Usually, the hot tropical humid nights were filled with the sounds of insects and croaking frogs, but not tonight, since dusk the only sound was the beating of drums coming from the kampongs. It was a sound I remembered hearing when watching a film when the hero rescues everyone in the jungle from a native uprising. But this was north western Malaya December 1941, were a few days previously, together with two friends, we had hired from the natives a dugout canoe for a trip along the river to view the wildlife, especially the giant lizards that abound there. Tonight, the drums were sending a message that would affect us all, a bigger uprising was about to begin. There was a gathering of ships of Kata Bahru, north east Malaya, the Japanese invasion of Malaya was about to begin, so about 3.00am we prepared for a war that was to be the test of my life, something I was not prepared for.
When war had been declared with Germany in 1939, my friend and I were just beginning to enjoy our life as responsible adults earning higher wages and more freedom. I had celebrated my 19th birthday three days before the declaration. It was December 8th 1940 and I was now 20 years of age, when this 2nd declaration was announced.
My father and some of the older men at work had spoken of incidents in the great war, which had ended a little over 20 years previously. I heard of life in the trenches, also of enjoyable occasions spent in restaurants, the bars and cafes, about the French towns and villages, the war that was said to end all wars.
My father had said little but did mention that he was one of the troops in Allenbys triumphant march through Jerusalem at the defeat of the Turks and of one incident that had deeply affected him and had been unable to forget.
It was having to shoot his team of horses, each one a friend he had become very fond of, faithful and obedient, and he had now destroyed them.
Before volunteering for the army he worked as a butcher. His return to work on leaving the army wasn’t to last. His first journey to the slaughter house had to be his last, he couldn’t kill any more and had to seek other employment.
It was when I began reading of battles and skirmishes taking place in France that I recalled the conversations I’d had with the men and was working with who had fought in those places in the previous war with Germany that I decided that was where I wanted to go, to see all those places they had mentioned. I reasoned Dad had joined up so saw no reason why I shouldn’t enrol.
I spoke to my friend of my intention but when he mentioned enrolling to his parents they were adamant that he wasn’t to join and painted out that he was six months younger than I. My sister, seven years my junior, on returning from an errand to the Post Office, handed me a booklet she had picked up off the counter, saying, ‘You like aeroplanes’. It was a recruiting advertisement with a form to join the RAF. I filled this in and received a reply informing me that recruiting for the RAF was now suspended for the duration of the war, I could however join the RAF Volunteer Reserves, this I did and began the process of becoming an airman.