‘E’ COMPANY, SPECIAL RESERVE BATTALION (formed 7/2/1942) More than half of this Coy lost their lives 11 Feb 1942.
Major Bert Saggers was appointed on 7 February 1942 as CO Special Reserve Battalion. With the exception of some Machine Gunners of ‘E’ Coy (about 90 men) – the unit had only received basic infantry training. Those from the Service Corps had little if any field training.
‘E’ Coy joined 2/4th Battalion at Fremantle 15 January 1942 – less than a month later had lost more than one third of the original draft of 120 men. Including the wounded, battle casualty figures became over 50%. Half of the men had less than four months training, eight had been in the army less than three months and six men less than two months when they went into action. How terrifying!
On morning of 8 February, the CO continued to have discussions with Division on basic requirements, i.e. organisation, equipment, stores and camp locations.
There had scarcely been time to establish companies, platoons and sections before being sent forward that same morning to support 2/29th Btn at Tengah Airfield.
from Ghosts in Khaki by Les Cody.
Commanding Officer, Major Bert Saggers.
South-West Bukit Timah (Sleepy Valley) 11 February 1942
“We had now been continuously marching, fighting, patrolling and occupying front line positions in close touch with the enemy since approximately midnight on 8th February with practically no sleep. In addition we had been subjected to heavy bombing and were constantly under aerial observation. All ranks were extremely tired and the knowledge that we were surrounded was very depressing”
At 0100 hours on 11 February 1942, the battalion was positioned on a bare feature astride Jurong Road. Small arms fire could be heard at Bukit Timah Village, about a mile to the rear. Jurong Road was the only road on which to retire and this ran through Bukit Timah village.
It was about this time that firing could be heard on the right flank where a British unit was located. At 0200 hours firing was also heard on the left flank. Major Saggers realized that he would have to get the battalion off this bare feature before first light or stand the chance of coming under attack from observed enemy small arms fire from the other slopes in the area.
Lieutenant Vic Mentiplay, Liaison Officer to the Major, had brought back information that the British Commander was ready to withdraw his unit to a better position about 400 yards to the rear.
At daybreak Major Saggers moved his men down one side of the feature whilst the British moved around the other side via Jurong Road. The heads and shoulders of the enemy could be seen in the dawn light from this new position on a slightly rising slope in a rubber plantation. Using the rubber trees as cover the Japanese pushed up to meet the body of troops.
The heights of Bukit Timah and Bukit Timah Village were a Japanese strategic objective. Bukit Timah was the highest point on the island at 5481 feet. Bukit Timah Village was the juncture of north, south, east and west running thoroughfares, providing a pivotal point on Singapore island.
The Japanese were intent on keeping this area under their control from where they could swing south-east to Buona Vista, enter Singapore City from the south and close the British escape route via Keppel Harbour.
On coming into view the Japanese immediately engaged and by 0730 hours fighting had become intense along the entire line. At 0850 hours orders came from a senior ranking British Commander that the combined force was to retire.
At 0900 hours ‘E’ Company launched a vigorous bayonet attack that left 14 Japanese dead and 2 captured; losing 2 killed and 4 wounded. The remaining enemy in the vicinity fled for their lives.
This action cleared the area to successfully allow the troops to disengage and retire to form 3 columns. The Indians were to withdraw on the left flank, the Australians in the centre and the British on the right flank.
The men marched about a mile through dense scrub to a saucer-like depression of open country, about 600 yards long by 400 yards wide ahead of them. To the left was an embankment about 3 feet high on which a barbed wire fence ran along its length. On the far side of the depression there were several native huts.
The three columns moved forward until they were about 200 yards from the huts then all hell broke loose. The enemy had prepared an ambush and from the right and left flanks and in front of the native huts was pouring mortar, light automatic and small farms fire into the three columns of retreating troops. The three columns broke and started to intermingle. Control was lost. The main cause of this was the more numerous Indians who panicked with some gesturing with a piece of white cloth of their wish to surrender. One Indian waving a white flag was shot on the spot.
This action and some vigorous commands helped restore some order and the huts to the front were attacked in a bayonet charge.
The approaching men raked the huts with light automatic weapons to clear the enemy from their path overrunning the machine guns posts outside and killing the Japs inside with tommy gun fire. On passing through the huts there was still 150 yards to go until a small rise and comparative safety was reached. Eventually Reformatory Road was reached and the men again came under enemy light automatic fire.
After crossing the railway line a head count was made of the Special Reserve Battalion. 88 of the original 200 men who had commenced the withdrawal an hour earlier now remained. Worse still some of the wounded were forced to remain behind seeking cover.
Eventual Recovery of the Dead – 8 December 1942
It had angered the men that ten months passed before the Japanese granted Major Saggers permission for a burial party to return to ambush scene at South-West Bukit Timah and attempt to locate bodies of the dead. With the assistance of a local Chinese man, the group managed to locate about 30 bodies.
The trip was not as successful as hoped. The long wild grass hampered them and time did not allow for proper burials.
Permission was again granted on 21st December 1942 for Major Saggers to lead a burial party into the area for a second time. The bodies of 32 men were located at one place and were buried in a common grave at map reference 753147.
As was the case at Hill 200 and Ulu Pandan it was discovered the bodies of the Japanese had been collected amidst those of the Indian Sepoys, British and Australian troops. It would not have been too difficult to lay out and cover the bodies in the nearby slit trenches.