Roy Kelly and Pearl Mittlehauser make the ultimate sacrifice in defending Singapore
1941 was a momentous year. We still went to Childers for Christmas holidays and Roy and Pearl were still in Brisbane at the beginning of the year, but during the year there were troop movements everywhere and both Roy and Pearl ended up in Malaya. When trekking to Childers by train there was and still is a single track to Cairns and passenger trains were often shunted to a riding while troop trains headed north or south.
There would also be trains with flat box cars carrying guns, tanks trucks etc north. The troop trains always had men half out the windows waving and singing as if they were going on a picnic. Our routine continued as though nothing was happening. Roy and Pearl used to write regularly to my mother from Singapore and I posted a letter each week from my mother – I still remember the address, “QX10532 Gunner RJ Kelly, E Troop, X battery, 2/10 Field Regiment, AIR abroad”. Roy sent Mum photos of Singapore and a pewter tray. I still have this set. The defence of Singapore was essential for the safety of South East Asia. It was a British Colony, the Dutch had Dutch East Indies including Dutch New Guinea and the French had Indo-China. Things were not going well for the Dutch and the French in Europe, nor for that matter for the British and there was a complacency that Singapore was impregnable.
It was on 7th December 1941 that Japan attacked Pearl Harbour followed by invasion of French Indo-China, Philippines and Malaya. Instead of attacking Singapore from the sea where the guns were pointing, the Japanese moved across and down the Malay Peninsula. We thought this area to be impassable, but it was not for thin bicycles and the British forces surrendered early 1942. They were out manoeuvred, and the enemy had more and better fighter planes and bombers. Australian troops were under British Officers. Britain needed its reserves and planes for survival in Europe and the loss of the British fleet in Malaya water was a disaster. Wavell was ordered to surrender. Macarthur in the Philippines was caught with all his B52 bombers on the ground at Clark Base and lost the lot and eventually left Corregidor in a PT boat for Australia. Instead of becoming the American here I find the more I read about him he should have been dismissed instead of perpetuating his saying to the Philippine people “I shall return.” The Japanese excelled themselves and took over the whole area. The Australian, British, Indian and Dutch troops and civilians became prisoners of war of the Japanese.
Ray was a prisoner of war in Changi Camp and died later working on the Burma Thailand railway of beri beri – starvation. Pearl was one of the nurses taken to Sumatra and is mentioned often in Betty Jeffries book “White Coolies.” Pearl died a week or so after the war was over and Japan had surrendered. The Japanese would not release the goods and medicines they had in store from the Red Cross so she survived the war as a prisoner and missed out in the peace.
Colonialism was basically over with the fall of Singapore. I read somewhere that every military academy at the time had a project ‘ How to attack Singapore ‘. Its surrender showed that the white man was not invincible and not a God given master for all to obey. With the attack on Pearl Harbour, America declared war on Japan and also Germany and Italy and came in boots and all . At last America was not sitting on the fence but by this time the Japanese had control of S E Asia and Darwin was constantly being bombed. Controls tightened up here. There were brownouts and blackouts in certain areas at night where lights had to be concealed.
General Macarthur became the supreme commander for the Asia Pacific region and established his headquarters in Brisbane residing in Lennon’s hotel on the corner of George and Adelaide Streets and working from the then AMP building , now Macarthur Chambers in Queen Street near the Post Office. As the war progressed there was an enormous build up of American troops in Australia as everyone became mobilised Rationing was necessary and coupons were issued for the purchase of petrol, clothing and food .
It was not a starvation ration but made everyone aware of the situation. Petrol was in short supply so only essential services received a ration to keep going whereas the private vehicle was issued with just enough for essential their minimum running. Some vehicles were converted to run on gas. The gas was generated in a charcoal burner mounted on the bumper bar and fed to a large gas bag mounted on the roof from which it was run to the engine. It looked strange but the vehicle ran and saved petrol. Tyres were also difficult to get since most of the rubber came from Malaya It was not uncommon for a car to be run on kerosene after being started on petrol and switched over to kerosene once the engine heated up There was often a lot of smoke from the exhaust and it was not good for the engine as well as being illegal.
The U S troops provided a cultural shock to us with their affluence, equipment, brashness, jazz, loudness and different attitudes They seemed to take over the place There was coolness between the Americans and our troops They were considered to be over sexed, over paid, and over here and many Australian girls were caught by their charm. Again most of them had never moved out of their state before the war. Things that were noticeable were the uniforms. The Yanks had light cotton uniforms which always looked smart.
Our troops still had the heavy woollen trousers and jacket with good stout boots. The slouch hat was in contrast with the cloth gob cap It was a learning curve for everyone, the end point being able to live in the tropical jungle and having equipment appropriate for this. General Macarthur ended up massing large forces of troops for the north. There were road convoys travelling everywhere consisting of all types of vehicle carrying tanks, guns, search lights, troops and equipment and seeming to go on forever. It was fascinating when up at Childers to sit on the verandah in the afternoon and see these long convoys heading north.