To honour those who served their country

“In this their finest hour”

East Surrey-tn



 Christopher James Howlett


1919/07/20 - Born Cambridgeshire

Son of Joseph and Hannah Howlett

East Surrey Regiment

2nd Battalion



When Japan entered the war attacking Malaya, the  2nd Battalion was position at Jitra.


By the 11th of December the East Surrey Regiment were 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.

Christopher was captured 20th December’


Japanese PoW

1941/12/20 - Became a Japanese PoW in Malaya

1942/12/22 - Transported from Kaula Lumpur to Changi

Japanese Index Card - Side One

Howlett -Christopher James-01

Japanese Index Card - Side Two


1943/03/28 - Transported to Borneo

1943/04/01 - Arrived Jesselton

1944/08/28 - Transported to Labuan Island

1944/12/12 - Contacted Beriberi and Malaria



Age 25

1945/02/26 at 1000hrs

Labuan Island, Borneo

Cause of death given by Japanese as Malaria and Beriberi, these death certificates are known to cover up the deaths of the 300 PoWs of the Labuan Party, none survived.


Christopher was part of the Labuan Party of 300

At Sandakan in June 1944, Hushijima received orders to transfer 100 prisoners, which included one Australian and one officer, Flight-Lieutenant Blackledge, to the west coast of Labuan Island. The party were to work on an airfield, built to defend the coast and Brunei Bay.  The party were under the command of Captain Nagai.

In August a further 200 were transferred from Kuching, these included Captain Campbell, RAMC.  The party were mainly British with five Australians.

By December 1944 more then one third of those who left Sandakan had died on Labuan Island from malaria, this was mainly due to the shortage of food making them easy prey to decease. 

Colonel Suga then put Sergeant- Major Sugino in charge to move the remainder to Kuching, by the time of the move in June 1945, the death toll had risen to 188 of the 300 prisoners. Those 112 who remained were moved on the 7th June 1944.

The British reached Bruinei and were housed in a hut originally occupied by Japanese Coolies. On the 8th May the remaining 81 were moved to Kuala Belait, leaving behind 30 who had died and one missing, thought to have died after an escape attempt in Kempei-tai hands. Seven Indian soldiers who were being held by the Kempei-tai joined this party making it 88.

After the next move to Miri on 27th May 1945, 37 more prisoners had perished, the party was now 51. The prisoners were ordered to Tanjung Lobang, a compound behind the Residents House. The barbed wire compound was built in 1941 as a Japanese Interment Camp.

On 8th June 1945 Allied ships approached  the west coast, Sugino moved the 46 remaining prisoners down a jungle track to Riam Road where they stopped near a police station. 14 fit prisoners then went back to the Residents House compound to pick up food, they made two trips by this time 2 more prisoners had died.

Sugino was then ordered to take his 44 remaining prisoners into the mountains, after two hours of travelling they reached the 6 mile peg and were housed in a small house. Sugino then burnt all the papers and effects of the dead prisoners. On the 10th June another food party was sent out leaving 28 prisoners under Blackledge at the 6 mile peg. On this date the Australian 9th Division landed at Brunei Bay, less then 200 kilometres away. Japanese policy dictated that under attack all prisoners would be killed. Sugino later reported that one prisoner tried to escape and the guards opened fire, bringing the other prisoners out of the house, they were shot or bayoneted by the guards, killing all 28 prisoners.

Sugino then took some of the guards back towards the Resident House compound and met the returning food party at the 5 mile peg. Once again Sugino claimed that one prisoner tried to escape, the prisoners all died.

Not one of the 300 prisoners sent to Labuan Island survived.

Sugino was shot on Miri for murder.



Singapore Memorial-3

Column 69

Singapore Memorial


Peter Thatcher

Mandy Benton - Supplied Photo

Labuan Party

KEW:- WO 361/2060, WO 361/1587, WO 361/1676, WO 361/1499, WO 361/2025, WO 361/2199, WO 361/1501, WO 392/24, WO 345/26


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