Tamajao 241 by Ernest Warwick


The fall of Singapore - 60 years ago

On the 15th OF February 1942

- An interview from August 2002 -

Ernest Warwick who now lives in Clifton Road, Ashingdon, Essex, is a wheelchair-bound war disabled, ex-Japanese prisoner of war. He constantly recalls the horrors of his four years of barbaric captivity in the hands of the Japanese and on this day in particular he recalls how it all started 60 years ago.

It is with great sadness that he remembers the fateful day in his life when, aged 23 years, he was wounded and captured fighting in the streets of Singapore City towards the end of a bloody 17day battle. A battle where the outcome was never going to be in doubt when the British troops were left without any air support whatsoever.

Ernie, who published a book recalling those four years called "Tamajao 241- A prisoner of war camp on the River Kwai", is now aged 83 years and as he remembers he asks was it really 60 years ago? Let him take up the story:

"No, it seems like only yesterday and the past still returns to haunt me. We had spent two years training for desert warfare and four months at sea, sailing around the world to avoid being sunk by German submarines, never knowing our final destination.  When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, Hong Kong, Malaya and Thailand early in December 1941, the ill-fated East Anglian 18th Infantry, combat division and supporting battle units were on the high seas wearing light khaki drill ready to fight the Germans in the desert.

Orders were received from London for the convoy to change direction immediately and steam at full speed to the Far East, destination the island of Singapore. So it came about that in the early hours of the 29th of January 1942 that the 18th Division landed at Keppel Harbour under a heavy air attack, just as the 17 day bloody battle for the Island was about to commence.

Finally our Battalion was positioned along the coast as the enemy prepared their final assault and in the short space of time available the terrible truth dawned on us, that what the world had been told to believe was completely untrue. In short, Singapore Island was the so-called fortress that never was.

There was no air support. Not even barbed wire on the stretch of coastline where we were situated. The naval guns at Changi were positioned so that they were pointing out only to the sea-lanes. Needless to say the Japanese were a well-trained and brutal army and led their attack down the main roads in the Malayan peninsula. In the meantime, orders had been sent from Winston Churchill to General Wavell, overall commander in the region that, "There must be no thought of sparing the troops or population, commanders and officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and the British army is at stake.

So many brave young comrades did indeed die in action fighting in the Island's mangrove swamps and many thousands were wounded. I vividly recall at sun up on the morning of Friday 13th February 1942, my battle unit, the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, supported by the 5th Battalion the Royal Norfolk's and many other units, were actually fighting a bitter bloody hand to hand battle on the Bukit-Timah golf course in blazing tropical sunshine.

As night fell and bathed in brilliant tropical moonlight, the onslaught continued into a Chinese cemetery near the Thompson village.  As dawn broke on the 15th of February under heavy aerial bombing we were fighting in the streets on the outskirts of Singapore City. The situation was grim and heart-breakingly demoralising.

Unknown to us at that time, over one million people, mostly women and children, were trapped in a three mile radius. Food stocks were down to a 48-hour supply and ammunition was dangerously low. From above, the Japanese bombs continued to rain down relentlessly.
Evening came and suddenly the guns fell silent. The mass bombing ceased and General Percival had surrendered the island of Singapore to the Japanese Imperial Army.

For those who survived the battle, all that lay ahead was 3 years and 8 months of grim captivity which was to last to the end of the war. My tears still fall for my brave young comrades of yesteryear who were killed in action and the many thousands who were starved, tortured, brutally ill treated and murdered by the Japanese.

I can never forget.

I can never forgive the appalling inhumanity and cruelty of the Japanese and Koreans during World War II.

Join with me on the 60th anniversary of the fall of Singapore and remember all those who gave their lives that others might live."

Ernest Warwick served in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, H.Q. Company, Intelligence Section for the duration of World War II.

He was awarded The 1939-1945 Star, The Pacific Star (for the battle of Singapore), and The 1939 - 1945 War Medal.