From Singapore To The Burma Railway.

Some time ago I discovered that my 6th cousin, Phyllis Eileen Brown, who was born in Kettering in 1911, married a Walter Edward Goode in late 1935. Walter was as a clicker cutting the uppers for making boots, he was born in 1911 too. By 1940 Walter was a Gunner in No. 3 Heavy Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment. This was sent to help defend Singapore in November 1941. He was still there when the Japanese started their Malaya campaign on 8th December, the same date as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I can not, in this brief post, give a complete account of the battle for Singapore and its aftermath, I can though relate some of his story, much of which was shared by everyone who was there at the time.

Although the Allied forces are often criticised for being so woefully unprepared for the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Thailand and the subsequent ineffective defence of Singapore this is not entirely accurate. They had been aware since 1935 that such an attack was possible, and growing more likely as sanctions from the USA and others were increasingly affecting Japan’s access to raw materials and fuel. It was still felt at the time that Singapore could be adequately defended. By 1940 it was becoming more clear that the likelihood of an attack had increased markedly, and that should the peninsular fall under Japanese control the prospects of retaining Singapore would become very bleak. The assumption was still that there would be sufficient time to reinforce the island and move north to meet any threat.

In 1941 Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival had been made General Officer Commanding the area and he was convinced that the threat was both real and imminent. He was also a lot less sure that time would be available for building up sufficient forces to be a deterrent. In 1941 plans were drawn up for ‘Operation Matador’. This would see the British forces occupying both Malaya and part of Thailand to deny these countries to the Japanese and secure the southern part of the peninsular. However, this could not be done for political reasons, after all they were still both sovereign countries. The only remaining option was to strengthen the garrison on Singapore Island sufficiently to be able to send forces north to meet any threat as and when it arose. That began in November 1941 and included the 3rd Heavy Anti-aircraft Artillery regiment in which our Walter Edward Goode was serving.

Less than half a hour after midnight on the morning of the 8th of December the invasion began. The Japanese army landed troops in Thailand at Patani and Singora. Thailand surrendered to the Japanese in the early hours of the morning, later signing a treaty with them and declaring war on the allies. At around one in the morning a force of RAF Hudson bombers based at Kota Bahru in the north of Malaya attacked a Japanese convoy just off the coast. They sank one transport ship and damaged two others. The Japanese however still effected a landing near Kota Bahru. At daybreak the same morning there were air raids on the RAF, RAAF and RNZAF bases across northern Malaya all of which had to be abandoned. The town of Singapore and the airfields at both Seletar and Tengah were also raided.

By the 17th of December the Allied forces holding Penang island were forced to withdraw. The Japanese were then able to land their army on both east and west coasts of Malaya unopposed. Their advance south proceeded with increasing speed. Allied units were sent north to halt, or at least slow this progress. Many of these were accompanied by anti-aircraft artillery from 3HAA regiment. Some never even reached their intended destinations before being met by retreating units already going south. Other had some limited successes, but soon had to withdraw before being overwhelmed by the invaders. I can not determine from the available records if W E Goode was a part of one of these expeditions or if he remained on the island. Either way he would have experienced multiple air raids every day and would be under direct attack all too soon.

Kuala Lumpur fell to the Japanese on the 11th of January, and on the 18th Maur also fell. This had been fiercely defended, at much cost, by the 8th Australian Division and the 45th Indian Brigade. From then on the traffic was all one way, south to Singapore. There were holding defences, and some ambushes slowed the advance, but there seemed to be no way to stop the Japanese. By the 20th of January the final defensive line from Batu Panat through Kluang to Mersing, about 70kms from Johor Bahru, was under constant attack along the whole length of the line. General Percival ordered a withdrawal across the causeway from Johor Bahru to Singapore. This was completed on the 31st of January and a 20 metre section of the causeway was blown up by British engineers. The battle for Malaya had been lost.

Now Singapore came under siege. The Japanese held the high ground overlooking the island and could fly reconnaissance missions more or less at will, with the detailed knowledge of friendly locals this soon gave General Yamashita a complete picture of the island’s defences. On the 3rd of February the bombardments began both by artillery and from the air. The whole island was subject to repeated and prolonged barrages and frequent air raids. These would be very busy and dangerous times for our AA Gunner! Little respite and even less rest or sleep.

Since General Percival expected the main Japanese crossing to be made onto the north east coast that is where he concentrated his best and freshest forces with most of the heavy guns. Two brigades of the Australian 8th division amounting to about 3,000 men, recently so badly beaten at Maur were tasked with holding the north west sector where the invasion was not expected. They would be spread fairly thinly along the coast in broken swampy ground with the river Kranji to their rear and had neither reserves nor artillery. On the evening of the 8th of February the invasion started. 13,000 Japanese troops began crossing the Jahor strait to engage the Australian 8th Division while the Japanese heavy artillery threw down an intense and prolonged barrage all along this Australia held sector. Percival did not consider the shelling to be a prelude to the invasion proper so chose to conserve what little ammunition he had rather than return fire. Outnumbered by more than four to one the Australians were not able to repulse the attacks and by midnight the Japanese were well established on the coast and pushing inland. With the 8th Division spread so thinly small pockets had been easily isolated and then overrun.

Still convinced that the attacks on the north-west quarter were not the main invasion, Percival was late in transferring reinforcements and supporting artillery there. The whole pattern of the Malaya campaign was being repeated with the same inevitable outcome. By the 11th of February the Japanese had moved sufficiently far to the east to pose a real threat to the reservoirs which were the only source of drinking water for the whole island. They also held Tengah airbase and had captured the main food and fuel stores of the garrison at Bukit Tinmah. During the night of 12/13th allied units on the northern shore around the causeway were ordered to withdraw south to protect the reservoirs, those from the north-eastern sector also pulling back to protect Singapore City. The Japanese quickly repaired the causeway and were then able to move tanks and armour onto the island. They also made landings in the north-eastern sector and near Changi, which was soon captured. Percival was urged to surrender by his senior officers, but was still under orders to defend Singapore ‘at all costs’. He did approach General Archibald Wavell, his commanding Officer, for clarification as to when he might cease fighting.

The next day the situation continued to decline. The Japanese held almost the entire western side of the island. At around midday the Japanese attacked the Alexander Barracks Hospital. The sick and wounded, the staff (both male and female) and the able-bodied servicemen were all brutally massacred. The water supply to the island began to fail, there was little food, hardly a drop of fuel for vehicles and ammunition of all types was almost entirely exhausted. On the morning of the 15th of February a delegation was sent to the Japanese to discuss terms for a cessation of hostilities. They were instructed that Percival himself should attend the Ford Motors Factory in Burkit Timah where Yamashita would issue his terms for accepting the surrender. Having issued orders in the morning that all secret documents, codes and ciphers, all technical equipment and heavy guns should be destroyed Percival formally signed the unconditional surrender at 17:15, and hostilities would cease at 20:30.

So for our Walter Edward Goode, along with all the 80,000 or so allied troops captured in Singapore on the 15th February 1942, the fighting came to and end. They were confined to Changi POW camp. But it was neither the end of their war nor their suffering.

On the 4th of April 1942 Goode, with just over 1,000 other allied POWs were sent by boat from Changi camp to Saigon in Vietnam. There some 100 prisoners were assigned to build an airstrip and the rest used as slave labour on the docks at Saigon. Conditions were extremely harsh. That did not stop individual servicemen committing acts of sabotage, though all were well aware of the very serious consequences of being caught, or even just suspected. Drums of fuel and oil would have their bungs loosed so the content would leak out when they were moved. Minor parts from artillery pieces were removed and thrown into the docks. Motor vehicles, even tanks and aircraft, had electrical and ignition wiring cut or removed and fuel and oil pipes severed. Anything to cause difficulties for the Japanese later in their war.

Then in June 1943 700 of the fittest prisoners still working at the docks were sent to Kinsaiyok in Thailand to work on the infamous Burma Railway, Goode was one of those unfortunate souls. Conditions there were even worse than at Saigon, especially the food and medical provisions. The work was even more arduous with long hours of heavy labour. He was still there on the 17th of October when the final piece of track was laid to connect the north and south sections and complete the railway. Walter died the next day. Malnutrition, dysentery and malaria had finally caught up with him. He was buried in the graveyard at Tasao No. 2 camp, and his remains were transferred to Kanchanaburi War Cemetery after the end of the war.

He did all that was asked of him under appalling conditions twice, but he still never got to come home. He deserved better.


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