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Discovering my story

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A paper presented to the Hi Neighbors Program at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, 2015.

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Discovering my story

  1. 1. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 1 Discovering My Story Jeff Gissing First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem February 2, 2015 “I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers … it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” Gen. William T. Sherman, United States Army Introduction I’m grateful forthe invitation to spendpart of this morningwith you—thank you.AsI considered whatI shouldshare with you,I initially thoughtabout some topic related to theology or discipleship or something more outwardly“churchy”thanthe topic that I have chosen.Inthe end, however,I wasinwardly moved to invite youinto part ofmy family’s story and how wediscovered the part that my paternal grandfatherplayed in the SecondWorld War. I said a moment ago that my topic didn’t seem all that “churchy,”andperhapsthat’s true. Itis, however, deeply connectedto the ways that Godhas been workingin my family over the generations. We all have a story, don’t we? And whenwestop to reflect uponit, one ofthe major actorsin that story is God himself. It’s notalways easy to pickout the ways in whichGod is at work, butperiodically we might receive “hints” or“hunches”that something bigger, deeper, and wider is going onbeyond the details ofour personal stories and those ofour families. I haven’t written orspoken muchaboutwhat I’ll share this morning.So, I’m grateful for the chanceto commit some thoughtsto writingand to share those wordswith you.I am a writer by nature andI’m fondof saying that I don’t know what I think about a matter until I’ve written aboutit. You’vehelped me to processthis story onceagain and in a deeper wayby preparing to share it with you—many thanks.I’m indebted tomy father whose researchforms the basis of a significant part ofthis talk.
  2. 2. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 2 Beginnings Thoughits beginnings predate my birth, the story became mine whenI wasborninto it. I wasborn39 years ago in a drab military hospital onthe island ofCyprus,a stone’s through from Israel and the rest ofthe Middle East. At the time, my father wasa Warrant Officerin the British army and serving as TransportControl Warrant Officer(RoyalCorpsof Transport) for one ofthe two sovereign base areas on Cypruswhichare home to a regular rotation ofBritish Armyand Royal Air Forceunitswhorotate throughthe theatre of operations.It’s also home to a significant intelligence communitysince its proximity to the rest ofthe Middle East makes it an effective place to “listen in on other peoples’ conversations.” They’d lived onCyprusfor a coupleof years before I was born—enjoyingthe climate and the relative luxuryof living on a British base in the 1970sas well as strongChristian fellowship througha groupofevangelical Christians affiliated with a para-churchministrycalled Soldiers andAirmen’s Scripture Readers Association(SASRA).Interestingly,SASRA cameinto being (1818) whenilliteracy wascommonamong troopswhohad little to noaccessto the Bible and couldn’tread it even if they gota copy.Its purposewas toevangelize the troopsand provide forChristian fellowship (koinonia,touse a term that hasa grandhistory here at FPCB) and to supplement the ministry of the regimental or squadronchaplains. My father (anEnglishman) and my mother (anAmerican) had met while he was visiting a sister whohadmarried an Americanserviceman and moved to New Jersey. Aftertheir first meeting, they correspondedfora year or twoand then married in1972 movingto Cyprusfor their first posting. While they were there they experienced the culminationof the growingtensions in the Mediterranean when,in July 1974,Turkishforcesinvaded and captured3% ofthe island before a ceasefire wasdeclared. The Greek military juntacollapsed and was replaced by a democratic
  3. 3. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 3 government.In August1974furtherTurkishinvasion resulted in the captureof40%of the island. The ceasefire line fromAugust1974became the United Nations BufferZone in Cyprus and is commonly referred toas the Green Line. The segregation of the island resulted in the expelling ofnearly 25%ofthe Cypriot population—mostly of Greek origin—whofeared for their life underthe Turkish rule. My father was highly involved withboth the military andhumanitarian effortssince he wasone of the team responsibly fortransportation in and aroundthe eastern part of the island, the section closest to the point ofthe Turkish invasion and closest tothe line of demarcation. They both recall hearing shells landing very close to—but never on—British soil and also welcoming Cypriot civilian refugees into their home.At the time they had been hopingto become pregnantand were feeling frustratedthat, as yet, God had notanswered their prayer. God’s providence—his lovingtender careof his people—was at worksince with the invasion there was virtually noaccessto any kind of formulaor baby food. My family wasfortunate to live in several wonderfulparts ofthe world. My sister was bornwhile welived in Berlin, in the German Democratic Republic—something that young adults now learn about only frombooks. My father wasresponsible forrunningthe British military train that ran fromWest Germany (the Federal Republic ofGermany) throughthe East and into the British sector ofBerlin. I don’trecall any ofthis personally since I was a toddler at the time. And,tobe honest,it seems like an age ago that there wasa divided Germany anda divide Berlin with desperate Germans trying all manner ofthings to get acrossthe wall. My father tells ofhis experience ofrunningthe train. It wouldhalt at the borderof East and West and a formal inspectionof documentswouldhappen,the doors wouldbe chained closed andthe windowssecuredsothat no one andnothing couldenter or leave the carsuntil it was safely in Berlin.
  4. 4. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 4 Aftergaining his commission as an officerin the British army, wemoved back to the United Kingdom. Several years later my father andI began to explore my grandfather’s history ofinvolvement in whatwe call World War 2. My Father There are a numberof people whomI greatly admire—writers, theologians, thinkers— butnone more than my father whowill turn 77 in September. Bornin 1938,justa year before the war began,he is part ofa generation of Britonswhoexperienced the war as youngchildren and the austerity of the post-waryears as a youngadult. I recall him telling me that he ate his first banana as a teenager, whichis somethingthat few currentteenagers couldfathom. My father joined the army at 19since, he figured,he was required to performNational Service and those whovoluntarily joined the army were paid at a higherrate than those who were forcedinto its ranks. His army career was marked by steady progression throughthe ranks and he retired in 1987as a Majorhaving risen from the rank ofprivate. He served in some remarkable places andthroughsome remarkable years: West and East Germany, Aden(now Yemen),Dubai, and the United Kingdom,whichitself wasdealing with domestic terrorism in the form ofthe Irish troubles and the activities ofthe Irish RepublicanArmy. Infact,as a child I recall ourcar being inspected forbombs as weentered or left the base. He was deployed to the Gulfregion as the British army respondedto the insurgencyin Aden,a part ofSouth Arabia. Aden—andthe portof the same name--might also be familiar to yousince the USS Cole was attacked by a suicide bomber in 2000. Partly inspired by Nasser's pan Arabnationalism, the Radfancampaign began in December 1963with the throwingof a grenade at a gathering of British officials at AdenAirport.
  5. 5. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 5 A state ofemergency was then declared in the British Crowncolonyof Adenand its hinterland, the Aden Protectorate.The emergency escalated in 1967andhastened the end of British rule in the territory, whichhad begunin 1839.On30 November 1967,British forces withdrew and the independent People's Republic of SouthYemen was proclaimed. My father’s role was training Yemeni soldiers—part of the federal regular army—and he was also involved in the eventual draw downofthe colonywhen the men and equipment in Adenwere transported to Sharjahin Dubai the nearest British base. I grew upclose to the army and to soldiering. I knew my fatherto be a soldier and that his father has been a soldier, butneither ofusknew more than that he had served in the army and died in World War 2. Why? War is a horrible thing andanyone whosays otherwise mustn’t be at all familiar with its reality for those whoexperience it. Ofcourse,horrorsare—from time to time—a part of life. Andthe horrorof a worldwar wasplayed outnot peculiarly in my family. One ofthe horrorsof the war is that the horrific becomes mundane, routine,and a regular part of people’s lives. And the pure horrorofit, understandably,leads people to do abnormal thingsin orderto copein its midst and to refuse todiscussit after the fact.As a result, my father grew upknowing little to nothingof his ownfather’s sacrificelargely a result ofthe trauma—and economic hardship—it placed onhis family. It’s one thingwhen less than one percent(the figureis 0.5%) ofthe populationserve in the military—as today—verses the 12%of the populationwhoserve duringworld war. As casualties, in World War 1 2%ofthe British populationwere killed andin World War 2 close to 1%of the populationwas killed in action(0.94%),bycomparisonUScasualties were 0.3%of population.The Axiscountriessufferedgreater casualties with approximately 12%ofthe
  6. 6. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 6 German population dyingand 25%of the population ofBelarus, a Republic and part ofthe Soviet Union that was overrunbythe Germansand had a collaborationist military as well as a Soviet-loyal military. The sheer scale ofthese numbers are proofenoughof the trauma inflicted onthe families of servicemen—both those wholived and those whodied—in the worthycauseof worldfreedom. A third ofthe fathers living of my Dad’s childhoodstreet did notreturn home, includingmy grandfather. Asa youngman, my father wouldvisit the warmemorial in the city he grew up in and wonderwhyhis father’s name wasn’tinscribed on it. This was alternately a cause forconcernor forshame. Hadhis father done something to causehis name to omitted from the memorials? Had he deserted? Hadhe done some other evil act? Why the omission. These thoughtswere more frequentas a youngerman, andas the years woreon my Dad thoughtofit less often but wonderedstill. Aroundmysenior year ofhigh school—1993-1994—I askedmy Dadabout my grandfather.Forsome reason,it causedhim to decide to actively seek out answersforhis decades-longwondering.Two years later, as a sophomorein college, I studied abroad in Londonandwent to the National RecordOfficejustoutside ofLondonin the hope of discoveringsomething about my grandfatherand the unit he served in. This was the first of many hoursspent by me and then by my father topiece together whathappened. The histories ofsome regiments and divisions are well known.History swallowsothers. Inthis case, a swift defeat despite a tenacious fightand the subsequentdestructionof all unitrecordsand then the consignmentof thosetroops whocapitulated to POWcampscaused officialaccountstobe murky at best, butI’m getting ahead ofmyself.
  7. 7. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 7 My roots lay in Suffolk,a countyinthe east ofEngland in a region sometimes knownby its ancient name, “East Anglia.” This was the home ofthe pre-Norman angles of“Anglo-Saxon” fame. My great great grandfatherwas a gamekeeper whotook careof the pheasants ona Suffolkestate so that they couldbe hunted bypeople suchas the ViscountofGrantham. My great grandfather, a man bythe name ofJosephGissing, had left the estate to fight in the Great War. He returned from Francea brokenman—physically and mentally abusive and given to an over-excessofdrink. A bricklayer by trade he travelled aroundthe countyto worksites. His behavior eventually forcedmy great grandmotherto take her twosons andleave him, moving to the city ofIpswich(alsoin Suffolk) to escape his abuse.They lived in urban poverty withmy great grandmotherworkingas a charlady,a house-cleaner. In1939,Hitler invaded Polandhaving already annexed the CzechSudetenland and war was declared. Lessthan a year after the warbegan, my grandfather (HaroldGissing) and his brother (Charlie) were called up. Harold bynow was married andthe father of twosons.He reported forduty withhis brother (their serial numbers are one digit different) a day beforemy father’s secondbirthday. They were drafted into the Royal Artillery, and posted to the 48th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment based at Wolverstone Hall, which approximately half way between Ipswich and Shotley in the countyofSuffolk,England. After basic training, 48 Regiment was assigned to provide anti-aircraft defense of the port ofHarwichagainst the regular raids ofthe German Luftwaffe. When it comes to deployment, war is like a game of chess—units are moved from place to place to keep ahead of the enemy’s next move. As the war progressed, there was increasing need for Royal Artillery troops to provide defense for Royal Air Force (RAF) bases in the east theatre of operations. Several of the units located near 48 Regiment were sent to Malta, which
  8. 8. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 8 made the regiment the primary airfield defense unit for the eastern part of Great Britain during the Battle ofBritain. After almost a year of home front fighting, the regiment was withdrawn from active service and sent for extensive training for a period of three weeks in the country around Yeovil in Somerset. On arrival they were greeted by a day of continuously down pouring rain. But after that first and highly uncomfortable day, the weather became perfect. The first few days of training was limited to testing the drivers and dispatch riders, who at this eleventh hour, were posted to the Regiment to bring it up to full mobile strength. Amazingly, many were found to be quite untrained and some unable to drive at all; no one had had any training in mobile operations. They just had to make it work, failure was not an option. Those with training worked tirelessly to impart their knowledge to the untrained whom, with equal enthusiasm, set themselves to learning as quickly as they possibly could. On September 12th 1941, whilst still at Yeovil, orders were received to cease training, and to return all vehicles and stores to their respective centers and be ready to move to Southend-on-Sea in Essex on September 15th 1941. On September 15th 1941 the Regiment boarded trains at Yeovil and after a comparatively comfortable train journey arrived at South End in the afternoon. Empty houses 1in various roads at South End had been requisitioned for billets, and by 6.30 p.m. every man had been allotted his quarters and was on his way to a vast hall for the hot meal which awaited them. At some point Top Secret orders regarding embarkation had been received from the War Office. The Regiment was destined for Malaya and was expected to serve garrison duty defending a fortified position, possibly Singapore. They had to be ready to embark by October 14th 1941. This Top Secret information was shared with only the privileged few. 1 I believe that the emptyhouses were available because the previous occupants hadbeen the subject of a mandatoryevacuation and movedto saferareas. Southend-on-Sea is locatedat the mouth ofthe Thames estuarywhere considerable oil andfuel depots were situation.These precious reserves plus Londonitselfwere majortargets for enemy aircraft.
  9. 9. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 9 However troops before proceeding overseas, must be equipped with uniforms appropriate to that country. For each country in the Middle East and the Far East the scale and the type of clothing varies, therefore it was not too long before all ranks had a shrewd idea of their intended destination. The motto of military transportation is “hurry up and wait.” It took about a month for the regiment to get kitted out and to get to Scotland, where they would board a troop ship and steam to their final destination. Almost immediately after the train had stopped in Glasgow the word flashed along – “It’s the Athlone Castle”. The knowing ones rubbed their hands together with satisfaction. The ‘Athlone Castle’ was a luxury liner and, most importantly, was built for the tropics. Their ecstasy was short lived however, because no sooner had they begun to embark a rumor flew round that the ‘Athlone Castle’ had developed engine trouble, and because 48th LAA Regiment RA were priority troops, they would have to transship to the ‘Duchess of Atholl’ which at that time was lying further down the river Clyde. Even though most of the stores and equipment had already been loaded to the ‘Athlone Castle’ it had to be unloaded and placed back on the quayside. Hurry up and wait. The ‘Duchess of Atholl’ was a much smaller vessel. The troops found themselves grossly overcrowded with hammocks below decks slung side by side with not an inch between them and other men lying in bunks on the deck beneath them. It was not until the afternoon of the following day that all of their stores and baggage were loaded and the vessel cast off her moorings and the tugs maneuvered her into the river Clyde.2 Harold and Charlie awoke on the December 7th 1941 to a day of alternate bright sunshine and thick snow squalls, with a bitter wind blowing. Many more ships had arrived and the convoy 3 appeared to be forming up. A destroyer or two slipped in and out of the shipping or circled about itsperiphery. 2 I madeonly onejourney by troopship and that wasbetween Harwich andtheHookof Holland, ajourney lasting only afew hours.I can assureyou that thisisnot an experiencethat I would chooseto repeat. Spending acoupleof monthsin similar conditionsdoes not bear thinking about. 3 The convoynumberwas WS14
  10. 10. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 10 The whole of that Sunday afternoon was spent allocating men to their lifeboat stations, and in practicing rapid assembly at boat stations from the mess decks below. From this point onwards, all ranks were instructed that they would have to carry their lifebelts wherever they went, and for the next four nights they must sleep fully clothed. It was announced that in future water for washing would only be available for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. Hot water would only be available once a week. Late on that Sunday came news that would change everything--evening it was learned that war had broken out in the Pacific. Japan was at war with Great Britain and the USA. Harold and Charlie realized that their intended service in Malaya would no longer be mere ‘Garrison Duty.’ It became obvious that fighting lay ahead. A different kind of fight would occupy them during their weeks at sea: the fight against boredom, seasickness, and despair. Owing to the crowded conditions on the ship it was impossible for all the men to eat at the same time, and in each of the two messes there were three services for each meal. All ranks had to be washed and shaved4 and their kits rolled up with their hammocks packed away by 9.00 a.m. From 9.00 a.m. until ‘dismiss’ was sounded on the bugle, which was about 11.00 a.m. they were all required to stay on deck regardless of weather.5 The ‘Duchess of Atholl’ as flagship of the convoy, took up station at the head of the third line. Although the wind had mercifully dropped, a long running swell made the ship pitch considerably and the true meaning of her nickname ‘The Dancing Duchess’ soon became apparent. The next day, December 10th 1941 the ship pitched heavily, and victims became numerous. At the midday meal there was some 180 empty places at each meal served in the men’s messes. By early afternoon the great majority were to be seen in every state and position of absolute misery. It was at this 4 Remember they were already requiredtobe fully dressed. 5 Do yourecall what the weatherwas like at that time? It alternatedbetween bright sunshine andthicksnowsqualls, with a bitter wind. Not ideal conditions tobe on the opendeck of a ship.
  11. 11. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 11 point in the voyage that the overcrowding caused the most acute discomfort due to the constant need to get to the latrines. Later sleeping on deck became possible and a slightly better routine was evolved. In the early hours of December 12th 1941 a series of crashes throughout the ship announced the collapse of temporary bunks, steel uniform cases and all moveable objects were being tossed all over the place. The troops, due to lack of sleep, rose wearily. They faced what was to be the worst day of the voyage. At breakfast a particularly vicious roll of the ship caused five tables, with ninety men to collapse completely; mess tins, food, knives and forks flew in all directions and from the resulting chaos three men broke their ankles and another received a very badly cut hand. Sailing farther south, the weather eventually changed. December 20th 1941 was a swelteringly hot day. All hot water was turned off in an effort to cool the ship, but this had little effect and the lack of ventilation in a ship built for the North Atlantic made it felt. A change in convoy formation took place by the ships forming into four lines of ships, line astern. On December 21st 1941 a further change was made as the lines of ships closed to form one long single line. At 7.00 a.m. a headland loomed up out of the mist and a cutterwith pilots was seen approaching. Harold and Charlie had reached Freetown (Sierra Leone). The convoy remained in Freetown until the afternoon of Christmas day. No shore leave was authorized. Natives in their ‘bum boats’6 were selling oranges and bananas. The purchase of these fruits was forbidden.7 Native divers provided great amusement by diving for coins thrown by soldiers’ enjoying a breath of fresh air on the upper decks of the ship. On January 4th 1942 the portion of the convoy which was to call at Capetown took up station to port while the ships going to Durban, which included the ‘Duchess of Atholl’, formed up to starboard. That evening the Capetown group dropped astern and the next morning those on the ‘Duchess’ saw the South African coastline with Table Mountain clearly visible. Durban was their destination and as hot and cold water was now available all day Harold and Charlie spent time washing their personal clothes in preparation for a spell of shore leave. After a month of being cramped and crowded on a troopship, shore leave was to be a welcomed respite and pleasure. 6 Small native sail boats operatedby local tradesmen sellingtheir merchandise. 7 It is evident that theofficers didnot want their soldiers gettingsick fromeatingfruits which theywere not accustomedto.I didnot sample the taste of a banana until I was approximately13years of age.
  12. 12. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 12 The convoy arrived off Durban at 6.30 a.m. on January 8th 1942 and the ships entered the harbor one by one with the ‘Duchess of Atholl’ berthing at 9.00 a.m. Shore leave was granted immediately and Charlie and Harold filed ashore as soon as they had been issued with their passes and some South African currency. Officers were allowed ashore at 11.30 a.m. and the other ranks being allowed ashore at 2.00 p.m. in the meantime everybody crowded on deck to see the sights. It is alleged that the ship developed a remarkable list as all ranks rushed to the ships rails to see the first women that they had seen for over a month. The next three days were spent in Durban and once again residents did their utmost to give the troops a happy time. Complete strangers took groups of men home and gave them an enjoyable respite in a family atmosphere. Others took men to the cinema, to restaurants or canteens and every car owner seemed determined on giving rides round Durban to as many soldiers as possible. This was particularly noticeable on the Saturday and Sunday when, as it seemed, all the cars in Durban lined up at a previously advertised rendezvous, and thousands of men were taken for drives to the Valley of the Thousand Hills, to the Umgeni River and to other attractive spots in the neighborhood. Others were taken to see the Snake Farm, and the monkeys along the Burman Avenue. All good things must come to an end, and end they did. On Monday January 11th 1942 it was learned that the convoy would probably sail the following day. Sail it did, and at 2.30 p.m. the s.s. Dunera steamed slowly out of harbor while every railway engine and all the ships whistled a succession of victory ‘V’s’ in final salutation. There was a fine drizzle and very bad visibility as the convoy put to sea. On January 31st (1942) it was officially announced that the destination of the regiment had been changed, and that instead of going to Singapore it would disembark in the Dutch East Indies. On February 3rd (1942) the convoy sighted land for the first time since leaving Durban and entered the Sunda Straights, passing Krakatau in the early hours of the morning. Later in the afternoon Tanjung Priok port loomed up out of the haze and the Dunera made its way slowly through a torturous channel to berth alongside the quay at 4.00 p.m. just two calendar months, to the day, since the regiment had entrained at Southend.
  13. 13. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 13 At 6.00 p.m. the regiment disembarked and moved in a convoy of vehicles to Batavia, some 12 miles away, and there to the 11th & 12th Battalion (Dutch East Indies Army) barracks at Meester Cornelis on the far side of town. It was a long arduous business, for the guides were few and many of the vehicles did not have headlights. Shortly after midnight the men were all in quarters, of a sort, and too tired to await the hot soup that was sent up from one of the large hotels. Most men turned in to sleep and await daylight for a general sorting out to take place. The long voyage was over. The outlook since the regiment left England was completely and perhaps disastrously changed. What lay ahead? What indeed? On the morning of February 4th 1942 it was realized that two major problems had to be faced. The first one being that there was no proper supply system operating. There was no food immediately available for the thousands of British troops now pouring into the town. Although all ranks appreciated the difficulties of the situation, those with knowledge of the problems, which were bound to arise, were amazed by the ridiculous actions of Group Headquarters (GHQ) in removing to Bandung, the very officers whose presence in Batavia was, at that particular time, considered absolutely essential. The second problem was one peculiar to 48th LAA Regiment RA. On leaving England the regiment was informed that its guns, ammunition and transport would be shipped direct to Singapore and would be handed over to the regiment upon its arrival. As the regiment was now in Batavia, Java, the question arose ‘where are our guns, ammunition and transport?’ Originally it was hoped that the British troops would be able to draw rations through the Dutch army which was based in Batavia. It was discovered however, that the Dutch army was mainly composed of local native troops whose wartime ration scale consisted chiefly of rice. This was quite unsuitable for British troop rations. A compromise was reached and it was eventually decided that rations would be provided to the British troops by local hotels. The British troops had to make the best arrangements that they could with the hotels. Regrettably, as the hotels had been given no advance warning of this major commitment, their immediate stocks were totally inadequate. Because of this totally unacceptable situation, the only food the British troops received that morning was a cup of coffee and a sandwich t hat
  14. 14. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 14 was provided from a mobile canteen operated by the Dutch Women’s Volunteer organization. During the evening sandwiches were provided by the Nederlanden Hotel.8 On February 10th 1942, 95th Battery and 49th Battery withdrew from the gun sites they were occupying at Meester Cornelis and Tanjung Priok and completed their preparation for the move to Sumatra. Between them they had managed to collect twenty Bofors, which was just four short of their establishment. Spare parts and tools were non-existent and the amount of ammunition they had was considered ‘inadequate’. Transport was made almost up to scale with the exception of 3 ton trucks. 3 ton trucks had to be used for towing the guns as no towers had arrived. The shortage of transport did cause great difficulty. First of all, as there was no ‘base depot’ there was no means of dumping surplus baggage and clothing which normally would not be carried around. Secondly, the batteries were required to carry 28 days of rations and as much additional ammunition and fuel as they could lay their hands upon. Traditionally, rations, ammunition, fuel and lubricants, would be supplied by the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) from a well established base depot. But now these two batteries were required to move, short of vehicles, with no supporting supply columns, and themselves loaded with more rations, ammunition and fuel than had been anticipated. The result was gross overloading of vehicles, a situation which inevitably brings serious trouble. February 13th 1942, marked the beginning of a rapid and bewildering succession of troop movements. First, two troops of 95th Battery embarked at Batavia and set out for Sumatra. Second, the following morning at 8:00 a.m. 49th Battery and the remainder of 95th Battery entrained at Taneh Abang and followed them. Many other movements also took place during this time. During the afternoon of Saturday February 14th 1942, a few hours after the departure of 49th Battery the Dutch air raid report centre announced that 120 Japanese aircraft were over Palembang. It was not known until the following morning that these aircraft carried and escorted parachutists who attacked the aerodrome at Palembang known as P1. 8 Obviously not ahealthy diet for thosedeployed in a‘theater ofwar’ and who may well beengaged in along ferocious battlein the very near future.
  15. 15. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 15 On February 16th 1942 two big items of news were announced. First, Singapore had fallen. The second that the parachute attack on Palembang on the 14th had been followed up the next day by a big landing of Japanese troops and that Palambang had been captured. As the two aerodromes at Palambang (P1 & P2) were the only aerodromes in operational use by the RAF, it was evident that 95th and 49th Batteries had been sent to Sumatra too late. On February 17th 1942 it was learned that 95th and 49th Batteries had re-embarked at Oosthaven and had already began to arrive at Merak docks. They had brought their guns back, but owing to the lack of ships they had to leave all of their transport in Sumatra. At midnight on the 17th the regimental 2 IC set out for Merak docks with a convoy of twenty 3 ton trucks to convey the guns and equipment of the batteries back to Batavia. This was the position when the Regiment set about reorganizing itself after the shambolic Sumatra affair. On February 19th 1942 orders were received that 49th Battery was to be deployed at Kalijati airfield, some 80 miles from Batavia. They had to be in position by first light on February 21st 1942. On February 20th 1942 they were able to report that all guns were deployed and ready for action at 4.45 p.m. This was considered a very creditable performance taking into account the weariness of the men, the strange vehicles and the 80 mile drive, and the disorganization which the battery had suffered forty-eight hours previously. On February 21st 1942 at about 10.30 a.m. the enemy carried out a low level attack on Kalijati airfield. Fifteen twin-engine medium bombers, escorted by fighters, bombed the airfield with anti- personnel bombs. As the name implies, anti-personnel bombs are designed to cause personal injury or death as opposed to destroying buildings or the runway. The Japanese wanted to inflict minimum structural damage so that they could utilize the airfield in their quest to invade Australia. In sequence with the bombing, machine gunning of the airfield and gun sites took place from the low level of 200 feet. All of the guns of 49th Battery engaged the enemy, seven hits were claimed. Two aircraft were shot down and two more were believed to have been damaged and eventually crashed. A bomb burst five yards
  16. 16. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 16 from one gun killing Lance Bombardier Gafney and Gunner Brown. Five other soldiers were wounded9. General Van Oyen the Dutch Air Force and Anti Aircraft commander, congratulated the Battery on their splendid shooting on their first defense of Kalijati airfield. February 21st 1942 is noteworthy, because from this day forward, the lives of Harold and Charlie were irreversibly changed. Charlie’sevacuation from Kalijati airfield meansthat their once ‘single’story, now becomes ‘two’ very different stories. Despite its importance, Charlie’s account will have to be resumed later.10 February 24th 1942 was one of great enemy activity, in the course of which the whole of 48th LAA Regiment were in action. The battle opened when 22 enemy aircraft (Junkers 88) attacked the airfield at 10.00 a.m. coming in at 2,500 feet diving to 300 feet in a heavy bomb, anti-personnel and machine gun attack. Nine guns of 49th Battery were in action and three aircraft were shot down, with a further hit claimed, but not confirmed. Thankfully no casualties were reported. On February 25th 1942, Kalijati was again attacked. The first attack was by 16 twin engine aircraft which came in and delivered a high level bombing attack, in the course of which one man was wounded. Later in the day, around midday, 15 enemy bombers and 15 fighters were seen approaching the airfield. Before reaching it however, they broke formation and delivered a number of low-level individual bombing and machine gun attacks. Nine guns went into action and shot down two planes for certain, one of which was in flames. Five other hits were claimed. In the second attack, three men were wounded. The inadequate and insufficient supply of rations and fuel continued to be a source of extreme concern for 49th Battery, in fact, the supply of these vital commodities depended totally on ‘local purchase’ from civilian sources. Regrettably most of the buying had to be done in Soerbang which was some distance away from the airfield. The ammunition situation was absolutely ridiculous in that the ammo dump was located many miles east of Bandung involving a two day round trip expedition. Clearly the supply system did not keep pace with the recent deployments. 9 Charlie was one of those woundedandevacuatedtoa hospital nearby. 10 His story resumes onpage 13
  17. 17. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 17 On February 28th 1942 it was reported that there had been a Japanese landing at Cirebon on the West coast, the previous day. This was 56th Regiment, 48th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and was the first reported landing of enemy troops on Java. Following this was a warning that an enemy convoy of 37 transport vessels was now somewhere off the North coast. Although the RAF had been bombing this convoy and would continue doing so all night, their efforts did nothing to slow the progress of the convoy and a landing was considered to be imminent. As a precaution the Java Air Command (JAC) was already preparing for the evacuation and the demolition of Kalijati stuctures and fuel dumps. Unfortunately, events developed quicker than JAC had foreseen and much quicker than could be monitored and accurately controlled from the JHQ located at Bandung. The convoy actually reached the coast in the early hours of March 1st 1942. At 4.40 a.m. 230 Infantry Brigade landed at Eretan Wetan. The Dutch officer on duty in the Command Post (CP) in the village of Kalijati, received a phone call from the Chief of the village at Eretan Wetan, informing him that Japanese tanks were landing straight opposite his house. As a result of this call, all duty officers of the RAF; AA Regiments; Dutch air force and Dutch army were informed. The Japanese invasion force headed South towards Subang during which they met some Dutch resistance. But on being re-enforced by another Japanese detachment at 8.15 a.m. they overcame the Dutch troops and pressed on Westward to their main objective of Kalijati airfield. Unfortunately, at Kalijati, due to heavy tropical rains, all civilian phone lines were out of commission and there was no military radio communications operational 11 Because of this ridiculous situation it was impossible for Group Captain G F Whistondale RAF (operational commander of the British units and also Station Commander) and Lieutenant Colonel J J Zomer (Commander of the Dutch air force) to seek orders or instructions from superior headquarters. There were disagreements between commanders, Whistondale wanted to wait for instructions, Zomer did not. He felt ‘self initiative’ was 11 In any battle situationgoodsecure communications are vital. Havingto relyuponpublic phone facilities is totallyunacceptable.
  18. 18. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 18 appropriate at this time. He therefore decided to commence the demolitions that his personnel were responsible for. It was not until 7.00 a.m. that communications were re-established with Bandung and Whistondale and Zomer received instructions from their respective HQs. Both the British and Dutch air forces at JHQ, determined that Kalijati was not in direct danger.12 The Dutch were ordered to send a reconnaissance party to probe the Japanese situation at Eretan Wetan and a battalion was to be sent to counter attack the Japanese at their landing site at Cirebon. Zomer was not at all happy with these decisions, as he was aware that the unit earmarked for reconnaissance had only four armored cars and they would be no match for the Japanese tanks plus the fact that they were 75 km away from the beach head. The battalion ordered to counter attack was 100 km away and had to travel along narrow country roads to Tomo and then another 100 km to the Japanese landing site at Cirebon. Whistondale and Zomer continued their disagreements and squabbles, which did not help the situation one iota. Thankfully, at some point, Whistondale placed ground defense under the command of the British Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment13, who were to prepare for possible evacuation. The ground defense force was, at best, an ad hoc assemblage. It consisted of RAF ground and maintenance crews and Gunners from 12th Battery, 6th HAA Regiment RA who had lost their guns in South-Sumatra. In all about 270 personnel. They were reasonably well armed, but mostly untrained in and unprepared for ground defense. The remaining 40mm guns from here on, adopted an anti-tank role, a role in which they had little or no training. The resistance from this mixed bag of defenders, took the Japanese attackers by surprise, and without doubt assisted greatly in the escape of many allied troops from the airfield. This magnificent achievement was recognized by the Japanese, who later reported to senior British offices that the “British soldiers and airmen had fought very gallantly indeed” 12 This provedtobe a gross miscalculation, probablydue to lack of any accurate andtimelyintelligence. 13 This wouldbe 49th LAA Battery, 48th LAA Regt RA.
  19. 19. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 19 Although a few guns of 49th LAA Battery were hurriedly evacuated, most of the Gunners remained at their post allowing for the effective withdrawal of their comrades14. One gun was ambushed but managed to extricate itself. During the evacuation Gunners Simpson, Couchman and O’Sullivan were killed. Sergeant White was wounded and taken prisoner. These were casualties which were reported by eye witnesses. Those who did escape later admitted that events at this point in time became so confused, that it is almost impossible to obtain a clear picture of what really happened. At the pre-arranged rendezvous point, when the roll was called, it was discovered that seventy personnel of 49th Battery were missing in action. Later a number of stragglers arrived, although this was encouraging, fifty15 soldiers remained missing. Those who remained behind at Kalijati, did not survive. Had there been survivors, then the situation following the capture of the airfield would have been made clear. There are mixed viewpoints as to what really happened to those who remained. Some believe that the Japanese did not take prisoners, in other words, they did not allow them to surrender. Some believe that they did take prisoners, but they were corralled and executed. Some believe that although the number of casualti es is high, they believe they were killed in action. A research paper written by a Dutch professor states:16 A large number of British ground troops were taken prisoner. A number of these soldiers were later executed by the Japanese at Kalijati. On 2nd March, many soldiers from the British Army and the RAF whomanaged toget away arrived at Bandoeng. However, from around 350 men from the British Army and 30 men of the RAF (roughly 270 men ground defense and 110 men AA who were at Kalijati, 110 Army and all the 30 RAF that were deployed as ground defense remained missing in action. It later turned out that at least 40 men were executedor murderedby the Japanese. 14 Haroldwas one of thosewho remainedbehind. I am of theopinion that this wouldhave been mandatory ratherthanvoluntary. 15 The list of those who were originallyreportedmissingis includedin this narrative. 16 The battle for Kalijati froma joint operations perspective by P C Boer. His document was a special study on behalfof the Dutch Military Academy. This is the equivalent to‘Sandhurst’ (UK) or‘West Point’(USA). Thedocument I have contains onlyextracts from Boer’s extensive paper. It was translatedby my Dutchresearchcontact Jos Mulders.
  20. 20. Word Goal: 4500 Word Count: 4432 20