Colin's tweets

follow me
Colin Smith
About ColinContact ColinHome Books

Extracts of Singapore Burning

From Chapter Twenty-three:-

For the Australians all the rumours they had ever heard about Japanese bravery, or “fanaticism” if you were at the wrong end of it, were coming true. But it seems that several of the Japanese, though prepared to die rather than be captured, were playing dead in the hope that the Australians would move on and leave them to fight another day.

Sergeant Desmond Mulcahy’s particular Lazarus was a fallen sergeant of the Konoye Guards. He was about to search him for the letters and unit identification beloved by battalion intelligence officers, when the dead man sprang indignantly to his feet with a grenade in his right fist. Mulcahy grabbed his left hand to stop him pulling the pin. This was good thinking but it allowed his opponent to bludgeon him about the head with his grenade while he did his best to fend him off with left jabs. Mulcahy shouted for help and while he was holding his arms the Guards NCO, so far from the pomp and circumstance which had moulded his military career, was first bayoneted and then shot.

More puzzling was the case of the unarmed man who got to his feet and charged Private ‘Bluey’ Watkins, a Welshman born in Swansea. Watkins had sportingly thrown down his rifle and took on his assailant only to have the bout ended by a .303 fired at such close quarters it left him deaf for a while. There appears to be no good reason why this particular Japanese could not have been restrained and captured. But it seems that it rapidly became the norm, as it did almost everywhere the Imperial Japanese Army ever met western troops, to regard almost any attempt to take them alive as much too risky. “From that first engagement we learnt not to trust their wounded,” remembered Charles Warden, a private in B Company during the fight outside Bakri and, five months short of his seventeenth birthday, one of the 2/19th’s underage infantrymen.

Both sides could be unpredictable. At Slim river the Argylls’ Lt Primrose had shot a Japanese officer in the stomach at close range and survived a beating to be taken prisoner. Yet the Japanese had casually murdered those wounded prisoners unable to walk rather than be inconvenienced by them.

By the time they had made sure of every Japanese they could see, and counted all the bodies, Anderson’s battalion reckoned they had killed 140. Among them was an officer wearing a distinctive white shirt who died leading an ill-advised charge. “He was hit by Bren and tommy and rifle fire and his shirt just flew into little pieces,” observed Warden. Australian losses had been ten killed and fifteen wounded. With this and the destruction of the tanks the Australians had started as well at Bakri as they did at Gemas but it would turn out to be their high water mark.


Back to top Next Extract
Buy this book from
  Singapore Burning - Heroism and Surrender in World War Two
Viking Penguin,
London, 2005

ISBN 0-670-91341-3
A Penguin paperback edition is scheduled for May 2006.
(The Amazon catalogue entry that it came out in September this year is a mistake. As yet, no paperback exists.)
site by pedalo limited