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Malaya 1942 – 1956

One of the stories my uncle Laurence Turner wrote when he was the Melbourne Herald correspondent ‘with the Australian troops in Malaya’ 1955-56 was headlined ‘Ghost camp in Malaya’. It was published on 1 or 2 February 1956.

laurence 2RAR

Laurence Turner (right) with 2RAR on patrol 1955

The story is listed in the Herald by-line file cards now at the State Library of Victoria, but not in the microfilmed copy of the paper. Luckily a battered copy of the story was found in my uncle’s papers. Perhaps the microfilmed copy was only published in an early (or late) edition of the Herald.

In January 1956, Turner ventured south to Singapore and some of the places in Malaya where Australians fought in 1942. He’d written about schools in Singapore, the Kranji war cemetery, Raffles hotel and other matters – none of which seem to have been used by the Herald, but may have been picked up by the Sun News-Pictorial Melbourne, the West Australian, Brisbane Courier-Mail, Adelaide News or the Sydney Morning Herald.

In his five months with 2RAR in Malaya, he scooped AAP-Reuters with stories on the first ambush of Australian troops, the death of Sergeant Cecil Anderson, the January 1956 peace talks at Baling, the bungling of housing for  the families of  Australian troops and the shoddy conditions of Australian troops, including the docking of the Malaya allowance of soldiers while ill or wounded in hospital. His stories were influential in improving conditions for the men and their families for the duration.

A keen student of Australian military history, Turner visited the Second World War sites in Malaya – Parit Sulong where 107 Australian wounded were massacred by the Japanese on 22 January 1942, and the site of the successful ambush at the Gemenceh River near Gemas on 12 January 1942.

LT mathews crop

In  January 1956 Turner met Michael Mathews a high school teacher at Batu Pahat, now (and then) a small coastal town between Johore Bahru and Malacca.

In late 1941 it was the main Australian base in Malaya.

The men Mr Mathews met were mostly from the 2/30th Battalion and the 2/10th Field Ambulance, part of the tragic 8th Division. They had arrived in Singapore in August 1941, stayed at Birdwood Camp at Changi, and then moved some 90 kilometres to Batu Pahat in late September.

The 2/10th supported the 2/30th in January 1942 in the first Australian action against the Japanese – at the famous ambush on 12 January at Gemas on the Gemenceh River.

The 2/10th Field Ambulance was formed in 1940 and comprised 292 all ranks. Only 131 men returned after the war –  they were killed in action or died as prisoners of war at Sandakan or on the Thai Burma Railway.  [And 22 were detached as part of Lark Force on Rabaul, where 15 were either murdered at the Tol Plantation massacre on 4 February 1942 or lost on the Montevideo Maru 22 June 1942.]

The 2/30th suffered 20 killed or missing believed dead and 58 wounded in Malaya in January. The Japanese casualties were thought to be about 1,000. After the surrender in Singapore, 1150 of the 2/30th were made prisoners of war. Many were sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway, others to Borneo, or Japan. Over 300 men from the 2/30th died during captivity.

‘Mr Mathews still talks of “My friends, the Diggers.”  Then he says sadly:  “I wonder what happened to them all?”

Turner recorded nine names but couldn’t answer Mathew’s question. I have details of what happened to eight of the nine.

One name I have so far been unable to track down is NX 4377 Pte D.O.R Blair, C Coy 2/30th Bn.

mathews xmas card lo res

Christmas card 1956 from Michael Mathews to Laurence Turner and Bruce Reddaway, Herald photographer.

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Sgt Cecil Anderson – Indigenous Soldier in Three Wars

While researching my book Men of Kapyong (in progress) I came across Sergeant Cecil Charles Anderson who served with 3RAR, but was wounded at Chongju and missed Kapyong. He was, like Reg Saunders, an indigenous soldier.

Sergeant Anderson was a Second World War veteran, having served with the 2/2nd Independent Company in New Guinea. He was killed on patrol with 2 RAR during the Malayan Emergency in 1956 – and was awarded a posthumous MID for his bravery and leadership.

Here I discovered a poignant connection. My uncle Laurence Turner was a journalist with the Melbourne Herald, and was ‘embedded’ with 2RAR in 1955-56. He was there when Sergeant Anderson was killed– and attended his funeral at Taiping.

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The UN Commemorative Service was held at the UN Memorial Cemetery at Busan on 26 April.

The veterans were greeted with enthusiasm and affection everywhere,but there was an especially boisterous reception on arrival at the Busan railway station. (Yes – they have very fast trains in South Korea.)

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On my recent visit to Korea, I was privileged to attend ceremonies at the Commonwealth, Canadian and Australia/New Zealand memorials in Kapyong on 24 April – Kapyong Day.

Veterans from Australia, Canada, New Zealand were in attendance at the appropriate ceremonies, together with Australian Ambassador to Korea Bill Paterson, New Zealand Ambassador Patrick Rata, Canadian Minister for Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney, Korean Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Sung Choon, the US 8th Army Band and many others.

The ceremonies began at the Commonwealth Memorial in Kapyong town – a somewhat plain white obelisk highlighted in April by flags and magnolia’s in full bloom.  The Commonwealth Memorial is located close to where 3RAR Headquarters was in April 1951.

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