker, PWD officers, DM Millar, Miss (Dr)Morris and many others. Those in charge of the camp then proceeded to form us into parties of 12 under a leader. We joined up with Sturt (leader), Scott-Ram, the Robertsons, Aste, Stocks, ourselves and three others. At 5pm we were given a small biscuit with bully beef and one cigarette each and half a finger of water and that was to last us until the next day. We then searched for a place to sleep on. It was a beastly hill, all slopes and no flat, but at last we found a little hollow enclosed with the big creeping plants. The earth was of a brownish hue and as there had evidently been no rain for some time, it was very dusty. Late in the night Vi woke up and said she heard noises and thought they were Japs but I tried to reassure her. We then discussed the question of the boat which was supposed to be coming one night. The order had been given that all women, children and wounded would go first. I said I thought she should go as until all women and children had left the men could not get away and that we could not remain indefinitely on the island with only a sprinkling of water and starvation rations. We agreed we should have to part. God knows whether I did right or wrong, but I knew Mrs Robertson was going and that Vi would have several friends with her41.
16 February (Monday)
The next day (16th Feb) was a repetition of the first, a little water, biscuit and bully beef at 8am, then a lie-off until 5pm when the same rations were again served and finally a search to find a place to rest ourselves for the long night. The place we selected was very uncomfortable and although I chopped away at the campus I could not improve it. I think at this time I was very trying to Vi and did not put up with the discomfort as uncomplainingly as she did. I must have dozed off at last, when suddenly the order was shouted “All women and children come down”. That meant the relief boat had arrived. Although we were expecting it, it took me by surprise. Vi jumped up and was running off in the dark, but I suddenly realised she was leaving me without saying “Good bye”. I dashed after her and kissed her and called to Mrs Robertson to wait for her and that was the last I saw of her.
The camp was now fully awake and orders were repeated for all women to go down, but I could only think of my own loss and sense of desolation. Gradually after about 2 hours the noise died down and all was quiet again, and I knew she had gone. I lay down and prayed to God to protect her and bring us together again soon.
17 February (Tuesday)
The next day (17th) after our meagre meal I went up the hill and lay down by myself and I thought of all that had happened and whether I had done right. I am not ashamed to say that I wept, but I resolved to try and pull myself together and be brave and I knew Vi would be. We were in God’s hands. He had taken the ordering of our lives and we had to abide by his judgment and hope for His mercy. About 180 women and children42 had left by the boat which I subsequently heard was a Dutch coaster the SS Tanjong Pinang and was going to Batavia [Jakarta] if she could get there. We were given an extra ration of water at 12 noon and the usual rations at 5pm and then I lay down with Sturt, Robertson and Scott-Ram and tried to sleep but it was not much use. I should have mentioned that at about 6pm a junk came from Sanjong Island with some rice and also the launch which had come on the first night. The launch took away more of the nurses and wounded and I think they went to Sanjong.
18 February (Wednesday)
I spent the next day (18th) alone but could not climb far up the hill as I felt too weak. I am not made for such experiences and do not shine and I missed Vi terribly. That evening the junk came again. I had already thought of going back in her and I suggested we should find out whether the boatman would take us. They agreed and we asked permission and so at 7pm or so, myself, Sturt, Scott-Ram, Robertson, Stocks, and two others named Kelly and Gilmour43 (Singapore Municipality) clambered into the junk and in the gathering darkness sailed for a new and unknown destination. I really felt that another day on Pom Pong would be my last.
19 February (Thursday) – 26 February
At about 9am on the 19th February we arrived at Sanjang where there was a fairly large village. O’Grady who was in charge of the camp there was not at all pleased to see us, but had to put up with us. There we met Mackay (Eastern Smelting Co), Miss (Dr) Morris had also arrived there with the wounded from Pom Pong. Cairns of Penang with his child (2 years) had come from another island. I think our numbers were about 50. The food here was more plentiful, rice and bully beef or pumpkin and we could buy bread…..from the …..On my arrival a MAS nurse (Ms Homer44) gave me a cup of cocoa which was nectar. I suppose I must have looked “all-in”. We stayed in this village until 22 February (Sunday) when a motor launch came and took most of us away. We had been informed that survivors were being taken to Dabo (Sinkip Island). We left at about 11am but had to land at a village called Kota for the night and sleep in the open. We arrived at Dabo landing jetty at 10am on the 23rd February. After being taken to the Military Headquarters which was in the charge of Capt Alexander (Penang) we were told to join the civilian camp quartered at the Administrator’s (Mr Mine) house. The women were put in the Controller’s house. In this camp we met JB Ross, Sir John Bagnall45, EJ Bennett, Mr and Mrs Smart46 (KL), Docker (Cable & Wireless Penang) and many others. When we arrived the catering was being run by EJ Bennett and consisted of rice and some green veg. However he and Bagnall and two others left to live in the Club (they had money) and so Sturt was appointed caterer and the food was greatly improved. Smart was in charge of the camp and had been given some money by the Controller for our maintenance but Bennett evidently refused to spend it.
27 February – 8 March
I shall now only detail a short summary of my travels until my arrival at Padang, W Sumatra where I am now interned as a British civilian. I do not feel like writing full details of my experiences at this stage. I must mention that during this time Sturt, Scott-Ram and Robertson were very kind and helpful to me, in fact I received kindness and consideration from all sides. I suppose any white hairs gave me the appearance of a weak old man and created sympathy; at any rate I was very grateful.
JB Ross did all he could to ease my situation and was responsible for my being given the preference for a comfortable journey as we moved across Sumatra.
On 27th February left Dabo on Naval Motor Boat (Heng Jan) at 11am, whole party ( except 2 or 3 nurses), men (about 30) were crowded into tiny cabin, arrival [Temlilshan] (Indragire River) at 11am 28th February. Most uncomfortable journey. Had a meal in eating shop (curry and rice) and then left at 5pm to go up the river to [Kingart]. Arrived there at 7am, again confined in the cabin. Met Major Campbell who knew me and took me with Ross and a few others to the Rest House and gave us coffee and sandwiches, a wonderful meal. We were to go further up the river by barges and junks to [Ayer Molek] (Indragiri Rubber Estate) where there was a big military camp. We left at 11am towed by an invasion barge, one junk and one launch with women. After a tedious journey we arrived at [Ayer Molek] at 6.45pm and were taken to the Camp which was the factory and drying sheds of the Estate. About 800 in this camp of which 650 must have been military, naval or airforce. Food was very bad and little of it. Slept in a drying house, huge place with rubber mattress sheets for our beds.
On 2nd March the military began to move off to [Talock] by motor lorries and on 3rd March I was given a seat next to the driver in one of them and left at 7.45pm and was driven to Talock. Major Nicholson47 (censor Malaya) had also been sent on in another lorry. Arrived Talock about 11.45pm. There I met another officer who knew me. I think he said he was in Henry Waugh’s. He took me to an empty Chinese School where Nicholson had already arrived. Slept on the floor.
Next day went to Chinese Hotel and got a bed and cubicle for Fl 1. The rest of our party arrived on 5th March, they had been detained by floods; the rains were terrific.
On 6th March Nicholson and I sent on to [Sawalintok] (railhead) in motor omnibus with 8 Japanese prisoners. Arrived at 6.30 and ultimately found our way to that House where we were told we could stay and that we should be given a meal and would leave by train for Padang at 5.30am next day. It seemed all the military and other evacuees had left that morning by train and we had just missed them. Nicholson was very upset but from what we have learned since I am not so sure it was not a merciful providence which had kept us back. Slept on a beautiful spring mattress bed, but was woken up at 4am. Had coffee and sandwiches and then set off in dark for station. Nicholson and I caught train and travelled quite comfortably to Padang, W Sumatra, where we arrived at 12.30pm on 7th March 1942 and had come to the end of our journey for many months to come.
There was a Dutchman on the platform with a Red Cross band on his arm, so I approached him and he took us to the Stoot Huis (Town Hall) to the Evacuees Office. We were kindly received and sent with our very meagre baggage to the Marapi Pension where we were given a room and then a meal—rijsttafell (Indonesian rice dish).
9 March—16 March
The rest of our party arrived with Ross on the 9th March and were billeted in various places. We were very lucky and stayed on at Muapi. Miss Smith the proprietress being very kind to us and gave us good plain food. I had made enquiries at the Town Hall as to whether the SS Tanjong Pinang had arrived at Padang or whether the survivors had come by road, but they had no knowledge of them. I was shown the list of all those who had passed through, but Vi’s name was not among them. I also saw the British V- Consul and asked him to cable Batavia but he could not do so as communication was cut off, the Japanese having occupied Palembang and S Sumatra.
The days passed passed tediously until on the 16th we were told Japanese would enter the town the next day. We were all waiting expectantly for a boat to arrive from Colombo to take us away, but none came and perhaps it was just as well as the Indian Ocean was at that time at the mercy of enemy submarines, destroyers etc and there would have been slender hope of our getting through safely. The last lot had left by a Dutch boat the night before we arrived at Padang (6th March) and, as we have been told it was sunk, it was a mercy we did not arrive in time to catch it. It is not known whether the other survivors from Pom Pong caught this boat, or the previous one which it is stated sailed on the 27th February. It is possible that EJ Bennett, Bagnall, Grant, Aste, Stocks, Brewer, Kelly, Gilmour48 and a few others who went ahead of us from Ayer Molek in private cars were on the last boat. They had passed through Padang and had left by some boat. They left Talock on the 4th March and should have arrived in Padang on the 5th (evening) or 6th (morning). At our Pension a Mr and Mrs Buck49 were staying; they had come to Padang from Palembang. He was a road and aerodrome constructor and had two caterpillar tractors with which he was constructing an aerodrome 10 miles from Padang, but when we arrived all work had been stopped and Padang declared an open town. They were very kind to us and Buck gave me a few odds and ends which were very welcome. I had picked up a few clothes but mostly in last stages of wear.
17 March – 6 April
On 17th March the Japanese arrived and soon visited us removing the beds and mattresses and my clothes including my Gillette razor, cigarette case, towel, khaki shirt and other articles and there I was bereft of my belongings for the third time; it was not an enjoyable time, but by degrees things settled down and the authorities took control. The Javanese and Malays also began to loot houses but a few shots and several arrests clipped their efforts in the bud. We were visited by a Jap officer who told us to stay in and that we were confined to the house until the 7th April. In the meantime Nicholson caught a bad cold and developed a throat and cough with a temperature and as he could not shake it off he was removed to the Military Hospital on the 25th March and so I was left alone. Ross had been given a pass by the authorities so that he could visit the various billets and he came in occasionally which relieved the monotony.
The days went by until the night of the 6th April when a police officer came to the house and informed us that all men were to parade at the Police Office at 10am the next day and the women at the Convent at 3.30pm. It was the intention of the Jap authorities to intern all the Dutch and Indonesian civilians and British civilians.
From 7 April 1942 (Internment)
Buck and I went off the next morning and were lined up on the Padang (parade ground) with about 500 Dutch civilians. Later we were marched to the Gaol and told that was to be our quarters. I will draw a veil over the place, enough to say it was most unpleasant and very overcrowded. I spent one night there which was more than sufficient. We were locked up for the night from 7pm to 8.30am. The next morning about 10am I and Buck were called out and to my intense joy found that Ross had been allowed to come and take us to the Brit Civilian Camp at the Military Club. This was a very nice place with two large airy rooms and a view of the surrounding hills and open country all round. There I met again Sturt, Robertson, Scott-Ram, and others; in all there were 52 (including Cairns’ child50). I soon settled down to the new existence and tried to keep my mind occupied.
However on the 2nd July we were told that we were to be moved to new quarters and to be ready by 3.30pm. So we all packed up our belongings and were marched to the Catholic Social Hall at the other end of the town. This was a much smaller place, only a large assembly hall in which we had to eat and sleep and the compound enclosed in a high palisade. Here we still are on this 17th October 194251 and Heaven knows when we are going to be released or given some liberty. We perhaps should be thankful that we are very largely left alone. The Japanese have issued regulations which so long as we obey leaves us in peace. We are living a communal life. The Japs took what money we had and then changed it into guilders52 and told us to live on it (Fl 3000) for six months.
Ross is the leader of the Camp and we have a Committee. I have been on it for nearly 4 months. It is elected every 2 months. We are all keeping good health but unfortunately Farquharson (in MSS Police Serv) fell ill and died.
We have asked the authorities to give us information of our wives who left Pom Pong on the SS Tanjong Pinang but so far they have done nothing. We heard that this boat was intercepted and turned back to Singapore, in which case Vi is interned there. The thought of it is unbearable as I feel the food situation there must be desperate. Malaya is nothing like so self supporting as Java and Sumatra. Here we can get vegetables and rice and flour, but what vegetables can be obtained daily in Singapore with thousands and thousands of people to be fed; no butter, milk, tea etc?
I lie awake at night thinking of it and wondering how she is getting along, whether she has been able to get some clothes etc, but I can do nothing, only hope that all will be well or at least better than my thoughts depict.
Robertson has been a great help and says we must keep going, it would serve no purpose to return to Singapore broken in health and unable to help our wives when we do meet again, but oh how I wish we could get some news; it is the uncertainty as to where Vi may be that makes it harder to bear. I can only pray to God to help and protect her.
I shall bring this to a close. I have not kept a day to day diary, but one day is much the same as another. There are 45 Dutch women interned in a separate camp, also survivors, but none from Pom Pong Island. Mrs Smart53, Mrs Brooks54, Mrs Moncur55, Mrs Frankie Walker56 are among them. Smart is in our camp. Our rations are getting more difficult as there is no more flour and we are told rice is to be severely rationed. We have not fed badly, principally rice, vegetables, bread and bananas, but I have lost a lot of weight and do not feel at all strong, and really feel my 60 years.
Today is the 4th Nov (233rd day of internment) and we seem to be no nearer the end of our captivity. What a degradation for our prestige for thousands of British men and women to be interned in their own Colonies and at the mercy of the enemy, and all their property and belongings confiscated or looted and stolen. What is to become of us all I ask myself; will there be anything left for the private individual except ruin and poverty to face? But all that is as nothing compared with the finding of Vi and the reunion of the family. How are Myfanwy and Gwynedd getting along; it is all too harrowing and one can only trust in God’s mercy and keep oneself buoyed up with the hope that all will be well and that we shall still have years of peace and happiness before us, even though we have to live on a very meagre scale. I must do my best for all of them to make up for these weary months of privation, suffering and anxiety and must not let myself go “down hill”.
The Diary ends on 4 November 1942, although Charles added information in the table below thereafter as well as information about camp finances (see footnote 14). Charles was transported to Bangkinang camp in October 1943 where he died of pellagra and dysentery aged 61 on 15 December 1944 (see footnote 57).
15 Penang Hill is 833m (2723 ft) high with peaks including Flagstaff Hill, Tiger Hill, Admiral Hill and Government Hill. There are a number of houses and bungalows. It has a cooler climate than George Town and was popular with Europeans. The old funicular railway up Penang Hill from Air Itam near George Town was built between 1906 and 1923 and passengers used to have to change trains halfway up. There was also a 5.1 km tarred road for Hill residents. The eastern face of the Hill has a number of roads such as Moniot Road, Viaduct Road and Tunnel Road plus many bridle paths built by Indian penal servitude prisoners in the late 19th century.
16 See Appendices 1 and 2 for other eye witness accounts of the bombing of Penang.
17 It is unclear what happened to BE Ross, Charles Samuel’s partner. I cannot find his name on any list of PoW internees.
18 Beach Street is the main road in the centre of old George Town’s financial district, was a coastal road constructed in 1786-7 and with Light Street (named after Francis Light) is one of the oldest surviving roads in Malaysia.
19 See Appendix 1
20 Lucy Flinter, wife of M Flinter, died in the sinking of the SS Kuala or possibly in the sinking of the SS Tanjong Pinang between 14 and 17 February 1942.
21 Charles and Vi never saw Gwynedd again. She was evacuated to Singapore with her infant daughter Bronwen together with her sister Miffy; they eventually reached Australia and spent the rest of the war safely in Melbourne.
22 I have been unable to discover where Charles and Vi had lived on the Hill before buying Brown House on 1 October 1941.
23 JSA Lewis OBE (1909-2003) went out to Malaya in 1928 to join the Customs Service. In 1937 he became engaged to the well known actress Dulcie Gray (nee Savage-Bailey) whose father was a lawyer living in Fraser’s Hill. This did not work out and John married Gwynedd Samuel in 1938 in Penang, the daughter of Charles Samuel. He was working in Port Dickson until going on leave in early 1941. On his return from leave in Australia he was posted to Penang and when Penang was attacked John was reassigned by the Customs Department to be a food controller. John Lewis was evacuated on 16th December on a local ferry boat to Singapore; see Appendix 1 below. His wife and daughter had already been evacuated--see footnote 21.
24 William Leggatt was the manager of the Bukit Kepong Estate. He died of dysentery in the Palembang Men’s PoW Camp on 23.9.1942. His wife was evacuated to the UK on the SS Empress of Japan.
25 Tiny is a reference to my father TPM Lewis (1904-1989) who left Jesus College Oxford in 1926 to join the Malayan Education Service. In December 1941 he was Headmaster of Clifford School, Kuala Kangsar and as a Malay speaking FMS Volunteer local guide fought behind enemy lines with an Australian unit “Roseforce” in the retreat to Singapore. He and his brother JSA Lewis were later interned in Changi and Sime Road Civilian PoW camps. Their younger brother GED Lewis (1912-1999) was sent from Changi to work in K Force as a medical assistant in various camps on the Burma-Siam railway. They all survived and returned to Malaya after the war. See Appendix 5 below for bibliography including Tiny’s hand written diary.
26 HR Cheeseman was the Deputy Director of Education in Singapore. He was interned in Changi and Sime Road camps and after the war served as Director of Education. My father TPM Lewis served under Cheeseman as Deputy Director for Malaya in KL and then as Chief Inspector of Schools in Singapore before retiring in 1955. Cheeseman retired to New Zealand.
27 Mrs Olive Ethel Hogan (Penang), wife of Claude DD Hogan a lawyer in Penang, was a nurse who probably died on the sinking of the SS Kuala as described at the end of the Diary entry for 14 February 1942.
28 Mrs Mary Elizabeth Brown was evacuated with her daughter Shelagh from Singapore on the SS Vyner Brooke which was sunk on 15.2.1942; they were then interned in Palembang and then Muntok PoW Camps and she died on 17.1.1945 but her daughter survived. Her husband was interned in Changi PoW Camp
29 FD Bisseker , Chairman Eastern Smelting Co Penang, was a Legislative Councillor and was assigned by the Government to solve the manpower shortage in Malaya. He was ordered to evacuate Singapore by his superior and was on the SS Kuala, was marooned on an island after its sinking but reached Sumatra safely and later reached the UK according to Tiny Lewis’s diary. His escape did not go down well with the Volunteers in Changi camp who nicknamed a lavatory in Changi as “the Pisseker” and coined the phrase “to bisseker” meaning to make a getaway when you should have stayed. See also footnote 45 about Sir John Bagnall.
30 Joyce Prentis probably drowned after the sinking of the SS Kuala aged 52 as described at the end of the Diary entry for 14 February. Her husband Roger was a rubber broker with Dupire Marrell & Co and a Municipal Commissioner. He was interned in Changi and returned to work in Singapore after the war.
31 Probably MS Middlebrook (MCS) who was interned in Changi, badly tortured in Outram Road Jail between 2.12.43 and 18.10.44 as a result of the “Double Tenth” investigation on 10.10.1943 following the commando raid on Singapore harbour. He died of dysentery and beri-beri on 19.10.44. See Tiny Lewis’s diary in Appendix 5.
32 Singapore surrendered on Sunday 15 February.
33 See http://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/evacuation_ships/html/ss__kuala_passenger_list.htm for a Roll of Honour of those on board. See also the accounts of other survivors in Appendix 3 below and in http://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/evacuation_ships/html/ss__kuala_history.htm . Between 650-700 people were crammed into the quite small SS Kuala of whom only about 300 ever made it to relative safety. Of the 350 women and children on board at least 135 were killed in the bombing at Pom Pong Island and a further 200 or so when the SS Tanjong Pinang was sunk.
34 Mrs Cherry probably died on the sinking of the SS Kuala. Her husband was probably WT Cherry (Govt printer) who was interned in Changi, badly tortured in Outram Road camp as a result of the “Double Tenth” investigation, was tried by the Japs for bringing wireless sets and parts into camp, and was sentenced to 4 years’ hard labour. See Tiny Lewis’s diary in Appendix 5.
35 Gladys Robertson was killed on the SS Tanjong Pinang on 17.2.1942. Her husband Duncan was interned in Padang with Charles Samuel.
36 Mrs Allen might be the wife of a Kedah rubber planter, who was captured near Penang and forced by the Japs to drive Japanese lorries all the way to Singapore before being interned in Changi. See Tiny Lewis’s diary in Appendix 5.
37 Mrs Clarke is probably the wife of J Adrian Clarke (ex Attorney General FMS) who was interned in Changi, elected the Men’s Representative in the Block, was badly tortured as a result of the “Double Tenth” investigation and died in Miyako Hospital in Singapore on 21.3.44 as a result of torture and dysentery. See Tiny Lewis’s diary in Appendix 5.
38 Geoffery W Husband, the manager of the Rengam Estate in Johore, was interned in Palembang Camp and survived. His wife and children were evacuated to the UK on the SS Empress of Japan.
39 See footnote 30.
40 Her husband John Black Ross was in the Mercantile Bank in Singapore; she later died on the SS Tanjong Pinang. He survived the Padang camps and remarried post war.
41 Charles was never to learn that all of them including Vi died after the sinking of the SS Tanjong Pilang on 17 February.
42 See Appendix 4 for details of the sinking of the SS Tanjong Pinang on which nearly all the passengers died that night.
43 Oswald W Gilmour and others later took a car and arrived at Padang via a risky route before Charles Samuel, who had declined a lift with them. They then escaped in a boat to Colombo. See Appendix 5.
44 Probably Ms Kathleen Kita Homer, an MAS Sister, who after the sinking of SS Kuala was later interned in Padang and survived.
45 Sir John Bagnall was a Legislative Councillor and was on the SS Kuala, was marooned on an island after its sinking but reached Sumatra safely and later reached South Africa according to Tiny Lewis’s diary. His escape did not go down well with the Volunteers in Changi camp who nicknamed a lavatory in Changi as “the Bognall”. See also footnote 29 about FD Bisseker.
46 Leslie Smart was interned with Charles Samuel. His wife Annie was wounded on HMS Grasshopper when it was sunk and then also interned in Padang and Bangkinang Camps. They both survived.
47 HS Nicholson (or Scoble-Nicholson) aged 68 was the Chief Postal Censor in Singapore. He survived despite his age. See table at the end of the Diary.
48 See footnote 43
49 Cecil N Buck an engineer was interned with Charles Samuel. His wife Clothilda was also interned in the Women’s Camps in Padang and then Bangkinang with their son Edward (b1931) who was later transferred to the Men’s Camp on 29.6.1943 according to the Moffatt List in footnote 57. This might be the same boy as Butt MC aged 14 in the table at the end of the Diary. All the family survived.
50 James Cairns and his 2 year old son Little Jimmy from Penang floated in the sea for eight hours after the sinking of the SS Kuala before being rescued and reaching Sumatra where they were interned with Charles Samuel in Padang camp. They both survived.
51 Charles added to the Diary later in the table below after they were moved to the Military Gaol on 13 February 1943.
52 But see footnote 14 added later.
53 See footnote 46.
54 Probably Mrs Rachel Brooks who survived. Her husband AC Brooks also survived Changi and Sime Road Camps.
55 Mrs Moncur survived. Her husband (Education Dept) died of lung cancer in Changi on 11.8.44. See Tiny Lewis’s diary in Appendix 5.
56 Mrs Robina Walker survived. Her husband was Frankie Walker who worked for Bousteads.