To honour those who served their country

“In this their finest hour”

4th Battalion

Royal Norfolk Regiment

History

 

4th_battalion1-tb

Please click on the above photo to enlarge

The 4th Battalion was under the command of Lt-Col. J.H.Jewson, M.C., T.D., who had his H.Q. at the Drill Hall, Chapel Field, Norwich. Second in command was Maj. A.E.Knights, M.C., M.M.

H.Q. Company was at Norwich, “A” and “D” Companies were at Yarmouth, “B” Company was at Attleborough and “C” Company at Harleston. The strength of the 4th was 29 officers, 39 warrant officers and sergeants and 607 other ranks, making a total of 675 men.

In September 1939, four sergeants and 91 other ranks were transferred to the 6th Battalion, leaving the 4th with 580 men in total. The 4th, 5th Battalions were brigaded together and with the Suffolk Regiment formed the 54 Infantry Brigade under Brig. E.H.W.Backhouse as part of the 18th Division.

In October, at the start of WW2, the Battalion was brought together at Gorleston, the H.Q had taken over the Holiday Camp situated at Bridge Road with “A” and “B” companies. “D” Company were at York Road Drill Hall, and “C” Company was at Great Yarmouth Race Course. Training began in earnest when N.C.Os and other ranks were drafted from the 2nd Battalion.

During May with Britain at a low point after Dunkirk, and the threat of a German invasion, the 4th Battalion were given coastal duties. Beaches were mined and road blocks were manned by them. The 54 Infantry Brigade had the job of defending the beach from Cromer to Lowestoft, with the 4th Battalion covering Gorleston and Yarmouth. In June 1940  the Battalion was taken to 29 officers and 950 other ranks by drafts from the I.T.C., Royal Norfolk Regiment, at Billericay and the I.T.C., Wiltshire Regiment. This month also saw the first air raids with several bombs being dropped in the battalion’s area. During August the King visited Battalion H.Q. and inspected the Officers and men at Gorleston Holiday Camp.

On September 18th the battalion was moved to Langley Park Loddon and within days were put into Action Stations as an invasion was thought to be under way. After twelve hours of being on alert the men were stood down and training continued.

The Home Defence Units were getting up to strength by the end of 1940 and had been trained sufficiently to take over the coastal defences of Britain. This released 54 Infantry Brigade to have more specialist training at Cambridge.

The 18th Division received its orders to finish its training in Egypt just before Christmas 1940, but before this Stobs Camp near Hawick, Scotland was to be its last training ground on British soil. Accompanied by the 4th Suffolks they arrived on January 8th 1941, in very cold conditions. The men wished they were back in the flat lands of Norfolk as the marches became longer but they were getting fitter.

By April the plan for Egypt was shelved and the 18th Division was moved to Blackburn under the command of Maj-Gen M.B.Beckwith-Smith. Here the training continued but with more stress on exercises, this ended with a two day endurance test in June. The Division came through this with flying colours and were now seen to be near ready. Before being posted abroad final route marches were to be carried out in Ross-on-Wye. So back to Scotland on August 13th went the Division. The men knew things were hotting up as their exercises now included river crossing and day and night landings from craft.

On September 9th, Lt-Col Jewson was promoted and Lt-Col. Knights was given the command of the battalion. With the Kings visit the men were seen to be now ready for action. Tropical kit was issued and orders were to proceed to Liverpool. The battalion was then made ready to embark on the Andes, destination unknown.

On October 29th the convoy sailed, and midway between across the Atlantic an American squadron, including a battleship and the air craft carrier Lexington took over as escort. The convoy now headed for Halifax.

The men in the Andes were then moved across to the transport ship tied along side, the 27,000 ton Wakefield.

USS Wakefield-1

USS Wakefield

On November 10th the voyage continued with six American troopships, two cruisers, eight destroyers and the aircraft carrier Ranger made up Convoy William Sail 12X, their destination still unknown.

Convoy William Sail 12x

Convoy William Sail 12X

After a month the convoy arrived at Cape Town, South Africa. By this time the Americans were in the war as the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour and attacked Malaya and the rumours were that they were heading for the Far East and not the Middle East as first thought.

On December 13th the convoy left Cape Town and sailed along the coast of East Africa past Madagascar and into the Indian Ocean heading for Bombay. After 17,011 miles at sea Bombay was reached December 27th 1941.

After disembarking on the 29th January, the 4th Royal Norfolks marched on to the Ketong area of Singapore. The bombing went on most of the night and the next day, a bomb hit the Wakefield killing some of the men in the sick bay and a few Americans. The next day was spent moving equipment from the docks to the camp, getting organised and meeting some of the 5th and 6th Norfolks who had left the convoy earlier on the Mount Vernon, they had already been in the action for a fortnight and had been very badly cut up by the Japs.

The 18th Division was moved to hold the north-eastern part of the island near the Changi Peninsula.

On the 5th February the Empress of Asia bringing military supplies, including ammunition for the 18th Division, was hit by bombs and went aground on the Sultan Shoal, this did not help the now desperate situation the battalion was in. The following days saw heavy bombing and bombardment from the Japanese. On Sunday the 8th February, using makeshift rafts, the Japanese 18th Division and 5th Division began the movement across the Straits separating Malaya and north-western end of Singapore. The Australian troops who faced them didn't get the artillery support they needed, and shielded by the dense smoke, the Japanese soon got a foothold, the fighting was soon hand to hand.

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Singapore

Detail from Royal Norfolk Regiment

The lack of air support caused the defenders of Singapore to under a constant aerial attack. At the start of operations the 4th Battalion was held as reserve to assist the defence of the north coast.

Battalion H.Q. with Maj. R.F.Humphrey were stationed with “A” company and Capt. M.Gowing in the Teck Hock area. “B” Company with Maj. W.L.Faux was about two miles away,  “C” company with Capt. T.C.Eaton in the Serangoon Jetty area and “D” company with Capt. S.F.Philips was in the Serangoon Church area. No contact was made with the enemy until the night of 7th-8th when the Japanese attacked the island of Ubin, off the Straits, to the right of the brigades sector. The enemy consisted of about 1,000 men and the small platoon guarding the beach had to make a quick withdrawal, four men failed to return.

The enemy were making ground quickly by infiltrated the allied lines and they were by the 9th February about two miles behind the defences. They then began to spread out putting the Peice and MacRitchie Reservoirs and the Seletar Aerodrome at risk.

On the 10th February “Tomforce” was formed, the battalion along with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers formed this force under Lt-Col.L.C.Thomas. Their orders were to support 12 Indian Brigade and stop the enemy advance on Bukit Timah. The force travelled in buses to the north side of Bukit Timah then advanced towards the village, the 1/5 Sherwood Foresters advanced from the south, but that night the village was taken by the Japanese.

The next day the battalion advance through thick woods on a two company front. “A” were followed by “D” on the left and “B” followed by “C” on the right. The enemy were waiting and marked their position with flares, this was followed by low level bombing and machine-gunning. “B” and “C” companies were hit and suffered badly. It was considered an impossible task to advance further as the Japanese were heading north of “Tomforce” towards the reservoir near Thompson Village. The battalion withdrew to the Singapore Racecourse to try to stem the Japanese advance, joining with 4th Suffolks on the right to form a perimeter defence of the MacRitchie Reservoir.

All looked to be in place until an order for the 4th Suffolks to advance towards the Swiss Rifle Club Range, letting the Japanese infiltrate with cover fire from high ground they all ready held. This caused the right flank of the battalion to be exposed. The enemy quickly took the advantage and completely surrounded the battalion leaving only a small area free to the east.

At 9am on the 12th the Japanese attacked the forward line at “A” company in strength on the Bukit Timah road, using tanks they forced the company back. A counter attack  was planned but orders to withdraw to Adam Road were received. They withdrew though the east gap but the carriers had to go down the Bukit Timah road and came across enemy tanks but against all the odds they managed to fight their way through without loss.

Once again under the command of the 54 Infantry Brigade, “Tomforce” was dissolved. Defences of the position in Adam Road were quickly put into place these included a barbed wire fence and that night some sleep was gained. The next day started with a heavy shell and mortar attack, allied artillery returned fire but there were many casualties during the day. That evening the battalion were relieved by 1/5 Sherwood Foresters, withdrawing to the east side of the road, however with the shelling very little rest was gained. The same pattern of shelling and bombing carried on into the 14th February causing heavy casualties, this later was followed by a prolonged attack to the north of the positions and with a second attack the Sherwood Foresters were forced back. “B” and “C” companies then counter attacked and regained their positions through heavy losses.

The situation on the island was now very critical with many troops over run and the enemy threatening to take control of the water supply. The end came very quickly, at noon on the 15th a car travelled down the Bukit Timah road with a white flag above a Union Jack, Singapore had capitulated.

There was to follow a more degrading, humiliating and starving, three and a half years of captivity, where many wished they had never seen Singapore or the Japanese. These men were later to be known as Fepows.

The plight of the men of the Royal Norolks taken prisoner by the Japanese is far reaching and covered by other pages. They travelled to Taiwan, Burma, Thailand Japan and any place the Japanese wanted a labour force. They died from over work, hunger, beatings and some just gave up in despair.

The following has been included as it was by my pop, a bren gunner with the 4th Royal Norfolks.

Before the Japs came into our camp, stories of atrocities carried out by them were spreading, fearing the worst, we had to pile all weapons and ammunition in the open. Then a small party of Japanese checked that everything had been carried out to their commands, the trucks carrying the Japanese then arrived. Standing to attention and faced by an unknown enemy, the stories flooded through my head of Chinese men, woman and children being used for bayonet practice and allied units surrendering under a white flag in Malaya being shot and left for dead.

Our officers were allowed to take charge at first, the Japanese having set up two machine guns at the entrance to some tennis courts, placed us inside them. The following day our officers took charge and marched us to Changi Prison on the North-east end of the island. It was on the way I learnt of the massacre at Alexandra Hospital, a medical officer, Lieut. Weston had confronted the Japanese outside the hospital with a white flag only to be bayoneted to death. The enemy soldiers who seemed tall for the normal Japanese, then killed anything that moved, the patients didn't stand a chance. It was later reported that 323 died in the attack, 230 being patients, the rest medical officers and nurses. The hospital couldn't have been mistaken for anything else, all the medical officers were wearing Red Cross insignia and the hospital had a large Red Cross in the grounds, (it was later established that the soldiers that carried out the raid were the Japanese Imperial Guard and the raid was in retaliation for their losses by the Australians the days previous).

Being the nearest to Changi we were the first to arrive, later to be joined by the rest of the captive troops. Food was still being issued by our cooks at this time and it wasn't so bad, but within a week food and water were in short supply, the Japs then issued rice. I soon found myself in the hospital, rice did not agree with our stomachs and dysentery and fever spread throughout Changi Prison. While I was in hospital, a big clean up of the dead in Singapore was ordered and Divisional HQ was amongst the working party to go, brother Jack came to see me before he departed and gave me his ring and watch to look after for him, I didn't see him again for nearly a year.

In April working parties started to be taken away, our cloths, boots and belongings were taken from us only to be left with a loin cloth. If we didn't bow to a Jap we received a good beating, at first we hit back but you then found yourself in the guard room where six or seven very friendly Japs would try their best to put you in hospital for a week. Another punishment was to stand you to attention in the hot sun with nothing on, the Japs would stub cigarettes out on your body as they passed, given no food or drink you just feinted, then you were put in the cooler (a bamboo cage), for days on end with just rice balls and salt. The Sikhs and Bengalis from the Indian National Army were now helping the Japs guard us, if any goods were found being smuggled, they had the authority to give out beatings. This all had the desired effect and you tried to keep out of trouble, but you had to eat to live and smuggling food still went on.

In June we were told to sign a non-escape form by the Japanese, we wouldn't sign, so they put the prisoners together with two machine guns on us. Four prisoners who had previously tried to escape were then shot, the Japs threatened to shoot all of us if we didn't sign. After standing in the sun all day with the threat of death, the offices told us to sign the form, but we wouldn't be bound to it, to escape was ones duty, (Major-General Shamei Fukuei ordered the shootings by firing squad, he was tried after the war and shot on the same spot as the prisoners).

Working parties had increased, and later in June my turn came, I was now feeling a lot better but the food and conditions at Changi were very bleak, rice and green leaves were our diet, the water had to be boiled and the sanitary conditions were terrible, so I was glad to get away. With a party of 600 others we were herded into cattle trucks and driven up Malaya and into Thailand. We were the first working party to arrive at Non Pladuk and were treated very well, the food was a lot better then at Changi. Our first job was to clear a large area of trees, we were told a Japanese workshop was to be built there, then word got around that it was to be the start of a railway line to go 415kms to Burma.

Little did they know of the horror that the railway would bring and the toll in took in human life. The screams of my fathers nightmares will never leave me, it was part of my youth.

However much we loved him there was always that quiet place he would go back to. The faces of his lost mates haunted him all his days of his life. I pray in death he has now found a place to rest in peace.

The Parade

The bugle played the men fell in

Some of them tired and all of them thin,

Patched up shirts and shorts they wore,

Some with less, but none with more,

Bandaged arms and legs by scores,

Old rags that covered their ulcered sores,

Others straight from the malaria bed

With pains in their feet and in their head,

Everyone who could walk was there,

Dark sunken eyes fixed in a stare.

In two lines the men fell in,

And not one was wearing a grin,

Everyone was grim and stern

You wonder why, well you shall learn,

Not a word on that parade was spoken,

Not a word or familiar joke,

Jesting and joking were far apart

For each one there had an ache in his heart.

No funeral march with it's plaintive verse,

No gun carriage there to act as a hearse,

The coffin was carried shoulder high

By four of his pals with a tear in their eye,

The coffin was just a box of wood,

Not a flower or wreath to make it look good,

But the Union Jack was in evidence there

And stopped the box from looking bare.

With steps the procession passed by,

And with it the lad who was sent here to die,

Twelve months of suffering and toil,

Only to be buried on Thailand soil.

But his soul has risen to the heavens above

And with it goes his friends great love,

He's gone to a billet far better then ours

A haven of rest and happy hours,

The parade dismissed and one could note

Every one there had a lump in his throat.

Life it passes just like sand

But the way they saluted, pal it was grand.

Written in Thailand

By Frederick Noel Taylor - My pop and always my hero

 

 

 

 

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