Memoirs of Douglas Morris
Malaya - On looking back at this time, here was I, eight thousand miles away from home, at the threshold of a fine new military task, that the fates should decree, perhaps even the guiding hand of the great creator, that I was to meet a wonderful girl who was to become my wife and that in spite of war and all the pitfalls life can produce, we were to live together.
I must also at this stage recall with gratitude my CO and brother officers, many of whom were arriving at this time having been seconded from their regiments – Lt Col. G McI S Bruce, Royal Lincolns; Major Jack Bretherton, Second in Command, Royal Warwicks; also from the Royal Lincolns Major Toby Andr and Major Walter Young who were to command the two battalions of the Regiment in the war; George Denaro, Y&L; Bill Sanguinetti, Royal Hampshires; Bill Richardson, RUR; Ian Graham and Peter Baily, Seaforths; Bonzo Mason, E Surreys to name the most important of my lifelong friends all of whom knew and were lifelong friends of Joan. Jack and Mercy Bretherton were at our wedding in Seramban and signed our marriage certificate and dear Ian Graham, a lifelong friend from as far back as the Sandhurst days together, was our best man.
Sadly but inevitably, as I write, all these friends have passed on to the greater life and have been joined, as I have already said, in eternal rest by Joan. Most of them survived the rigours of Jap PoW days but Col. Bruce left the Regiment at the outbreak of war and was to reach the rank of Major General fighting the Japanese in Burma.
Before the Mess building was completed, four of us lived happily in a Government holiday bungalow near the sea – “Magnolia Bay” - George Denaro, Melville Portal, Bill Sanguinetti and yours truly. I have still a treasured diary for 1937 in which Joan made happy recordings of the social events, tennis and golf dates and, as the months progressed, increasing dates with Douglas! Ellie and Arthur realised the increasing bond between us and extended her visit.
They had, for duty reasons and Arthur, a Government Officer, to leave to live in Kuala Lumpur; their home was at 4 Valley Road, and Joan of course had to accompany them and the diary records many of my visits there. We had decided we wanted to become engaged and decided that we would not announce it until Joan had returned to her mother and that she and my parents had met. Joan’s sailing date for home in SS Patroclus was on Wednesday 1st September 1937. The final entry in this diary and a moving one for me was “And so ends a perfect 11 months”.
There was to follow a busy and for us a very satisfying two years. The Malayan Government, the Sultans and Sir Shenton Thomas, Governor General of Singapore showed intense interest in our progress. On the training side, weapon training and tactical work were excellent and under RSM McCarthy and several senior WOs who were Guardsmen, Battalion parades on special occasions produced drill and arms drill worthy of any British Guards Regiment.
We were quite frequently the subjects of press comments. I was, among other sporting duties, Officer i/c athletics and with Ian Graham we trained and at the end of 1938 took our athletics team to Singapore and won the Command Athletics Scotland before leaving home and was an outstanding wing forward, and I were selected to play for the Army in Malaya and among other games played against the Navy. Our captain was Captain Frank Simpson RE who captained Cambridge for three years and won an English cap. He was an excellent scrum half and I was privileged to play stand-off half to his skill.
I was also selected centre half for the State of Negeri Sembilan (in which Port Dickson stood) in the first State hockey side.
Into 1939 with the ever increasing threat of a European war, my three years secondment to the Malay Regiment was to end early in September when I was to return home by sea and, after a two year wait (when Joanie and I had not seen each other) our wedding was planned to take place in Northern Ireland.
September 3rd, the day before my sailing date, War was declared. Telegrams were sent cancelling all postings and all officers were ordered to remain with their present units. The Regiment had given me a wonderful farewell party but there we were, frozen. Poor Joanie was shattered. However, with the support of Col. Jack Bretherton, who was now CO, and the active support of Sir Shenton Thomas, it was eventually agreed by the War Office to grant Joan permission to fly out and that any future moves, if war demanded, would be the responsibility of the Malayan Government.
It was the brave decision of Joan and her mother to allow her to accept a passage by BA flying boat to fly out to Singapore in mid-March 1940. The aircraft took off from Poole in Dorset and to Singapore was a seven day trip coming down each night to refuel and rest.
She flew into Singapore late on the Saturday night of March 22nd ahead of schedule and the Captain of the aircraft escorted her to the Sea View Hotel where I joined her for a wonderful reunion. Kind friends, Major Bill and Dora Carlslaw, gave her a welcome in Singapore to stay for a few nights to acclimatise and settle and then I drove her up to Port Dickson where she was welcomed by Bunny Maclaren-Reid who looked after her and gave a wonderful reception after the wedding in Seramban on March 29th by the Rev G. Thompson at St Mark’s Church, Seramban. (Maclaren-Reid was a Customs Officer.) Good Ian Graham was our best man and Jean, his wife, acted as Matron of Honour for the occasion, giving us both warmth and confidence. We were to spend a blissful honeymoon in the Cameron Highlands in Northern Malaya, a splendid holiday retreat, then to return to Port Dickson into an Army quarter allotted to us and the formation of our first home together.
It was now that Ah Kwee, the faithful Chinese servant to Ellie and Arthur Mayne, who had known and loved Joan in her days of visiting two years earlier, decided he would come and be servant to us as Ellie and Arthur had returned home.
He arrived from Singapore with all his pots and pans and took command to our everlasting help.
One person I must finally mention at this point was my younger brother Terry. A Territorial Army Officer, Royal Signals, he was posted soon after the outbreak of war to the Command Structure Royal Signals, Singapore Garrison, and was the one member of either of our two families to be with us for our wedding and to spend a happy holiday with us on our return from honeymoon. It was of course destined that we were to be Japanese PoWs together in Singapore and on the Railway in Thailand. At the fall of Singapore he suffered and survived the horrors of the Japanese brutality in the Alexandra Military Hospital, but more of this to follow.