In affiliation with the 2/26 Battalion Family & Friends Association Inc.
To all troops of C.E.G. and H. areas and staffs of 2/19 Field Ambulance and 2nd. Con Depot on Parade in building occupied by A.I.F., Barrack Square, Selarang, at 1830 hours on Friday 4th September 1942. Changi, Singapore.
I have spoken twice before – possibly I will be able to say the same thing a third time, but I doubt it. Forgive me for looking at notes, because this is the first time in the army I have ever spoken from notes, but I consider this occasion sufficiently important to warrant speaking from notes.
First let me traverse this incident since last Sunday:- Last Sunday morning the Commanders of the British and Australian Forces were sent for by the Japanese and a complaint lodged with us regarding escapes. It was pointed out to us that a Captain and 3 British O.R’s were then in gaol because of attempted escape.
We were warned that we were personally responsible for the discipline of the forces, and that was why we were sent for.
Then the form that you have all seen was handed to us with the request that we sign it. We refused to sign because it was a question of honour. We had been told by the Japanese that it was a matter of our own free will; that those who did not sign would of necessity be placed under stricter guard that had been the situation before. We were prepared to accept those terms and conditions, and came back and recommended to you all that you should not sign.
We knew that we might subsequently be placed in what we may call a “P.O.W’s concentration camp”, with not so much room as we had before. We must realise that the conditions under which we have existed here as P.O.W’s for six months are far better that we expected, and certainly better that we would experience in Germany or Italy today, or would have experienced in Germany or Great Britain during the last war, and it was a matter of our own free will and that was our choice.
When it became known that all except three individuals in the whole force, British and Australian, would not sign the declaration, “my friend the enemy’s” attitude changed. He tried several ways to persuade us without avail, and subsequently issued the order that all who did not sign were to move to this area. In expecting concentration conditions, one did not expect inhuman conditions from a civilised power – or what they call a civilised power.
This is what we got, and from then on, certain negotiations have been going on. Demands have been made twice per day, by the Imperial Japanese for us to order you to sign them. We so often refused. The Senior Commanders placed several suggestions (alternatives) before the Japanese in order to effect a compromise.
We were told that this form you are asked to sign emanated from Tokyo, and that nobody in Malaya had authority to alter it – and that being an order from Tokyo, no one would suggest an alteration to Tokyo. I have no doubt the Japanese began to experience some of our own anxiety about these very conditions.
I do not think they asked the International Red Cross representative to come today. I am sure they would not, and they, I feel, were trying to effect a face saver. Further, they threatened that if these papers were not signed there would be reprisals in the nature of executions and cutting off the rations. Yesterday General Fukuye (you have another way of saying that and you are right incidentally) stopped the whole of the rations coming to this camp. So the first part went on.
What is the situation we now find ourselves in? Firstly, that our firewood will last one more day. Secondly, that no rations have been received since we have been concentrated here, and our reserves, of necessity, are limited. In a few days we will find that this Barrack Square will be taken up with latrines and Dysentery and Diphtheria rampant. Roberts Hospital – our only hospital – has accommodation for 300 more patients. The Medical Directors appreciation is that by the end of the week we will have 1,000 cases of Disease.
Yesterday we evacuated 20 Dysentery and 2 Diphtheria cases. Today 40 dysentery and 10 more Diphtheria casualties were evacuated. There was no guarantee that evacuations to hospital would be allowed. And so – you do not need a Changi Bore-hole message to tell you this – I have been led up the garden path towards a place at the end.
The outcome was that last night the Formation Commanders decided that in view of the medical conditions that we could expect, there remained only one thing for us to do in the interests of the whole British Forces; that was to sign and submit to the Japanese a letter of protest against being compelled to sign a declaration owing to the appalling conditions. We heard later, however, that “our friends the enemy” were considering a compromise.
Having got that consideration, I feel is a very big victory. But they came along this morning with a certain amendment which, in our opinion, made it a damn sight worse than before, and I say this in fairness to them, I do not think they realised what they were writing.
We refused to accept that form, but we told them that if they were prepared to place on that form that you are asked to sign:- By order of the Japanese Army, I …………… and the rest of it, we would order it to signed. They said they would not put anything on the form, that it had been prepared in Tokyo. We said that it did not matter “two roots in Hell” whether it was in front or on the back of it, for all we cared, but they said “No.” We then submitted that they issue to the Commanders an order of the Japanese Army in writing ordering us to sign. They went away to talk it over, and subsequently issued an order to us. They issued it in this form.
On 2nd September I.J.A. Order No. 17 was issued, wherein it said that those who were willing to sign would remain in Changi under the old conditions, and those who were not willing would move to this area.
Remember that number and date, and that I am using the term “willing”. Today they were taken from him and he was handed an order dated 2nd September No. 17., which orders every officer, non-commissioned officer and man, as prisoners of war, to sign that declaration by order of the Japanese Army. Col. Holmes is subscribing an affidavit that this order was received on the 4th September at 15.45 hours, and so that was that.
I personally am a comparatively junior commander to be in charge of a force of 10,000 men, because, I have always considered myself a Battalion commander and no more. Very shortly after assuming command of the A.I.F. I am faced with the first major problem that has assailed us since we have been prisoners of war, and I say that I accept the responsibility without hesitation. My order to you is being given knowing what my responsibility to you, the people, and the Government of Australia is. I regard – as I told you in my original message on assuming command – as my primary job that of keeping you as fit as possible for subsequent service to your country.
Any Commander going into battle always appreciates what will be his maximum casualties before he makes his plans. In this battle, the casualties, as appreciated by the Medical Service, are: Before two weeks expire, 50%; in another week a much greater number, and a possible 100% casualties by virtue of deaths and permanent disablement to the troops in this area.
Any Commander in appreciating casualties, also has to appreciate: “What casualties can I inflict on the other bloke?’ If he can inflict a greater number he is justified in taking the risk: if the appreciation shows that he cannot, he is not justified. I am faced with the responsibility of accepting a percentage of casualties far higher and greater than battle casualties with the opportunity of inflicting a casualty; even on a Sikh.
I say that I accept the responsibility knowing full well what I am doing. It is quite possible hat a number of you people will criticise the decision I am making, I am afraid I am not to be worried by it.
I am prepared to answer for this action when the war is over. I am prepared to answer to my Government, the people of Australia and I am prepared to look everyone of you fairly and squarely in the face when I meet you in the towns of Australia, and feel I have done my job honestly and conscientiously.
I want you to know that your action in coming here has, in my opinion, increased the prestige of the British Forces in the eyes of the Japanese. I am not criticising any past administration when I tell you something you knew, that is, that for the first time since we have been prisoners of war, the order of “my friends” has not been obeyed entirely and smoothly. I think he will appreciate us better because of that. The mere fact that we were able subsequently to get some compromise from them, I feel, has lifted our prestige considerably.
What I am mainly concerned about is that I have seen by your move here a spirit of co-operation, of unity and above all of brotherliness which makes any Commander proud.
I have seen in this Barrack Square the extension of that spirit to the other British troops here, and I have always deplored that there has been any question of separating we Australians from our brothers by race. We are British, just as much a part of the British Army as the Cockney who came out here to go into the Gordon Highlanders. I saw that we are British. Some of you no doubt have heard quite a lot about me. You have heard that I have criticised and severely criticised, the A.I.F. of this war. I have criticised you because you have no A.I.F. spirit; you have got your own unit spirit, the brigade spirit, and so on, but you have not got the spirit of the last A.I.F.- a spirit of comradeship throughout the whole force, and the first time we have seen it in the whole force since we came here.
I say to you for God’s sake hold that spirit and you will win. Having got that – and that is the only result of us coming here – we have obtained a Hell of a lot. We have gained a lot more; we have gained a spirit of comradeship with our British comrades on the other side. We have gained, I know, a greater appreciation of our comrades of the other British formations here, we have gained it to such an extent that I know a special order thanking the A.I.F. is coming from Malayan Command.
Hold that spirit of unity; regard every man here, and in the A.I.F. as your pal; then we are approximating the spirit of the last A.I.F. I say you have got it now; hold it; and we will not have come here for nothing then. I want you to realise, that in issuing the order I am now ready to do so, feeling in my own mind satisfaction that we have gained victory. I repeat to you, my honour is not subject to the order of any man. My honour is my own. No man can order me to do anything on my honour. I emphasise that to you; and as a paradox I am now going to order you to do it.
This is the order:
“The extreme duress placed upon us by the I.J.A. compels me to obey a direct order issued from Tokyo, and order which leave me no option, but disease and death to us all; and I therefore order all officers, Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Australian Imperial Force to sign the declaration given to you by the Imperial Japanese Army Authorities. I accept full responsibility for the action which I am forced to take.”
I read from these notes:-
“I consider we have signed a victory in making the I.J.A. grant an order, and therefore I regard the outcome of the incident with satisfaction.”
I want to pay tribute publicly to my brother formation Commanders, and particularly Colonel Holmes, the Commander Malayan Command. Throughout the whole of these negotiations and in this incident, they have been entirely fearless and outspoken, and I leave the incident with nothing but admiration for everyone – and more than admiration for Colonel Holmes.
Knowing how much you fellows admire Malayan Command, I feel I should tell you that. Now I want you to bear this in mind: let nothing in your bearing or your actions at anytime cause further incidents. I congratulate you all on your behaviour in coming here; while you have been here in these difficult circumstances, and when we get the O.K. to go back, I hope I can do the same again on your return.
Having seen you under these trying conditions gives me more confidence than ever I have had, that if it my extremely good fortune to be your Leader in actual fact at some later date. I do so with the utmost confidence.
There is one thing I want to tell you, and I want to tell you frankly; there is no sense in going outside the wire. If you can give me any loyalty r support, you can give it to me best by carrying out my orders. I say that any man who attempts to escape is foolish. I have told you that the extreme penalty will be incurred. No doubt as part of the culture, I became an unwilling witness at the execution of two of your pals, and two of our British pals. That is not a very good thing to see. I do not want to have to see it again.
You have no hope men, of getting away from this in the present circumstances. You have a good opportunity of doing the job you came to do, if you remain; you have no hope of success if you go outside the wire. You can rest assured you will be successful in doing precisely what those two fellows did a few days ago.
You will be of no use to your people, the Australian Nation, to your comrades here. Do not place yourself at the wrong end of a Sikh’s rifle, wait until you get the right end of your own, and if a 24 hours open season for Sikhs is declared you will know exactly what to do, because they formed the firing party.
Don’t harbour any spirit of resentment, it is not the game at this stage to do so. All you have to do at present is; play the game like men, be soldiers of the A.I.F.; carry out your orders of the A.I.F.; and with the help of God I hope to lead you home again successfully.
An example of the form
they had to fill in is below:
I hereby solemnly promise on my honour, under any circumstances, not to attempt escape.
Signed: I. B. Forced
Date: 12th September 1942 at Singapore