Escaped from Singapore

On the 13.2.1942, as the loss of Singapore became apparent , in was decided to order 9 men from the 9th Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers to leave Singapore on a special mission, they were selected by LT/COL C Thomas on the orders from the 18th Division Senior Commanders, who had deemed that approximately 500 Officers and men should undertake an evacuation from Singapore.
 Not all of them escaped.

Major B Leech
 LT/COL L C Thomas 12501
CAPT T V H Beamish 71099
FUS T Bennet             4271880
FUS A Casey              4275796
RSM T Johnson           4265267
CSM G McQuade       4265362
FUS A Sidey                4277552
S/SGT W Ridged         7583891 RAOC Attached to the Royal Northumberlan Fusiliers

A escape route had already been set up across Sumatra to the east coast at Padang, here they would have boarded a ship for Ceylon.
Click on Image to enlarge



From Paper Cutting, Thanks to Dianne Williams

R.N.F Men’s Perilous 16 Days to Ceylon

The story of how two officers and a handful of men of the 9th Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers made their escaped from Singapore to Ceylon when the Japanese overwhelmed the garrison in February 1942.
 During a memorable 15 days they had exciting voyage through heavy seas in various kinds of boats and native craft, struggling along from one small island to another, and eventually crossing Sumatra in a trek through jungle swamps.
 Alternatley, they were skinned raw to the waist by hot sun and soaked and chilled by tropical rain and continually they suffered torture by mosquitoes.

The heroes of this gruelling exploit are Major Basil J Leech, son of the late Sir Joseph Leech and Lady Leech of Newcastle: Captain T V H Beamish MC: RSM Johnson : CSM McQuade : Corpral Sidey : Fusilier Bennett and Fusilier Casey (Full list above).

They belonged to the Battalion commanded by Lieut-Colonel L C Thomas OBE DSO MC, which had arrived to reinforce the Singapore defenders only eight days before the surrended.

2000 Mile Journy

 How far they travelled before reaching the safety of Ceylon, I do not know but the distance must be close to 2000 miles.

 On February 13 Colonel Thomas was ordered by Commander of the 18th Division to select a small party from his battalion and rendezvous at the docks.
 The men chosen were to be “staunch and efficient at their jobs and must place pride in their regiment before their own lives”
 The evacuation arrangements however, broke down and the 500 officers and men representing most units and formations on the island who had assembled, were doomed to disappointment.
 A search was made for any seaworthy engined craft and on the following day, in spite of a protest amounting almost to a refusal, Colonel Thomas was ordered to leave with the 100 or so officers and men who could be accommodated in the three craft available.
 In the early evening it was officially made known that no further boats could be obtained and all ranks were given the alternative of returning to their units or making individual efforts to get away.

  Risks and hardships that might be involved in an attempt to escape were explained to the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers party led by Major Leech, all men elected to go through with the venture

In Rowing Boat.

Shortly after dark they set off in a further search of the docks and it was found that Captain Beamish, who was on the divisonal staff, had aquired an 18 foot rowing boat and knew where a second dingy was to be found.
 After negotiating the booms, St John’s Island was reached in the early hours of February 15th. The tide raced between the Islands made further progress by rowing out of the question and they waded ashore. After breakfast they rowed to the next island and then abandoning their second boat, they set off under tow of a mailing junk.

 As progress was slow and erratic they cast off and after rowing foran hour and a half, they landed on the sandy beach of Palau Samboe.
 Throughout the day there had been an incessant low rumble from the direction of Singapore. Formation after formation of Japanese bombers had passed overhead carrying death and destruction to the crowded defenders of the town.
 The sky over Singapore Island was foul with thick oily grey smoke, due to burning fires which had been started.
 Details of the Fusiliers adventures are published in diary form in “St Georges Gazette the regimental magazine. At this point there is the entry “Shortly after we land all is suddenly  quiet over Singapore, some of us guessed what had happened. We learned the next morning that the  the town had surrendered unconditionally. Our thoughts go back to the many gallant soldiers left behind. We all find what is like to have a lump in our throats “

A Lucky Find

After refreshing themselves with coconut milk, the party spent the night on the beach and on the following Morning they rowed over to the opposite island of Blakang Padang.
 In a native hut RSM Johnson made a lucky find of maps covering the whole area between Singapore and Sumatra, with a small scale map of Sumatra and Java.

By this time a mast and sails had been added to the rowing boat, but she had no keel or centre board, with only a small brokenoar serving as a rudder, the craft, in the hands of amateur crew, was not very reliable.
 The ebbing tide eventually forced them to put in on the south side of Paula Bojan, and after a short steep climb from the mangrove swamp at the waters edge, they found a resting place for the night, the only trouble being due to mosquitoes.
 News that the Japanese had taken several other small islands made them change their plans, and they decided to run south-west to the Sumatran coast, At Kampong a Chinese provided them with water, duck eggs and pineapple.
 “Skipper” Leech was suffering from a a poisoned leg having burned it on Singapore Island while wading through a canal that must have contained as much petrol as it did water, and Corporal Sidey was handicapped by a badly poisoned arm. By this time there was no one who had not cut his foot more than once on pieces of sharp coral.
 By early evening of February 25 they were off the point where Captain Beamish, the navigating officer, reckoned were the village of Deorei should be, but there was nothing to be seen except uninviting mangrove swamp.

Chinese Hospitality

 After another hours rowing, they came on a group of three huts on a little island, the only occupent, a Chinese charcoal trade. He was most hospitable, and gave them the run of his somewhat rickety house.
 From a beached oil tanker, a “scavenging party” returned with a bundle of useful charts, pilot books and half a dozen signal rockets.
 Guided by a Malay, they eventually reached Doerei village which was not were it was shown an the 1880 map they were using.
 They arranged with the Malay that he would take the party to Guntong and accept their boats as payment.
 At Doerei, the villagers provided a meal of curried chicken with fresh pineapple as a kind of sorbet.   A river trip was followed by a jungle trek.  They carried their rations and kit slung on poles and had rough experience as they negotiated the narrow track, which was pitted with knee-deep bog holes and intersected by concealed roots and jungle growth.
 “ We were often thrown off our balance and tumbles were frequent” they regimental diaries recorded “Monkeys and parrots kept up a contentious cacophony of laughter”.
Across Sumatra

In their crossing of Sumatra they continued their journey via Chariah Manda and Tambilahan above  Prigi Raja on the river Indragiri.
 By this time the Japanese were in Palembang, on the south east of Sumatra, having already occupied the aerodrome
 It was learned that the boats on which the organised party was supposed to have been taken on from Singapore had been sunk by Japanese bombers. One had been attacked five times by waves of 27 enemy aircraft..
 On February 25 they set of for Rengat, still 100 miles away.
 With varying degrees of discomfort they reached Sawelento, where they had an appetising meal of stew, consisting of “ Two tins of everything there was and thickened with rice”.
 Part of the journey was by an open truck and the driver seemed quite unperturbed by a cold tropical deluge as he flung the vehicle round hairpin bends and precipitous paths with sheer falls of several hundred feet on either side of the road.
 By train they proceeded to Pedang, on the west coast and on March 1st they found themselves filing up the gangway of a British warship bound for Ceylon.
 On landing they were delighted to meet Colonel Thomas, their commanding officer who had already safely reached Colombo.
 Apart from Major Leech, who left France four days before evacuation in May, 1940, the whole of the party were at Dunkirk, once more they had reason to appreciate the Senior Service.

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