RECOVERY OF BODIES AT HILL 200
MAJOR ALF COUGH – December 1942
At Adam Park the POWs had been in part employed on clearing and the construction of the Japanese ‘Fallen Warriors’ shrine on Bukit Batok. The Japanese went to a great deal of effort to locate their dead, to cremate corpses and lay the ashes at this shrine.
This led to Major Cough’s repeated and unsuccessful requests to gain permission to search for, identify and bury the bodies of 2/4th who had participated in a bayonet charge to recapture the Hill 200, Ulu Pandan position on the night of 12th February 1942.
On 30th May 1942 there was trouble at Adam Park when 60 men were caught outside the wire. The men were given seven days detention and fed one meal per day of plain rice. Although most of the men had been out shopping on the black market, three 2/4th men had actually been out searching for bodies at Hill 200.
Joe Swartz, Joe Meredith and Lawrance Nybo had been successful in locating the unburied corpses of Len Helliwell, Allan Brown and Keith ‘Bully’ Hayes, Frank Curnow, Doug Royce and Ossie McEwin.
The men could not fathom how the Japanese could care for their own dead and leave the enemies’ unburied corpses to the elements and marauding pigs. Finally after months and months of negotiations Major Cough was permitted take out a burial party from Sime Road Camp with Capt. John Hill and about 20 men from the 2/4th.
On the 21 December 1942, 27 bodies of 2/4th men from ‘A, ‘C’ ‘D’ and HQ Companies were identified and given a decent burial, right on top of Hill 200. There was little of the men to be found ten months after the battle. What horrified the men was it evident the Japanese had located their dead amongst the Commonwealth dead troops, and had actually buried them amongst the of the Australians.
Alf Cough presided over the burial with a wooden cross marking the sight.
They left the bodies of anybody who was not Japanese! Why did they not bury the fallen Australians?
The following from Major Cough’s diary.
‘I could see Doug Royce, pouring vast quantities of beer into that same skull. I could hear Frank Curnow (he roomed next to me at Woodside, SA) say good morning to the picture of his baby son. I saw McEwin, six feet two of dignity and hauteur, who in a toss of that now silent skull, would say in an Oxford drawl, ‘not at all old boy; not at all.’ We called him Galloping Gertie because of his daring horsemanship in the camps of pre war days.
These were some of the things that occurred to me as I committed them to their resting place, reminding me of the horrors of war. The utter waste of lives. The heartbreaks at home for so many.’
Captain McEwin, the Officer Commanding Headquarters Company, was found at the crest of the hill with bullet wound through the skull. Lieutenant Curnow, Commander of No. 1 Platoon Signals, was killed outright in the advance. Lieutenant Royce, the Commander of No. 2 Platoon AA, was wounded at the crest and crawled back a little way. His men wanted to help him back to the lines but he refused their help.’