WX23079 Bravery & Tragic death of Ron ELLIS, Wagin – 2/4th MGB



Singapore 11 Feb 1942 at 2/13th Australian General Hospital then located at St Patricks School a young Western Australian soldier who had fought so hard to survive, took his last breaths.    In order to save his life medical staff amputated his badly wounded arm 2 inches below his shoulder.  The patient also had a shrapnel wound to his chest and had been in a badly shocked state when brought in.


WAGIN boy Ron ELLIS was 21 years old. 


WX13079 Ron Ellis enlisted AIF 17 May 1941. At Northam Army Camp in late Dec 1941.   Ron Ellis was one of 246 soldiers selected to reinforce  2/4th Machine Gun Battalion.  Several men had only just enlisted and a larger number had only the barest training.  They were given leave and ordered back to Camp after New year.  On the morning of 15 February 1942 the men marched through Northam and boarded a train to Fremantle.  The carriages were filled with  excitement and bravado.  They had no knowledge of their destination nor what lay ahead. Their train slowed down when passing through small towns allowing locals to farewell them.
As the train neared Fremantle the boys could see a massive ship.  The ‘Aquitania’ with about 4,000 troops was anchored at Gage Roads off Fremantle.  The reinforcements  were taken out to ‘Aquitania’.  Climbing aboard they encountered hundreds of soldiers attempting to leave the ship without permission and desperate to see their families.  Some were exiting port holes, others over the side.There was madness.
The following day ‘Aquitania’ prepared to sail for Singapore just after midday on 16th Feb 1942.  Left behind were about 90 well trained machine gunners.
On the day before landing at Singapore, half of 146 soldiers  were designated to form ‘E’ Company,  SRB and the remainder would reinforce 2/4th’s platoons, in particular to fill the places of the men left behind in Fremantle unable to free themselves from Fremantle goal.  A large number were locked up in Fremantle gaol by over- zealous MPs and local Police who failed to enquire when their transport ship was departing.
Ellis was one of three reinforcements to join the newly formed 16 Platoon. At Singapore 24 troops transferred from D Coy’s four Platoons and with three Reinforcements formed 16 Platoon under C.O Sgt Arbery, Platoon Sergeant Colevas & L/Cpl Stribley.  
22nd Brigade (3 Battalions) had the eight mile NW coast Sector and was supported by 2/4th’s ‘D’ Company 13, 14, 15, and 16 Platoons.
‘D’ Company 14 & 16 Platoons were supporting 2nd Brigade’s 2/19th Battalion whose CO Lt/ Col Oakes had replaced  Lt-Col Anderson VC who was ill.  Their location was from the Murai to Berih (Sungei) River and Choa Chu Kang Road.  The mouth and estuaries provided an excellent opportunity for deep penetration by Japanese landing craft giving access to Tengah Airfield and ability to attack the rear of 22nd Brigade.  The area is best described as a tidal basin a kilometre wide from north to south and twice that in length.
16 Platoon was located on the exposed north headland of Tanjong Skopec with two guns sited on the water’s edge and a third 350 metres east covering a huge area without any supporting infantry.
During the early fighting Stribley was KIA. CO Arbery & Colevas WIA & evacuated.
 Ordered to fall back to Bn HQ 16 Ptn found ‘D’ Coy HQ deserted and ran into strong Japanese concentrations.  Under attack they were forced to scatter into small groups.  Destroying their guns they tried to make their way back to Australian lines.
By Surrender on 15 Feb 16 Platoon had 8 men standing.  Nine were KIA, two escaped to Sumatra, at least 6 wounded and at least 2-4 missing in action.

16 Platoon was made up of 27 men

By Surrender on 15 Feb 1942

9 men KIA
3 Men WIA evacuated 8/9th Feb 
3 men shell-shocked
(Harrison did runner & boarded ship to Fremantle,  Wilson MIA 8/2 returned to Unit 15 Feb, Richard Annear escaped Sumatra, Wood escaped to Java )
8 Men Standing


The following insert was printd in the Wagin Argus and Arthur, Dumbleyung, Lake Grace Express (WA : 1924 – 1954) Thu 16 Apr 1942 Page 1 
Late  Pte. RON ELLIS, No. 16 Platoon
Heroism at Singapore 
An interesting letter has been received by Mrs. G. Ellis, of Wagin containing news of her late son, Pte. Ron Ellis, who was recently reported as having died of wounds at Singapore.
The Letter comes from a very reliable source, and having seen the original for ourselves, we can vouch for its authenticity. However, as permission has not been given by the writer to publish her name, we will not disclose the source of the information. The letter is sufficient to show that Ronny Ellis, during his tragically short period of actual service, proved himself to be a real Australian soldier, with everything that it takes to be a hero!
Efforts are now being made by local Authorities to see that the action of the late Pte. Ellis, in rescuing an officer under heavy enemy fire is reported to and recognised by the Military Authorities.
The letter received by Mrs. Ellis reads as follows: –
‘Dear Mrs. Ellis,
You will no doubt be very surprised to receive this letter from a stranger, but as my brother fell in the same battle as your son Ronald, and I have been able to gain some details – particularly in relation to your boy – I am taking the liberty of writing this to you in the confidence that it will bring you pride and some consolation. I feel sure that you will want to know all that can be found out, as much as I have wished to learn about my brother’s death, but without success.
The news I have for you was given me by a Corporal of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, who escaped from Singapore near the end of the battle, and has been back in Perth some three weeks. I, of course was anxious to learn if he knew anything of my brother, but, unfortunately, as they had been in different Companies, they were unknown to one another. However your son Ronald was known to the Corporal, and I am glad to be able to tell you that your son’s courage and devotion to duty were all that anyone could hope.
In the Cpl.’s own words, “Ronnie saved my life”.
As related to me, it appears that about a dozen men were endeavouring to carry out a retirement, when they found that they were caught on three sides by Japanese troops and were consequently forced to swim a river to escape. Discarding all equipment, they entered the water and endeavoured to reach the opposite bank. All succeeded in doing so except the Corporal, who is a bad swimmer and he got into great difficulties in midstream. Thereupon, your son returned to him and assisted him to the far bank, all the time under dangerous fire from the enemy. It was a great example of absolute unselfishness and fearlessness and, I am sure will be a source of great pride to you.
The above occurred on Monday, February 9th and the Corporal was with your son until Wednesday the 11th, when they lost touch with one another. I understand that it was on the next day that your son was reported to have died. Please accept my sincere sympathy in your sad loss, and I know that you will understand that I can enter fully into your feeling of sorrow and loss, as my brother fell on the next day and I did truly love my brother ________
Yours sincerely, _______________

Please read about Rowland


Below:  Aquitania.

Please read about ‘Stirling Castle’ Ceylon to Melbourne 1942.
And Please read about HMT ‘Egra’

There was another 2/4th who also escaped using same route and date as Rowland.

WX8448 Private George TAYLOR 12 Platoon. He was listed as Missing in Action, believed to have been killed at Sungei Jurong – 2/4th ‘C’ Coy was supporting 44th Indian Brigade, located at southern most defensive line. Scottish born Taylor had been working as a clerk at Bunbury Courthouse when he enlisted 18 Oct 1940.

It was later discovered Taylor escaped to Sumatra, had been picked up by HMAS Hobart at Padang on the west cost of Sumatra and taken to Ceylon.  On arrival  9 March 1942 he was admitted the  to 2/12th AGH. Four days later on 13 March 1942 Taylor boarded the ‘Stirling Castle’ and disembarked Melbourne on 6th April 1942.  From Melbourne to Fremantle he sailed on ‘Egra’ disembarking on 13 April.
The following is an extract from My War Diary, HMAS Hobart, 27th of February 1942 – 20 March 1942 written by Thomas P Fisher and explains the lucky extraction of George from Sumatra
“The reason that we were not with Perth and Houston was and I quote from my diary;
Tanjong Priok Harbour, Java onboard HMAS Hobart
‘On 25 February 1942 we secured alongside the oil tanker War Sirdar to fuel HMAS Yarra was just casting off from the other side of the tanker.
At 10:25 we were attacked by 11 Jap bombers. Bombs dropped all around us making the Hobart jump around and bounce.
We were attacked twice and 44 bombs landed all around us. One bomb went through the stern of the tanker and exploded underneath it.
The Hobart was heeled over by the force of the bombs bursting down our starboard side. At 1100 we cast off in a hurry and put it to sea at high-speed. We could not complete fuelling due to the air raids and damage to the tanker.
As we did not have enough fuel, the Perth left without us and went down to the battle of the Java Sea. Our time in this war zone was running out and I was not aware of it then.  At midnight on 27 February we put to sea from Tanjong Priok, Java. A huge fleet of Japanese ships were reported due to land at Java in the morning. In company with the HMS Dragon and HMS Danae, we put to sea to try and meet the enemy and destroy as many as possible. We made a sweep towards the north but did not make contact.
Orders were received from Commodore Collins that if we did not meet the enemy we were to leave the area by way of Sunda Straits which we did at dawn on 28 March and proceeded to Padang on the west coast of Sumatra.
Once again we were lucky because the Perth and USS Huston, an American cruiser, attempted to go through Sunda Straits 18 hours later and were both sunk. Their crews that survived were taken prisoners by the Japanese. They had run into the enemy fleet that we had been sent to try and intercept. The Exeter was sunk the day before. Of our cruiser force of seven ships only the Trump and ourselves survived. The Dragon and Danae were not attached. The Java and the De Ruyter were sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea.
At 7:30 pm on 1 March we arrived at Padang, and our ship evacuated 550 men, women and children. The men were mostly soldiers who had escaped from Singapore. At 9 pm, we put to sea with one destroyer doing 28 knots. On 3 March we took 106 evacuees from the ‘Dragon.’ The transfer was carried out at sea. Among them were Indian troops. Also on board was a soldier from the 2nd 4th Machine Gun Battalion, George Taylor from Fremantle.
Next day we fuelled the destroyers at sea and the following day, the 5th, arrived at Colombo where we disembarked the troops and evacuees.”
‘Hobart was fuelling at Tandjong Priok on 25 February 1942 when 27 bombers attacked her and the tanker from which she was fuelling. It was estimated that 60 bombs fell near and around her. She suffered some damage from bomb splinters and some casualties and it was her inability to complete fuelling on this occasion that prevented her from taking part in the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942.’

Please read further about HMAS Hobart 

Each Machine Gun Platoon consisted of two sections each with two Vickers machine guns giving the Battalion a total of 48 Vickers machine Guns.
No. 1 and 2 on the gun were to be issued with revolvers, but in the case of 2/4th, this never happened.
Supposedly each Platoon was to be equipped with a Boyes Anti-Tank rifle – but these were never issued to 2/4th. For each platoon six 15 cwt trucks were provided, giving each Company a total of 21 vehicles.
The battalion was organised by attaching certain personnel from Battalion HQ and HQ Companies to the Machine Gun Companies – enabling each Machine Gun Coy to be self-contained administratively.
Battalion transport included 122 vehicles as well as motorcycles – the reason for the inclusion of a high number of driver trade groupings in the Battalion. The handling and maintenance of all these vehicles was paramount to the efficiency of the Battalion. Therefore the Transport Sergeant, Corporals and Light Aid Detachment (L.A.D.) who serviced these vehicles had a big responsibility to ensure serviceability of the Battalion’s transport.