WX17639 MARSH, Robert Walter & WX17542 KEARNEY, Laurence Daniel avoid capture following Japanese ambush S-W Bukit Timah, 11 Feb 1942.
Japanese troops in Bukit Timah, Singapore prior to the ambush at SW Bukit Timah.
WX17639 MARSH, Robert Walter – died Australian General Hospital, Roberts Barracks, Changi, Singapore on 5 April 1942 from wounds received at south-west Bukit Timah Japanese ambush on 11 Feb 1942. He was just 18 years old.
Marsh with WX17452 Laurence KEARNEY from ‘E’ Company SRB the two men ‘stayed out’ until they were captured by the Japanese 24 days later on 7 March 1942. Marsh was had received terrible wounds to his stomach and left thigh. He must have been in agony.
Kearney had received a bullet wound in his back which entered near his spine and exited through his shoulder, feigned death and it was suggested he survived being bayoneted of which he did not confirm or deny.
Following capture both men were admitted to AGH at Roberts Barracks Changi probably following interrogation by the Japanese – both in terrible condition.
Marsh was delirious from GSW to his stomach and left hip and Kearney less so, but in a bad way having been exposed to the elements. Kearney recovered and was returned to his unit on 16 March – he was fortunate his GSW and bayonet wound were clean, however young Marsh died at AGH Roberts Barracks, Changi on 5 April 1942 from his wounds received at south-west Bukit Timah Japanese ambush on 11 Feb 1942 he had lived 53 days after being shot.
How terrifying this experience was for these two young men. They would not have been familiar with the layout of the Island. The island was densely covered with trees and undergrowth. Marsh had enlisted 12 Nov 1941 and Kearney was 9 years older having been born in 1914, enlisted 27 Oct 1941.
‘E’ Company SRB walked into a Japanese ambush on 11 Feb 1942 whilst trying to make their way towards Allied forces having been left behind during a withdrawal. There was huge loss of life, some wounded left behind and those who survived ran for the lives in all directions. This SRB was made up almost entirely of reinforcements.
Today we can question why were all the reinforcements, many of whom had enlisted just weeks prior to leaving Northam and many more with little or no training, formed into one fighting Battalion?
Kearney was born lucky!
He was selected to work on the Burma end of the Burma-Thai Railway with ‘A’ Force Green Force No 4 Battalion. He survived this ordeal and in 1944 was selected fit by the Japanese to work in Japan with what would become known as ‘Rakuyo’ Maru Party.
His POW transport ship ‘Rakuyo’ Maru was sunk by American submarines 12 Sept 1944 in the South China Sea. Most of the 1100 POWs onboard perished, Kearney was one of less than 200 POWs who survived long enough to be picked up by the same submarines who had sunk most of their convoy.
It was another frightening ordeal, however Kearney returned home to his family towards end of 1944. Those saved were sworn to secrecy to keep quiet about their ordeal, the AIF did not want families contacting them about their sons, husbands, brothers. The government would have already been very anxious about public reaction to well- documented Japanese atrocities and treatment of POWs.
Below: the war-damaged Roberts Barracks which became AGH at Changi.