1918/09/12 - Born Yorkshire
Son of Samuel and Edith
Occupation Quarry Worker
In September 1939, the 1st Battalion was in India and remained there until February 1941 when it was moved to Penang. In May it moved to stationed at Sungei Patani, Malaya. When Japan entered the war attacking Malaya, the 1st Battalion was position at Jitra.
By the 11th of December the battalion was confronted by the Japanese commanded by Saeki who decided to attack the troops at Jitra during the night of the 11th and in doing so suffered heavy losses by the allied positioning of their machine guns. Saeki then decided to throw everything he had at the centre of the British defences and succeeded in driving a deep wedge into their positions before he came up against the Leicesters and the 2/2nd Gurkhas who stopped the Japanese attack, the 2nd East Surreys then counterattacked to help the Leicesters. By the 12th December Major-general Kawamura commanding the 9th Infantry arrived at Jitra and sent his 41st Regiment down the eastern side of the main road and the 40th Regiment down the western side to assist Saeki who was still being held by the Leicesters. Murray-Lyons ordered the Leicesters to withdraw behind a stream called the Sungei Jitra, the Leicesters had fought bravely and their good positions were argued but they had to obey the order.
At a meeting just south of Gurun on the 14th December, Murray-Lyon told General Heath that his troops were not in condition to withstand another retreat but if they had to a strong defensive position should be chosen and a concentrated defines should be planned, with transportation for his troops. General Heath agreed that the 11th Division should hold Gurun and the 12th Brigade would hold the Japanese to the east at Kroh and Grik. After a conversation on the phone that night with Percival, Heath got his way and it was agreed that the 11th would retreat a further sixty mile to a defensive position beyond the Perak River delaying the Japanese as long as possible so Penang could be evacuated.
That night the Japanese attacked in numbers and drove a gap in the Punjabi defences and reached the 2nd East Surrey headquarters and then the 6th Brigade headquarters, killing everyone there, when Murray-Lyon saw the damage he immediately ordered a seven mile withdrawal, but finding the numbers of troops left, sent more orders to withdraw behind the Muda River. The remaining troops had some luck as the Japanese had been hit hard as well and they did not follow up on the action giving the remains of the 11th Division time to fall back, giving the British time to evacuate Penang.
The British started evacuating on the 13th but the orders included only British born personnel and civilians, this caused a feeling of despair among the Asiatic population, and anger towards the British for leaving them to fend for themselves at a time when they wanted leadership.
On the 17th December the Kobayashi Battalion of the Japanese 5th Division landed on Penang from small boats and the island was theirs.
Fearing his troops would be cut off by the Japanese troops from Kroh, Percival tried to use the natural obstacle of the Perak River as a defines against the Japanese tanks.
The 2nd Battalion, East Surrey Regiment and 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment were amalgamated to form the ‘British Battalion’ . The two battalions suffered had heavy losses and were amalgamated on 20th December 1941 as the ‘British Battalion’ under the command of Lieut. Col. C.E. Morrison, D.S.O., M.C., of The Royal Leicestershire Regiment.
Yamashita read the situation well and on the 26th December the 4th Guards Regiment crossed the Perak River to the north of Kuala Kangsar through thick jungle and then headed south for Ipoh, trying to outflank the British, they would then proceed to Kuala Lumpur. The British front had now been joined by the 12th Indian Brigade and the badly cut up 6th Brigade had merged into the 15th Brigade, they had now retreated by the 31st December to a strong defensible sight at Kampar where the artillery for once had a clear sighting of the ground between them and the advancing Japanese.
On the 2nd January the Japanese Guards Division tried landing troops at Kuala Selengor and Port Swettenham but were held off till the 4th when they achieved a landing just north of Kuala Selengor and moved inland at Battalion strength. Percival asked the Perak Flotilla to stop any more landings but it had been bombed continuously and was down to only two motor launches. While the landings were taking place 11th Division had retreated to the Slim River with very thick jungle on either side it was thought the Japanese could not outflank the defenders and the road defences would stop the tanks.
The long retreat down Malaya was now on, pursued and outflanked by the Japanese who were more suitably equipped and prepared for jungle warfare.
The ‘British Battalion’ fought as one till Malaya and Singapore fell to the Japanese on the 15th February 1942.
1942/03/12 - Casualty List No.769. Missing
1943/07/23 - WO 417/64, Casualty List No. 1194. Previously reported Missing on Casualty List No. 769, 15/02/1942 now reported Prisoner of War.
1942/02/15 - Captured Singapore
PoW No. M-4989
Japanese Index Card - Side One
Japanese Index card - Side Two
1943/03/23 - Transported overland with ‘D’ Force, train 9 to Thailand
57th Train from Singapore to Thailand
Commander Lt-Col. G.G. Carpenter, 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment
New PoW No. I 9797
Work Party 1
The work party were at Bhatona from May to August 1943
Bhatona (also named Matoona) - 175.8 km from Nong Pladuk
1943/05/25 - Reported sick
New PoW No. I 6565
Two causes of death given:-
Acute Colitis and Acute Enteritis
Grave No. 01 Bhatona Camp
Ronald’s grave was recorded as being at Camp 176.8km, near Ban Thung Na (Bhatona), with about 36 other graves. His grave marker was a decaying wooden cross, had ‘FIRTH’ and part of his army number on it and was one of only 2 at this site that had grave markers.
These graves were exhumed and the bodies transferred to Chungkai War Cemetery in Kanchanburi. Unfortunately, there was then a breakdown in communication and their individual graves weren’t named so it is not now possible to know exactly which grave is his.
1945/11/22 - WO417/99, Casualty List No. 1917. Previously reported on Casualty List No. 1194 as Prisoner of War. Previous Theatre of War, Malaya. Died as a Prisoner of War 1943/07/13.
Son of Samuel and Edith Violet Firth, of Leicester
Jo Clifford - Great Niece
Andrew Snow - Thailand Burma Railway Centre
British Battalion Roll
Thailand Burma Railway
Commonwealth War Grave Commission
KEW Files:- WO 361/1526, WO 361/2172, WO 361/2053, WO 392/24, WO 345/18, WO 361/1979, WO 361/1954, WO 361/2165, WO 361/1623, WO 361/2165, WO 361/2070, WO 361/2059, WO 367/2,