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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

15th February - 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore & Ballarat Commemoration

Australian positions in Singapore 8-15 February 1942. ww2australia.gov.au
On this day in 1942 Australian and other Allied forces surrendered in Singapore, ending the hard-fought campaign to defend Malaya against the Japanese invasion.
Ballarat Commemoration 
The anniversary will be commemorated at the National POW Memorial in Ballarat today, officiated by the Governor-General of Australia, Peter Cosgrove.
The national service commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and the service and sacrifice of all Australian prisoners of war will take place on Wednesday 15 February 2017 at 11.00 am at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, Victoria.
The service will be one of the key services of DVA’s Century of Service commemoration program in 2017. The service will also commemorate the service and sacrifice of all Australian prisoners of war. Members of the public are welcome to attend.
A service to dedicate a new memorial to the families of service men and women who have been killed in action, the Garden of the Grieving Mother, will take place earlier in the morning. The service will commence at 9.30 am at the Arch of Victory in Sturt Street, Ballarat and will be hosted by the Arch of Victory/Avenue of Honour Committee.
The Surrender
Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, the British commander in Singapore, called for a ceasefire and made the difficult decision to surrender. He signed the surrender document that evening at the Ford Factory on Bukit Timah Road, Singapore. After days of desperate fighting, all British Empire troops were to lay down their arms at 8.30 that night. More than 100,000 troops became prisoners of war together with hundreds of European civilians who were interned.
Lieutenant-General Percival and his party carry the Union flag on their way to surrender Singapore to the Japanese. Left to Right: Major Cyril Wild (carrying white flag) interpreter; Brigadier T. K. Newbigging (carrying the Union flag) Chief Administrative Officer, Malaya Command; Lieutenant-Colonel Ichiji Sugita; Brigadier K. S. Torrance, Brigadier General Staff Malaya Command; Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding, Malaya Command. IWM
The Defence of Singapore
By 31 January 1942, all British Empire forces had withdrawn from the Malay peninsula onto Singapore Island. On 8 February, the Japanese landed in the north-west of the island and within six days they were on the outskirts of Singapore city, which was also now under constant air attack.
The Japanese had prepared for the invasion of Singapore with a heavy bombardment. They began their amphibious landings on the north-west of the island, where the Strait of Johore is narrowest. This area was held by the Australian 22nd Infantry Brigade but late on the night of 8 February the Japanese made their way through undefended sections. Twenty-four hours later a second Japanese landing force struck between the Causeway and the mouth of the Kranji River, an area held by the Australian 27th Infantry Brigade. By the morning of 10 February there were Japanese troops on most of north-west Singapore.
The Australian, British and Indian troops tried to hold the Japanese at various defensive lines but after two days many of their dreadfully depleted battalions had to be reorganised into composite units. A counter-attack on 10-11 February failed and on 12 February General H Gordon Bennett, the Australian commander, began moving his near-exhausted 8th Division AIF units into a perimeter just a few kilometres out of the city. By the next day the Japanese were within five kilometres of the Singapore waterfront. The entire city was now within range of Japanese artillery.
During the two and a half months before the Allied surrender, the local Chinese and Indian population suffered shockingly from the Japanese air raids. Despite them also suffering cruel retribution from the Japanese, many of the Chinese residents did their best to assist the Allied POWs during the early part of their imprisonment.
By 14 February the Japanese had captured Singapore's reservoirs and pumping stations. Hard fighting continued until the surrender was ordered.
Evacuations - the Australian Nurses and the Vyner Brooke
Official evacuations from Singapore had begun in late January and continued until almost the last moment.
RAAF squadrons had been evacuated before the Japanese invaded the island and the remaining RAN warships were ordered to leave.
Some merchant ships also got away carrying evacuees from the path of the Japanese. The warships' main operational tasks were escort duties, and the fleet based in Singapore included the destroyer HMAS Vampire and the sloop HMAS Yarra, which arrived late in January, along with several corvettes. The corvettes in the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla swept the sea lanes and conducted anti-submarine patrols. HMA Ships Toowoomba, Wollongong and Ballarat reinforced the original four corvettes, HMA Ships Bendigo, Burnie, Goulburn and Maryborough.
The last 65 Australian Army nurses stationed in Singapore were ordered to board the Vyner Brooke, which sailed on 12 February. Their colleagues, who had sailed in the Empire Star the previous day, reached Australia, but only 24 of the nurses who sailed in the Vyner Brooke survived to return to Australia in 1945 after the war had ended.
Despite his instruction to Australian troops to stay at their posts, General Bennett and two of his staff officers escaped, controversially, from Singapore on the night of the surrender and eventually reached Australia.
Singapore Straits Settlements, 19 September 1945: members of 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion, prisoners of war of the Japanese, in Changi prison. AWM
Remembering the fall of Singapore 75 years on
The following story is from Terry Sweetman, writing in the Sunday Mail (Qld) and was published on 12th February 2017.
"The 8th Division, 2nd Australian Imperial Force, has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.My grandfather was an infantryman in the 2/18th Battalion, his brother was a driver in a motor transport company, my boss in the army was a gunner in the 2/15th Field Regiment and, until quite recently, I had a neighbour who was a gunner in the 2/10th Field Regiment.
Grandfather died at Sandakan, his brother had an ulcerated leg amputated on the Thai-Burma Railway, my neighbour toiled on the same cruel task, and my CO languished in Changi, where he saw men “turn their faces to the wall and die’’.
In and out of my young life wandered scores of 8th Division men, as old mates of grandfather or his brother, or as members of prisoner of war associations.
I guess they chose their lot when they enlisted, doubtless exchanging the army taunt: “If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined.’’
But their fates were sealed when, 75 years ago on Wednesday, Singapore surrendered and they fell into Japanese hands. Plenty of their mates had died before that bitter day as the division fought a rearguard action down the Malayan peninsula and vainly tried to stem the Japanese tide washing on to the shores of Singapore.
It is sometimes forgotten that the Australian forces suffered 1789 dead and 1306 wounded in the campaign, hardly the walkover often portrayed. In the time frame, they were casualty rates that were well comparable with the slaughter of the Great War.
But when surrender brought that killing to an end, 22,376 Australians went into captivity. Most of them (14,972) were in Singapore, but others included 2736 in Java, 1137 in Timor, 1075 in Ambon and 1049 in New Britain. Most were from the 8th, but often neglected were the men of a brigade of the 7th Division, sundry other soldiers, survivors of HMAS Perth, nurses and RAAF men who were left flightless.
By war’s end they were scattered from Singapore to Johore, from Myanmar to Thailand, from Indo-China to Java, from Japan to Korea and Manchuria, from Borneo to Bali.
Of those 22,376 men and women, 8031 did not survive captivity. They died of neglect, disease, massacre, in death marches, and from sadistic brutality. In the Great War our 1st Division lost 15,000 of the 80,000 who served in its ranks.
Compared with the number who served, the 8th suffered even more grievously. But sheer numbers are the stuff of generals and statisticians. The fall of Singapore, the capture of our men and women, and their suffering was one of the most significant events in our, then short, history. It was an event as important to our national story as Gallipoli, the other great defeat.
Yet, this anniversary was almost forgotten by everyone except the precious few remaining survivors and their families. The anniversary was to be shamefully low-key as a consequence of a government decision to impose a 70-year cut off on overseas commemorative services.
Happily, outrage from survivors’ families and, I am proud to say, a kick in the ribs from this column got some action from the bureaucracy. It took until the end of January for our High Commission to announce there will be a combined Commonwealth service at Singapore’s Kranji war ceremony on Wednesday.
A loyal band of survivors and their families will be there and scattered around Australia for what will probably be the last significant anniversary of this great tragedy. In case anyone pretends this was always the plan, as late as last week the Singapore ceremony still didn’t rate a mention on Veterans’ Affairs’ list of commemorations.
The fall of Singapore was a time of awakening that shaped our history, and it continues to shape it today. We struggled to understand then (“Singapore surrender a disgrace”, read one headline just days after the fall), and we struggled to understand later as men brought their nightmares home.
Except for a dwindling band of survivors, nobody can understand the true horrors of slave labour, starvation, degradation and brutality. However, those who returned helped us better understand the real nature of war and to mature as a nation.
It was said that in the prison camps, no man died alone. That, simple fact is worth remembering on Wednesday."
More information
For more information on the fall of Singapore, see the following websites:
DVA - Ballarat Commemoration Details
Dr Chris Coulthard-Clark 2002 Address - Remembering 1942: The Fall of Singapore
Battle of Singapore - wikipedia
History Learning Site UK
Source: Australia's War 1939-45 - www.ww2australia.gov.au

Lest we forget

Jim Claven
Secretary
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee

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