Speech to the 74th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore

Speech to the 74th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore
14 February 2016
ANZAC Square, Brisbane

We remember those who fought and gave their lives for freedom and liberty during the Malayan Campaign, as Singapore fell and as Japanese prisoners of war, and those who have passed on since 1945.

Here, in the shadow of towers and monuments, we are dwarfed by the unseen shadows of those brave men who defended the freedoms and liberties that generations of Australians have enjoyed and, too often, taken for granted.

Across the ages – through peace and war – the flame of freedom and li berty has shone in the world.

In the darkest of times – when it seems that there is only turmoil and sorrow – that flame endures and burns its brightest – its light a beacon calling to men and women of honour, who seek the good and the right.

That flame – like the Eternal Flame of Remembrance here today – is the inextinguishable essence of the human spirit: the birthright of all mankind to seek a better life for themselves, their families and their country.

Beside this sacred Shrine, upon the 74th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, we gather to remember.

As old friends and families reunite, we gaze upon the fraying photos from a time before the War to see boys and men – sons, brothers, fathers and uncles – with hope, happiness, and the twinkle of youth in their eyes. Black and white photos. Full of Australian colour.

We remember those sons and daughters of Queensland – those sons and daughters of Australia – whose valour and service fought back the tide of tyranny in Asia and the Pacific that imperilled our young Commonwealth and the principles upon which it was built: democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and the liberty of the individual.

In the timeless halls of history, their stories of sacrifice and mateship will forever echo within the very heart of the Australian consciousness.

It is my honour to deliver the address to mark the 74th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and remember those members of the 8th Division Australian Imperial Force, Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Australian Nurses, and Associated Services who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.

I would like to acknowledge:

Mrs Libby Parkinson, President of the 2/10th Field Regiment Association

and Mrs Wendy Drysdale, Honorary Secretary/Treasurer/Publicity Officer of the 2/10th Field Regiment Association.

Mr Peter Russo MP, the state member for Sunnybank

my friend, Cr Kim Marx, the Brisbane City Councillor for Karawatha Ward

Major Freddie Teo Pek San, on behalf of the Republic of Singapore

and the other representatives from the armed services, the nurses, the widows, the prisoners of war, the Returned and Services League and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

and friends and family who have come to pay their respects.

And those who were once with us but now are now watching from afar.

Since 1947, the 2/10th Field Regiment Association has organised this annual remembrance service for all members of all units lost in battle or as prisoners of war in Singapore, Japan, Borneo, Indonesia, along the Burma/Thailand railway, and other locations.

Libby, Wendy and the rest of the Association should be commended for their dedication to maintaining contact between the remaining gunners and their families and to keeping alive the memory of those who have fallen.

In late 1939, Australia was a nation at the edge of the British Empire – a vibrant democracy, founded upon the common law and the long held freedoms inherited from the Mother Country.

The outbreak of the War in Europe led to rapid changes in the Australian forces and over a few short years, the drama, hardship and loss of war would change our perspective on Australia’s place in the world.

On 15 September 1939, a ‘special force’ of 20,000 men was raised for service ‘at home or abroad as circumstances permit’.

This force – which became known as the Second Australian Imperial Force – eventually expanded to five Divisions: the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Infantry Divisions; and the 1st Armoured Division.

It was within the 8th Division 2nd AIF that an artillery regiment composed almost entirely of Queenslanders was raised – the 2/10th Field Regiment.

The 2/10th formed at Redbank in Queensland in mid-July 1940 – as tensions grew about a foreign threat to the nation.

Young men volunteered from all walks of life and all parts of our great state – from the farmers of the far north and the graziers of the west, to city kids from Brisbane and even an entire Lifesaving Club on the Gold Coast.

The average age on enlistment was 21 years 4 months.

After six months, the 2/10th was considered ready for overseas service and in February began moving from Redbank to travel by train to Sydney.

In Sydney, they boarded the Queen Mary at Circular Quay – and embarked for Malaya on 4 February 1941.

The 2/10th disembarked at Malacca in Johore on 19 February 1941. A year later many would be dead, all would be guests of the Emperor.

The Battle on Singapore was short and brutal.

The 2/10th was located in the north-west of the island along the Straits of Johor.

The Japanese crossed the Straits on barges on the night of 8 February.

By 12 February, Allied troops were forced into a small, defensive perimeter in Singapore City.

At 10:30pm on 14 February, the guns fell silent.

At 8.30pm on 15 February 1942 over 130,000 troops on Singapore Island, including 15,000 Australians, were surrendered to the Japanese.

The next three and a half years were brutal and traumatic for the prisoners of war. As the Singapore fell, so did fall upon POWs barbarism from their captors.

The 2/10th, 2/26th and other 8th Division forces were transferred to the infamous Changi jail.

Before long, almost all Australian prisoners of war had been scattered across Japan and South East Asia.

However, the common thread though was the cruelty and inhuman conditions inflicted upon prisoners.

Starvation, physical brutality, death marches, and forced labour were the daily torment of Australian PoWs.

Work groups were organised and sent to Japanese occupied territories for labour for roads, machinery, chemicals and infrastructure, including on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway, where 2,646 Australians died.

Many men from the 2/10th and 2/26th ended up in Borneo, known for its death marches.

Only six Australians survived the death marches of Borneo.

In these dark days, the Australians fought on in spirit, forging bonds that were closer than blood, thinking of home, surviving to be free.

Of the 22,376 Australian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese including those from Singapore, some 8,031 died while in captivity.

Of the 846 officers and men of the 2/10th regiment who became prisoners, 286 died.

Truly, there are no words, so dancing poetry nor solemn prose that tell us here today what really happened in those dark times. But their stories must be told, for the story of each gunner or nurse is the story of all us gathered here.

Their stories are like so many other Australians who have fought for freedom and liberty – before, during and after the Second World War.

My own great uncle. Uncle Gray Schneider is one small story.

A son of Australia who grew up in an house where German accents were within living memory, he and his brother joined up to fight German Nazis.

My grandfather was left behind to manage the family farms.

Uncle Gray was being shipped to the Middle East and was captured when Singapore fell

Following victory in the Pacific, the surviving prisoners of war were liberated in late August 1945 and began returning to Australia almost immediately.

Tribulations did not end upon the return home.

Disease followed the men and women, physical and mental.

Tuberculosis, liver disease and suicide were leading causes of death.

Those who returned went on to make lives for themselves, have families, and build successful careers in politics, medicine, sport, law and business.

Today, the youngest of the old gunners is 96, with only eight of the 2/10th still with us.

As the greatest generation slowly slip from the realm of memory to the pages of history, their life becomes our story to share, as the flame of remembering the fall of Singapore has passed to the next generation, so it is all of us here today to hold the flame of freedom and liberty.

For those who returned, we give thanks and honour.

For those who returned, changed and hurt, we give thanks and honour.

And for those who did not make it home, we give thanks and honour.

We will never forget those who gave their all, so we might live in peace.

We will never forget those who gave their lives, so that we may have our freedom.

We will never forget those who gave their tomorrow, so that we might have our today.

Lest we forget.

Also within the 8th Division 2nd AIF was another Queensland Unit – the 2/26th Infantry Battalion.

The 2/26th was formed several months after the 2/10th in November 1940 at Grovely  in Brisbane, relocating to Redbank in late January 1941.

‘The gallopers’, as the 2/26th was known due to its weekly cross-country training run, began moving to Bathurst to join the other battalions of the 27th Brigade – the last AIF infantry brigade raised for the War.

The 2/26th left Bathurst on 29 July bound for Singapore, via Melbourne, arriving on 15 August 1941.

The Battalion was subsequently deployed to Malaya in October that year, as the threat from Japan grew more likely.

The 2/10th, 2/26th and other units of the 8th Division joined British Empire forces to prepare for an expected Japanese invasion of Malaya and assault on Singapore – the centrepiece of British military influence in the region and a key plank in Australia’s strategic defences.

On 8 December 1941, Japanese troops landed on the north-east coast of Malaya – merely 40 minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbour.

This incursion signalled the entry of Japan into the Second World War and the commencement of the War in the Pacific.

Over the next 70 days, in a brutal jungle campaign, the Japanese would repel the Allied Forces from Malaya and capture Singapore – further expanding their Empire into south-east Asia and ever closer to Australia’s shores.

Australian forces in Malaya played a vital role in the defence of the peninsula, despite the eventual defeat at the hands of the Japanese.

This fighting spirit – like the ANZACs before them – was emblematic of Australian determination to confront evil in the battlefield.

On 9 January 1942, while still at Mersing, the 2/10th regiment was re-equipped with 25-pounders, replacing the old 18-pounders they had been using since their first training drills back in Redbank.

The first real contact between Australian and Japanese troops was on the night of 14 January, when the 2/30th Battalion mounted a successful ambush at a wooden bridge west of Gemas.

The 2/30th Battalion had 81 casualities compared to an estimated 1,000 casualties to the 5th Japanese Division.

On 21 January, the 2/10th regiment was called upon to bring down artillery fire on Japanese troops along the Mersing-Endau Road, north of Lalang Hill.

This action enabled a platoon of the 2/20th Battalion, which had been cut off by the Japanese, to rejoin the Australian forces.

The 2/10th maintained its battle presence from that point, firing on targets in the Mayang Estate and Lalang Hill, as well as providing support for the 22nd Brigade's successful ambush in the Nithsdale Estate on the night of 26 January.

The 2/18th Battalion also successfully delayed the Japanese advance by three days, causing considerable larger Japanese casualties compared to the Battallions 98 losses.

However, by late January 1942, Allied Forces were fighting their retreat to Singapore – supposedly an impenetrable island fortress.

The 2/26th Battalion proved successful in these rearguard actions and was successfully in inflicting damage on the Japanese, leading to high morale despite the retreat to Singapore.

The 2/10th Regiment was instrumental in defending the Allied retreat, providing cover as forces made their way across the Johore Causeway.

This was mostly carried out in the Redbank area, but did include a nine day field manoeuvre through the Brisbane Valley, with live shooting firing from Caloundra range.

In the assault, the 20th and 60th Batteries of the 2/10th fired up to 800 shells and sunk 30 sampans carrying Japanese troops.

In the Japanese advance, however, both batteries and G Troop were exhausted and withdrawn to Singapore Harbour.

The 2/10th continued firing on Japanese targets, before coming under from Japanese air strikes.

Only the remnants of the British Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders followed them.

The causeway was destroyed on the morning of 31 January 1942. 

Despite superior firepower, the Allied Forces were unable to match the concentrated Japanese artillery fire, given that Australian and British Forces had been dispersed around the island perimeter.

The Fall of Singapore was one of the greatest defeats of British Commonwealth forces during the War and was a humiliating set back for British power in the Pacific, which has never been restored.

The 22nd Brigade, supported by the 2/10th, defended the island's north-west coat, while the 27th Brigade and the 2/10th covered causeway sector in the north.

The 20th and 60th Batteries of the 2/10th were limited in their defence by an order that no more than 12 rounds per 25-pounder gun per day.

1,789 Australians had been killed since the 8th Division’s engagement in Malaya in mid-January.

7,000 of those captured would never return home.