155th Field Regiment R.A
Supplied by Agnes Dougan Member of Lanarkshire Yeomanry Group
The Lanarkshire Yeomanry has a long and strong connection with Central Scotland having been raised as a volunteer cavalry regiment in the Lanark area about 1820. Like many other units formed around this time, the catalyst had been the unrest in Europe at the beginning of the century and the Napoleonic Wars.
However, during most of the 19th Century, the Regiment was to be more often involved in controlling local civil strife than fighting a foreign foe as these were the days before a regular police force.
This was to change near the end of the Century when a call went out for volunteers for the Boer War.
As a result, 340 local men came forward although only 140 were to eventually see active service in South Africa.
In 1908, after the Boer War had ended, the Yeomanry Regiments and Volunteer units were formed into the new Territorial Force and, while still part time soldiers, their training became more professional.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, the Lanarkshire Yeomanry was mobilised and in 1915 saw action in Gallipoli and in the Middle East.
In 1918, as the 12th Battalion (Ayrshire and Lanarkshire Yeomanry) Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Regiment was on the Western Front where Sergeant Thomas Caldwell from Carluke won the Victoria Cross.
But it was in World War 2 that the Regiment was to be really put to the test.
Reformed as two Regiments of Field Artillery, the 155th and 156th, both were to later distinguish themselves in action.
The l55th and the Malayan Campaign
The 155th (Lanarkshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment R.A. arrived in Malaya in October 1941 and soon found themselves in the north west of the country in the middle of dense rubber plantations.
For some time the Japanese had adopted a threatening approach to their neighbours in the Far East and had set their eyes on Malaya with its rich natural resources. Despite this, little meaningful attention had been given by the British in recent years to provide military protection for the country and with Britain fully stretched in the Middle East, Malaya was not top of its priorities.
This merely served to give the Japanese more encouragement and in December 1941, they landed at Kota Bharu on the north cast of Malaya and at the same time made a strike through supposedly neutral Thailand.
This was not wholly unexpected as the British had developed a plan - 'Matador' - to meet just such an eventuality and the 11th Indian Division - of which the 155th was part - was central to it.
Japanese Troops Coming Ashore (Robert Hunt Library)
The intention was to make a pre-emptive strike into Thailand in the event of a Japanese invasion but as a result of the ineptitude of the British High Command, the 11th Indian Division were not deployed in attack but were left in a state of uncertainty as to their role.
As a result, few defensive measures had been taken by the British other than stretching barbed wire across roads.
Thereafter, the conclusion arrived at by senior military planners was that the Japanese would have to keep to the roads as the surrounding jungle was impassable. Sadly, the Imperial Japanese Army, highly experienced after years of bitter fighting in China did not oblige and as well as driving their tanks down the main road to Jitra, irrespective of barbed wire, they also encircled the Allied defence by coming through the dense undergrowth and paddy fields.
Defending Jitra were various units of the 11 th Indian Division including the Punjabis, the East Surreys and the Leicesters, supported by the artillery of the 155th Field Regiment.
The Punjabis were first to meet the expected onslaught and were overwhelmed by the presence of Japanese tanks.
The Allied troops also had little or no protection from the Japanese dive bombers as the outdated planes of the RAF, including lumbering Brewster Buffaloes which were nicknamed the 'flying cigars', were quickly shot from the skies by the powerful Zero fighter planes of the Japanese.
And, whereas the Japanese arrived with hundreds of tanks, the Allied forces had not one single tank with which to face them.
Punjabi Soldiers - Malaya 1941
Next in the firing line were the men of the East Surreys and Leicesters and despite their brave and spirited resistance, including artillery support from the 4.5" Howitzers of the 155th, they stood no chance against such an experienced and well equipped enemy.
Having sustained substantial losses, both Regiments were likewise forced to withdraw.
Having made their way south to the mountainous region around the Kampar Valley, the remnants of the 11th Division dug in.
On the east of the valley were the 2/2 Gurkhas with the artillery of the 155th and to the west were the British Battalion, made up of the survivors of the Leicesters and East Surreys, and the 88th and 122nd Field Regiments. And there they waited for the Japanese.
The first thrust was against the Gurkhas who bravely stood their ground and with the supporting firepower of the 155th, caused havoc amongst the Japanese troops.
As the Japanese Commander, Colonel Masanobu Tsuji has since written:-
"The enemy resistance remained stubborn. By the evening of 31st December, the position was beginning to look grave. We spent the night in our car, huddled under mosquito nets. Just behind the front line.
We were completely fagged out, and were just drifting off to sleep when a she I I burst lifted the car off the ground. I told the driver to move the car a hundred metres to the rear, a/td we got into another position which seemed safe. We were just dozing off' to sleep again when another shell landed right beside us. I said, "Well, we'd better move back a bit more. "
The shellfire, however, seemed to follow the car and no sooner did we move to a new position than we would have to move to another one.
The heavy shellfire indicated the possibility of an enemy counter attack. It appeared that if the enemy did counter attack us we might be forced back to Ipoh."
Gunners in Action
Australian War Museum
Fortunately for the Japanese, the British High Command in Malaya were unaware of this and, to the dismay of the Gunners of the 155th, made the decision for a wholesale withdrawal of Allied troops from the area as they feared they would once again be encircled by the Japanese.
But there was to be little respite for the men of the 155th.
Their next defensive position was at Slim River and again the Japanese used their powerful tank advantage to great effect.
However, as the historian Stanley Falk recounts in his book; 'Seventy Days to Singapore', they had not counted on the stubbornness and tenacity of the 155th.
"Finally, two miles below the bridge, at about 9.30 am, they met their match: a regiment of field artillery (the 155th) moving forward to support the Gurkhas of the 28th Brigade. The Japanese overran part of the surprised artillery column; but then a Howitzer detachment got its 4.5" piece into action. At a range of only thirty yards, it knocked out the leading tank and impressed upon the others the wisdom of withdrawal."
Japanese Tanks in South Malaya
Imperial War Museum
Sadly for the Lanarkshire Regiment, during the fighting their popular CO, Lt. Col. Alan Murdoch was killed and the officer in charge of the successful Howitzer detachment, Captain Gordon Brown, lost his right arm and two fingers from his left hand.
For his leadership and bravery he was awarded the Military Cross.
But once again the British and Commonwealth troops were on the back foot as the fully supported Japanese units used every means at their disposal to gain advantage.
Thereafter there were to be several other encounters involving the 155th but by February they were on Singapore Island holding a defensive position on the Woodlands Estate, east of the causeway from the mainland.
And despite an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the causeway and so disrupt the Japanese advance, the enemy were soon to be on the Island itself.
By this time, the Military position for the Allied forces was impossible and, on 15th February, they were ordered by their command to surrender.
And so the men of the 155th, and many thousands of other British and Commonwealth troops, were handed over to a cruel and barbaric enemy.
For the next three and a half years as POWs they would suffer, and die, in horrendous conditions.
After the initial move to Changi, most of the men from the 155th were deployed to various camps in Singapore and worked on a variety of projects including clearing the 'go-downs' at the docks and building a road at Bukit Timah for the Memorial to the Japanese dead. It was here that Gunner Alfred Street was killed in an accident and was accorded a Military funeral by the Japanese.
Thereafter, beginning October 1942, the men were moved further afield.
One group was moved to work on the Burma - Thailand Railway to work on the bridge at Tamarkan.
Another group of around 250 was taken to Taiwan on the hell ship the 'England Mam' where they worked in the infamous Kinkaseki Copper Mine.
In November yet another group was sent to work on the Railway, on laying the line.
In early 1943, of those men of the 155th remaining in Changi, smaller groups formed part of 'F Force', sent to work on the Railway.
Another small group was sent to Japan to work in a coal mine in Kyushu.
The most unfortunate group of all, comprising six men, were sent to Kuching - all of whom perished. They were:-
1069558 S/Sgt J.J. Parker
963490 L/Bdr T. Tadman
977220 Gnr. R. Campbell
1105122 Gnr D.A. Laing
963478 Gnr C. Shun
953828 Gnr F. Wain
Those who were too ill or had been seriously wounded, remained in Changi for the duration of the War.
As time wore on, many men from the Regiment were moved from their particular area of captivity to Japan to work in the factories and mines there for the duration of the war.
More men died as POWs than fell in action.