I have received a number of letters asking for information concerning my journey to Malaya five years ago when I was trying to trace or locate several men who were killed during the period 7th to 15th January 1942.
We did have some success but lack of finances would not allow us to continue, but hope to do so in the near future
Thank you very much for your letter regarding my project in having the remains of service men killed during the war, re-interred in a military cemetery in Malaya As usual the newspapers have misquoted facts and figures, To bring you up to date.
I received a letter from the sister of Cpl Ian Mitchell of the 137 Field Regiment, asking if I could make enquiries concerning where and how he had been killed. I was already researching the Slim river battle which ocurred on 7th January 1942 and noticed that many from the 137 had been killed or gone missing. My total came to 32 for the 7th Jan. 4 for the 3rd, Jan. 1 for the 4th Jan and 10 for the 10th Jan.and five for the 15th/16th Jan.
I then received a copy of a letter written by Colonel Owtram of the 137 FR RA in 1946 to one of the next of kin, in which he states that he buried nine men on the 10th, I was also able to confirm that a train carrying service men away from the Slim river battle, had been bombed and strafed outside a small station above Gemas, in which more than 26 men were killed. I found that the bombing took place outside Tebong station.
With assistance from the Malaysian intelligence services we interviewed several locals who confirmed that the train had been bombed at this point and that one of the ladies, who is now in her eightieth year was actually involved and witnessed the burial of several.
I then did a cross reference to establish just how many men had died or been killed on that particular day. The figure was 28, of these I located 2 FMSVF men who had died of wounds on that day. and 7 men from the 137 who had been killed or had died in Selangor presumably after being involved in the Slim river battle.They were1097360 Gnr A G Damon. 903448 Gnr H Glynn. 896402 Bdr P Horsman. 787517 BSM E Howarth. 908189 Sgt L N Marshall963913 Gnr E L Sleney. 895377 Gnr R Taylor. Also at Selangor was 13021189 Pte H J Branson of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. This left sixteen unaccounted for. At Tebong I located ten graves, two of which are multiple, and two seperate graves some distance away from the original group. these cover the 16 men unaccounted for, which include Gnr R Hartley, Gnr W Pendleton and Bdr Ian Mitchell.
Although I have allowed myself to work on figures provided by the ministry, it is quite possible that I will find others who were presumed lost in January, after all I doubt if there was a roll call held after noon on the 7th when the Japanese took Slim.
I have all the names and dates of all those who were killed or died during the seventy days and afterwards as prisoners. Most of them can be categorised, but for many the chances of locating are not very hopeful after all this time.
The one thing which upsets me in this is that no attempt was made for recovery until two or three years after the war and that most of the recovery was done by Japanese prisoners under duress, and you know as well as I, how a prisoner will work under duress. Most of the means of identification were stolen or disposed of out of sheer spite.a few identity discs and items were recovered from locals.
All those from the 137 who died and were identified, were reinterred in Taipng cemetery. Also there, are the graves of 534 unknown British soldiers.
We can only surmise what happened It is hard for anyone to understand the circumstances without actually having knowledge of the terrain. To be as concise as possible. The 137 which was known as the Blackpool regiment had been in position above Slim river bridge giving support to the infantry behind them engineers were preparing to demolish the bridge over the river Slim. Unfortunately before 137 could withdraw all their guns some gave the order to destroy the bridge. Hence the debacle above when several gunners managed to board a train heading for Singapore. Some remained with the battery and made it down to Muar, unfortunately once more demolition had been premature, so all the 137 guns were lost. The balance of the men were then offered no option but to retire or those which rifles to serve as infantry. Whichever, they massed for the defence of Gemas. It was here that a battle ensued for around three days and many men were lost.
After the fall of Singapore the local people of Gemas and Tobong, set about recovering the remains of those who had been killed, the majority were buried, Unfortunately any identity tags, badges etc were all collected and placed in a box to be handed over to a British representative.(This did not happen until the end of the war.)
The British and Australian recovery teams took possession of the graves, unfortunately it was not possible to identify many and the remaining 540 were taken to the military cemetery at Taiping.
OPERATIONS IN NORTH-WEST JOHORE
By midday January the dispositions of Westforce were complete. I would stress here that, on account of the vastness of the country in which we were operating and the comparative weakness of our forces, no form of purely static defence offered any prospect of success because the enemy would always be able to walk round our flanks. My view was that it was essentially a war of mobility and that our best chance of slowing up the enemy's advance was to block him astride the main arteries of communication and hit him with such strength as we could muster when he tried to move round the flanks. The dispositions of Westforce were based broadly on this conception. Thus on the main trunk road the 8th Brigade of the 9th Indian Division was disposed in depth in battalion areas astride the road and railway as a holding force. On its right was a battalion of the 27th Australian Brigade located in a rubber plantation with a mobile offensive role, while another battalion of the same brigade was in reserve in the Buloh Kasap area where the road and railway cross the Muar River. It might be argued that our main position should have been behind this river obstacle, but there was thick vegetation with little visibility along its banks and it would have required a larger force than we had got to defend it properly. To the left of the 8th Brigade and some little distance from it was the 22nd i3rigacle of the 9th Indian Division. It had a dual role, firstly of covering the approaches to Segamat from Malacca, and secondly of stopping any Japanese forces which might fan out round the flanks of the 8th Brigade.
A report was sent to Mr Mitchell on my return from Malaya, with my findings.