Friday, 12 November 2010

1: Evacuation, Singapore to Java

The situation was pretty grim as most of the island was in Japanese hands. I was working in the Operations room of 224 Group Fighter Control.

It was the morning of the 12th and another unpleasant few minutes at work was ahead. The controller got the news that three aircraft had just passed the eastern side of Singapore and were now coming along the south beach towards us.

'Find your tin hats and when I give the order, get under the table'. Then it came. They roared overhead at low level, I thought someone had given our activity away, then quick as they arrived they were gone. 'Back to normal', said the controller.

There was no talk of being taken prisoner, we just carried on. We knew fighting was going on at Singapore as Army ambulances were going along East Coast Road filled with wounded soldiers.

Had breakfast and walked to work with just water bottle, mug, knife, fork and spoon in a side haversack, for eating lunch. Around 11am we were told to destroy all our equipment and then go outside for transport to the docks. What about our kit? Told, not much of Singapore in our troops possession, go and see if you can get on a ship.

We were then transported to the docks where some warehouses had been set alight and others bomb damaged, as shelling was going on nearby. The quayside was covered in black oil and littered with hoses where ships had bunkered and left in a hurry. There were many airmen waiting on the quay and a few more truck loads followed after us - approximately three hundred men gathered, but not a ship in sight.

It was late afternoon when a small river boat, HMS Li Wo, manned by Royal Navy personnel tied up at the quay in search of coal. I approached a young naval officer who had come ashore and asked if he would be taking us on board. He said he was on his way to a nearby R.N. office to get further orders. He requested for us to assist with the coaling up of his boat and said we would be going along with them if nothing else was coming. Later, he returned to inform us that two ships would be collecting everyone that night. When they left on the 13th February, we felt isolated. Time seemed to drag very slowly.

After a while I decided to have a saunter and walked over to a bomb damaged warehouse that was no alight. Inside was stacked with cases of Plymouth Gin. I opened a bottle and took a swig, my first taste ever of gin, which I thought tasted pretty disgusting, needless to say, I've changed my opinion since then. I picked up half a dozen bottles to take over to the chaps thinking someone must have a taste for it. The first couple I offered it to turned it down when an officer who had obviously been watching approached and asked if he could have some. I told him he was welcome and gave him the lot remarking, there was a warehouse full over the way if he needed more. I decided to take another stroll and entered another warehouse. The one was stacked with cases of condensed milk, something of which I was fond of. I managed to open a tin with my jack knife and drank the lot, that tasted far better than gin and more to my liking. I was feeling very hungry, as I hadn't eaten since breakfast.

Towards evening a flight of Japanese bombers flew over but didn't drop anything. We assumed it was because there were no ships in harbour to be bombed and secondly, they had no wish to damaged the quay as they themselves would shortly have use of it. Darkness eventually came but the shelling continued and the fighting was getting closer.

Time hung heavily until at 2.00 a.m. two ships glided in out of the darkness, lit only by the flames of the still burning warehouses. The total silence of their arrival was amazing, they were well within our sight before any sound could be heard, needless to say, a very welcome sight. A Chief Petty Officer appeared at the side of the ship saying loud enough for us to hear 'lively lads', we needed no encouragement, the ship represented freedom.

We embarked in complete silence, each man boarding the ship nearest him, the one I boarded was an armed merchantman named HMS Kedah, the other a cruiser HMS Durban. We stood on deck silently watching the shell fire and flames recede as we slid out of the harbour leaving Singapore behind us.


  1. Frank,
    I read this earlier, but hadn't posted a comment yet.
    The tension as you waited to find out what would happen must have been terrible.

  2. Mr. Planton, my grandfather, a member of the RAF, was on the Kedah with you as it made its way out of Singapore. It is so very interesting, and quite frankly, bittersweet to read your account.
    Thank you.

  3. My dad served on the Kedah during the war but not sure at what the as he and my mum are now passed away.