Sketch by Jack Chalker

Malaya

The Rising Sun On My Back

MALAYA

 

‘We see yonder the beginning of a day But I think we shall never see the end of it I am afraid there are few die well that die in battle’ …….. Shakespeare.

 

We lined up on the dockside, in our toupees, a monstrosity that it was impossible to appear smart in.  We were a sweating tightly packed bad tempered parade, we were sullen and noisy as we clambered aboard waiting lorries and sped off to the station.  Driving through Singapore was an experience, the incredible stenches of fish drying on the pavement, each fish covered by a million flies; the bamboo poles hung out on each side of the street on which was suspended indifferent natives, through which the trucks careered at an incredible speed.

We were deposited at the station, formed up and marched to the platform to await the train.  We were on our way by night train to a village called Kajang  few miles from Kuala Lumpur.  I was disappointed when I realised I was not to be near my family after all.  Boarding the train we settled down on the wooden seats to a long wait.  I asked a uniformed welfare officer to phone Dad at Changi on the other side of the Island.  On his return he explained the difficulty he had in convincing the Regimental Guard that his story was genuine, and then locating Dad who was on duty, had taken considerable time.  I scribbled a card and asked the welfare officer  to hand it to anyone in the family if they arrived, otherwise he would post it the next morning.  The train pulled out, we were on the last lap of our journey which had started six weeks earlier 8,000 miles away.  The night journey was punctuated by several stops, but otherwise uneventful.  Daubed in anti - mosquito cream, tired and dirty, there we little sleep for any of us that night.  Arriving at Kajang as down broke, we left the train in a gully and marched through a rubber plantation to the hutted camp on the side of a hill overlooking Kajang village.

We soon settled into our new quarters.  The huts were cool and our Indian made ‘charpoy’ beds of interwoven fibre cords were very comfortable.  Our equipment arrived the next day and I set - to examining and maintaining my four 25 pdr gun / howitzers, in preparation for the action which I was sure would soon come.

On the third day at Kajang Col. Holme (C.O.) sent for me.  Dad had been pulling strings and though we were confined to the village and its immediate vicinity, he gave me permission to spend the day in Kuala Lumpa with Mum and Margaret.  I caught the earliest train the next morning and met them in the Station Hotel for breakfast.  We were very emotional at first, Margaret could not hide her excitement and we all tried to talk at the same time.  Five and a half years had passed since we said goodbye in Portsmouth, but those years soon slipped away, there were so many things to say and we knew we had only a short time together.  We enjoyed a wonderful day in the Capital, but we could not disregard the uncertain future nor the certain fact that we were going to fight the Japanese.  Inevitably our day together had to end, our farewells when I left the train at Kajang were sad and tearful, and it was with heavy heart that:

‘we see yonder the beginning of a day But I think we shall never see the end of it I am afraid there are few die well that die in battle’ …….. Shakespeare.

I had returned to camp.  A camp I had come to like, we worked and played hard, we were all magnificently fir and healthy and we indulged in all kinds of sport in complete disregard to the scorching heat.  The authorities had taken thorough precautions over our health.  Great stress was placed on personal and communal hygiene and we managed to avoid the dreaded tropical diseases we had been warned about.  We were encouraged to make friends with the villagers who were mostly Malays and Indians with a few Straits born Chinese.  There were always swarms of children around us, they ran alongside clutching a finger of one’s hand and demanding pennies with wordily whispers of “you want sister Tuan, my sister very clean, only two dollars Tuan”.  We frequented the local pool room and gambled with some of the Chinese lads.  They were inveterate gamblers, they would even wager heavily on which of the two straws being carried along by rainwater, would reach the drain first.

One night we were sitting in the hut drinking and discussing the coming battle when we heard the drone of planes high overhead.  “it’s only the R.A.F. on patrol I expect” someone said.  The sound gradually faded and we thought no more of the incident until the next morning, the breakfast queue was buzzing with the news that Singapore had been bombed.  By lunch time we knew the worst, the Japanese had been given full co - operation by the Siam Government and allowed to advance through Siam.  We received a directive to move out in the morning to take up defensive positions at Jitra on the northern border.

We left in convoy at dawn, travelling all day and late into the night, halting for a few hours rest at Taiping.  I had been issued with a new Matchless motor cycle after every stop, the only way of starting the engine was to remove and heat the plug by burning it in a pool of petrol.  Frequent unscheduled stops had put me miles behind the convoy and I was “burning it up” in my endeavour to overhaul them, when suddenly I skidded on the soft surface of a bend and slithered across the road into a bushy tree and landed with the bike on top of me.  My right elbow was uncovered down to the bone and I lie there feeling sick and stunned.  Suddenly several natives appeared, dragged the bike aside and lifted me to my feel.  I wondered if they were hostile, but I need not have worried.  They dressed my arm with a torn vest and straightened the bent foot - rest on the motorcycle, then after a drink and a snack I was on my way again.

I arrived in Taiping two hours late with a sore arm which I couldn’t straighten. The M.O. placed it in a sling and was for sending me south to t dressing station, but I refused to go.  Later that night we continued our journey north to join the 11th Indian Division.

The 11th Division comprised Punjab and Jat Indian Infantry, the 1st Leicester Regiment, 2nd East Surrey Regiment, two regiments of field artillery and one anti - tank regiment. They had been training for the operation Matador.  This was a scheme involving the innovation of Siam to occupy Singora and Patani on the Kra Isthmas.  From these two positions we would have been in a very strong defensive position and the Japanese advance would have been easier to contain.  During this period the infantry had also prepared defensive positions north of Jitra but were ordered forward to new offensive positions.  After days of indecision and inactivity the plan was abandoned and after standing by in torrential rain, keyed up for attack the troops were ordered back to their original positions.  The defence works had not been finished when they moved forward; when they returned they found the trenches waterlogged. The anti - tank mines were still waiting in piles and not a yard of telephone wire had been run out.  Hurriedly they set to work, squelching over soggy ground with heavy rain pouring down their necks.

Major General Murray - Lyon had deployed the division over jungle covered hills, through the open paddi fields to the sea - a total of fourteen miles.  The japs struck with infantry led by tanks which burst down the road at speed and caught up with the 15th Brigade (Punjab’s) who were withdrawing to Nauka two miles before Jitra.  They immediately broke formation and panicked, most of them had never seen a tank in their lives and their only instinct was to run.  A section of the 2nd Anti - tank Battery were caught with it’s guns limbered up and wiped out.  The Japanese rushed on until their leading tank was knocked out by anti - tank rifles of the 21st Ghurkas of the 9th Indian Division.  A stiff fight developed as the Ghurkas were attacked on three sides, they fragmented and had to detour through the jungle in small groups and rejoin their brigade the next morning.

Meanwhile, there had been a disastrous muddle.  After dark on the 11th the outpost troops of the 6th Brigade were withdrawing to the main Jitra position under orders, taking with them their transport, seven anti - tank guns and four mountain guns.  Hearing their approach a jittery officer in charge of a bridge blowing detail thought they must have been Japanese and blew the bridge over a small river.  All the transport and guns had to be abandoned.  Seldom in the history of war can there have been so much muddle and confusion.

Two hours after dark the Japanese put in an attack on the 2 / 9th Jats and the Leicester’s, but the volume of machine gun and artillery fire brought their advance to a halt.  A further attack supported by mortars developed, and heavy fighting succeeded in driving a wedge into our positions.  However, the Leicester’s and the 2 / 2nd Ghurkas held on and again the attack ground to a halt.  Then the carrier platoon of the 2nd East Surreys counter attack, checking an attempt to envelope the Leicester’s.  Heavy fighting, often hand to hand went on all night until the Japanese finally withdrew.  A further attack began at 15:15 on the afternoon of the 12th, threatening the flanks of the Jats and Leicester’s.  the latter unit had fought well and was full of confidence.  When, at about 16:00 they received orders to retire behind a stream called the Sungeii Jitra, they protested violently.  However, Murray - Lyon was insistent and so they came back, and the Jats too, this was yet another blow to morale.

Fearing that the road behind the division night soon be cut Murray - Lyon decided that he must get it behind a viable tank obstacle by the following day.  So at 19:30 the order was give to withdraw behind Sungeii Kedah.

Meanwhile “C” Troop had registered several targets and during the day and long into the night we sent up incessant barrages at Japanese infantry concentrations and mortar groups.  As the forward infantry advanced, we dropped range and elevated the gun muzzles to fire them like mortars at ranges below a mile.  Groups of our own infantry began retreating through our gun positions.  We waited anxiously for orders to move out and were greatly relived when our dispatch rider appeared, without slowing his machine shouting “Get out”, “get out quick the Japs are here”.  In the scramble that followed, the four gun platforms were left deeply embedded in the swampy ground and four neatly stacked piles of ammunition were abandoned.  My motorcycle would not start and after several frantic attempts, I pumped it full of bullets and ran for the last gun which was disappearing towards the road.  As I ran the fear flashed into my mind that I would be left to fight the whole Jap army on my own, fear that added impetus to my legs and as the tractor slowed to tun on to the sand road I clambered aboard the gun.  I sat on the layer’s seat with both feet wedged under the shield support and with very bump I shot into the air and came down with such an impact that I was afraid I might suffer irreparable damage to that most vital part of me.  As we careered down the road at suicidal speed a party of Japs on cycles appeared behind us.  They began peddling furiously but when it became apparent that we were getting away they leaped from their cycles and began firing.  Bullets ricocheted off the gun and zipped all around me as I crouched behind the shield.  The tractor was holed in many places but no serious damage was done and no injuries suffered.  Having no transport now I travelled on the roof of one of the gun tractors.  The camouflage net which was carried on a frame fixed to the roof made a comfortable if somewhat precarious perch.

Two battalion of Jap infantry supported by a company of tanks had defeated the 11th Division and driven it from it’s positions in thirty six hours.  Losses in men, guns and equipment was heavy and the effect on the morale of front line troops was shattering - Jitra was a major disaster and the 11th would never recover.  This defeat was only the first of a series of disastrous engagement and it laid the pattern for the remainder.

On the 13th December we were streaming back to man positions behind the Sungeii Kedah, many had lost their units.  We were numbly drifting around trying to find their units. We were near the village of Bedong, dug in alongside a paddi field with jungle behind, there was very little cover.  Many times parties of Indian troops staggled into our positions scrounging food.  It was a crazy situation, we were still sending up a continuous barrage, yet our infantry were steaming rearwards through our positions.

That night we withdrew, transport jamming the single width road for miles we were directed behind the Muda River and took no part in the two day action at Guruh.  On the morning of the 16th a small force under our C.O. Col. Holme was organised to destroy bridges and told to hold the south bank of the river for a long as possible.  A unit of our regiment, with one troop of the 80th Anti - tank Regiment, 1st Independent Company, one Company of the Leicester’s and one Squadron of 3rd Cavalry, boarded an armoured train, arriving on the coast at Sungeii Patani to take up position on the river bank.  At Guruh the enemy attacked straight down the road through Punjabi positions. Before long they had broken through and penetrated the East Surreys where they reached Regimental Headquarters killing the Commanding Officer and all his staff, and then went on to deal with 6th Brigade Headquarters, with the exception of Brigadier General Lay who was out with a unit, everyone was wiped out.  Fortunately, the Japs, who had suffered heavily from barrages laid down by the 155th Field Regiment, did not follow up and by morning of the 16th the remnants of the 11th Division were back behind their Muda river.  Are force accomplished it’s task and by morning of the 17th all except one of the brigades were demolished.  Two attempts by the Japs to cross the river were repulsed and finally when the last brigade was blown we retreated.  Our only casualties was the Observation Post officer and his signaller.  They were encircled by Jap infantry and armed only with pistols tried to fight their way to the waiting Bren Gun Carrier.  The officer was instantly cut down with automatic fire but the signaller, badly wounded, reached the carrier.  The driver ran the gauntlet through the enemy, the signaller using the Bren Gun and returning safely to our lines.  Our withdrawal continued and by evening we reached Bukit Mertajan.

It was clear to me that we were playing a dangerous role.  Our two Troops have four guns each, were being used separately, four guns easier to deploy than eight.  We were performing a due role - the normal artillery role of laying down barrages on ranged and registered targets, but also engaging Jap front line unit in a series of rearguard supporting actions to help our sorely pressed inventory who were continually being outflanked and overrun by tanks (which had been told could not be used in Malaya).  Most of our withdrawals were panic stricken scrambles with the enemy had on our heals.

We had very little cover in Bukit Mertajam and paid the penalty.  Very quickly we were spotted by low flying planes, who had complete command of the skies, and dive - bombed.  The Troop Commander was killed in the first attack and his L/Cpl assistant was horribly wounded and would not last long.  When the attack started I was visiting ‘D’ Troop and as bombs began falling I grabbed a Bren Gun lying in the carrier, I dropped it behind a tree and returned to the carrier for magazines.  In their second pass I aimed at the nearest plane and squeezed the trigger.  The bullets left the Bren like a jet of water from a high powered hose, I couldn’t miss! The magazines were load with tracers only.  A string of bullets spayed the nose of the plane, I held it there for some seconds and them let it pass through.  The crackling sound of bullets smacking into the trees nearly startled me, I shrank behind the tree as bullets plopped into the soft ground all around me, and then they were gone.  Only then did I feel the pain from two angry looking burns on my left knee caused by kneeling on hot spent cartridge cases.  When I returned to ‘C’ Troop I learned that the plan had dipped over the trees with smoke coming from the engine - maybe a bagged one.  There was a sense of urgency as we limbered up to withdraw, we knew that mortar units would have been called up and the planes would return.  We found a ‘hide’ in the darkest rubber plantation we had yet encountered.  They were gloomy places and damp, the trees grew high and close together and prevented the thinnest shaft of sunlight from filtering through.  They created a sound deadening effect which bred a feeling of isolation as there was always the fear that the enemy could be there - anywhere.

During the seven days since the first action at Jittra we had man handled over 25 pdr’s through a morass of tangled vegetation, through swamp in steaming and monsoon rain and we had felled trees by the score.  Most of our movements had been by night without vehicle lights.  We moved slowly in convoy taking turns to sit on the front mudguard with torches guiding the driver with shouted instructions along treacherous tracks.  We suffered the discomfort of all kinds of insects - mosquitoes by the myriad, leaches, moths and beetles, and army’s of ants in all sizes and colours - all biting, buzzing and irritating.  I still wore the same muddied clothes which had been soaked and dried several times, and my sodden boots and socks were inseparable companions to my filthy smelly feet.  And yet in the circumstances spirits were still high and moral good.  Our guns had been in continuos action, we kept shoving ammo up with complete disregard for their condition, but now they were  beginning to show the strain.  Recoil systems were leaking oil, the packing was breaking down under the extreme heat and violent stresses.  I judges that each of the four guns had fired at least six thousand rounds.

We moved on towards Nibong Tebal and after an uneventful couple of hours the convoy was halted by a completely blocked road.  Indian drivers had ditched their yellow painted trucks and run off.  Some had crashed and a line of vehicles stretched along the road as far as we could see.  As we dismounted a staff car pulled in behind us and a wild looking individual leaped out.  Well over six feet, hat - less with sparse grey hair and several days growth of grey stubbly beard.  His shorts were torn, his shirt sweat stained and his bare toes poked through plain leather sandals.  A huge pistol hung at the end of a bandoleer which was slung over one shoulder.  He drew the pistol as he stalked purposefully up the road and fired one shot in the air.  This drew everyone’s attention and with a few shouted directions he soon had men organised into clearing the trucks of the road.  As soon as the road was cleared he climbed back into the car which was driven away, rear wheels spinning and throwing up loose dirt.  We reckoned he was a Brigadier but in appearance he was more like the sanitary orderly.  Someone found a trunk full of Tommy - guns and magazines so we promptly armed ourselves and filled every spare space in the tractors with ammo.  We were transformed by this luck find, swaggering like gangsters with confidence now to defend ourselves against the best.  Personal weapons normally carried in the Artillery Troop of 40 plus men - one riffle per tractor (6 men) three officers, signal sergeant, Battery sergeant, major and Artificer (me) - one Bren gun. 

We arrived on the outskirts of Nibong Tebal in the early morning and we passed the night with the vehicles.  I was awaken by heavy rain and spent a couple of miserable hours at the foot of a tree under my ground sheet.  We took up gun positions at daylight, the guns promptly becoming bogged down in swampy ground.  We splashed and floundered around, above our ankles in sticky slime, pulling and shoving and playing out the tractor winch cables which were wet and greasy and tore at our hands.  When finally the guns were extracted, we found a new position at the edge of a banana plantation with thick jungle to our rear.  Our positions were always vulnerable, our choice being governed by the frontal arc of fire available.  We so much jungle and plantation around we often had to fell trees before we could fire the guns.  We fell down exhausted after our exertions, for days we’d had continuous barrages and our only sleep was a sort of uneasy coma.  I was going about my duties maintaining the guns and equipment like an automaton and reaching the point of unwinding.  We’d had casualties from mortars and anti - personnel bombs and some sniping.  I began to wonder how long I could keep going without proper sleep.  We fired a few rounds only before the order came to once more withdraw.

We fired out barrages at Bagan Serai, at Taiping and at Kuala Kangsar.  On the morning of the 22nd we were in position to bombard the north bank in support of our Infantry when they crossed the Parak River, when the Japs attempted to swamp across.  The Jap main advance was through thick jungle where they crossed the river unopposed and advanced on Ipak.  We sent over a non - stop barrage at Jap mortar and artillery attempting to cross the river.  Their infantry had crossed in several places and our positions had become untenable.  They had over - run the 2 / 9 Jats who began to filter through our positions.  Suddenly all around our heads were fierce detonations and one of the men fell clutching his neck with his hand which quickly ran bloody red.  He fell writhing on the ground with the side of his neck all raw meat.  We dived for cover and I landed in a shallow slit trench behind No. 4 gun.  The one other occupant, Johnny Walsh was scared his pail face showed stark against his shank of red hair.  I was wondering if I would ever regain sufficient courage to leave the trench when a soft but commanding voice penetrated my thoughts.  “You two, follow me” said the voice, “and stay down” I threw a startled look at Johnny, “he means us” he said “what a bloody stupid suggestion” as I crawled on my quivering belly from the trench.  Johnny seamed to be in no hurry then the voice again “get a bloody move on” and I crawled with greater haste. 

I found myself following quite irrational orders and crawling through tangled undergrowth into the jungle towards sporadic shooting.  A raised hand and we lay motionless.  A loud thumping frightened me until I learned the source, it was my own heart neat.  Rivulets of sweat trickled down my face and neck.  We moved forward again and the vice shouted - pointed finger and squeezed the trigger hard.  Running figures were blurred by the sweat trickling into my eyes.  When the gun stopped kicking in my hands I knew I had emptied the only magazines I had with me.  Then everyone began shooting and I flattened myself into the soft of wet ground as bullets splashed into the nearby trees. Then the ‘voice’ loud and irritated, “stop firing stop you bloody fools you’ll kill each other”.  The shooting gradually petered out and the momentary silence was intense, before figures began to emerge from the slit trenches behind the guns.  I glanced around again at the slightest hostile sound.  I joined the search for bodies and a single inert figure in camouflaged jacket wearing cloven rubber soled cow boots (to facilitate tree climbing) lay in a pathetic bundle.  “just reward” I thought for our amateurish efforts, I wondered how many of us had expended all our ammo leaving ourselves vulnerable in a counter-attack.

From both east and west there was the heavy crump of mortar bombs but there was a deeper sound that I could feel rather than hear, a jarring that I could feel coming up through my boots from the ground - tanks.  Already ammo was being loaded and the tractor engines started.  No. 1 gun moved out on to the road  with armour piercing shot up the spout and a high explosive shot ready to follow.  Two of the crew manned the gun and the others stayed in the tractor with the limber hooked up.  I joined the section sergeant on the tractor roof ready to tackle enemy foot soldiers.  The rumble of tanks grew louder as the Troop filed on to the road and I watched with some trepidation as they accelerated away, leaving behind us as rearguard.  They were no sooner out of sight when mortar bombs began smashing into the hill side twenty yards away, shattering trees and sending whistling fragments into the side of the tractor.  The first tank swung at speed round the bend and we let them have it a point blank range - the AP shell hit dead centre tipping the turret sideways, the high explosive shell followed and a blast nearly blew us of the roof.  Shrill screams from within the tank preceded an explosion which wrecked it and left it blazing.  We were already moving as the gun ‘hooked up’.  Two tank crew with their clothes ablaze scrambled from the tank and infantry appeared from both sides of the road.  We began firing, sending them diving from cover, the crew never got of the road.  It was all over in a few minutes and we were swinging our way south in pursuit of the troop.  We rejoined them, flushed with success, but our moment of glory was short lived.  The sudden roar of a plane startled us.  It flew across our front and streaked away, disappearing behind trees.  We dived for cover, to late, we were spotted.  It roared past again with the whistling roar of its propeller cresendoing burst of its machine guns as bullets zipped and smacked into tractors and guns.  There were gaping holes in one truck, the three strips on the arm of a body lying half out on the passengers side stood out incongruously.  A single bullet had pierced the front of his helmet for I could see the gaping hole in the back of his head.  Three more planes arrived and anti - personnel bombs began falling, I could see the gloved hands of the pilots as they dropped bombs from the cockpits.  We pulled out as the first mortar bombs exploding short among the trees, a few more minutes and they would have our range.  The planes had expanded their ammo, but one chased us along the road for a while before turning away and heading north.  We found a temporary ‘hide’ before travelling south to the outskirts of Sungeii Sipot.

Daybreak on the 23rd was warm and misty, we moved the few miles to Sungeii Sipot, to another vulnerable position with the guns along a dirt road and the shelter of a rubber plantation behind.  We registered four targets, dog our shallow trenches and rested, waiting for the enemy to reach our targets.

Lack of sleep and inadequate food, (one day’s rations was often a tin of bully beef and a tin of sliced peaches) were beginning to take their toll, we were not depressed, and our attitude was one of passive endurance.  We were all very still, some sprawled with their backs against gun wheels snatching a fitful sleep, tin hats tilted over their eyes.  A few whispered words were exchanged, but mostly everyone was quiet.  We were roused by the command to “take post”, a phone call from the O.P. officer warned us of two columns of Jap infantry, one supported by tanks, advancing towards two of our targets.  A “fire at will” barrage was sent up chasing the enemy from one target to another, gun angle and range were altered and firing continued.  The O.P. Officer relayed a running commentary as we chased them between targets.  Their casualties were heavy and this knowledge lifted our moral considerably, and then the inevitable happened, a spotter plane called up mortars, (they had undisputed command in the air and proved themselves most efficient at this liaison between plane and mobile mortar groups.  We had seen none of our planes since our first engagement).  The first bombs came whimpering overhead and the explosions caused eruptions as they landed in the swampy ground. There was a loud twang as one hit a tree and tree more flew overhead into the trees behind.  Then another, and more closer still, and we took cover. Their aim improved as the circling plane relayed range corrections. Bombs fell faster now, as soon as you heard the hiss it exploded.  One landed between No. 4 gun and its trench which collapsed on the occupants, one was killed and one seriously wounded.  The empty wireless truck caught fire and the ammo truck was hit.  The plane was strafing and after it’s second run I heard a cry over to my right where I could see a pair of legs; one thigh was soaked as the blood pumped out.  I crawled to him, to find a gunmen already treating him, he was almost unconscious and his legs were a gory mess.  We bound on field dressing as compresses to stop the bleeding and I crawled away to acquire more dressings.  I rolled into a trench on top of the crouching cursing occupants as a stick of bombs fell near.  The men gave me their dressings and I waited for a slight lull before…

“But I had not so much a man in me and all my mother came into mine eyes and gave me up to tears”…. Shakespeare

…pulling myself out of the trench.  I crawled a few yards then began to rise with the intention of racing the ten yards to the wounded man.  Suddenly I was speadeagled, a heavy blow had put me on my pack and I lay there stunned.  Some moments elapsed before my mind began to function, but I couldn’t make it focus, then someone held me down, “don’t move” he said, “you’ve been hit”. I suppose I was still numb with shock, and couldn’t comprehend, “get off, you bloody fool”.  I said “I’m all right” and then I felt a pain and looked at my right hand which was instinctively holding my left shoulder.  I removed my bloodied hand to reveal a gaping hole in my chest and a one inch thick piece of flesh which hung down almost to my nipple, like a hinged door.  “Christ”, I thought, “this is it”. I eased my fingers under the flesh and plopped it back in like closing a trap door, blood oozed through my fingers and I watched fascinated as a puddle formed on a curled up leaf.  A field dressing was placed in my hand which I held over the wound until I was helped into one of the vehicles to be evacuated to a field dressing station.

The nearest dressing station was at Ipoh, I was cleaned and dressed and injected with morphine - by now the pain was acute.  A man in uniform leaned over me and I recognised the Reverend Good before I saw his “dog collar”.  He was at one time our parade in Woolwich Barracks.  We had time only for a few words before I was loaded into an Indian ambulance with a Punjabi driver.  The journey south was hair raising and painful.  We bumped and rocked through the night for mile after mile, he drove as if all the Japs in Malaya were on his tail and no amount of curses, threats or entreaties made the slightest impression on him, he had one speed only - “flat out”.  The effect of the morphine had worn off and when we arrived at the main dressing station in Tandjong Malin.  I was physically shattered and close to tears, pain and fury at the driver.  Another change of dressing and then on to Kuala Lumpur in one of our own vehicles.  That morning the mortar bomb splinter which had lodged against the bone in my arm was removed.

A day later I was on my way by hospital train, at night, to the General Hospital in Johore Bahru.  The night was punctuated by the cries and moans of many wounded.  I could not sleep and refused an injection because my arm was so sore from previous jabs.  The sister had stopped by my bed several times, and finally said “I’m going to get an injection, your silly to lie there in pain, we’ll be in Johore before you get to sleep”  I awoke as I was being carried off the train at Johore station, I had succumbed to pain and exhaustion - the morphine was unnecessary.  The surgeon in Kuala Lumper had removed the shrapnel from my arm and placed gauze plugs and a drainage tube between chest and arm.  On the morning Mum and Margaret arrived from Changi, the visit was disappointing I was very sleepy after a morphine injection to have the plugs and tube removed.  Mum told me she had refused the opportunity to leave for home and when the surgeon, Capt. Smiley told me that I was bound for “blighty”, I too refused.

(When  Alexandra Hospital was attacked and the Japs ran amok, Smiley tried to prevent a Jap bayoneting a patient on the operating table.  He lunged at the doctor the blade being deflected into his arm by a cigarette case in his left breast pocket.  A second lunged severely wounded him in the groin and he fell.  The Jap left him for dead and killed the patient.  Smiley was awarded the Military Cross).

 

 

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[Sun on my Back] [Introduction] [Training] [Sailing] [Malaya] [Singapore] [Changi] [Rest Camps] [Speedo] [Kuala Lumpur] [Kachidoki Maru] [Kibibi Maru] [Fukuoka] [Nagasaki] [Postscript]

 

 

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