Extracts of Singapore Burning
From Chapter Thirty-two:-
Every time the gun on Blakang Mati fired Katherine Stapledon noticed how the
blast flapped her trousers against her legs. She was standing on the deck of
the SS Gorgon, a small Blue Funnel liner anchored in the roads
and not far from where the coastal gunners were firing inland. Next to her was
her friend Billy, an Australian woman who had worked at the RAF communications
centre with her. The ship had come in from Australia a couple of days before
laden with tinned food. When the crew discovered that, because of the air raids,
most of the dockers had fled they had unloaded it themselves.
Like many of the wives, Katherine had put her name down for evacuation under
protest and when the chance came had left only because her husband had insisted.
There had been very short notice and the two permitted suitcases were not fully
packed. At the last moment she had scooped up some table silver and cutlery,
wrapped them in a silk petticoat and stuffed them among her clothes. Partings
of this kind were a wretched business . There could be no certainty whatsoever
that they would meet again and many did not. Nor was it always the ones who remained
who died. Few realised it but the situation was rapidly reaching the point where
Japanese naval and air supremacy would make it more dangerous to go than to stay.
Women registered on evacuation lists would often be telephoned at home or their
place of work and told they had an hour to pack and get down to the docks. The
men said goodbye to us cheerfully, waving and saying they would come down next
morning, but none of them came. They realised too well how painful it would be
for all of us.
Twenty-four later, the SS Gorgon had got no further than an anchorage in the
roads and during that time they had been boarded by two gangs of deserters. The
first were sixteen British soldiers off a motor launch. Katherine Stapledon watched
them come aboard.
There was no-one to stop them. They were armed and looked very determined. They
went straight to the captain and demanded to be taken with us. Their story was
that they had been told to get out as best they could... They commanded the deck
with their rifles and we thought that if the Captain refused to take them, some
of us would surely get shot. As soon as they heard they could come along they
collected their rifles and gave them up. It was clear that they had seen heavy
fighting and appeared dazed and strung up...
To avoid a repetition of this the Gorgons master took his ship a
little further out to sea but an hour later thirty-two Australian soldiers under
a sergeant came out to the vessel in sampans and Katherine was amazed at the
way they managed to paddle through the swell. This was followed by a brief struggle
with some of the Gorgons crew who were in a launch at the bottom
of the gangway.
It was a ghastly sight. They shouted, Take us, Oh! Take us - dont
leave us behind. We then hoped they would get aboard safely...Directly
they appeared on deck our feelings changed...all of us were feeling bitter and
distraught at the thought of our husbands left behind, most of them unarmed.
..who knows what mental and physical strain had led them to take this cowardly
step?... I approached the sergeant and asked him why they had come. He said that
Singapore was falling and they thought they might as well leave. They could do
nothing.... I told him they should have stayed and done their best. After all,
they were armed, and many civilians including our husbands, had stayed though
they had no means of defending themselves. He then told me that they got lost
and didnt know to whom they ought to report... the women ignored them though
some of the men made much of them and bought them drinks.
When Wizardus woke up he was in a bed which he later discovered
was in an overcrowded ward of Alexandra hospital. He had probably
been given quite a lot of morphia because he kept drifting in and
out of consciousness and even when he felt awake he suspected he
was dreaming. Shells were apparently landing close by. Sometimes
he thought he could feel their blast. It was night and the orderlies
were putting blackout boards on the windows but as fast as they put
them up they were blown out again. In one of his waking moments he
asked the man to the right, who was not on a bed but lying on a stretcher
below him, if he still had a right hand. The man picked up his arm
and for the first time Anckorn saw there was a stump or lump at the
end of it bandaged up like a boxing glove. Then his neighbour put
his hand in inside the boxing glove and started, finger by finger,
with This little piggy went to market. By the time the
last little piggy had gone all the way home, the conjuror knew he
had not made his last stage appearance after all. He drifted back
to sleep. The next time he woke up he was obviously dreaming because
there were Japanese in the ward. Then he noticed his neighbour seemed
to be staring in the same direction.
I said, arent they Japanese soldiers and he said yes they are. I said
what are they doing? He said theyre taking people on the front lawn and
killing them. I said, Oh I see. Then I went off again. The next
time I woke up the Japanese were back in the ward, going from bed to bed with
fixed bayonets. I said out loud to myself two things. Ill never
be 24. The other one was, Poor Mum. By then they had got
close to my bed for my turn of bayoneting.