Escape from Singapore & the Sumatra Story

There were a number of 2/4th men who managed to escape Singapore Island, only to be captured at Sumatra in the Netherlands East Indies.

This escape route went across the Durian Straits between Singapore and Sumatra and then traced the Indragiri River, which was one of several east-west rivers past the towns of Tembilihan, Rengat as far as Ayer Molek.  From here it was necessary to move on foot to Padang on the southwest coast of Sumatra.

From Padang of course those on the run hoped to be rescued by a ship and evacuated to safety!

There were three 2/4th relocated from Java to Sumatra by the Japanese:  Harold Booth, Noel Banks and Robert McAskil.

McAskil departed Java  with Java Party No. 20 arriving in Singapore on 21 May 1944.  Booth and Banks were transported to from Bicycle Camp Batavia with Java Party No. 22 arriving Singapore 1 July 1944.

On his arrival in Singapore McAskil was taken to River Valley Road Transit Camp.  It was here assessment was made of the men’s their health before being forwarded to Japan.  McAskil was removed from the draft of 777 men.  The ship carrying this draft of men was sunk off Nagasaki by a US submarine on 24 June 1944.

McAski, Booth and Banks were sent to Pakan Baroel when they arrived at Sumatra.

Arthur Magill and Cliff ‘Squasher’ Squance reached Sumatra

During a Japanese ambush on 11 February 1942 at South-West Bukit Timah, Arthur Magill WX16886  who two days earlier at Bulim Village had been wounded in his neck and armpit, had his rifle shot out of his right hand and received two gunshot wounds to his 3rd and 4th fingers as well as his leg.  Cliff ‘Squasher’ Squance WX16885 who was wounded in his left shoulder,  managed to escape the scene of the ambush and assisted Arthur Magill over an embankment. 

The two men headed for the coast where they met up with three other fugitives.  They were Ron MacLelland from Queensland, an English soldier and an Indian Sepoy.  

The five fugitives managed to ‘borrow’ a dinghy which was equipped with an outboard motor from a seaside resort near Pasir Panjang.  As the five men climbed into the dinghy they were joined by a further two men – the Rush brothers from 2/18th.

The group of 7 men motored away from the shoreline and against the outgoing tide until they eventually ran out of petrol.   The group were forced to put into an island in Keppel Harbour, close to Singapore City.

A vote was taken and it was decided to continue with their escape bid to Sumatra where they hoped they may be rescued. 

They traded the dinghy with some locals for what they hoped would be in exchange for transport to Sumatra!

In darkness the men were taken in the general direction of Sumatra and dropped off at an island. During what must have been a worrying time for the escapees, they remained here for four days until the local island natives decided harbouring soldiers from Singapore could bring about terrible Japanese retribution.

Finally the locals plucked up sufficient courage to transport the seven men to another island where they were once again left to their own resources.

It was here that a Chinese junk arrived and picked them up. There were about 120 men already on board and another 120 escapees waiting on the island. The junk, greatly overloaded reached Sumatra but required a tow from a Dutch launch for part of the way up the swift flowing Indragiri River.  This river was not easily navigated and eventually the men were forced to disembark at Ayer Molek.

The passengers now  began their trek across Sumatra on foot, towards Padang.

Because ‘Squasher’ and Arthur Magill required medical attention for their wounds, the two men stopped at a hospital at Sawahunto. They continued on their quest but like most others striving for what they hoped would greater options towards freedom, they ran out of time before they were captured by the Japanese.

 

Richard Winston Annear better known as ‘Win’  WX13468 escaped from Singapore some time after Monday 16 February 1942 when Singapore was firmly under Japanese control.

Win who was in the company of two other 2/4th men, could see no rational reason why they should surrender and suggested they make a break for Sumatra.

Remember these men had been fighting for their lives for 8 or more days. They had been fired upon by Japanese mortars for hours and hours,  the fighting had been had at times desperate, there had been great loss of life and in some areas, loss of leadership. The two men accompanying Annear made the decision they were utterly exhausted and hungry. They decided to return to Singapore and give themselves up.

Annear decided to go alone.

“I had $40 on me so I paid a native one dollar to row me to the next island where I picked up so other chaps.

From here we set off towards Sumatra and after many trials and foodless days we arrived at Sumatra, at a town called Rengat. There we met up (unfortunately) with an organised evacuation party which only slowed our travel. We eventually made the other coast of Sumatra, tired and hungry at a place called Padang, but by the time of our arrival we were two days too late and the last boat had already gone and the next one was sunk coming in. We were lucky that we missed these boats as very few of them got through the Japanese net.

Just before the Japs took Padang six of us decided to head south. All the Padang chaps were taken prisoner on 17 March. We, after much walking made a tea plantation and from there we took to the jungle where we stayed for two months eating weeds or rice, brown beans and trapping our own deer, the longest we went without meat was three days. Eventually the natives gave us away and we found ourselves back at Padang POW Camp on 9 May 1942. All the chaps there were starving and we were as fat as butter, then we starved along with them.”

Others to reach Sumatra

Ted Hopson WX9241 from ‘B’ Company also managed to escape from Singapore on  Sunday night 15 February 1941.
Others included Cecil Quinn WX9285 from ‘D’ Company who was wounded at Lim Chu Kang Road.  Alfred Burgess WX15756 and Harold Smith WX17448 from ‘E’ Company Special Reserve Battalion also escaped to Sumatra.