The Soldier's Details

Surname:
McGregor
First Name:
John Alexander
Nick Name:
'Jack' or 'Mac'
Rank:
Lance Corporal
Regimental #:
WX12835
Classification:
Clerk
Company:
'B' Company Headquarters, Company Clerk
Enlisted:
15.05.1941
Discharged:
13.06.1946
DOB:
20.09.1903
Place of Birth:
Guildford, Western Australia
Father's Name:
Charles Hutton McGregor
Mothers's Name:
Clara Jane McGregor (nee Shipton)
Religion:
Church of England
Pre-war Occupation:
Insurance Clerk
Singapore:
Selarang Camp Changi, Outram Road Prison, Changi Gaol Camp, Pasir Panjang Work Party (18.3.1945)
POW#:
2/9769
Return Details 1945:
Singapore-Darwin-Sydney, HMT Arawa, Sydney-Melbourne by troop train, Melboume-Fremantle, HMT Strathmore.

General Description

McGregor enlisted AIF 15 May 1941 later joining 2/4th MGB’s ‘B’ Company Headquarters.

Escaped from Changi with Lieutenant Penrod Dean. Captured 6/4/1942 at Pontian Keechil in Johore State by Malay Police and handed over to Imperial Japanese Army on 7/4/1942. Sentenced to two years solitary confinement at H.M. Prison, Outram Road.

After their capture, McGregor and WX6067 Lt. Penrod Dean formerly Commanding Officer of ‘B’ Company No. 7 Platoon from 2/4th were marched into the Supreme Court, Singapore where they each received a sentence of two years solitary confinement. McGregor called the sentence “The March of Time”. Some of his other descriptions included:  

The Cat and the Canary – A Japanese prison guard creeping up on an unsuspecting prisoner in his cell.

The Sky Patrol – Left Singapore a little too early.

He Stayed for Breakfast – But disappeared as soon as he learned there was more rice for dinner.

Gone with the Wind – That extra ration of rice!

John McGregor was 38 years old when he enlisted.  He, like many thousands of men was bitterly disappointed when the Allies surrendered and 8th Division found they were POWs of the Japanese.  

He wrote a book about his years in Outram Gaol “Blood on the Rising Sun” describing his experience where most men in solitary confinement drifted into ‘merciful death or were pushed there by the swift sword of the Japanese’.   John was one those to survive his hellish ordeal.

He was an incredible man ‘with stubborn courage’ as  Australian author Tim Bowden described and wrote about McGregor (author of ‘Stubborn Buggers’ about POWs at Outram Gaol).  Bowden was surprised McGregor remained true to Penrod Dean and never questioned Dean’s actions.

According to Bowden, Dean himself was thought to have deserted his post and his men during the Battle of Singapore, prior to surrender.  To avoid capture Dean returned to the POWs now gathered at Selarang.  However Dean knew there were 2/4th men who were thoroughly disgusted with him and he actually feared for his life.   He managed to talk McGregor into escaping with him.

‘Whilst at Outram Gaol the other POWs thought Dean a ‘White Jap’.  He managed to ingratiate himself with the guards, got plum jobs including serving daily food to prisoners (according to McGregor – Dean was generous with McGregor’s food share and McGregor remained grateful because Dean managed to find vitamins for him.  McGregor believed Dean saved his life.) also he managed to learn Japanese from guards and got himself a job repairing Japanese uniforms with a sewing machine.

However when Bowden wrote his book and managed to interview one or two former inmates of Outram Road, who were still alive,  most importantly Australian Chris Neilson, they were adamant Dean was out to onlly look after himself, they despised him and thought him a ‘White Jap’.  Neilson taught McGregor morse code so that he and McGregor who was his neighbour were able to communicate.   Dean was never able to competently learn morse code.  Yet in his book, Dean wrote that he himself taught morse code to McGregor.’

McGregor was recovered from Outram Gaol.

 

 

__________

 

McGregor’s parents Charles Hutton and Clare Jane Shipton married in Sydney, NSW in 1890. It is not known when the McGregor family moved to WA.   John Alexander was born in 1903 at Guildford. The McGregor family resided at Midland.

In 1926 McGregor married Yetta Dixon.  Both McGregor and the Dixon families were from Midland.

 

 

He resided and worked in Fremantle as a waterside worker during early 1930s.  He married Henrietta (Vetta) Roberta Dixon and they had at least one son Kevin who died in 1966.

Another family residing at Midland was Heffernan.  WX6968 John Charles ‘Jack’ Heffernan was with 2/4th.  His brother married McGregor’s sister Gladys 1936.

 

 

 

McGregor’s mother died in May 1941.

Sadly his wife Vetta McGregor (aged 41) died in November 1945 a month after his return to Perth.  Jack was a patient at Lady Mitchell Convalescent Home, Cottesloe with all the other former POWs with serious eye conditions caused by his stay at Outram Gaol.

McGregor had to learn  as his eyesight never recovered.

 

 

 

 

 

Yetta McGregor’s mother died 1947.

 

 

His father Charles Hutton McGregor died in Perth 1955.

The  McGregor family were then residing in South Perth where Mac appears to have continued living.  He married widow Annie Elliot in 1948.  Annie’s husband lost his life on the Burma-Thai Railway in 1943,  Laurance Norman Constantine is buried at Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, Burma.

It is thought John and Annie had at least one child.  Kevin Alan John McGregor ?

Annie died 2003 in Western Australia and John McGregor died earlier on 21 September 1981, Sydney, NSW.

 

It is not known when John wrote the story of his experience at Outram Road Prison in his published book “Blood on the Rising Sun” which was published by Bencoolen and printed in Hong Kong by Gareth Powell Limited 1980.

John ‘Jack’ or ‘Mac’ lost his sight whilst at Outram Gaol.  He was evacuated on 19 July 1943 from Outram Road Gaol to Changi Hospital with skin problems and loss of vision due to vitamin deficiency and was in terrible health.  The reason he was moved to Changi Hospital was because the Japanese did not want responsibility of his death.  The time spent at Changi was excluded from his prison sentence, and he returned to Outram.

Jack never regained his eyesight.

He was returned to Outram Gaol until early 1945.  (Dean had already returned to Changi a free man!).  McGregor was sent with Pasir Payang Work Party on 18 March 1945.  He was recovered from Changi on 4 September 1945.

Penrod Dean wrote and published his book ‘Singapore Samurai’ after ‘Mac’ had died.  Mac was unable to dispute several points Dean published.  Chris Neilson, another POW at Outrim was in the cell next to Mac – Neilson taught Mac morse code enabling a long friendship to develop between them and a means to exchange news in this prison where it was totally forbidden to speak.  Morse code was for ‘Mac’ a life-line in the god-forsaken Outrim.    (Dean claims he taught Mac morse code, which is not true, and much as he tried Dean was not successful in learning himself).  McGregor’s wife Annie never thought well of Dean, and confirmed to Bowden her belief Dean felt forced to leave Selarang as the men were out to get him.

You may wish to hear ABC’s recording of parts of the men’s stories

Read Tim Bowden’s writing (Stubborn Buggers)

Bowden confirms McGregor learnt morse code from Chris Neilson, a tough Queenslander who was in the next cell.  Bowden said of all the men of Outram, (he didn’t met McGregor as he had died) he believed Chris Neilson was the most incredibly brave of all.

 

 

 

“Blood on the Rising Sun” is a very detailed account of Mac’s time at Outrim Gaol.  We recommend reading!  He was an amazing man and most humble.

Camp Locations:

  • Changi Gaol Camp - Singapore
  • Outram Road Prison - Singapore ***
  • Selarang Camp Changi - Singapore
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