‘D’ COMPANY NO. 13 PLATOON
LIM CHU KANG ROAD, 8th February 1942
Lim Chu Kang Road is located on Singapore’s north-west coast. This remote corner of Singapore is believed by historians to be the place where the Japanese first set foot on the island on the night of 8th February 1942.
Just to the east of the Sungei China at the end of a track within the Buloh Estate stood a two foot high stone retaining wall. Projecting out from this wall was a jetty at the end of which was a rotunda. A little further along the wall was a shark proof swimming enclosure.
Lieutenant Eric Wankey, Commanding Officer of No. 13 Platoon had decided to mount his three remaining Vickers machine guns in three separate gun pits along this wall. It was impossible to dig gun pits because of the proximity to water’s edge and Singapore’s high water table, so in this case the defences were sand bags raised above the height of the stone retaining wall. Originally there had been 4 Vickers machine guns, however on Saturday 7th February Sgt Ron Arbery had been placed in command of a supernumerary platoon, being No. 16 Platoon, and assigned to the defence of an area further to the south within the 2/19th Battalion’s area. With Sergeant’s Ron Arbery and Des Colevas went several men, being extra gun numbers and one of No. 13 Platoon’s Vickers medium machine guns.
All that stood between the troops of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 5th Division on Singapore at this remote location were approximately 35 men of No. 13 Platoon, their three Vickers machine guns and with an allocation of 20,000 rounds of ammunition per gun.
This Platoon had been attached to Australian 2/20th Battalion to strengthen their defence of the north-west coast of Singapore. At 1000 hours on the morning of 8th February 1942 the Japanese commenced their artillery barrage of the west coast of Singapore which would not be lifted until 2200 hours that night.
Late in the morning at approximately 1130 hours the Vickers machine gun in No. 1 pit received what was close enough to a direct hit. Sergeant Joe Pearce and Corporal Bill Paterson were wounded and Pte. Bob Pratt was killed outright. Corporal Edgar Hunt and Pte.’s Norm Venemore, Tom Beard and Ken Lally checked the gun and found it to be still fully serviceable. However so as not to take any risks, the gun was now sited between the other two Vickers. In Pit No. 2 were Pte.’s George Neville and Johny Browning and in pit No. 3 were Pte.’s Lin MacDonald and Jack McCarthy being the numbers one and two on each gun.
John Morgan recalls…..
‘As it was my watch on seeing a black mass on the water approaching our position I called “13 Platoon Action” and commenced firing at the enemy. Gun crews were on the scene and were firing in a matter of seconds.’
The first wave of Japanese had commenced their attack about 30 minutes before the artillery barrage was lifted. It was roughly at this time 2200 hours that the first wave of enemy leapt from their landing barges and began wading ashore. Some of the barges were sunk and as the enemy spilled into the water they attempted to move around the flanks of No. 13 Platoon’s position and ran straight into the spare gun numbers and troops from 2/20th Battalion.
About 15 minutes passed and a second wave approached No. 13 Platoon. One barge was moored offshore on a fish trap and a mortar crew commenced firing. Many of the 2/4th Battalions casualties over the next seven days were as a result of this weapon. Soon a mortar round made a direct hit on the Vickers gun that Lt. Wankey and Pte. Jimmy Loller, his No.2 had been firing. Both were wounded. Lt Wankey was to later have his right leg amputated and likewise Pte. Loller, his left leg.
The Vickers suffered little damage and Sgt. ‘Jake’ Jacobs took over command of No. 13 Platoon. He first ordered Driver Gil Saunders to evacuate the wounded to the Casualty Clearing Station. ‘Jake’ Jacobs took over command of No. 13 Platoon.
Successive waves of Japanese barges came head long at No. 13 Platoon. As the Japanese attempted to come in along the jetty or envelope No. 13 Platoon’s position by way of the flanks the machine gunners engaged the enemy with hand grenades, rifle and bayonet.
Near 0230 hours the ammunition situation was becoming critical and ‘Jake’ gave the order to destroy the three Vickers machine guns. The remaining men moved out in single file in an easterly direction. Progress along a barely discernable track at night was extremely slow and not helped by smoke from the oil tank fires in the Woodlands vicinity. Small arms fire could be heard off to the right as the men arrived at dawn at the Sungei Kranji. This water course in their path would have been most challenging had they not purloined a fishing boat and crossing was made in 3 trips. About 4 of the men had become disorientated along the way and were lost. It was a great relief to Major Alf Gough and Capt. George Gwynne the remainder arrived at ‘D’ Company Headquarters located about one mile from the Sungei Kranji.
On the 60th anniversary of ‘The Fall of Singapore’ Joe Pearce and John Morgan, both original members of No. 13 Platoon travelled to Singapore for the occasion. They made a return visit to the isolated end of Lim Chu Kang Road – to the place they were located 8th February 1942.
The following is the story Joe Pearce related to Murray Ewen, Author, ‘Colour Patch.’
‘My feelings on finding our old gun emplacement site on the Buloh Estate initially was one of excitement. Finally here we were at the same spot after all these years. The jetty, which had been enlarged was still there and is still used by the owners of a large residence which is there now but of course wasn’t in 1942. Back then, there was a two-storied house with an orchard and palm trees. This was where our slit trenches were but now this whole area is overgrown with jungle. Part of the wall where our guns were set up has been extended on one end. The middle section of this wall has been lowered to about half of its original height but nevertheless you still roughly work out where our three guns were sited.
I sat down quietly and my mind reflected back to that fateful day when the Japanese artillery barrage started and pounded us continually for seven hours.
First Bob Pratt, Bill Patterson and myself were knocked out. Later when the Japs tried to land, Eric Wankey, Jim Loller and Tom Beard were carted out. Lin MacDonald and Fred Tregenza were ambushed on the way out, never to be seen again. Later as POWs Edgar Hunt, Jack McCarthy in ‘D’ Force, Bill Patterson in ‘F’ Force, Ron Langdon in ‘H’ Force, Johny Browning and ‘Comet’ Shirley in Sandakan Borneo. There was also Harry Carter, Norm Venemore, Jim and Lacy Gibbs drowned going to Japan and Ken Lally killed in a mining accident, all never to see Australia again.
Then the fight to stay alive for three and a half years until war’s end and the joy of seeing Australia again and our family and friends. Our loves, lives and ambitions realized, children to raise, beautiful life. Now just John Morgan and myself from No. 13 Platoon back at the landing after 60 years.
All these memories good and bad, of life I feel very lucky and humble for my life’s experience and say a prayer for our fifteen that never saw Australia again.’
Joe Pearce, 25 April 2002