Australians take on Japanese in Malaya

Thousands of Australian troops had arrived in Singapore during the second half of 1941, more would arrive during January 1942.

After the shock Japanese breakthrough at the battle of the Slim river, they were pushing south down the Malaya peninsula towards Singapore. It was decided to attempt to ambush them at the next significant river crossing. This was the moment for the Australians to make their distinctive contribution to the campaign.

What followed was the Sungei Gemenchei Ambush on the 14th. Here the bridge was prepared for demolition and men from ‘B’ COY 2/30 battalion AIF lay hidden in the jungle while they awaited the Japanese to arrive. A significant number of Japanese troops on bicycles were allowed to cross, until the point was reached when a large body of troops were on the bridge. They were then blown up along with the bridge, and the cyclists who had already crossed were attacked. The full post action report by Captain D.J. Duffy OC `B’ Coy can be read at 230 Battalion – Gemencheh.

The following day the remainder of the 2/30 Battalion found themselves confronting the Japanese at close quarters. Leslie Perry of D Company described part of the action in a letter to his mother written just afterwards:

The happenings that afternoon will stay in our minds for all time. For, instead of running away from bullets, we literally ran into them. Our company commander called us all together, and said, “Well, boys, we are going to attack the Japs. Travel as lightly as possible.”

To get to the Japs’ position in the trees we had to move over four hundred yards of open ground. And as soon as we left our position in the trees three Jap planes swooped down on us from apparently nowhere and commenced machine-gunning us. At the same time the Japs opened fire from their concealed position with machine guns, rifles, and mortar bombs.

Under this hell of fire we at once dived flat on the ground, as it didn’t seem possible for any human being to escape the blazing fury. A barbed wire fence near us was ringing backwards and forwards from the bullets. But our skipper sang out, “On you feet men; we must take their position.” I, like all the others, expected a bullet at any period, but I had only one thing in mind – to reach the trees and kill every Jap I saw.

When we did eventually reach the trees we split up in parties, and Athol, George Parfrey, and myself with five or six others rushed through high grass to find several Japs in hiding. Athol turned his Bren machine-gun on them, and, under our supporting fire with rifles, made several get up and run for their lives.

A cobber of ours, Charlie Taylor, from Bourke, looked up in the air in time to shoot a grinning Jap from out of the trees, as he was firing all around us. We then heard the command, “Retreat” yelled out. We could not understand it, as it looked like the Japs being well licked. George Parfrey had his blood properly up, and rushed right forward, and it took a good while to persuade him that everybody was retreating.

We soon found out the answer when we found the other boys. While the boys were attacking on the right flank, huge tanks had rushed out of the trees while we were luckily attacking on the left. Nobody gave a thought that tanks would be used in this country. It was a terrific blow to be stopped by such means, but all the more heartbreaking to us was the fact that throughout the operations we never saw one of our own planes in the air.

On reaching headquarters another painful blow was in store for us. Our trucks had been blown up, and we were forced to walk endless miles through the jungle before taking up another position. Athol and I are now curled up in a trench listening to the bombers flying over. Waves and waves of them flying practically on the tree-tops, and we can’t do anything to stop them.

Just got to lie still an pray that the bombs land a good way off. The one that has landed closest to us has been twenty yards away, and even that made the ground around us tremble, but it is all experience, and we can take it. But we hope that Britain and America do not let us take it in vain, but send every spare plane they get their hands on.

This and other accounts of the day can be read at 230 Battalion – Gemas Road.

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