Singapore was the base for the British fleet and Army head quarters of the British army in Asia.
At that time the Japanese had entered the war after attacking Pearl Harbour. They had bombed the naval base without declaring war and sunk a large part of the American Pacific fleet.
The reason for the attack was that Japan had been a closed country until the American and British had started to trade with them, they convinced the Emperor that Japan could be a world leader in trade and commerce, they then sold them warships and all the paraphernalia to become a world leader.
The American government where supplying all there oil, and it was when they started an oil embargo on Japan over the war in china. Japan had attacked China to get at the oil in Manchuria.
Another war started over oil! After Pearl Harbour the Japanese fleet sailed south to try and get oil from the Dutch East Indies Island of Sumatra and British Singapore was in the way. They landed on the Malaya Peninsula 200 miles from Singapore and were fighting their way towards Singapore;
The British had air bases with defences dug in to stop them. In the first raid they caught the British fighters on the ground, after the first day all the RAF fighter were destroyed. The Japanese zeros were far superior for the old twin winged Sopwiths.
Because the defence of the airfields was down to regular soldiers who did not want to die in the jungle they retreated every time the Japanese appeared, leaving the air strips to be used by the Japanese.
The popular thinking was that Singapore was impregnable so they thought they would be safe if they retreated back to base. The only units to put up any fight was the Australians under Gordon Bennett, his men tried to stop them in a jungle clearing the battle raged with both side suffering casualties, It took high command a long time to realise what was happening, by the time they did it was too late 30,000 Japanese against 180,000 Allied troops.
At this time it was Phil’s chance at war. As the Empress entered the straights leading to Singapore’s harbour she was at the rear of a convoy. Rear because she was having problems with her boilers they had to be decoked because of a build up of ash, she could not keep up with the convoy as it dashed for the safety of the harbour.
There had seen a large group of Japanese aircraft flying high above the convoy and everybody was holding their breath hoping that they would get to Singapore before they returned. Out of the sun came bomber after bomber all the supporting ships open fire, it was the old Empress that was targeted and down they came.
The first stick of bombs hit her amid ships, then she was hit by a dive bomber dropping a bomb down the funnel of the ship and blowing her bottom out, as luck would have it the tide was out so the ship rested on the bottom without sinking on abandon ship everyone went to the lifeboats, not Phil he went down below to retrieve the money from the last card school.
After this Phil joined everyone in the sea. Dad said of this, he was glad he had learned to swim in the Carnforth (Lancaster) canal, As he swam with his pocket full of money towards the light house he came across a soldier who had jump in without his life vest and was shouting for his mum, Dad was able to give him his life vest thus saving his life.
On arriving beside the lighthouse they were met by helpers. One man said it was a good job the sharks didn't get them, in reality there would be no sharks as they would be long gone with bombs exploding all around.
There were fifteen casualties, not a bad count for such a viscous attack. Now on land they had no kit, only what they stood up in, the tide came in and down went the Empress of Asia all tanks Bren carriers field guns everything gone! After reporting to the headquarters Dad was assigned to a troop going north to meet the by them rampaging Japanese army.
As they got to a clearing some thirty miles from Singapore Dad was asked to stop, he was part of a 2000 strong Brigade, the vehicles were told to stop and wait for the soldiers to return.
After a lot of smoke and gunfire an officer came running up to the trucks shouting get out of here, Dad asked “where are the lads(2000)” and the officer reply was “gone all gone get back to base”.
That was the last battle before the capitulation, General Percival surrendered three days later, the Japanese had over run the Queen Alexandra hospital and killed many of the patient’s doctor and nurses also killing some of the catering crew of the old empress who had volunteered to help in the hospital. With the Japanese approach lots of the local staff had run away. This was one of the worst atrocities the Japanese soldiers committed. Bayonets were use on patients as they lay in bed nurses were raped and murder out of hand, this was to be a sign of thing to come.
After capturing the water pipe, and cutting off all fresh water supplies it was the end of the colony. Surrender was a national disaster. 180 000 troops plus thousands of civilians all waiting for the Japanese army of 30 000. Percival arranged for seven day truce to enable the smooth take over of government.
In this window Phil was sent down to the warehouses to destroy as many vehicles as they could there were Rolls Royce’s Trucks and cars of every shape and size, these were pushed into the docks. They had to be destroyed so the Japanese could not make use of them.
All alcohol had to be destroyed because when the Japanese army took Hong Kong they got drunk and committed many atrocities, killing thousands of Chinese civilians.
This job suited dad as it was drink break drink break, after many drinks he was with Jack Twiss and six other when an Australian captain approached them and asked if they would volunteer for a secret mission with a chance to get away before the Japs arrived.
Dad was up for it and so were the others. The captain had found an open boat and he needed a crew, so later that night off they went to meet up after dark. Dad told us much later he didn't know if it was the drink or a good idea. But as it turned out he chose the right move, many thousands would die in Japanese prison camps.
Like brag it’s all luck or is it intuition and good luck. They all met up after the cinema (needed an excuse to get out of the camp at night), Dad could not remember which film, The Australian officer was waiting for them to arrive, and He had told them to bring some essentials so dad had a few bottles of whiskey and a sandwich.
Two hour of rowing they found the current was going the wrong way so they stopped rowing and were carried on the current towards where the Japanese where camped.
Next day they rowed all day and again the tide carried them the wrong way as soon as they stopped rowing. There was a lot of boat doing the same thing.
Japanese aircraft where flying over head looking to machine gun or bomb any fleeing boat so it was decided to only rowed at night. Every day would be spent on one of the thousand of island littering the macaw straights trying to get what food they could.
Days later and without much food they found a village with food, They tried to buy food but to no avail then the head man spotted the officers watch, a twenty first birthday present from his father.
The head man motioned to them he wanted the watch and the officer said no, the head man insisted, They all looked at each other and the officer agreed because they were all hungry, It was later when dad went to thank him that he told him that the watch had not worked for months and he only wore it out of habit.