To honour those who served their country

“In this their finest hour”

Royal Navy-tn


Able Seaman

William John Long

Known as ‘Taff Long’


1918/10/18 - Born South Wales

Son of John and Catherine Long

Royal Navy

HMS Dragonfly




HMS Dragonfly

‘Taff’ Long quotes below are from Michael Pether’s Article

‘Passengers on the Dragonfly Version 1.0.0.’

With Japan entering the war, the HMS Dragonfly along with two other gunboats, the ‘Grasshopper’ and ‘Scorpion’, sailed from Hong Kong to Singapore.

The Dragonfly and Scorpion helped rescue a brigade of 2000 men cut off at Batu Pahat.

1942/02/10 - The HMS Dragonfly left Singapore for Batavia, commandeered by Commander Alfred William Sprott, R.N. Evacuating about 250 troops from Singapore to Sumatra they were equipped with life jackets.

One of the crew was  Able Seaman William ‘Taff’ Long, D/TX 167693 , Asdic operator.

Taff Long - “Singapore was now a very unhealthy place. Smoke and flames were to be seen from all directions. Fighting was taking place in the city. Shells were falling in and around the harbour and small arms fire was to be heard in all directions. Oil from the massive installations on the island of Pulau Samboe had been released into the sea and was now on fire; from it rose great columns of thick, dense, acrid smoke which billowed hundreds of feet into the sky to cast and oily, sooty residue wherever it settled.”

“Dragonfly’s ships company, weary from days and nights at sea, constantly at action stations, had arrived at a point where sleep was taken where possible; food and drink at one’s post. It was dark when the gunboat made fast at one of the jetties, no organised party of men appeared. Stragglers there were in twos and threes, but these were denied access because they were men seeking to leave unofficially. At approximately 2200 I was detailed with four other seamen under the command of a Petty Officer to contact men who were to be evacuated. We were issued with rifles and bayonets and climbed onto the jetty. Bullets were striking the galvanised side of the warehouses, whether fired by friend or foe we had no idea…. Confusion reigned supreme … Suddenly a group of men appeared and ‘Do you know where the Dragonfly is?’ was audible above the general racket. These were our men led by an army captain called Brown, I think. Apparently, the remainder had been split up into sections to lessen the risk of casualties if they were fired upon. About another fifteen men appeared and while the PO remained in my position my ‘oppo’ and I took these – running – taking cover- hell bent for the ship. About this time mortar shells began exploding in and around the godowns, smacking down on the jetty surface and scattering shrapnel in all directions. On arriving alongside everyone in the party threw their weapons over the guard rail and clambered aboard with a few chosen words of relief. In our absence others had come aboard. The gangplank had been stowed away, when yet another party, led by the Petty Officer, dashed up and threw themselves any way they could on to the ship’s deck. The Captain on the bridge shouted ‘We can’t wait any longer, cast off forrad. Cast off aft’ and the bow swung away from the jetty. For some reason we did not cast off aft but proceeded out to sea snapping the spring with a loud ‘twang’. It was now approximately two am, by four am we were well out to sea – running at full speed, the engines throbbing with power.  I took over the Asdic and my ‘oppo’ said that the ‘Grasshopper’ somewhere off our port beam, was to accompany us wherever we were going”

“Dawn broke (it was St Valentine’s Day); behind us lay Malaya, and ahead we thought, Java and possibly Australia. It was a bright, clear dawn, the tropical sky cloudless and the sea like a huge burnished lake with hardly a ripple to break the surface. Off our beam was the ‘Grasshopper’ and both of us throwing up bow waves as we steamed ahead at full power. The ‘Dragonfly’ was grossly overloaded, our small galley quite inadequate but tea and cocoa were handed round. Most however preferred to sleep; exhausted, dirty and unshaven they lay in all manner of places, wardroom flat, alongside the wheelhouse, on top of the ‘spud’ locker - anywhere they could lay their heads.”

Japanese aircraft were first seen at 0800 hours but did not seem to notice the two ships.

At approximately 0930 hours a recognisance flying boat flew overhead , dropping two bombs , both missed, the Captain ordered a change in course to try and get the Dragonfly in the lee of one of the small islands in an attempt to evade any aircraft sent to attack them.

Unfortunately 63 enemy bombers appeared and attacked the two ships , scoring direct hits on the Dragonfly and she came to shuddering stop , the Captain later stated that the whole of the ship aft of the smoke stack was a mass of twisted metal and the stern had completely disappeared.

The Commander gave the order to abandon ship, the ‘Dragonfly’ later sank.

Singkep Island-tn


Taff Long - “The ‘Dragonfly’ was already down by the stern as the captain shouted, ‘Abandon Ship’. I ran down the ladder to the upper deck and looked into the boiler room to see more flames and smoke. There was a hiss of escaping steam and two or three stokers there with skin hanging off them in bits and pieces (engine room personnel in the tropics wore nothing but shorts and slippers and therefore had no protection whatsoever from the scalding, boiling steam). The whaler was being lowered and was level with the upper deck. I helped some of them into the whaler when there was a shout ‘What about the engine room?’. Two or three of us ran to the engine room casing. What a sight, flames, smoke but no sound of wounded men; just the hissing of escaping steam, great clouds of it being forced out at high pressure. It was impossible to get down there. The mess deck must have also been a shambles. All those men crammed into a restricted area had received a direct hit as also had the engine room. The force of the explosions had blown the bulkheads between the boiler room, the engine room and the mess decks. We were now well down by the stern, the upper deck being level with the sea. I made my way towards the whaler. On my way I saw a stoker standing in the gangway. He had been hit in the throat and blood was coming from his mouth. He couldn’t talk, and he couldn’t see as his eyes had been caught by the steam. I led him to the whaler which by now was loaded beyond capacity with wounded and unconscious men. The stoker was helped aboard but when I was about to get in a PO named Brennan shouted ‘Sorry Taff, we’ve too many now. I blew up my lifejacket, kicked off my sandals, ran to the other side to be out of reach of the suction when she sank and jumped in. After a few minutes I turned and looked at the ‘Dragonfly’. She was down by the stern with about 15 feet of bow sticking out of the water. Hanging on to the bullring was a seaman called Finch who came from Canvey Island, and who I knew couldn’t swim. As I looked the ship sank gradually lower and with a final shudder and hissing of steam - a maelstrom of bubbles on turbulent water - she slid below the sea, carrying with her the bulk of the ship’s company and nearly all the odds and bods we had picked up in Singapore. This all happened in about ten minutes.”

“I could distinctly see the canopies of the rear turrets slid back, the twin barrels of the machine guns poking over the side and the figures of the enemy gunners. I also saw a fusillade of bullets lashing the water all around and heard the awful cries of men being hit ‘some of whom were already wounded’. I let go of my lifebelt and dived as deep as possible. Seconds, I suppose, but it seemed to be the longest time of my life. I shot up to the surface and looked around, the planes were climbing to vanish into the distance, I looked for signs of life, but tragically all I could see were the bodies of six or seven men lying lifeless in the water. Of the two or three others there was no sign.”

Taff Long swam to an island and the next day found survivors from both the ‘Dragonfly’ and also ‘Grasshopper’ on a nearby beach but with heavy casualties.

Taff Long - “The wounded were pitiful to see and suffered greatly. We spent four more days on the beach sustained mainly by coconuts and then a large motor launch in charge of a Dutch civilian and manned by natives came searching for us. They made several trips that night and transported us all to the island of Singkep, where we were directed to the Dutch clubhouse. The majority of the wounded were taken to the native hospital. One of our wounded was a stoker from the ‘Dragonfly’ called Farley. He pleaded with us not to let him go with the other wounded but to keep him with us and he would take the consequences. The sailors amongst us decided that we would look after him by ourselves. He was a mass of raw flesh after being scalded in the ‘Fly’ and he had been shot twice when he was in the whaler, but his resolve and courage were magnificent.”

Singkep was the biggest island in the immediate area and many of the escapees from the sunken craft were gathered there. Junks were used to transport many of them to Sumatra.

  The Survivors able to travel were taken up the Indragiri River to  Temilahan then onto Rengat  , their final destination would have been Iyer Molek were they would have transfered to road transport taking them to rail head at Swahlunto and then it would have been a railway journy to Pagang

Route across Sumatra

Map of Route Across Sumatra by Kevin Snowdon

The group then travelled across Sumatra to Padang on the West Coast  and eventually tried to reach Emmahaven to board a ship to Colombo, but they were stopped by Javanese troops at a road block and turned back to spend the night at a school. But next morning there was an episode which would change their lives for the next years three and a half years.

Taff Long  - “ Some Dutch officers, accompanied by a couple of dozen Jap soldiers, called upon us to fall in outside the school. We marched through the town passed jeering, gesticulating  natives to a gaol where they incarcerated native criminals. There were already several hundred Dutch colonial troops inside. In this gaol started three and a half years of despair, degradation and malnutrition: of working on a railway: but that is another story. Of the fourteen Naval men of our party from Rengat, five eventually survived.”


Japanese PoW

1942/03/17 - Captured Padang, Sumatra

PoW No. I 163

Japanese Index Card - Side One


Japanese Index Card - Side Two


Able Seaman Long was moved to Gloegoer camp in Medan , Northern Sumatra , to work on various Japanese projects . He might then have been part of the Atjeh Party forced marched 85 miles in six days to the town  Atjeh , here they joined Romusa building roads.

 In October 1944 they were again force marched 85 miles but this time in 81 hours , including a 8 hrs night march to a rest camp promised by the Japanese but instead they were then sent to work on the Sumatran railway , split between camps 9 and 14.

New PoW No. I 6990

1945/10/15 - Liberated




1939-1945 Star-tn

Pacific Star

War Medal

1939-1945 Star


Post War

He survived three and a half years of hell in prisoner of war camps and returned to the UK at Christmas 1945.

Though deeply affected by his experiences he returned to his home in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales where he married, had two sons and lived a fairly full life until his death.



January 1997



Chris Fritz Hodgson

Kevin Snowdon - Kevin gave me loads of assistance in compiling data.

HMS Dragonfly - Roll of Honour

Michael Pether - Passengers on the Dragonfly Version 1.0.0.

‘Singapore’s Dunkirk’ Book by Geofrey Brooke

KEW Files:- WO 361/1947, WO 345/32, WO 361/2006, WO 392/25,


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