Extracts of Singapore Burning
From Chapter Seventeen:-
For two days running the British battalion, the composite unit made up of the
remnants of the East Surreys and Leicesters, was subjected to attacks at dawn.
Japanese infantry would loom suddenly out of the mist while from behind these
shadowy figures their big four-inch mortars sought out Morrisons positions
among Kampars secondary jungle. Mortar bombs do not whistle in flight like
artillery shells. Sometimes the distinctive plop they made as they were fired
sent men diving for cover. Otherwise, if their luck held, the nerve shattering
crack of the first bomb exploding and perhaps the cries of the less fortunate,
was the first indication that they were being mortared.
But thanks to the forward observation officers of 88th Field, one of whom found
himself dictating co-ordinates down his telephone within fifty yards of the enemy,
the British were able to return the high explosive with interest. None of the
Japanese mortars were firing a projectile anything like as big as the 25-pound
shells that were rarely less than worrying and sometimes scored bullyseye that
would have broken lesser troops. Tsuji watched a continuous stream of
casualties coming back down the hill to safety. Either carried on stretchers
or supported on the shoulders of comrades who were themselves wounded.
In places the ebb and flow of battle, attack and counter-attack left the British
and the Japanese inextricably mixed. One of Morrisons lieutenant waking
alone in a trench shortly before the main action of the day started, heard movement
in some neighbouring diggings which were supposed to be empty and found himself
face to face with several baleful looking representatives of the Emperor. He
emptied his revolver at them and fled into the arms of his alarmed platoon who
killed some and scattered the rest. A driver from one of the gunner regiments,
out delivering rations, saw that a nearby Bren gun position which was below him
but overlooking the observation post he was was visiting, had just been overrun.
Instead of tiptoeing away with the bad news, Driver Walker emerged from his cab
with a Thompson, got close to the Japanese unobserved and then delivered a one
man surprise attack which drove away those who could still move. According to
his units history of the campaign, he was immediately awarded a
Eventually, the Japanese had succeeded in seizing part of some
high ground known as Thompsons ridge. Morrison felt the British
Battalion needed a rest before it mounted any more counter-attacks.
A company made up of two platoons of Sikhs and one of Gujars, who
are mainly Hindus, was given the job, part of another makeshift battalion
built from the detritus of Gurun and Jitra. Its commander was a twenty-one-year-old
named Charles Lamb who held the lowest commissioned rank of second
lieutenant, another indication of casualties for a company was commanded
by at least a captain and very often a major. Because of this that
Captain John Graham, the battalions second-in-command, decided
to lead the attack himself. Towards dusk a double dram of rum was
issued and, as they sipped, Graham reminded them that, though few
would witness what they were about to do, their own honour and that
of the regiment were at stake.
Shortly afterwards, having approached their objective using every scrap of
available cover, Grahams sixty or so men got to their feet and, screaming
their old war cries, followed his charge towards the Japanese with seventeen-inch
bayonets fixed. Young Lamb and several others went down in the first rush but
Graham rallied the rest and pushed on until a small mortar bomb mangled his
legs below the knee. Even then he levered himself up off the ground, yelling
his men on and, at least one account insists, was seen throwing grenades after
he was hit. The only Japanese left on the position were those incapable of
leaving it but they had exacted a high price.
Thirty-four of the Indians died, including a Viceroy Commissioned Officer.
Lamb was killed outright. Graham, who would probably have been a double amputee
had he survived, bled to death though he lived long enough to learn they had
won the day. Judging from the pep talk he gave his men it seems obvious that
he expected heavy casualties. Nobody was decorated for this epic charge though
after the war there was talk in old Indian Army circles of getting Graham a
posthumous Victoria Cross. But by that time most of the living witnesses were
middle-aged farmers lost among the mud brick villages of the Punjab, their
youthful valour as dusty as their land.