Sketch by Jack Chalker

Evacuation from Java

Letters to Tom

6th March 1942

Evacuation from Java


Capt. B. Savory

5th Bn. The Royal West

Norfolk Regt.

At Sea

6th March 1942

Dear Tom

Panic over. I am sorry for the somewhat alarming statement on the last page, but really thought I was done for that time, so gave this letter to the one man in the battalion who has allotted a seat in a lifeboat. I was standing on the deck the morning before yesterday talking to one or two others when we noticed 2 streaks in the water going from the ship and coming together and ending in a V shape about 50 to 60 yards away to one side. We asked each other what it was, when someone said it was torpedoes. I thought he was talking nonsense, but soon changed my mind when a periscope popped up followed by other posts and chains, all well within a hundred yards of where I was standing. We all rushed round and collected water bottles et. and brought all the tables and chairs out on deck so as to have something to float on.

The periscope etc. was only out of the water for a very short time - half a minute to a minute I should say, but we expected him to pop op again any moment and fire on us with his guns. The two torpedoes passed right under the ship but cleared the bottom, so didn’t explode and I believe another one was fired across our front. We had a pretty nasty time for a bit as we had no lifejackets and our only prospects of being picked up was by the submarine itself, but by some extraordinary change the submarine made off and was last seen coming to the surface some miles away. Perhaps hr thought we were armed and was frightened of us as we were of him, but if he was he must have had the wind up good and proper. Since then, if anyone points or raises his voice we all jump with fright.

If ever I get back to England I think I will be like Uncle Fred and not tempt providence by moving too far from home again, as luck such as I have had on the last two months can’t be expected to go on for ever - I forgot to tell you that the ship I missed in Singapore was sunk.

All being well and all sorts of things permitting (I am getting very superstitious and am touching wood most of the time), we should reach Colombo in 2 to 3 days. What we shall do then I don’t know, but I shall try and get in touch with Herbert Sherwood if he is still there. We are a very mixed and disorganised body and will take some sorting out. We have picked up stragglers from our battalion since we started but have lost Pitch who went ashore at the last port and came back too late; he was last seen on a neighbouring ship with everyone shouting contrary directions at him, just after we cast off from it. Apparently he can’t swim, but for that he could have made it. I expect he will end up in Norwich years before any of the rest of us.

I haven’t had any letters since I left Cheshire in October and don’t expect I shall now get any of the letters which have been written. We di get one batch of telegrams and airmail letters, but there weren’t any for me. Would you ask Chris to try and get the “Times” weekly editions for the first 3 weeks in February and the last week in January and send them to me when I have a proper address. I should like to see what is said at home about the war in Malaya and Singapore. We have discussions on the ship about lessons to be learned from the campaign from all sorts of different angles and the results are very interesting. One suggestion is that, the British soldier must be taught to fight on an exclusive diet of rice and that he is to be clothed like the Sheik of Araby - quit sound incidentally we found full equipment quite impossible. If these recommendations ever reach the War Office, I am sorry for the battalion which is used for these dietetic experiments.

Some censorship regulations have been issued since I started this letter so I will have to go through it with and india rubber or a pair of scissors and cut out a name here and there. I hope you will pass this letter round the family as I can’t write all this out four times and I expect they would like to hear my news.





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