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