82nd Commemorative Service for Fall of Singapore
held POW Memorial, Kings Park
by 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion ex-Members Assoc
Sunday 11 February 2024, 11.00am


President Harry Tysoe welcomed everybody in particular  Ian Saggers. In 2000 Ian Saggers son of Major A.E. Saggers compiled and printed his father’s secret war diaries into a book called  ‘To Hell-Fire, Purgartory and Back.’
I wonder how many 2/4th Officers in Singapore would have accepted without a whinge the directive from Lt Col Anketell late on 6th Feb 1942 to command a Composite Battalion of 90  ‘E’ Coy troops and about 250 non-combat trained reinforcement troops who had also sailed on ‘Aquitania’ from Australian Army Service Corps.
At the end of Dec 1941 senior officers at Northam Army Camp selected 146 men from other training battalions along with a number of newly enlisted troops to reinforce the 2/4th.  Half of that number would reinforce other 2/4th platoons–  somewhat depleted having lost 90 machine gunners left behind at Fremantle (and who sailed to Java).  The other half formed ‘E’ Company –  90 men commenced training on at Singapore on 24 Jan.
We know Singapore High Command failed the fighting soldier (and the civilian population of Singapore and SE Asia.
Major Saggers wrote “Its nick-name is ‘Muddle Command’.  Complaints of them are bitter.  Two months were given to them to prepare this highly vulnerable sector for defence.  This was the only sector left unwired – yet nothing, I repeat nothing was ever attempted.  I have not heard of any good reason for doing so.”
Major Saggers went on “I have met Lt-Gen Percival and he does not impress me as having strong character” and there are many legitimate excuses for him, etc.  “But we all agree Singapore was doomed no matter what measures were taken.  We were outnumbered and had completely lost command of the air and sea.”
 Saggers said of ‘E’ Coy “that small but splendid fighting company of whom I am tremendously proud.  Harry de  Moulin commanded, Charlie Odgers was Coy 2 i/c while Harry Green, Jimmy Till and Harry Mazza were its platoon commanders, Vic Mentiplay being supernumerary.  All those splendid officers with the exception of Mentiplay, but including Vic Warhurst were killed within seventy two hours.”
Address by Cheryl Mellor
The Japanese had concentrated on knocking out telephone communications between HQs – communication was by runners – which is risky.
SRB is under fire from the moment they are trucked out.
The Japanese rarely attack head on – their tactic is to quietly penetrate the flanks.

6 Feb 1942
5.30 pm Major Saggers, CO of ‘C’ Coy was advised by Lt Col Anketell he was to command a new composite Battalion to be known as Special Reserve Battalion:
 ‘E’ Coy led by CO Harry de Moulin comprised three companies of reinforcements each with about 22 privates and 3-4 officers.   Total number was about 90 men including several well-trained machine gunners who transferred from other Platoons. There had been no time to train as one unit.
  • 2 Companies of Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) A and B Companies each with 184 men and officers. AASC reinforcements had sailed on Aquitania from Sydney with 2/4th –  normally responsible for transport,  provision of supplies and rations other than machinery or ammunition – not combat trained!

9 Feb

4pm Saggers was ordered to Division Command to see Bennett who immediately & urgently  ordered SRB to Lim Chu Kan Road, west of Choa Chu Kang Village to support 22nd Brigade at the Kranji-Jurong Defence Line.   3 Ton trucks to be provided.
This would be a 3 day war for SRB as a fighting unit.

10 Feb – Day 1

Early Am.  Trucks arrived bringing 150 Bayonets – immediately issued.
Problems emerge immediately.   The difficulty following the track winding through a thickly planted rubber plantation.  Saggers uses compass to find direction.  The plantation protects them from aerial bombing but not artillery.
He finds ‘B’ Coy abandoned their trucks to shelter in plantation.
Saggers yells to them to return to trucks and not to stop.
A and B Coy arrive at their destination, take up their positions on the Line – ‘E’ Coy has not arrived.
9.00 am Saggers meets with Brig Taylor of 22nd Brigade – who warns his Line is being forced back .
Col Pond of 2/29th joins the two men. He had only just arrived. 2/29th are 200-300 m right of SRB’s ‘B’ Coy Line.
Taylor ordered Saggers to remain at his location. He, ie Taylor is to command a counter attack.  (22nd Brigade has been decimated in numbers now include large numbers of reinforcements).  Bennett (ordered by Wavell and Percival) has commanded Taylor to counter- attack recent lost section of  Kranji-Jurong Line.

At this time the only troops west of Bukit Timah are:

1500 Australian (including a large number of reinforcements) and 2500 Indians troops (mostly reinforcements) =  4,000.   
By late afternoon 10 Feb – Japanese had 9,000 troops and tanks in the Tengah Airfied vicinity and 11,000 on Jurong Road Totalling 20,000 battle hardened troops.
Harry Moulin’s E Coy arrives 3 hours late – Saggers was not impressed.  He suspects they took refuge in the plantation and missed the tricky turn-off.
Later Saggers talks with officers of 2/29th–  the Japanese were working around their Right Flank .  He hears Brig Taylor has cancelled his Counter Attack.
An ‘E’ Coy scout party has not returned.   Worried, Saggers takes a small Bren gun platoon to traverse 500 m away from extremities of the flank.  There is no sign of enemy nor Australian troops.  The scout party returns to confirm the same.
‘E’ Coy patrols report strong Japanese movement to their Left Flank.
At 1.45pm Saggers is ordered to 2/29th HQ.   Col Pond reads orders from Brig Taylor –   SRB are to withdraw to 14 mile peg Choa Kang Road by 2 pm.  It is already 1.45pm.
Saggers leads Battalion under cover of rubber plantation to their designated position – close to buildings on south side of Tengah Airfield.  He reports to Brig Taylor HQ and is given a new location between two tidal rivers.
During withdrawal ‘B’ Coy becomes entangled with a portion of 2/29th and ‘E’ Coy has lost contact.  It was some time before Saggers found ‘E’ Coy – they had been ordered by Col Pond to a particular defensive position.  Saggers was furious.
Saggers orders A Coy to a new position.  He takes his car to reconnoitre and fix a forward position. He meets an Anglo-Indian colonel whose men are 200 m. away which is reassuring.
Saggers sets off to find ‘B’ Coy – again Pond exceeded his authority by ordering them into a position.  It was dusk, the men were about to eat their first meal of day – Saggers orders them to hold this position and to join SRB first thing in morning.
With his driver from 2/4th’s ‘A’ Coy George Taylor, Saggers drives to Taylor’s HQ Brigade – it is dark, the roads wet, muddy and slippery.  The 5 km journey took 3 hours.  He reports his position to Taylor.   Also asks for Pond to return his 2 companies.  Taylor warns Saggers the Brigade Flanks were insecure and open – every chance the Japs would outflank them.
He returns to his HQ , but there is no sleep.
At 2.00 am Saggers is informed the Indians have withdrawn.  His officers thought they too should move.  Her refuses – believing GOC ( General Officer Commanding)  would not give up this position.  Even so he doesn’t sleep.   There’s small arms fire 1200 m away.

11 Feb – Day 2

Dawn – Saggers learns a composite battalion of Surreys and Leicesters had relieved the Indians.  Also ‘E’ and ‘B’ companies returned.  He makes changes to ‘E’ Coy Leadership.  de Moulin is young and out of his depth.  He appoints Vic Warhurst CO of E Coy and Harry de Moulin 2 i/c.  Charlie Odgers became adjutant and Vic Mentiplay intelligence officer.


Harry de-Moulin


Left:: Vic Warhurst

Below:  Odgers

Left:  Mentiplay
SRB was now between 2 rivers and between parallel roads Choa Chu Kang Road and Jurong Road.  Battle noise is increasing.  They are covered by soot from burning oil tanks.  They take cover and wait.
Japanese planes soon target the inexperienced men of ‘A’ Coy who would not remain still  when the planes flew over.  They run.  Saggers gives them a bollocking.  He remained amongst them to maintain calmness. Even so 6 men bolted, 2 were killed, 2 injured by falling bombs.
SRB had no trained medical orderlies, no medicines and no stretchers!   Pushed into the field far too quickly.  Improvised stretchers were made and wounded carried 2 km to nearest ambulance.
 11.00 am Patrols report no enemy or friends seen.  Sporadic light arm firing heard about 1,000 m away.  390 troops spread thinly over a line of 650-700 metres –   Hardly sufficient to halt the Japanese.
A Capt. Moss arrived out of the blue!  A blessing for Saggers who made him 2 i/c.  Moss was a cool and calm WW1 Veteran.   Saggers sent him to check the Line.
Patrols return to report they had seen No enemy and No friends but increasing noise on their Left.
They later learned the Japanese had pushed along Choa Chu Kang Road approaching Bukit Pantang Village, 5-6 kms right of their position.

WORSE, the 22nd Brigade, including 2/29th had completely withdrawn by 8 am that morning leaving SRB’s left Flank completely exposed.  SRB had been left behind!

Saggers did not withdraw until 2.30pm which meant large numbers of Japanese troops had been moving past their open flank for 6 ½ hours. During the morning Saggers had sent three messages to 22 Brigade HQ with no response.
The Japanese were bringing up mortars and firing on SRB.  He was worried about the Indians who were very young, half trained and were likely to have the Japanese break their Line.
Moments later Saggers met a British Captain who informed him he had just received an order to rendezvous his company on the road at the rear of fighting.  A preliminary move for a withdrawal.
Saggers dispatched Capt Moss with two runners to contact the British with instructions to keep him informed of any British moves and of the general situation.

About 1pm

‘E’ Coy patrol provides an updated report  – they had run into a Japanese patrol of 12 men.  Three E Coy were killed Syd DARBY (known as the Kid), Ern THOMSETT both aged 19 years and Ernie MUNDAY aged 25 years.  Wally Holding, the Bren gunner had killed about 5 or 6 enemy.
A runner brought a message from Moss – the British had begun to withdraw.  SRB would be wiped out if they did not do so at the same time.   He set 2.30pm to commence,  hoping Moss would return in time –any longer would endanger the battalion (it transpired Moss arrived just a few minutes after last SRB left – he was almost immediately taken POW by Japanese.  Later sent to Changi).
Saggers orders ‘B’ Company to depart first  –   They are harassed from the air crossing 3 km across thickly scrubbed country.  They went astray, missed the rendezvous and were not seen again during the battle.
Saggers leads ‘A’ and ‘E’ Companies through same thick scrub again using his compass.     The march takes 2 hours to reach their objective: a track junction which is not safe, very exposed and Japanese firing could be seen from nearby hills.
He found a detour which enabled them to pass out of sight of the hills and towards Jurong Road.
The British unit had halted and taken up a defensive position. Saggers led the men to a thick rubber grove rear of the British Line.   The men were fed and replenished their supplies from an adjacent ration dump.

It was now 6 pm Tuesday 10 February.

They learn the British force is only 180 strong,  The British suggest ‘E’ coy take up a position to their left.  It was a bare hill – excellent as a night defensive location allowing good field of fire up to 150m down a uniform slope.  With casualties and loss of ‘B’ Coy, SRB was now 230 men.
Still Saggers felt morally bound to extend their Line as requested.

1)     The British formed a line north of Jurong Road.

2)     SRB south of Jurong Road.

3)     Indian troops approximately 300m to rear.

Saggers visited British HQ  – they had one Platoon in reserve whereas SRB had none.  He asked to borrow their car – he wanted to report to AIF Divisional HQ whose location he had just learnt.
He informed SRB he would be no more than an hour.  He needed instructions on potential movements.
The British driver drove Saggers and George Taylor through a burning Bukit Timah (the most important and central town in Singapore).
HQ was in a large private house.  Inside were about 20-30 officers around several tables.  Saggers was immediately surrounded by incredulous officers who knew SRB ‘had been left out in the blue’ –they never expected to see him or SRB again!
Bennett seated the haggard looking Saggers in his own chair–wanting to know every detail last two days.
9.30 pm. Saggers and the two drivers returned through burning Bukit Timah – later hearing there were Japanese snipers and patrols about.
On returning to his HQ Saggers was flabbergasted to find two officers and 12 men lying down with nobody on guard!  He immediately ordered the Adjutant to organise a roster and post sentries.
He sent Vic Mentiplay with his Batman to the British camp to keep him posted  – Saggers did not wish to be left behind again.

It was now 1.00 am Wed 11 February  – Day 3

The distinctive sharp crack of Japanese small arms could be heard at Bukit Timah, 1.5 km to their rear.  Also firing on the right flank where the British are.
 2.00 am
Firing could be heard on the left flank now.  Saggers realised he had to get the Battalion off this bare feature, Bald Hill before first light.  They would be under enemy attack from other nearby slopes.
Mentiplay arrives – the British were about to withdraw to a better position about 400 yards to the rear.
At daybreak SRB moved down one side of the feature whilst the British moved around the other side of Jurong Road.
From this position, the heads and shoulders of the Japanese could be seen in the dawn light. They were using the rubber plantation trees as cover whilst pushing up to meet them.
By 7.30 am fighting was intense the entire line.
8.50 am Orders came from a senior ranking British Commander that the combined force was to retire.
9.00 am They were surrounded.  E Coy launched a vigorous bayonet attack – leaving 14 Japanese dead, 2 captured.  Two E Coy men were killed (17 year old Norton was KIA) and 4 wounded.  The remaining Japanese fled, leaving a corridor for SRB to withdraw.  They form 3 columns:
The Indians on the left flank
Australians in the centre
British on right flank
They marched about a mile through dense scrub to a saucer like depression of open country about 600 x 400 yards.  To the left was a 3 feet embankment with a barbed wire fence running along its length.  On the far side of the depression were several native huts.
At about 200 yards from the huts all hell broke loose.  From the right and left flanks and in front of the huts the enemy was firing mortar, light automatic and small arms fire into the three columns of retreating troops.  Control was lost as the three columns intermingled.  The Indians especially, panicked and began waving white flags.
Vigorous commands helped restore some order.   The huts in front were attacked in a bayonet charge raking the enemy with light automatic weapons to clear the enemy.   They overran the machine gun posts outside the huts, and killed those inside.
Once through the huts there was another 150 yards to reach a small rise and comparative safety.  They reached Reformatory Road where they again came under enemy light automatic fire.
They crossed the railway line where a head count was made of SRB.  88 of the original 200 men now remained.  Worse was the men now left behind Japanese lines many of them wounded.
 Of 90 troops, ‘E’ Coy lost 43 men in three days of fighting.  Of 1200 Indians only 400 survived.



Survivors of Ambush:
Saggers wrote of ‘E’ Coy- ‘that small but splendid fighting company of whom I am tremendously proud.  Harry de Moulin commanded, Charlie Odgers was comany  2 i/c while Harry Green, Jimmy Till and Harry Mazza were its platoon commanders, with Vic Mentiplay being supernumeracy.  All these splendid officers with the exception of Mentiplay, but including Vic Warhurst were killed within 72 hours’.
Saggers was forced to promote Vic Warhurst to CO of E Coy, with Harry de Moulin No 2 1/c, Charlie Odgers to act as Adjutant and Vic Mentiplay became intelligence officer.


6 of 7 Officers were KIA. Mentiplay survived received a bayonet wound to his neck, rolled into a nearby duck pond.  He took the WA Contingent to England for the Victory Parade.
Flarty received shrapnel wound to his right knee – Saggers thought he would never survive.  He arrived being carried by mates. Sent to Alexandra Hospital.  Returned Unit 23 February 1942.

WX17374 Neave Flarty

Cpl Arthur ROWLAND, No 1 Platoon Sergeant wounded, escaped to Sumatra, managed to board last ship leaving for Ceylon.  Arrived Melbourne 6 April.

Rowland is one of only 2 X 2/4th soldiers to escape Singapore during fighting and successfully reached Australia.   The other was WX8448 Taylor George of 12 Platoon. They both later served with 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion.

Claude Dow hid in scrub. He could hear others being discovered and killed by Japanese.  Claude stayed out nearly 4 months.

Below:  Claude Dow

Lance-Corporal Arthur Magill also hid, got to Sumatra where he was taken POW.  Awarded the Military Medal for leadership during Fighting in Singapore.
Les McCann wounded – hid out with badly wounded Rupert Millhouse.  McCann dressed Millhouse’s badly injured knee) Later both captured by Japanese they faced firing squad.  McCann woke to find himself further wounded but alive.  Reached Changi alone.   (2/4th’s Airey also survived same firing squad)

Below:  Rupert Millhouse and Rt Les McCann
Cliff SQUANCE Escaped to Sumatra. Was taken POW. Recovered from the notorious Pakan Baroe Moearo Railway Sumatra survived a torrid time.
Cowboy Matthews  ‘Ran like hell’ eventually came across 2/4th’s 13 Platoon who took him under their wing.
Kearney and Robert Marsh.  Marsh was seriously wounded in his stomach.  They stayed out until 7 March.  Now dreadfully ill, went to Changi where Marsh DOW 5 April 42 aged 18 years.
Kearney, born lucky, he miraculously survived sinking of Rakuyo Maru, was in the water nearly 4 days, picked up by US submarine. Tragically Cpl Laurence Harvey perished.
Harry OSWALD – stowaway.  An alternative story says he was returning to Rottnest very much under the weather and got himself caught up with those boarding Aquitania.
Evacuated sick from Burma-Thai railway Oswald d. dysentery Nov 1943 aged 21.
No. 2 Platoon suffered most deaths, 17 KIA , including  CO Jimmy Till . They got trapped during withdrawal at Bald Hill, many had ran out of ammunition and didn’t reach the ambush.  No 2 Platoon’s Wally Holding with Danny Crane, Blue Evans and 2 AASC hid, from Japanese, walked at night using stars to reach Singapore two days later.

During the following years of captivity a further (14) men from ‘E’ Coy lost their lives.