Friday, 17 August 2012

Hugh Pilkington, Volunteer in Malay States Volunteer Rifles ( MSVR) and FMSVF

 Hugh Pilkington ( Left) during his years a rubber planter in Negri Sembilan, Malaya

FMSVR training on a Vickers Machine Gun - Pilk , seated, is the gun loader 

Hugh Pilkington, Rubber Planter and volunteer in the Malay States Volunteer Rifles (MSVR)
Pilkington (Pilk) joined the Malay States Volunteer Rifles in 1927. He was with the force for 10 years since then and the Malay States Volunteer Rifles would have amalgamated with the Malaya Volunteer Infantry to form the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force (FMSVF) when he returned to England in 1937. Although it was not compulsory to join, it would not be comfortable if not. As volunteers, they were not paid but their petrol for travel to training would be reimbursed. Pilk often claimed over $20 per month in the late prewar years – a fair sum given reimbursements of 20 cents per mile.
Pilk attended the often casual meetings of the volunteers and the weekend camps. Above picture showed him training with a WW1 Vickers Machine Gun as a loader. Standard uniform was a pith helmet with flash, wearing roomy shorts nick named Bombay Bloomers or Empire Builders with long socks.
At age 33 and 15 years in Malaya as a rubber planter in Negri Sembilan, Pilk returned to England. He chose Norfolk in East Anglia to settle down – not knowing that he will return to Malaya in 1942 as part of 6 Norfolk Regiment, 18th Infantry Division - reinforcing the commonwealth troops in the Battle of Malaya and Singapore against the Japanese.
Extracted from “ The Missing Years” by Stu Llod

David Marshall in B Company, 1st Battalion Straits Settlement Volunteer Force

 Private David Marshall, B Company, 1st Battalion SSVF 

David, centre of picture with pipe, at Nisi-Asibetsu POW Camp, Japan 1945

David Marshall, a lawyer, soldier, Chief Minister, politician, diplomat in Singapore
At the time of the Munich Crisis 1938, when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, David Marshall decided  to join the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (SSVF) as a private soldier at the age of 30 – due to an intense hatred of all forms of dictatorial government.
He recalled then “This is going to be the next great War. Germany on one side and Japan on the other. Japan is going to come here. This is my country (geographically). And I went to the Volunteers and said I wanted to join”.
David was with Allen and Gledhill – founded by Rowland Allen and John Joseph Gledhill in 1901. The law firm was the largest in Singapore, managed by three European partners. One of the partners, William Munro was also a SSVF Volunteer. David joined the firm in 1940, was the first Asian assistant and was paid $750 per month. Another Asian assistant, Wee Chong Jin, joined later in the same year. He was destined to be Chief Justice of Singapore.
The SSVF was set up along racial lines i.e. The 1st and 2nd SSVF Battalions, Singapore had 6 companies: Company A( British), B ( Europeans), Company C (Scottish), Company D(Eurasians), Company E (Chinese), Company F(Malays). When David joined, he was not European and there was no Jewish company. He declared himself a Jew and “an Asian” and was offended when they registered him as an Asian and shunted him to the Eurasian Company D. He refused and was reassigned to B Company where he met William (Bill) Goode, who was to become the last British governor of Singapore.
Bill recalled that David was not a very smart soldier – he dropped the Lewis gun in a pig-pond in the back of Changi and that they all have to clean it afterwards.
The volunteers were issued and drilled with the Lee Enfield .303 rifles. There were group training with light machine guns such as the Lewis gun, the Bren gun and the Thomson sub-machine gun. Training was conducted on Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons – hence the volunteers were also called “Saturday Night Soldiers” by the regulars.
Weekly trainings were supplemented with a few weekend camps and once a year, a fortnight in-camp training. In mid 1940, the volunteers were called up for a two month in-camp training at Telok Paku, Changi ( 26 km from town)in July- August 1940 and April- May 1942. They were accommodated in huts with shower facilities and each day begans with a dawn parade for physical training, followed by showers, shave dressing, breakfast and inspection. In the evenings, there were lectures and indoor gun-drills. After dinner, the men were free to rest, play bridge or other card games.
On weekends, the married men can sleep out but had to return to camp before midnight by Sunday. Besides, employees such as mercantile assistants were allowed to return to work at 2pm and return to camp for parade by 5.15 pm from Monday to Friday in view of the long absence from work during these in-camp training.
The 1942 training were intensified conducted by regular British Army Instructors to include mock battles with blank ammunition and thunder flashes staged in the rubber estates of Sembawang and Tampines. There were unarmed combat and weekly route marches – a distance of 25 km to be completed within 3 hours. Each platoon had one Lewis light machine gun and was also issued with a Boys Rifle that can fire a 0.55 inch bullet against armour of light tanks. Meantime, new volunteers no longer had their kit measure out and tailored by Chinese contractors – standard kits were issued to all volunteers. Each week there was pay parade and European volunteers were paid $1.04 per day whilst Asians were paid 52 cents—paid along racial lines.
On 1 Dec 1941, a state of emergency was declared in Malaya and Singapore. Governor Sir Shenton Thomas issued a mobilization order to call upon the SSVF for active service. Volunteers reported at the SSVF HQ at Beach Road for active service where they complete all administrative procedures with the issuance of army books, identity discs, rifles, bayonets and ammunition.
They were then transported to the Geylang English School once they have been processed and kitted up, plus the collection of company’s general stores. The school has been requisitioned as the HQ for 1st Battalion, SSVF Singapore which has A, B, C & D Companies. 1st SSVF has been assigned to defend the beaches from Bedok to just pass the Singapore Swimming Club at Tanjong Rhu from Dec 1941 to Feb 1942. The volunteers spent the next two months digging trenches and putting up many barb wire strong-points. The defence from Bedok to Changi was assigned to the Manchester Regiment.
11 Feb 1942, B Company was moved to Peirce Road to reinforce an Australian Battalion. David was made the company runner. The company occupied the tennis courts securing Holland Road from elevated ground for 24 hrs. Next, they secure Ridout Road for four days supporting the frontline.
14 Feb 1942, the Japanese had broken through the frontlines right down to the Kong Guan Biscuits Factory on Alexandra Road and the volunteers were prepared for a counterattack at dawn the next day. However, that evening of the 14th, David was summoned to Company HQ to be told that the British were surrendering.
B Company spent the next 2 nights camped at Peirce Road before being told to march to Changi. The SSVF forces gathered at Goodwood Park Hotel on Scotts Road. Their helmets have been confiscated to be shipped back to Japan for recycling.
Extracted from “Marshall of Singapore – A biography” by Kevin Tan

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Force 136, Malaya

Captain Goeffrey Frank, Force 136 Malaya
Geoffrey Frank was born in 1924, Kuala Lumpur and attended the Victoria Institution. He was 17 years old when he was evacuated from Singapore with his parents and siblings on the Devonshire setting sail on 7th February 1942 to Bombay. By then, he was already a volunteer truck driver.
Whilst in India, he joined the 17th Dogra Regiment and volunteered for Force 136 and trained as a paratrooper. He was made Captain with a pseudonym “wagtail” and was second in command of the patrol, “Tideway Blue”. He landed in Malaya on 14 August 1945 to link up with other Force 136 operatives and the MPAJA in North Johore, a day before the Japanese surrender. Force 136 HQ Malaya was at Bellamy Road, Kuala Lumpur.
On the evening of 5 Jan 1946, Geoffrey met with a freak accident at the Raffles Hotel car park and passed away on 7 January 1946 from his injuries.
Extracted from “Playing for Malaya – A Eurasian Family in the Pacific War” by Rebecca Kenneison

Light Battery Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, Selangor

George Lawrence Hess'e, LBFMSVF, MPAJA, Force 136

Light Battery Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, Selangor

The Light Battery of the FMSVF has 4 guns, 2 in Perak (Left) Section and 2 in Selangor (Right) Section. Commander was Maj. Ronald Wilshaw, A Chemist from the Dept of Agriculture. Senior Officers were all Europeans, some NCOs were Eurasians. Most Eurasians came from C Company, Selangor FMSVF after reorganization and disbandment of Eurasian Company. Sgt Dick Marks brought some men to LBFMSVF, Sgt Ossie Dorall took his men to Armoured Cars, and Sgt Anthony “Gooche” Howe took his to Signals.

The battery was mixed, with 50-60 Europeans and equal number of Eurasians, some Chinese in the Perak Section and one Malay – but work wasn’t. The Europeans aimed and fired the 3.7inch Howitzers; the Eurasians and the Malay worked entirely on transport, wood chopping, latrine digging, loading and unloading of munitions from the lorries.

George Hess, in 1941 and a Eurasian, joined the LBFMSVF after being hassled by his foreman, Stevie McCoy, in the Federated Engineers where he worked as an apprentice. When he joined, he was given a uniform with a wide leather belt that made him look like a “scarecrow”. He later traded it in with a local tailor and had a new one made for $30, paid by his mother.

Being a competent mechanic, he was assigned in the LBFMSVF as a dispatch rider on a Norton. He was mobilized a few days after 1 Dec 1941, when a state of emergency was declared and the Volunteers mobilized. The volunteers spent very little time together owing to the importance of rubber and tin to the war effort and was neither as cohesive nor well trained – little use was made of these well-educated men in the Malaya Campaign who almost all spoke Malay and was intimately familiar with the country.

The LBFMSVF was sent to the north and gave up their howitzers after 3 weeks of mobilization to an Indian Mountain Battery whom has lost their guns in action in Jitra. They were replaced by 4 x18 pounders, one of which was a display piece which Cecil Hay described as an ancient relic. Nonetheless, the European gunners began to improve the sights of the guns and replace the gun carriages with salvaged axles and parts as the volunteers, mostly tin miners, were engineers by training.

The poorly equipped volunteers obtained and salvage lorries, cars, bikes, weapons and equipment from abandoned aerodromes which were evacuated hastily by the RAF. Lance Bombardier Harry Oppenheim (Perak Section LBFMSVF) noted the saying “He runs like an RAF grounder, when anyone bolts”.

The LBFMSVF was stationed in Ipoh, and was in Kampar by Christmas where CSM Ian Patterson joined Spencer Chapman to venture behind enemy lines to gather intelligence. After Christmas, the battery moved to Kuala Lumpur and pitched up at the race course and continued south west to the coast to help regular artillery units repel coast landing by the Japanese.
Cecil Hays records “2 Jan afternoon, Right Section (Selangor) stood to and took up positions on Kuala Selangor Hill. At 6.30pm, together with 73rd RA, fired at Japanese attempted landings.” The 2ndst Selangor FMSVF was deployed inland at the Batu Tigah cross roads to prevent the infiltration from the flanks that will cut of the allied forward units. Despite volunteers’ advise, the Japanese were not opposed when they landed at Sabak Bernam.

By 27 to 28 Jan, the battery was withdrawn further south across to Singapore. They camped at Paya Lebar. Towards the end of the Malayan Campaign, their last position was at Monk’s Hill School, near the government house.

Extracted from “Playing for Malaya – a Eurasian Family in the Pacific War” Rebecca Kenneison

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

2nd Battalion, Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (2SSVF) "E" Company ( Chinese Volunteers)

Dr Yap Pheng Geck and his wife ( Photo undated)

E Company (Chinese), 2nd Battalion Straits Settlements Volunteer Force ( Photo undated and caption error )

Scholar, Banker, Gentleman, Soldier – The Reminiscences of Dr Yap Pheng Geck

- Yap Pheng Geck was recruited in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force by Gan Hock Chuan, a Lieutenant in the Chinese Company. Yap served with the SSVF from 1925 to 1945

- Then, Yap joined not because of patriotism and loyalty to the British Empire, but for the excuse from tedious afternoon normal classes which Asian School Masters have to attend

SSVF Training in the 1920’s

- Training programs consisted of 2 weekly parades from 5pm – 6.30pm and periodical field days and an annual camp lasting a fortnight

- Active training was conducted in English and consisted mainly arm drills for parades on festive occasions

- The most important occasion was the King’s Birthday Parade held yearly at the Padang

- There were small arms training consisted of learning to use and care of the rifles, Lewis guns and revolvers – picking and unpicking them into parts, cleaning and oiling them and reassembling them

- Field days and annual camps involved outdoor activities, excursions and a mock battle, including target practices and long marches.

- Regular serving officers seconded from the British Garrison would order the volunteers to debus, embus, take cover, capture hill objectives and set their Lewis guns at certain locations – all these actions without instructing the men what and why they were doing all those activities

SSVF Training in the 1930’s

- Training for the volunteers became more serious as the Chinese Company Officers were placed in charge of their men training, with assistance from the regular army instructors

- Yap and a few other volunteers were selected for special Officer’s Training

- Officers in the Volunteer Force were reserved for people in the upper echelon of local society i.e. lawyers, doctors, head of businesses or prominent public figures

- Ordinary English- speaking volunteers had to be recruited from the ranks – starting as a recruit, to private stage before becoming a lance-corporal ; all of which Yap went through

- When the Signals Section was organized, Yap was made Sergeant of the section under Lieutenant S.F. Ho

- As the war situation in China with Japan worsen, the local Chinese British Subjects pushed for more realistic and intensive military training, with a larger share in the defence of their country of birth i.e. the Straits Settlements and Malaya

- Better training was granted eventually. Yap was attached to the Officers’ Group of the Gordon Highlanders, one of the regular British Garrison Troops stationed in Singapore, for specific training under Captain Anthony in Company and Battalion Administration

- Yap sat for the Major’s Examination and passed with credits. He was promoted rapidly from 2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant then to Captain and Officer Commanding the “E” Chinese Company of the 2nd Straits Settlement Volunteer Force Battalion ( 2nd SSVF). The second in command was Lieutenant Fam Foong Hee

2nd SSVF OC E Chinese Company

- Yap as an officer, received extra training in giving orders like ;

  1. Appreciation and Sequence of Orders
  2. Interior Economy of troops – running a company and looking after the other ranks
  3. How to organize man oeuvres and to draft a plan for mock battles and arrange the battles – learning tactics and strategy for the fighting units
  4. To observe and learn what was involved in a manoeurve e.g., transportation, feeding, intercommunications
  5. Organized own pioneer sections for demolitions, bridge building, carpentry, fittings, own kitchens, ordering supplies, organising transports and feeding the men from central and mobile kitchens
  6. Actual combat training involving target shootings, bayonet fighting and grenade throwing

2nd SSVF Fighting Role

- Primary role was Beach Defences ; the Machine Gun Companies manned Pill Boxes and fire along fixed lines. The Infantry Companies would give cover support for those posts including covering blind spots away from the firing lines

- Paratroops Hunting ; duty was to locate the intruders from the sky, capture and immobilize them; and

- Strategic Withdrawal ; intention was to prevent enforced retreat to include counter attacks which involved van guard and rear guard actions

War in Malaya 1941

- 1st Dec 1941, E Company of the 2nd SSVF was mobilized. In a day or two, 100% attendance was achieved.

- Wartime stations have been marked during trainings and E Company was at all Battle Stations on 8 Dec 1941

- The company was mostly deployed along the beaches of Blakang Mati ( Sentosa Island)

- One of the defence stations was located at Raffles Square. Yap, together with his Sergeant Major Lee Kiah Wah experienced the first bombing dropped by the Japanese between 3-4am 8 Dec 1941 whilst doing his rounds of inspecting defence posts under his command.

- E Company HQ was the basement of Ocean Building whilst 2nd SSVF Battalion HQ was located at Irwell Bank Road

- A Chinese Volunteer from Platoon 3, E Company – Corporal Raymond Lee, was killed by the night’s bombing whilst stationed outside the Chartered Bank. He was probably the first casualty of the Japanese Invasion and was accorded a Military Funeral

- Armaments for the Volunteers were old Lee Enfield Mark III rifles, bayonets and Lewis guns. There were no ammunition then – until later when each Volunteer was issued with 15 rounds and had to be kept Platoon or Company HQ until the Japanese landed in Singapore

- Central Kitchen was at the playing field of St Andrew’s School between Waterloo Street and Queen Street. The Quartermaster, Yap Thian Chye was efficient in his role, but transportation of food to the various battalion battle stations were severely disrupted by bombings

- The Volunteers chose to acquire their own transportation and purchased hawker food from nearby hawkers instead

- Yap though that the volunteers were very disorganized and everything was nearly last minute improvisations

- Many Chinese speaking stream joined as members of the Labour Corps filling labour gaps and shortages at the Naval Base and other military installations. When the Japanese landed in Singapore, they would join the “DalForce” as individual groups with their own leaders- out of hatred for the Japanese whom have also invaded what was their motherland, China.

- The English educated Chinese mostly enrolled in the Civil Defence – the ARP, Fire Fighting Auxiliaries or Medical Corps, if not with the Volunteers already.

- The Volunteers did not have a chance to fire a shot in anger, even though there were instances of sniping by the unseen enemy. They simply fade away when Singapore surrendered. Yap, however, left his contact details behind at Company HQ when he left his post when Singapore had fallen to the Japanese.

Issues with the Volunteers Corps

- The Volunteers were never intended by the authorities to be an effective force

- The Colonial masters were never certain of the loyalty of the locals, even though most Chinese who joined the volunteers considered themselves as “King’s Chinese” being English educated and speaking.

- Training and preparations for the Volunteer Force were grossly inadequate

- No ammunition were given to the force at their battle stations even after war broke out – until about middle of January 1942

- After the war, European Prisoners of War had received back-pay for internment during the period of war. Local volunteers who were not interned were not paid.

- A one man commission, Worley, a British Judge awarded all mobilized volunteers a statutory pay of 50 cents per day during the period of occupation. European volunteers’ back pay was more than three times that amount.

- The volunteers were also awarded the Pacific Star and were counted amongst Ex-Service Members

Extracted from “Scholar, Banker, Gentleman, Soldier – The Reminiscences of Dr Yap Pheng Geck”, Published 1982

Singapore Royal Engineers ( Volunteers) - SRE (V)

Francis Thomas, SRE (V)

Francis Thomas, School Teacher of St Andrews School, Singapore - Principal from 1959 to 1971

- Arrived in Singapore in 1934, and joined the Singapore Volunteers Corps.

- Attended training in Malacca but shortly resigned from the corps as he was asked to but refused to buy a life insurance policy from the Captain of his company

- In 1939, he joined the Singapore Royal Engineers (Volunteers) – SRE (V) of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, which was converted into a Bomb Disposal Unit.

- The unit had to clear beaches along the Katong and Siglap area to offer good fields of fire for beach defences and to demolish any sea structures like “Bathing Pagars” which ran from the beaches to the sea

- Besides, they have to deal with Japanese Bombs which they have no information of, even when the Japanese have been bombing for the past years particularly in China. British Intelligence failed to collect such information or failed to note that.

- The trainers had ideas of German bombs and found that Japanese Bombs were with simpler designs than the German’s – if they would not go off on impact, it’s a dud and it was easy to dig them out and ferry them back to base camp to dismantle and to diffuse.

- When the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Malaya, a limited Chinese Volunteers were allowed to join the SRE (V) as helpers

- Francis was tasked to teach the Chinese Volunteers the parts of the rifle, to aim, fire and clean them. They were also taught parade ground drills which served to form individuals into a coherent team.

- The Chinese SRE(V) were actively committed to the defence of Singapore and it was a misjudgment of the British forces to have left them untrained and unwanted until too late

- Francis last duty before the fall of Singapore was to demobilize the Chinese Volunteers, tell them to change into civilian clothes and drove them back home.

- On the night of the surrender, the SRE (V) were told to go to Battery Road and the Raffles Place area. The next day, they were asked to return to the Volunteers HQ in Beach Road. From the HQ, they were to march to Changi Barracks.

- The SRE(V) Sergeant ( An Australian who was a car engineer in civilian life) acquired a lorry to drive the unit in dignity to their imprisonment

- As they were not harassed during their journey, they made two more trips back to town to get supplies

- A few days after settling down as a prisoner of war in Changi, a middle aged Volunteer shared this with Francis;

- “This life made us lower than animals. When we were free, we would think about women in the evening; now, we never think of women!”

Extracted from “Memoirs of a Migrant”, by Francis Thomas - published in 1972

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Pill Boxes & Bunkers in Singapore, Penang & Malaya ( Malaysia) Series No.3

Army FW3 Branch Design , 1940 Pill Boxes Type 22. Located at the perimeter of Alor Setar Airbase for close defence ; camouflaged as part of a garden setting (?)

Army Type 22 1940 Pill Box located at the front of the RAF(ex) Officer's Mess at the Alor Setar Airbase ( an extremely close quarter defence!). The Mess was used by General Yamashita and his staff as a forward HQ during the battle for Northern Malaya.

Army Type 22 1940 Pill Box located at Jitra Padi fields, as part of the Jitra Defence Line

Close up of the MG/Rifle Loop hole of the Pill Box

Army Type 22 1940 Pill Box located at the road leading to the Alor Setar Airbase