There was a little shop opposite our house in Haig Road, so we pooled our money and sent Maxie over for some grub. He's a lad for buying anything, he'd make apawnbroker sell him something at a loss to himself, he came back with a sandbag full of grub, everything we could wish for.|
They didn't have ovens or fireplaces in these houses, just a big brazier type affair set in a recess with a flue at the back and heated with charcoal. After a lot of messing about and nearly setting the house on fire, the white ceiling was black before we had finished and all of us coughing and spitting from the fumes.
We had a cocoa like syrup, chops, chips, peas, lovely thick gravy and then pineapple, peaches and custard for "afters", and then a smoke outside. It was a lovely night, but we didn't stay outside for too long as the mossies bit like hell! So we cleared the table and then twisted each other at "brag" for about three hours. We also had our ears chewed off for not having the house properly blacked out as we'd forgotten about the Nip planes. Finally out went the lights and peace and quiet, but I couldn't sleep, I feeling that bleedin' web on my face and seeing that great spider. Every time my mossie net rubbed against my leg I started up with a fright. Oh what a night!
Next day we had to dig slit trenches in the back and front of the house, we got down to about four feet and struck water..very nice too..and it didn't drain away either. Then good news at last, the guns had arrived. So we made a "hide" further up the road where there were some woods, it was more like jungle but all the same it was good cover. Before the guns could go in, a deep ditch had to be filled in with stones, we had to hump these from the other end of the road about a mile away. We had to carry one rock at a time, each weighing about seventy or eighty pounds, little ones weren't any good of course. After about a half a dozen trips carrying the cowing things, the rocks started to get smaller. And it made no difference what Sgt M Copping said...the little shitbag, he wouldn't carry one down with us, even though they were for his guns. He must have overheard some of our remarks because he did carry one on the last trip. The ditch was finally filled in and the last chap to dump his rock said "I wish it was his ***** head instead!"
In went the guns and it was good to handle them again. They were none the worse for their sea trip, only wanted the oil and grease wiped off. "The way the nips are coming down the mainland it won't be long before we shall be using them." I thought.
That afternoon we heard a hullabaloo outside the house, with car engines roaring and horns going. Rushing outside I saw a sight that made me laugh. Some of the boys were driving about in cars of all descriptions Rolls Royce, Sunbeam, Chrysler and every make and size. It seems that they had been down to the dock on a "fatigue party" where hundreds of people were leaving the island and seeing the boys there had said, "Would you like my car? it won't be of any use to me now!"
So like a shot they all said "Yes!" And then went larking all around the place.
I had a go in one myself, and not being mine I didn't care what happened to it. I finished up by going into a ditch and had a beautiful limousine come and pull me out. The limousine was damaged in the process but who cared anyway! They wouldn't let me drive back but I did get a little Morris later in the day. One of the boys almost knocked an Officer down so we had the "bar" put up, but it was nice and exciting while it lasted.
We were told by the R.S.M. that under no conditions whatsoever were we allowed to loot or roam amongst the houses that hadn't got troops in - the usual tripe! Jim and I were mooching around well out of his way we thought, when in one house we had got some fine books, easy chairs and a settee lined up to take back, also some beautiful gowns - when we heard a sound as though a chair had been knocked over next door. Thinking that the owners had come back for some of their belongings, we peeped through the latticed window and who should we see come out, no-one but the R.S.M. himself. He had a bundle under his arm and away he went, over the back gardens.
"Well what do you think of that, Jim?" I said, "The lousy bastard, he ought to drop dead."
What Jim said was unprintable, so we just carried on but in the opposite direction.
We went in into one house, Jim was around the front somewhere as I opened a door leading into a small kitchen, I glanced inside and then jumped back slamming the door. Hearing the bang, Jim came around and saw my face.
"What's wrong?" he said.
"Cor Blimey! You should have seen what's in there climbing down the wall, a bleedin' great lizard!" I said.
"Don't be so potty." he said, and slowly opened the door. He went to slam it shut again, then paused, had another look and burst out laughing. He shoved the door wide open and then I could see what I had thought was a lizard climbing down the wall, was just a stuffed alligator about three feet long that had been pinned onto the wall. I had to laugh myself, but all the same it frightened me, it looked so real and I still had the memories of the spider. We took it down and carried it back to the house.
"I can see some fun with this." I said.
It was dark when we got back and I found that Blackie hadn't come in, so I tied a long piece of cotton to the alligator's nose and laid it out on the floor of the porch. It showed up nicely against the white slabs, of course the others had a laugh when they saw what was in the wind. I passed the cotton under the door then into the kitchen and we hadn't long to wait. I knew he would come in by the back door as the front door was bolted, so I gauged where I reckoned he was and started pulling the cotton. We heard him turn the corner and then stop - after a few moments silence in which we were doubled up trying to picture his face, we heard a terrific smack, and then "Get out you slimy bastard!". We heard another awful bang as something hit the door. That was too much for us, we just rolled over howling with laughter.
One of us managed to open the door and there was the alligator smashed beyond all recognition, hit by a big lump of wood that Blackie had slung at it. He was standing there with a look of half anger and half amusement on his face as he realised that it was all a joke. He still had a lump of wood in his hand and he was making a pretense of heaving it at us.
He barged in saying "You lousy sods, it frightened the shit out of me".
It was a long time before we stopped laughing.
Next morning whilst the others checked the ammo, I went with Blackie to our forward gun position to dig a slit trench and ammo pit. It was on the north side of the island near the aerodrome and not far from the coast, we had some food with us and took of our shirts and vests and got busy. After a couple of hours we had a spell, so I wandered off towards some houses in the bush. The people seemed to be Chinese to me, but at this stage I couldn't tell a Chinaman from an Eskimo! I made some signs for them to make some tea that I had brought with me and after a lot of palaver, they did and they also gave me some pineapples.
When I got back to the boys we all had some tea, a snack and some pineapple, and then started digging again. We had only gotten down about five feet when the roar of a plane could be heard, and a burst of machine gun fire. We popped our heads up and saw a Nip very low and coming towards us, he was firing on these huts. A stream of bullets went phutting into the ground about fifteen feet away from us, so we popped back down again a bit lively.
"That's a good start!" Blackie said.
"Yea, the sooner we get this pit done, the better." I answered.
There wasn't any of our planes in sight, or any AA fire and I remarked on this.
Blackie said "I don't suppose we've got any aircraft on this clump anyway, and what we have got is no cowin' good, they're Brewster Buffaloes!"
"Blimey, that's lovely!" I thought.
At about six we had finished the trench, sandbagged on top and having a smoke, when Captain Johnston, our Battery Captain came tearing up in a truck and said "Come on, we're going into action tonight!"
When I heard those words my heart did a couple of flips and I felt sort of queer inside. I thought "Well, here it is at last."
So we piled into the truck and on the way down he told us that we had suffered our first casualties. A party of the boys had been working down the docks when the Nip bombers came over. 21 of them unloaded their shit and blew a shelter in which some of them had been, when they were dug out only two were alive out of nine, and they had also hit the "West Point".
We got our things packed and we were told that we should be back again in a few days for a rest. The stupid bastards, I think that they forgot there was a war on, they thought we were still on manouvers in England. We were lying down before moving when planes were heard overhead, they began to circle around and somebody said "I wonder what they're after?"
We soon found out! We heard sh-sh-sh-sh, we knew what that was alright. Through those windows and doors we went like shot rabbits and head first into the slit trenches, then about three hundred yards down the road the earth seemed to erupt. The noise was deafening, the wind blew the frames towards us and Capping, the silly mare yelled out "???!"
Well, it just about beat everything, why he shouted that out the Lord only knows unless he was frightened out of his wits. I don't think he'd seen a bomb before, anyway no-one took any notice of him.
Going down to see the damage we saw that a row of houses had gone for shit, luckily none of our boys were in them, but some infantry had caught it. I saw Yates limping along with his rifle, he looked and smelled drunk.
I said "What's wrong?"
"Oh! I stopped a bit of shrapnel in my leg."
"What were you doing down there?" I asked.
"Well, I felt half pissed so I went and had a kip under the hedge."
"You crazy sod!" I said. "You had better get it fixed up, but liven yourself up a bit. You stink like a brewery."
But he didn't bother, and strange to say he got away with it, if it had been me I would have got pegged. He was a lucky sod like that, he was the same in England - didn't care a sod for anything or anyone.
Well, when things quietened down again we went up to where the guns were and waited for the quods to take us away, some of the drivers of the 88 R.A. who had been chased down Malaya were to take us up the line. At about one in the morning they came up, so we hooked up our guns and away we went. It wasn't so bad up to the suburbs of the city but when we left the road it was terrible, overhanging trees made it as dark as hell, and we had to slow down to a crawl along a track barely wide enough for the quod and pitted with holes and deep ruts. First we'd go down one side and then the other, we had to hang on like grim death, all the driver had to guide him was a thin red light on the back of the gun in front. The driver seemed quite unconcerned about it, smoking away like anything. Answering a remark he said " Oh, this is sod all! You should have been up country with the Nips bombing the daylights out of you as you went along."
We were driving into ditches and back into the quods like bees into a hive, but you get used to it. After about an hour and a half in which every bone in my body ached we came into a clearing and we were told that we had arrived. Jumping out, Blackie looked around for someone to ask where our gun position was and the Sargeant Major of A troop came up. Why it should be him and not our own S/M, I don't know. He was just another bullshitting sod!
He said "Your position's over there in those trees." Pointing to a spot about seventy yards away.
"O.K!" said Blackie, and jumped back into truck to tell the driver to pull us into our position.
Then up comes the S/M and says "You can't drive over there, you'll ruin the track plan. You'll have to manhandle the gun over there."
We were all dumb struck! It was absolutely crazy, because by driving along the edge of the trees our trucks wouldn't be seen from the air and it would be easy for the driver, but it was almost impossible to manhandle the gun as the ground was marshy. He wanted us to go straight across the clearing, which looked as if it had been recently ploughed over in readiness for planting. So although the ground was dry, it was dead soft and like sand. Blackie couldn't believe his ears, it would take at least an hour, and it would be hard work too.
"What!" he said "Why can't the quod go along those trees, it would be much easier."
"You'll do as I say, Sargeant." the lousy swine said and I'm sure he was doing this on purpose as he had a grudge against Blackie dating back to training. Blackie made him look a fool over some gun drill and he never forgot it.
There was nothing for it, so we started muttering under our breath. He must have caught some of the muttering for he said "I don't want any grumbling, either." Where the hell our own S/M was, God knows.
We unhooked the gun and the quod drove over under the trees, but not before the driver had made a few pointed remarks about all S/M's in general. So we started hauling away, good god! Talk about sweat, as fast as we lugged the gun forward, it would slip and slide back with the tyres getting no grip or very little on the soft earth and a 25 pounder is no lightweight. Slowly we managed to move it and in about a half an hours tough going, we went about fifteen yards forward. We had to keep stopping for a blow and all the time the lousy shit'ole stood there watching, never even offering a helping hand, Oh the things we called the swine. As time went on our voices became louder and he must have heard, although he didn't say anything.
We finally got the gun over in the position two and a half hours later and we were just about skint. Just then an Officer came up and wanted to know why we were so long getting into position. Blackie was too worked up to say anything but "The ground was too soft".
The Officer said "Well, you had better have some more men to help." and he sent over the gun crew of number 3 gun which was nearby. He then walked over to the S/M and stood chatting to him and watching while we lugged the ammo along, if the others hadn't helped we could never have done it. This ponce of an Officer never said a bleedin' word about using the quod that he must have seen standing idle under the trees.
Oh! What a mob! It must be the worst in all creation.
Eventually the job was done, and then we had to cover up the mess we had made gouging up the ploughed field, that took us another half hour. By the time this was done the S/M and Officer had gone, so we could air our views now and we did in no uncertain manner. We wished every sort of horrible illness and disaster we could think of onto him, from getting a dose of the "Pox" in its worst form and carrying on through his children, to hoping he would get caught in a blazing oil dump - the stinking low swine. We never came across him again during the action, and sad to say, he came through in one piece.
After that, we had to dig a gun pit, camouflage it and dig an ammo pit, then hump the ammo nearly eighty yards or so from the supply wagon. Then another slit trench because this was in a different position from the one Blackie and I had dug that morning. Once I was so tired that I had a reast for a minute leaning on the spade and went straight off to sleep, waking up and wondering what the hell had happened when I fell over and hit my face on the ground.
It was six o'clock when we finally finished and I said to Blackie "I don't care a sod what happens, I'm going to sleep." So I just dropped in my tracks and I didn't wake until I felt someone shoving me.
"Come on, we've got to move!"
I looked around, sort of dopey and then the full meaning of what I had heard, sunk in (it was only nine o'clock).
"What!" I howled "Got to move after all that cowin' work. What's the matter with them? They gone soddin' mad?"
"It seems we've come to the wrong position." Blackie said.
I looked at him and saw that he could have murdered someone easily, and I shouldn't like to think I should be in their shoes. For he was a big sod, six foot three and like the side of a house.
Well it had to be done. So back the ammo was humped and my hands were almost raw, what with the continuous digging and hauling the gun they were like two raw steaks.
Dear God! it was enough to make an angel swear. I think I found a few cuss words that hadn't been heard before. This time our own quod took us away. I was shitting bricks in case the Nips spotted us with their recce planes, they were buzzing around all the time and as it was broad daylight, we seemed to be asking for trouble. Luckily we weren't seen, although a few stray shells from their artillery went whining overhead.
Our new position wasn't for about a mile in a rubber plantation, it was a game driving in and out of the trees. We got our position fixed and again we started to dig a gun pit, ammo pit and slit trench. It took us until about two in the afternoon, the sweat just poured out. We had a bit of food and then prepared our Super Charge. We were firing at 11,700 yards at targets on the mainland at ten minute intervals, ten rounds at a time right through the night starting at eight o'clock. I wondered how the gun would stand it, we had never fired Super Charge before and the gun hadn't been tested at all.
Everything was ready and as eight o'clock drew nearer I was feeling a bit nervous and would be glad when we started firing. I hoped all of our rounds would hit the target.
The order came. "Take Posts!" and into the Layers seat I jumped and gave a preliminary turn to the different wheels. Down came the orders and up went the first shell. The breech was cranked home as the cartridge followed it, then we had to wait for the order to fire. It seemed as if all the guns on the island were firing in this "do".
We were in the centre of a huge semi-circle and I could see the flashes from the guns right away to my right as they let go, even the 15" were in it. When they went over, it was for all the world as if an express train was rushing along overhead, it's no joke to have a ton of H.E. go shreiking overhead.
Slowly the flashes came nearer, I turned to Blackie and grinned saying "Here we go, good shooting!"
He laughed out loud saying "Don't make any mistakes, and make sure you don't make a balls up of it."
And then our G.P.O. yelled out "Fire!" and down came the trigger. Oh Gosh! I went up in the air about six inches with the force of the explosion and out of the muzzle shot a huge sheet of flame. It appeared worse being dark, and for a few seconds I was blinded by the flash. I jumped up while the gun was being loaded and looked at the recoil indicator, I was astonished to see only ninteen inches.
I shouted back to Blackie "Nice work, Eh?"
"O.K." he said "Get busy!"
We had an interval of fortyfive seconds between each round so I had plenty of time to relay. Down the line the guns exploded again, and again it was our turn, and now that the first round had been fired it was alright.
I patted the breech and said "Here's one from Birmingham you bastards!" and whoosh! bash! Away went another. I bet the Nips on the other end were getting the shock of their lives and wondering what the hell was happening.
We fired off our first ten rounds and then had a rest and smoke while waiting to fire off the next time. After two hours firing Blackie said "Instead of all of us being on the gun at once, we'll split up. Half sleep for an hour and the other half fire."
So we split. I carried on with Blackie, Maxie and Twill and the other two lay down catching some sleep. When our hour was up, we were absolutely dead beat, about four hours sleep in forty eight and real hard work in between times. As soon as I lay down I think I was away, I dimly remember my clothes shaking with the shell blast, and that was all until I was awakened to do my turn again, it was the shortest hour I've ever known.
And so we went on through the night, stopping at seven o'clock in the morning and things became a bit clearer. I could see that the trail had buried itself in the ground about eighteen inches and the platforms had disappeared altogether. But looking over the gun we found that she was in perfect condition, which was at odds to us, we looked like a lot of ghosts. We dug the gun out and put her on line in readiness for the next target, but we didn't fire again that day.
The report came through that a big concentration of Nips at a railway station had been practically ruined, and what was left had scattered. Also a train had been put out of commission and some guns it was carrying had been destroyed. So we felt rather pleased with ourselves seeing as it was our first "do". So after a decent feed we managed a rest, and cutting the cards for the first shift of guard, we went to sleep.
Somewhere around midnight we were rudely awakened and told to get ready to move, along with the number one gun. It seems that we were going farther forward and we had got to put down harrasing fire on any targets that the O.P. should spot. It all sounded rather interesting.
So packing our gear and gun, with extra ammo in the quod, away we went. It was another nightmare trip although we only went forward about three miles, but it took us about two hours. Arriving there we found that only one gun could go in at a time, we had to force our way through small trees and bushes. The two gun crews got busy and heaved and pushed the number one gun into position, then went a bit further on and pushed ours in.
I couldn't find Maxie, shouting his name I went to look for him. More by luck than judgement I almost fell over him, he was fast asleep in a furrow in the ground made by some native when he planted sweet potatoes. I shoved him with my foot and he rolled over and said " What's the matter?"
"Come on, ya dope. We've got some work to do. Blackie'll flay you when we get back" and it's a wonder he didn't. Instead, he poked him in the ribs with the rammer and said "I'll bend it over your thick head next time!"
We found our position was a gem for camouflage, we didn't have to put up the "Scrim" net, a curse to every gunner but a useful thing all the same. We were in a slight hollow with the trail almost against the wall of a house, there were trees all around with just enough room for traversing. We put the ammo inside after knocking a hole in the wall, then when daylight came, we planted some trees nearer the gun and pulled the tops down with rope and tying them to stakes in the ground. This formed a roof of green leaves, hiding us from any Nip that might fly over. Then we made a big screen of bamboo and vines, interlacing it with large banana leaves and grasses. This was put against the front of the gun, thus hiding us from anyone in front. All I had to do when we fired, was push the screen down and then pull it back up afterwards. I went out a couple of hundred yards and looked back towards the gun. I couldn't see a single thing although I looked real hard.