May 19th 1942
Herewith the long promised letter, that I have been meaning to write for 6 weeks, but first let me say how sorry I am about your second baby, which Budge has told me about. I do hope that Jane did not take it too hard, having Stella must have helped a good deal.
I had better tell you my adventures in a chronological order. I left Port Dixon on Jan 11th having sent Budge to Singapore about a fortnight earlier. I was the last civilian to leave as the order for evacuation never reached me, but when the Police were disbanded the previous day, and I noticed that nearly all others had left, I took it as time that I moved as well. The Japs were then supposed to be about 30 miles away. All my work had stopped on Govt. orders, and I had sent all my labourers, and assistants to Singapore and was busy myself trying to get all the plant out that I could manage. I drove the firm’s lorry down to Singapore, piled high with various baggage, and had no adventures except at Muar, where 3 Jap planes made a dive bombing attack on us, where we were parked awaiting a ferry. They didn’t drop any bombs, and I was lying face down in a very nasty mangrove swamp awaiting my end, and was very disappointed at the anti-climax. It was apparently just Jap sense of humour. Later in the day after I had left Muar, they returned and gave it a good plastering.
We moved back into our old house in Singapore and were optimistic about everything until about the end of January. I had made Budge put her name down for evacuation, and on the last day of the month she was told that there was a passage for her. It nearly broke my heart seeing her off with Caroline under those circumstances. I thought at that time that she was going direct to England. After she had gone, Frank Grazebrook Budge’s brother-in-law a Major in R.E., Gordon Ransome, a Professor of Medicine in Singapore, and an Australian War Correspondent named Henry Stokes, moved into my house to share.
All this time, I was working hard building temporary camps for the Army, in the exact area where the Japs eventually landed. We had air-raids almost continuously but being all day out in the Rubber Estates, I was fairly safe, and had the great pleasure of being first on the scene when a Jap plane, having received a direct Ack-ack hit, exploded – and crashed within 100 yards of me. Unfortunately, all members of the crew were dead, although only one looked badly damaged, and he had his head off and was burning nicely. After about a week the Japs started shelling and the very first salvo came over at breakfast time and landed all around our house, one shell hitting the house just above us, that had been turned into an Australian Hospital. This went on every morning and in the evening, and we got quite used to it.
Then one evening, a terrific barrage started, and we counted 97 shells per minute, although they weren’t all Jap, and were not landing near us. This barrage went on for four hours, and we went to bed thinking that all the noise was our guns. Next morning we learnt that we were mistaken, and that the Japs had landed on the Island. Henry Stokes the War Correspondent was a mine of information and kept us completely informed of all news, although at one time we were fed up with him as his news was always bad, but unhappily true. On Tuesday Feb 10th we learnt through him that things were pretty hopeless, and I went down to the Bank with a view to getting most of my money out of the country, keeping a little in case it came in useful during internment. The previous evening Ransome and I had been down to the Yacht Club and stocked up his little dinghy with provisions etc with a view to escaping if it became necessary. After visiting the bank, I went off down to my work, to see if it was possible to carry on. I wasn’t allowed up the road however, which was apparently under heavy mortar fire and dive bombing. I then thought I would call in at the Temporary Office we had. Our original office being next to the Civil Aerodrome very soon became uninhabitable, and the second one we moved to had been completely demolished by shells and bombs. I called in for a few minutes before going to lunch, and our Secretary told me to keep in touch with him all day. At lunch Henry Stokes said that he had been ordered to leave that evening with all the other correspondents, and advised us to get out immediately if we wanted to get out at all.
I then went round to see our Secretary, and he told me that the Admiralty had ordered him to give them a list of all our staff with a view to evacuation, that he had done this, and that I was to meet them at 3pm with a view to embarking on a Naval craft at 4pm. It was then about 1.30pm, so I rushed home, and packed a suitcase with some shirts etc. The previous evening we had been ejected from my own house to make way for some Australian wounded, and all my furniture, silver, glass and private papers etc were stacked in the garage. I couldn’t even find Budge’s photo, or my cameras, so I lost all possessions I ever had. On my way to the Docks there was another heavy raid, but we finally got on board and sailed. The last sight of Singapore was the most melancholy I have ever seen. The whole sky was covered with black smoke from the various oil tanks set on fire, and guns were firing continuously. We had an uneventful journey except when eight Jap planes flew over us, and one of them took time off to bomb us. Our high angle gun kept him up however and he only dropped one bomb which missed us by 15 yards. We were amazingly lucky compared to some people who had hours of continuous bombing, with their ships being sunk. We arrived in Batavia and changed to a Dutch ship, which after what seemed an interminable voyage brought us to Colombo, from whence I sent my first cable to you and Budge. We didn’t know what our final destination was, but were finally told that it would be Bombay, where we arrived on March 1st. On landing, I wrote to the C.R.E. Southern Command, and applied for a commission with the R.E.s. He wrote a very nice letter back asking me to go and see him, but before I could go I was called up before a National Service Labour Tribunal. The usual delay followed, and finally I got my orders to go to an Officers’ Training Unit. Meanwhile, Gammons of Bombay, offered me a job which I refused, although the pay was attractive being Rs1300 per month. I had set my mind on the Army and told them so. This Gammons is no connection with the Malayan firm only having been founded by the same man. The Manager of the firm then went to Delhi and saw the Engineer-in-Chief and applied for my release from Army Service, without my knowledge or consent. They are engaged on the new China road, and he somehow managed to persuade the E-in-C that I was just the man for it. The E-in-C then wrote to the G.O.C. District, and asked him to interview me and to persuade me to take on this civilian job. I saw the General and put forward my case, and told him that I was quite willing to go as an Army Officer, but would not go as a civilian. The General quite agreed with me, and replied to Delhi that those were my final terms. Delhi still hum and hawed and so I happened to find out a branch of the Army that had absolute priority for men, and went and offered myself to them, explaining the whole situation. They immediately accepted me, and within two weeks I have been promoted Acting Captain, although I am still on a training course. I can’t I’m afraid tell you much about the job owing to censorship, but I am in the Corps of Indian Engineers, which is the illegitimate offspring of the Royal Engineers, and some but by no means all of my brother officers are peculiarly coloured. The whole show is in fact a most amazing mixture of Classes, colours etc but when I join a Company, I shall be doing work with which I am very familiar, and will probably go overseas. My address for letters, which I cabled to you is c/o Imperial Bank of India, Bombay.
I only wish I could have Budge and Caroline here, but I think India is a filthy place, and at present where I am now, the heat is terrific. Anyway I shall never know that I will be in one place for certain, South Africa is much safer than India, and the sea passage across is by no means 100% safe, so I have put the idea out of my mind. I miss her terribly, and I am sure that she is the best wife that anyone ever had. I want her to stay in South Africa where she can bring up Caroline with plenty of food, and get really fit herself after her 3 years in Malaya, and the horrible experiences she has been through lately.
If and when the sea is really safe again, and if the war seems as though it is going to continue for some time more, she may possibly decide to return home to England, or even go and join you in Mexico. I know you would love them both.
I shall finish my course here in two weeks, and then, I don’t know where I shall go. I’ll write and tell you how I am getting on later, but while on this course we never have a minute to ourselves except in the middle of the day, when it is usually too hot to write.
My love to Jane and Stella, and Ruth’s children.
By the way Frank Grazebrook stayed behind being on the General Staff and is now a prisoner of war. Henry S and Gordon Ransome left on another boat the same evening, and Gordon came with me to Colombo and Bombay. His wife is one of Budge’s oldest friends and is with her in Durban. Gordon has now joined the I.M.S. as a Major