Return home to the Introduction to 'Robbie to Dorie': Lt Col John Robertson's letters from Malaya 1941 - 1942, by Andrew Warland

The Battle of Bakri, Malaya: 17 - 20 January 1942


The book 'Robbie to Dorie': Lt Col John Robertson's letters from Malaya 1941 - 1942, tells the story of Lt Col John Charles Robertson ('Robbie'), Commanding Officer of the Australian 2/29th Battalion, through the letters he wrote to his wife Dorie about the formation of the Battalion and its activities up until the evening of 16 January 1942 (when he wrote his last letter). Sadly, Lt Col Robertson was killed early in the morning of 18 January 1942, at a time when his Battalion was surrounded by Japanese forces and cut off from the 2/19th Battalion a mile south along the Muar Road at the Bakri crossroads.

Japanese and Australian military actions in Malaya from 14 August 1941

The 2/29th Battalion arrived at Singapore, then part of Malaya, on 14 August 1941. After a short period in Singapore, the Battalion moved north and was located at Buloh Kasap, north west Segamat in Malaya from 15 September 1941.

Japanese forces invaded Malaya (and Pearl Harbour) on 8 December 1941 and moved quickly down the peninsula.

As part of the invading force, an advance party of the Imperial Guards Division arrived in Kuala Kangsar (north-west Malaysia) by rail from Bangkok on 14 December. The rest of the force arrived on Monday 22 December whence they proceeded to Kampar, the scene of fierce fighting.

Japanese forces began to move into Kuala Lumpur during the evening of 11 January 1942. Japanese aircraft began attacks in the Muar area from around the same time. The Imperial Guards 4th and 5th Regiments commanded by Lt General Takuma Nishimura continued to head south, allegedly seeking to reach Singapore before the Japanese 5th Division that was heading south via the main highway, where they encountered the 2/30th Battalion ambush at Gemas, before Segamat on the main road south.

Structure of an AIF Battalion

The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World War 2 was organised in a structure that consisted of Divisions > Brigades > Battalions (usually three per Brigade). Rifle Battalions usually had the following general structure.

Each Battalion would have both an A and B Echelon where supplies were stored and food was prepared. When deployed for combat, A Echelon would normally be located in the vicinity of HQ Company (itself normally located to the rear of any fighting) and supplemented by rifle company echelon groups (Q personnel and cooks). B Echelon would be located up to several kilometres behind the Battalion and include various admin elements. It was also where ammunition and other supplies were stored and fresh meals were prepared.

[Farrell and Pratten, 'Malaya', 2009, page 79. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Australian Army Journal (1966) - describes a typical A and B Echelon structure from 1966. Australian Army (1986) - note that while dated 44 years after the period of time described below, this document outlines the structure of a typical Rifle Platoon. Also see this AWM web page that provides details of the structure of the Australian military at the time.]

According to Captain Brand, the RAP staff comprised Captain Brand, L/Cpl Val Lynch, Pte Quick (batman), and Driver A E Warburton. [Christie (1983, 63 - Captain Brand's account]

Structure of a Japanese Regiment and supporting elements

The structure of a typical, 'non-strengthened', Japanese Infantry Regiment is described below:

A Regiment included the following 'attached' elements:

At Muar, the 5th Regiment of the Imperial Guards Division was supported by the Gotanda Medium Tank Company. Tank Companies were part of a Tank Regiment and consisted of the following structure:

* It is worth keeping this number of tanks in mind given the number that were destroyed by the Australians. [US War Department. Technical Manual - Handbook on Japanese Military Forces (TM-E 30-480), 1944. United States Combined Army Research Library]

The Muar area [Google Maps]

Japanese knowledge of British and allied strategies

The Japanese had studied and knew British battle tactics well. They assessed the British to be predictable, preferring fixed positions, and showing caution or hesitation at critical points.

See the 1942Malaya website for more details.

British and Australian knowledge of Japanese strategies

Japanese battle tactics, described in detail in documents captured by American forces and issued by American Army Intelligence (click this link to see more), stressed the superiority of quick, flexible, and determined offensive operations. Defence was regarded as distasteful. The main Japanese tactic - seen time and time again in Malaya - was to apply frontal pressure using holding attacks to engage and distract the enemy's front while conducting infiltrating and flanking operations - especially through seemingly unpenetrable jungle - to envelope, attack and destroy the enemy. Tanks were to be used in two waves. The first would knock out heavy weapons while the second would lead an infantry assault. Small and well equipped reconnaisance patrols, as well as snipers, would attempt to infiltrate as far as possible to the rear, and then dig in.

The officers of the Australian 2/29th Battalion were well aware of some of these tactics. Their War Diary includes a secret report dated 21 December 1941 that noted that the Japanese had great powers of endurance, were likely to advance through the jungle to infliltrate and outflank, and would probably use small tanks through the rubber trees.

General Bennett also warned his battalion COs of the dangers of fixed defensive positions and the need for plenty of mobile fighting patrols against flanking manoeuvres.

14 January 1942 - Strategic positions

The Imperial Guards Division occupied Malacca on Wednesday 14 January 1942. Their next objective - to be reached by the secondary road from Muar via Parit Sulong, passing the Bakri crossroads (where the road from Parit Jawa on the coast met that road) - was the inland town of Yong Peng on the then main road to Singapore. About half way between Malacca and Yong Peng was the town of Muar, a town at the mouth of the Muar River.

The Japanese 5th Division headed down the main road towards Segamat via Gemas, Batu Anam and Buloh Kasap where the 2/26th and 2/29th were based in reserve behind the 2/30th Battalion.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Guards Division were moving south from Malacca. Their strategy was to send the two 'pursuit' regiments in different directions:

Strategic positions and movements from 14 January 1942 [Wigmore (1957), 211]

The north and south banks of the Muar River and the area to the north east along the river were defended by the 45th Indian Brigade (Brigadier Duncan), part of 'Westforce' whose role was to defend the west coast of Malaya. [Wigmore (1957)]

There seemed to be a degree of confidence that the 45th Brigade could hold the Muar front, especially given the requirement to cross the Muar river. According to Wigmore (1957, 222), Bennett '... did not expect any strong enemy thrust in this direction'.

15 January 1942 - Japanese forces move south, cross the Muar river

On Thursday 15 January 1942, the Japanese Imperial Guards 4th Regiment (Colonel Kunishi) appeared at the mouth of the northern side of the Muar River, considered by the Japanese to be ‘a very difficult obstacle’ (presumably because of its depth). They were fired upon by the 65th Battery (2/15th Australian Field Regiment) on the southern side of the river. [Wigmore (1957, 223). Lodge (1986), 91. Tsuji (1960), 203. Farrell and Pratten (2009), 167. Brune (2014), 314]

On the same day, a Company of the 2/30th ambushed advance parties of the Japanese 5th Division forces at the Gemencheh bridge north of Gemas on the road to Batu Anam, Buloh Kasap and then Segamat, slightly delaying their advance. [Lodge (1986), 91. Tsuji (1960), 203. Farrell and Pratten (2009), 167. Brune (2014), 314]

Following this ambush, the Japanese quickly repaired the bridge that had been destroyed and sent in Japanese aircraft to bomb the 2/30th Battalion HQ. According to the signallers, it was believed that the Japanese had been able to pin-point the HQ wireless telegraph set by direction finders. Consequently, the Commanding Officers of AIF battalions were said to have then banned the use of wireless at their HQs, 'despite expert opinion to the contrary', and relied instead on direct relay (DR) circuits intead, which were more likely to be cut. (Jacobs (), 90.]

16 January 1942 - Confusion and underestimation of the Japanese strength

During the night of 15/16 January, the Japanese 4th Regiment directly engaged allied forces at Muar on the south bank of the Muar river, and engaged in small-boat manouevres in order to cross. Meanwhile, the Imperial Guard's 5th Regiment commanded by Colonel Iwaguro, along with the Gotanda Medium Tank Company and other supporting elements, moved inland along the northern bank of the Muar River. They overran the two companies of the 7/6th Rajputana Rifles, remaining west of the 4/9th Jats.[Wigmore (1957, 223). Lodge (1986), 91. Tsuji (1960), 203. Farrell and Pratten (2009), 167. Brune (2014), 314 - 317]

During the morning of 16 January, the Japanese 'Iwaguro Pursuit Unit' (Tsuji (1960)) forces quickly moved towards their objective of Simpang Jeram a few kilometres from Muar town centre held by the 5/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles. The Garhwals withdrew along the Muar Road towards the Bakri crossroads. Japanese forces ambushed and killed the CO of the 5/18th Garhwals. The CO of the 7/6th Rajputana Rifles was also killed. The 4/9th Jats did not make contact with the Japanese. [Wigmore (1957, 224). Lodge (1986), 91. Tsuji (1960), 230. Farrell and Pratten (2009), 167. Brune (2014), 314 - 317]

Allied intelligence collection and/or dissemination was very poor. Bennett received (clearly inadequate) reports on the morning of 16 January that a patrol of the 45th Indian Brigade had encountered (likely Imperial Guards 4th Regiment) Japanese troops along the coast road from Muar to Batu Pahat. Bennett ordered the Brigade to investigate. Bennett travelled after breakfast on 16 January from Labis to Segamat to meet Maxwell and Barstow. Maxwell told Bennett that the 2/30th Battalion needed to rest after their action at Gemas. Bennett agreed to replace the 2/30th with the 2/29th Battalion during the night. [Wigmore (1957), 224 - 225. Lodge (1986), 91. Bennett (1944), 124. Christie (1983), 39 - Captain Bowring's account]

Soon after his meeting with Maxwell and Barstow, Bennett received a message from Brigadier Duncan, commanding the 45th Indian Brigade, indicating that Japanese troops had managed to cross the Muar River but 'he had the matter in hand', which seems somewhat understated given the events that were unfolding. [Bennett (1944), 125. Whitelocke (1983), 81]

Another 'panic' message arrived from the 9th Indian Division suggesting that Japanese paratroopers had landed near Buloh Kasap (the location of the 2/29th Battalion, between Gemas and Segamat); this proved to be without foundation. A third message then arrived from an Air Force patrol indicating that 'a large number of enemy troops, estimated at a company [around 200 men] was across the Muar River at Kuala Lenga', with the apparent objective of cutting in on the main northern road behind Segamat. [Bennett (1944), 125. Whitelocke (1983), 81]

Given these reports, Bennett ordered additional protection for parties (including himself) moving along the road between Labis and Segamat. This was to include four armoured cars from the 2nd Loyals and the 2/29th Battalion's D Company under Captain Salier - a move that would reduce the cabability of the 2/29th Battalion in the next day or so. D company was expected to be relieved by Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson’s 2/19th Battalion expected from Jemaluang near the east coast once it had been relieved by the 53rd Brigade the following day, 17 January and re-join the main body. This never happened. [Bennett (1944), 125. See also Brune (2014), 319.]

Just after lunch on 16 January, Bennett received 'an alarming message' from the 45th Indian Brigade stating that it had been pushed south from the Muar River and that this would result in a 'wide flanking movement to Yong Peng'. With no troops between Yong Peng and Singapore, and the inability of the 45th Indian Brigade to stop the Japanese movement south, Bennett decided to send the 2/29th Battalion 'less the [D] company guarding the road’ to reinforce the Muar front. Bennett noted that this move not only would deprive the 2/30th Battalion of a well-earned rest but also would take away his reserves from the Segamat front. [Bennett (1944), 126 - 127. See also Farrell and Pratten, 167 - 168].

The 65th Battery under Major Julius remained in place defending the southern bank of the river at Muar until the evening of 16 January. It then withdrew from around 2030 hours as the battery 'was now in an impossible situation as there were no infantry to help defend the guns'. The Battery withdrew under cover of darkness south towards Parit Jawa along the coast road, thence inland to the Bakri crossroads. The withdrawal allowed the Japanese to cross the river at Muar without a challenge. [Whitelock (1983), 81. Farrell and Pratten (2009), 167]

Meanwhile, elements of the Imperial Guards 4th Regiment, travelling in small coastal craft, began to come ashore at Parit Jawa and Batu Pahat in an encircling action designed to cut the road from Muar to Yong Peng. [Lodge (1986), 91. Tsuji (1960), 203. Farrell and Pratten (2009), 167]

Saturday, 17 January 1942

At 0530 hours on 17 January, Lt Col Robertson and O [Operations] Group left to report to Divisional Headquarters at Labis, south east of Segamat on the main trunk road to Yong Peng, to be briefed by Bennett. Bennett ordered Lt Col Robertson to 'consolidate our position there and then toss the enemy back to the Muar River'. The 2/29th, less its D Company that would remain in the Segamat - Labis area and also a platoon from A Company, would come under the command of the 45th Indian Brigade. [Bennett (1944), 126 - 127. Wigmore (1957, 226). Lodge (1986), 93. Christie (1983), 39 and 43 - Captain Bowring's account]

Bennett gave Robertson a composite troop from the 13th and 16th Battery of the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment that had seen action at Gemas commanded by Lt McCure, and a troop of armoured cars. According to Harrison, Lt Col Robertson made a negative comment about the presence of the anti-tank guns, but he was very much aware of the likelihood of tanks, as one document in the 2/29th Battalion War Diary classified SECRET states they were to be expected. [Bennett (1944), 126 - 127. Wigmore (1957, 226). Harrison (1960), 44). Lodge (1986), 93. Christie (1983), 39 and 43 - Captain Bowring's account]

The following men were members of the composite 13th and 16th Battery lead by Lieutenant Bill McCure and crew, including Tich Morley:

Lt Col Robertson would have prepared an 'Operation Order' for the proposed operation. The 2/29th War Diary contains several examples of this document, which would have been classified SECRET. The Operation Order for the Bakri crossroads was almost certainly destroyed, along with the rest of the War Diary, on 19 January 1942 (see below). An Operation Order contained the following elements:

Eleven copies of the Operation Order would be created, including one for the 27th Infantry Brigade and two for the 8th Australian Division (the files for each of these should be examined to see if the 2/29th Operation Order for the Bakri crossroads still exists.)

A map dated 30 November 1941 that was inclued with an Operation Order. Note how the map shows the disposition of each company, and the location of machine guns and mortars, as well as their 'arc of fire'. [2/29th Battalion War Diary]

At 0715 hours, Lt Col Robertson ordered his Battalion to be ready to move (to Bakri). After an initial hold up caused by an air raid, the 2/29th Battalion reached Labis at around 1130 hours on 17 January. [2/29th Battalion War Diary]

After lunch (or at noon - Wigmore) on 17 January 1941, Bennett met Percival, Fawcett (3rd Indian Corps), and Key to discuss a withdrawal from Segamat given the deteriorating situation at Muar. Bennett urged an attack at Muar and requested that the 2/19th Battalion also be sent to the Bakri area from Jemaluang, to be replaced by the 5th Royal Norfolk Regiment from the recently arrived 53rd Brigade. This was agreed by Percival and Bennett ordered the 2/19th Battalion to move at 0400 hours on 18 January. [Bennett (1944), 128 - 129. Wigmore (1957, 225/226). See also Lodge (1986), 93]

After this meeting, Bennett met Lieutenant-Colonel Byrne, who had just returned from the 45th Indian Brigade. Byrne advised Bennett that 'about 100 Japanese were seen moving around the flank north of Bakri, along Parit Tubi, in an easterly direction'. According to Bennett, 'things at the Muar front are not too good'. He ordered the 2/29th Battalion’s D Company (Captain Hore, approximately 149 men) then guarding the road between Segamat and Labis to return to support the 27th Brigade. That company was then ordered forward to Batu Anam where it came under the command of the 2/26th Battalion. [Bennett (1944), 129]

The 2/29th Battalion headed off. According to Finlay (1991):

(The men) sat crowded together in the back of the transport trucks in their full combat gear, including their rifles, tin helmets and webbing, to which was strapped a water bottle and bayonet as well as two basic pouches containing several clips of ammunition. On their backs they each carried a small backpack containing groundsheet, messing gear and other small articles of clothing.' [Finlay (1991), 15]

According to Captain Brand, the Battalion passed 'hordes of refugees, smashed cars and truckloads of dispirited looking Indians'. [Christie (1983), 63 - Captain Brand's account. Finlay (1991), 15.]

The 2/19th War Diary noted that the 2/29th Battalion had placed its B Echelon (commanded by Captain Newton) 'east of the Parit Sulong bridge'. The 2/19th War Diary noted that its own A and B Echelons consisted of around 150 men and were the location of the Battalion kitchens that delivered meals forward to the troops - as noted below during the evening of 17 January. Accordingly, it may be assumed that around 100 to 150 men of the 2/29th B Echelon were located in the same general area as, or to the rear of, the 2/19th Echelon 'safe harbour' areas. [2/19th Battalion War Diary inc Appendix A]

Map of the location of the 2/29th and 2/19th Battalions and 45th Brigade HQ, with approximate mile posts indicated. [Wigmore (1957), 228]

At 1500 hours on 17 January, the 2/29th Battalion (less its D Company and a platoon of around 50 men from A Company), arrived at the location of the 45th Indian Brigade headquarters just south of the intersection of the road to Parit Jawa (now Jalan Mahmoud) along the road to Muar, known as the Bakri crossroads. The 65th Battery was also at the crossroads, having withdrawn up the road from Parit Jawa. Harrison stated that Brigade HQ was '... located in a big mansion separated from the road by a large padang or open field'. [Harrison (1960), 46. Lack et al (2005), 82. Wigmore (1957), 226].

An afternoon thunderstorm fell, slowing the convoy. [Finlay (1991), 15]

Lt Col Robertson conferred with Brigadier Duncan at the 45th Indian Brigade Headquarters and was advised that there were Japanese troops between that location and Muar. He was also told that the 4/9th Jats that had been positioned along the Muar River were expected to arrive 'shortly'. [Lack et al (2005), 82. Wigmore (1957), 226. Christie (1983), 63 - Captain Brand's account]

The 2/29th Battalion was ordered to replace the 5/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles in a defensive position at the 101 mile peg along the Muar Road, on a straight stretch in rubber plantations between two slight and opposing blind bends on the road towards Muar. The battalion was then expected to wait for the arrival of the 4/9th Jats and, with those additional reinforcements, attempt to capture Simpang Jeram along the road towards Muar at daylight on 18 January. The 5/18th Garhwal Rifles was, in turn, ordered to deploy to Parit Jawa on the coast road. [Wigmore (1957), 226. Lack et al (2005), 82.]

Regretably, constant delays in the arrival of the Jats (said by some to have been caused by a lack of urgency on the part of their Commanding Officer) meant that this offensive would not happen and was possibly one of the key factors in the overall outcomes at the crossroads.

The Garhwals had the previous day lost their Commanding Officer, Lt Col Wooldridge, in an ambush after which they had been pushed back from their position at Simpang Jeram (about 4 kms east of the Muar River). [Wigmore (1957), 226. Lack et al (2005), 82.]

The area around the 101 mile post was considered a good place to prevent the Japanese advance because of the jungle to the west and swampy area to the east; the only logical way was along the road itself, which ran past rubber trees. No-one seems to have considered the potential for Japanese forces to take alternative, less well-known, routes through the jungle, and the Japanese exploited this opportunity to their strategic advantage. [Lack et al (2005), 82. Wigmore (1957), 226. Christie (1983), 63 - Captain Brand's account]

Relief map of the area around the 2/29th position. The area where the Battalion was deployed was along a straight stretch of road, that rose slightly to the northern end, with rubber trees on both sides. At the northern end of the road, a crest and bend in the road afforded some protection from line-of-sight attacks (for both forces). Just beyond the crest was a natural gully on both sides, also providing a degree of protection. The low hill to the west of their position was likely where the 'jungle' is visible on both the 2/29th and 2/19th maps (see below).

At least three war correspondents, Hedley Metcalfe, the official British photographer, Frank Bagnall, the official Australian cinematographer, and Clifford Bottomley, an Australian photographer with the Department of Information, arrived at the Bakri crossroads during the afternoon of 17 January 1942. [2/15th Field Artillery War Diary, entry on 17 January 1942. 'A.I.F. Success with Anti-Tank Guns', Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1942. See also Philips (1992), 202. Captain Brand also mentioned the news correspondents - Christie (1983), 63 - Captain Brand's account]

The 2/29th Battalion was said to have taken almost one hour to travel the mile and a half to the 101 mile peg as the Garhwalis re-deployed in the other direction towards the crossroads. The Battalion was in place by 1800 hours, just as darkness fell. [Harrison (1966), 45.]

According to Captain Brand, the HQ position was:

'... a patch of rubber on the crest of a small rise. Immediately behind us and on our left was paddy field and open swamp. This rubber area was only about 150 yars in breadth. The RAP was placed about 50 yards from the road, 80 yards from the open swamp behind, on the edge of which was placed a mortar, and 1000 yards from the paddy field on our left'.[Christie (1983), 63 - Captain Brand's account]

The Battalion now consisted of around 650 men in the forward positions: HQ Coy - around 250 men; A Coy - 100 men (one platoon had remained behind); B Coy - 161 men; C Coy - 153 men. Up to 100 men were located in the rear B Echelon location; curiously, there is almost no mention of this group except in the 2/19th Battalion War Diary.

Map of the Bakri Crossroads area, Johore State, Malaya, as at 1900 hours 17 January 1942 (Map copyright Andrew Warland)

The following describes the dispositions of the 2/29th's companies on the evening of 17 January 1942.

Each of the company's rifle platoons would have established a perimeter defensive position. The men would have dug slit trenches with only a ground sheet to protect them against the rain. Each platoon's section leader would have ensured that each slit trench would allow '... clear lines of defensive fire which would fit into the overall position plans for the site' in the Operation Order. According to Finlay: '... the interlocking fire of each section would form an effective barrier for the platoon, the combined fire of several platons would present a company's defensive 'wall' and the corect placing of the various companies would hopefully constitute a successful defensive position for the whole battalion'. Again, according to Finlay, the men of the 2/29th were very well trained and as a result 'knew the routine backwards'. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Finlay (1991), 11.]

One of the 4th Anti-Tank guns, manned by Sergeant Clarrie Thornton and his gun crew from the 13th Battery, was positioned forward of the Battalion on the left side [C Company location] '... to cover a slight turn (about 400 yards away to the right) in the road' [see photo below]. According to Brune (2014), the gun was 'far enough off the road to provide excellent camouflage and yet it had a long-range view of approaching tanks'. It is not clear if this gun was deployed along the road itself (as was Parsons' gun, see next point), or in among the rubber trees. If it were on the road it would probably have been visible in photographs taken at the time (see below), and also would have been a more obvious target. [Wigmore (1957). 227. Finkemeyer (1994), 33. Brune (2014), 320]

A second gun manned by Sergeant Charley Parsons and his crew from the 16th Battery was positioned about 400 yards back alongside Battalion HQ, also on the left side of the road. [Elements of HQ Battalion appear in the background of the photograph of Parsons and his crew]. Lieutenant Bill McCure's base was located in C Company's perimeter, about 300 yards behind Thornton. The other two guns, with Sergeant Ken Harrison, were positioned at 45th Brigade HQ located at the 99.5 mile location, just beyond the Bakri crossroads. [Wigmore (1957). 227. Finkemeyer (1994), 33.]

A photograph taken in 2014 of the view towards the 2/29th position from the Japanese approaches. B Company was located to the left and C Company to the right of the image. Note the bend and the crest in the road both of which would have offered strategic advantages to both the Australians (ambush) and Japanese (surprise and ability to outflank without being seen clearly). [Photo - Peter Pindle]

The view from the crest of the road looking 'down' towards the 2/29th position. B Company was to the left, C Company to the right. [Photo - Peter Pindle 2014]

The photograph above shows the bend in the road (with what appear to be markers for drivers on the left of the road), just near the crest where the road turns to the right. C Company was located in the rubber trees on the left of the road; the leading Anti-Tank gun was likely located at the same point where the tank is burning, but back from the road. [Photo - Australian War Memorial AWM 011300]

The forward area of B Company. Note the gully in front of the position, the road to the left. Most of the right hand side of the road where B and A Companies were located is now lower than the road, suggesting a major clearance of the rubber trees that in photographs from January 1942 appear to show an embankment on that side. [Photo - Peter Pindle 2014]

From the Japanese side, the Imperial Guards 5th Infantry Regiment, supported by the Gotanda Medium Tank Company was located around two miles ahead of the 2/29th Battalion position. The Japanese strategy was to attack directly while sending its Ogaki Battalion through the jungle to cut the line of defeat. According to the US War Department document 'Soldier's Guide to the Japanese Army', the Japanese would have aimed to envelop the opposing forces by bringing frontal pressure in a holding attack while the main effort is concentrated on one or both hostile flanks. These flanking manouevres might pass 'through terrain so difficult that the opposing commander considers it impassable and thus leaves himself vulnerable'. [US War Department (1944), 147. Wigmore (1954), 133. Tsuji (1960), 204 - 205. Farrell & Pratten (2009), 170.]

The Japanese lines of attack, according to Tsuji [Tsuji (1960), 204]

According to the US War Department document (noted above) 'Soldier's Guide to the Japanese Army', the Japanese army preferred attacks just after dusk or before daylight, and would 'prefer to attack up a slope to avoid silhouetting the troops'. These attacks would be made 'by single companies or even platoons'. Patrols would be sent ahead to 'ascertain the opposition's position and strength by drawing premature fire'. Special efforts would be made to locate hostile heavy weapons; as soon as these are located with sufficient accuracy, the Japanese bring heavy mortar fire to bear on them. [US War Department (1944), 147 - 153].

Just after dark on a moonless night, at around 1800 hours, both sides started probing each other's positions. An armoured car (was this the Marmon Herrington that was then seen on the side of the road near the tanks? - see below) went forward to reconnoitre the road and exchanged shots with a Japanese machine gun post about two miles ahead. An hour later, a Japanese patrol advanced towards the C Company position and was fired upon. Neither side suffered any casualties in this initial encounter. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Wigmore (1954), 226. Bowring (1954), 2. Christie (1983), 43 - Captain Bowring's account, 65 - Captain Brand's account]

Despite their outer bravado, Finlay noted that the men were more likely to be 'tense, nervous and afraid'. [Finlay (1991), 30.]

Thirty minutes later, at 1830 hours, the Battalion came under heavy bombardment from Japanese mortars. Lt Col Robertson, perhaps recalling the sound from his experience in France in World War 1, called out 'Here come their mortars'. The mortars landed mostly to the rear of Battalion HQ, and in the area where A Company was located. One member of C Company was killed, and several were injured. The injured were evacuated by an Indian ambulance. [Wigmore (1954), 226. Christie (1983, 65. Lack et al (2005), 81. Christie (1983), 43 - Captain Bowring's account, 65 - Captain Brand's account. Finlay (1991), 30.]

A small force of Japanese began to close in and the 'fog of war' set in. In the confusion that followed, eight 2/29th troops were wounded, six shot by their own side. Captain Brand noted that the shooting was mostly located on the left flank where the Pioneers were located, and that 'heavy .303 shot mingled with the characteristic crack of the Japanese weapons'. Captain Brand noted that the Indian soldiers had panicked, the Australians thought they were Japanese and opened fire. Pte Hayes, a Pioneer, received a smashed knee caused by a .303 bullet; the next six or seven men brought in to the RAP also had wounds consistent with .303 bullets. [Wigmore (1954), 226. Lack et al (2005), 82. Christie (1983), 43 - Captain Bowring's account, 65 - Captain Brand's account]

According to Captain Bowring, 'it was here that the battalion learned its first bitter lesson in regard to night fighting - to rely on the grenade and the bayonet in the dark'. Soon after, the Japanese mounted a bayonet charge, 'screaming and hurling hand grenades' {Finlay) and were forced back with between 70 and 80 dead and wounded against three C Company dead and twelve wounded. The mortar barrage died down by midnight although the Anti-Tank gunners apparently fired a shell every hour towards the Japanese positions. [Lack et al (2005), 82. Christie (1983), 43 - Captain Bowring's account, 65 - Captain Brand's account. Finlay (1991), 30.]

The Australians learned that the Japanese force was much larger than expected, and the soldiers were taller - thanks to their recruitment practices. The Japanese, meanwhile, learned that the Australians - not Indians - were now at the 101 mile post, and were much stronger and determined than expected.

Bowring later noted: 'It was the general opinion that the Japanese did not know the Australian troops were there'. That is, the Japanese may have thought that the position was still defended by the 5/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles who had only a few hours before vacated the same position. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Bowring (1954), 2. Christie (1983), 43 - Captain Bowring's account]

An unexploded Australian hand grenade and unspent bullets found in 2014 in the area where C Company was located. [Photo - Peter Pindle]

At around 2130 hours (according to the War Diary, but this seems too late; it is possible that this happened much earlier, around the same time - 1930 hours - that the first armoured carrier drove forwards to recce enemy positions - see Finlay (1991), 30), two ration trucks for each 2/29th Company came forward (from its B Echelon area). In the dark of the evening, the Despatch Rider and the truck for the leading C Company passed straight through the Battalion’s positions and were shot at by Japanese machine guns. The truck ran off the road and the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) and one other man were killed. The Despatch Rider (Signaller Tom 'Borrie' Wiles), a cook, and the wounded driver managed to escape the abandoned truck (see below for a possible photograph of the abandoned truck). Wiles headed off into the jungle and was found a few days later. The other truck had been stopped and provided meals to the men. [2/29th Battalion War Diary.]

The following deaths were recorded for C Company on 18 January, but it seems more likely they were the four deaths recorded during the evening of 17 January:

During the same evening, the 5/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles that had been sent to Parit Jawa were ambushed and forced back along the Bakri - Parit Jawa road (now Jalan Mahmoud) to about a mile from the Bakri crossroads, in an area held by the 7/6th Rajputana Rifles. Only around 400 meny made it back. [Wigmore, 226 - 227]

News of the withdrawal of the 5/18th Garhwal Rifles from Parit Jawa was conveyed in a message to Lt Col Robertson by Major Julius (65th Battery), with the request that his Battalion provide infantry support for his guns. Accordingly, at 2330 hours, Lt Col Robertson ordered Captain Sumner’s A Company (around 100 men), located at the rear across the road from Battalion HQ, to move back to the Bakri crossroads to provide infantry support for the guns, with the promise that it would be returned to re-join the Battalion once reinforced. [Wigmore (1957), 226 - 227. Lack et al (2005), 82. Christie (1983), 43 - Captain Bowring's account]

A Company arrived around 0130 hours and during the night there were several heavy artillery exchanges. It was becoming quickly apparent that the 2/29th Battalion could be cut off by Japanese movements through the jungle to the west and south. [Wigmore (1957), 226 - 227. Lack et al (2005), 82]

During the night, the Ogaki battalion of the 5th Regiment moved through jungle tracks to the west and south of the 2/29th position, heading for the crossroads area. The US War Department document notes that jungle terrain 'affords a maximum opportunity to utilise the effective Japanese inflitration tactics. As a holding attack is delivered frontally to confuse and distract the enemy, patrols move to the enemy flanks'. These patrols then 'wriggle through presumably impenetrable jungle to get around the enemy's flanks and into his rear areas'. These infiltrations are 'virtually impossible to stop'; after reaching suitable positions, the 'infiltration patrols dig in'. [Tsuji (1960), 204 (map). US War Department (1944), 164 - 167].

18 January 1942, 0200 - 0945 hours

As noted earlier, the 2/19th Battalion had received orders to leave Jemaluang around lunch time on 17 January 1942. The 2/19th Battalion's A and B Echelons (Captains Macdonald and Bracher, respectively), including carriers, left at around 0200 hours led by OC HQ Company; the main body departed at around 0400 hours travelling by motor transport (MT) of the 2/2nd Reserve MT Convoy. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, and Appendix A]

The Bakri front at 8 AM on 18 January 1942. Note that the 2/29th position is never shown expanded as the 2/19th position is here. [Wigmore (1957), 228]

At 0600 hours on Sunday 18 January the weather was 'fine' at the 101 mile post where the 2/29th Battalion was in position, although it may have started to rain by around 1000 hours - see below. [2/29th Battalion War Diary]

The US War Department document notes that 'in division operations, tanks are attached to infantry units and come up at night to designated assembly positions. In a tank-led attack the tanks move forward in waves, followed by the infantry'. The role of the first wave would be to neautralise the antitank guns, while the second wave leads the infantry assault. [US War Department (1944), 164 - 167].

At 0645 hours, Japanese mortars began falling and 'all hell broke loose'. Five Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks advanced along the road towards the 2/29th Battalion's forward positions. Sgt Thornton's leading gun, 'whose gun was out of sight round a bend', engaged the first, third and fourth tanks, but they continued on. The initial shells used by the leading Anti-Tank detachment (near the top of the road) went straight through the three tanks which kept firing. Sgt Thornton then used high explosive shells to destroy the three leading tanks, which were also shelled by the rear gun located in a slight hollow and manned by Sgt Parson's crew near HQ company, as well as rifle and grenade support from the Battalion along the road) with his back to the other two that kept advancing. Soon all five were placed out of action. Escaping tank crews were fired upon by a Vickes gun on the bank on the right. [Harrison (1960), 48. Finkemeyer (1994), 11. Farrell & Pratten (2009), 174. 2/29th Battalion War Diary. Lodge (1986), 94. Tsuji (1960), 203. Lack et al (2005), 82 - 83. Christie (1983), 43/44 - Captain Bowring's account, 65 - Captain Brand's account]

A Type 95 Ha-Go tank being demonstrated in 2019. This video gives an idea of the noise made by the tanks.

Seemingly undeterred (or as part of the second wave to lead the infantry assault), at 0715 hours, three more tanks moved forward down the road and were also destroyed. Several large trees were felled across the path of the tanks, as can be seen in photographs of the destroyed tanks below. [Finkemeyer (1994), 11. Farrell & Pratten (2009), 174. 2/29th Battalion War Diary. Lodge (1986), 94. Tsuji (1960), 203. Lack et al (2005), 82 - 83. Christie (1983), 43/44 - Captain Bowring's account. ]

After the tanks were put out of action, the cinematographer Bagnall and the photographer Metcalfe were selected by lot to move forward to the 101 mile peg from the Bakri crossroads. Metcalfe took at least eight photographs and Bagnall filmed the leading three tanks (captured in the middle of a longer film (from 0:42 to 1:35), titled 'Singapore and burning tanks' that runs for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. (Australian War Memorial. Singapore and Tanks Burning (film). AWM F01171)), and then moved towards the next two or three tanks near C and B Companies. They returned back to Charley Parsons’ position to take at least two more photographs and film, including the iconic photograph of Parsons’ crew posing behind their gun facing towards the destroyed tanks (see below). [Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania. 21 January 1942. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1942, 6]

The photographs and film provide visual clues as to the location and terrain of the 2/29th Battalion in the area of the 101 mile peg. The photographs below have been placed in the same order as the film.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 040370)

The first part of the film corresponds to the photograph above (AWM 040370). The photographer and/or film maker have walked over to the first tank that was knocked out. The film maker then moved closer to the tank, filming it from the side where the flames are visible. A second tank is clearly visible behind the felled tree.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 011301)

The photographer then climbed the bank on the side of the road to gain a better position of the tanks in this photograph (AWM 011301),obably beside the location where A Company had been located the previous evening (to the right of the photograph), and looking north. Two tanks are visible behind the lead tank, and bodies are visible beside the second tank.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 011298)

The photographer has now moved down the bank and approached the first tank on the other side to take this photograph (AWM 011298). Dead Japanese crewmen are clearly visible on the ground next to the second tank.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 011307)

The photographer then moved past the first tank (now to his left) to gain a better photograph (AWM 011307) of the second and third tanks, and dead Japanese crewmen. The film maker moved forward of the felled tree to capture the same scene.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 040369)

The photographer has now moved a little further north along the road and taken a photograph (AWM 040369) of the second tank and two dead Japanese. The film maker continued north along the road to film the three leading tanks, looking south along the road. The third tank in the film clearly has severe damage to its rear. The film then shows pierced armour plating, possibly on the tanks.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 011300)

The photographer and film maker now moved further along the road in the area around where C Company (left, among the rubber trees) and B Company (right, out of sight in this photograph) were located. Clarrie Thornton’s Anti-Tank gun position was also on the left believed to be just off the road, hidden behind bushes. In the photograph above (AWM 011300), the damaged vehicles on the left include a 175 Marmon Herrington MK III armoured vehicle and possibly two additional burning vehicles (see below for comments on what these may be).

The Marmon Herrington armoured vehicle may be the vehicle that was sent forward in the evening of 17 January to explore the enemy position, but no details have been found yet to indicate that that vehicle was forced off the road and turned on its side. It is not know if it was the truck that was bringing rations to the men, or perhaps it was folllowing the vehicle delivering rations. Either way, it was clearly there before 7 AM on 18 January 1942 when the tanks rolled in.

There has been some discussion (including here) as to how the Marmon-Herrington armoured vehicle ended up on that part of the road as the Australian military did not have them. It is speculated that it belonged to the 2nd Loyals, based on the comment in Wigmore (The Battle for Bakri):

(Page 225): Unaware of the extent of the enemy forces in the Muar area, [Maj. Gen. Gordon Bennett] directed that [2/29th Battalion] should be used to counter-attack towards Muar, and gave it a troop of 2/4th Australian Anti-Tank Regiment and one [troop] of armoured cars from the Loyals for what he considered good measure.

Telegraph wires have been damaged or cut. The film maker shows the same scene, but from the middle of the road looking north back toward the Japanese position.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri (AWM 011306)

The photographer has now moved closer to the burning tank to include a second tank in the background in this photograph (AWM 011306). The film maker was in the same spot and captured the same scene. Destroyed vehicles can be seen on the left, with what appear to be the tyre marks of a vehicle that has headed off the road. C Company’s position is possibly to the rear and left of this photograph. The photographer and film maker then moved back to Charley Parson’s location to take the next photographs and film.

An Australian made truck/tractor using a Marmon-Herrington chassis towing an artillery trailer in Syria in 1941.

The burning vehicle/s in front of the Marmon-Herrinton armoured vehicle bear a strong similarity to the vehicle above. The burning vehicle/s could potentially be (a) the truck that transported the leading anti-tank guns that was then left on the side of the road (unlikely), or (b) the 'truck' or trucks that delivered the rations and was abandoned after crashing, or (c) just two of the Battalion's trucks that were left on the road and hit by Japanese tank fire (which seems unlikely). Either way, the shape of the front of the vehicle pointing towards the trees looks very similar to the Marmon-Herrington 'tractor', especially the wheel flange and engine hood/bonnet (and air vent), allowing for the fact that the tyres no longer existed and so the vehicle was much lower down near the ground. See also AWM website description and very clear photograph of the same vehicle.

Destroyed tanks at Bakri from Charley Parson's gun (AWM 011302)

The photograph above (AWM 011302) shows the destroyed Japanese tanks in the near distance from Charley Parsons’ gun, said to be located just near Battalion HQ on the west side of the road. A ladder (that does not appear in the film version) has been placed against a telegraph pole, and possibly the rear end of a truck appears on the right hand side. A small square-shaped structure to the right of the photograph could be the 101 mile peg. A Company was located behind the low bush to the right. The film shows the same scene from a similar angle but includes four Anti-Tank gunners appearing to re-create the scene of the battle. A second scene shows Parsons and one of his crew looking forward.

Charley Parson’s (centre) anti-tank crew at Bakri (AWM 011309)

This photograph (AWM 011309) is said to show Charley Parsons and his gun crew, the same three men shown in the previous photograph. To the left, at the rear of the gunners, is a group of men, quite likely members of HQ Company who were in that area. One of these men, to the far left of the photograph, appears to be an officer. To the lower left of the photograph appears to be the rear end of a tracked vehicle, probably a Bren carrier. A soldier stands to the rear of the gunners. The film ends with a short scene showing pierced armour plating.

As the Japanese tanks had been put out of action, a positive mood swept through the Battalion'. The Australians were elated at the outcome but for some reason did not take advantage of the situation to launch a counter-attack. [Lack et al (2005), 84]

The Japanese almost certainly did not expect to lose a tank company that morning.

Gunner Harrison was ordered to move another gun forward from Brigade HQ to the 101 mile post. This gun (according to Harrison) was positioned (after some discussion with Lt Col Robertson, who was said to have wanted it in a more exposed location) 'on the side of the road opposite Charlie Parson's gun'. (Harrison (1966), 48).

The 2/19th Battalion's A and B Echelons arrived at Ayer Hitam at 0730 hours. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

The post-war citation for the Gotanda medium tank company states the following:

The Gotanda Tank Company, under the command of Captain Gotanda, following operations in Malaya with Troop Leader Iwaguro in control, on 18 January participated in the battle of Bakri. The infantry attack, supported by the tank company, penetrated the enemy line with great difficult, and suffered very heavy casualties. When all the company's tanks were put ouf of action by enemy fire, the whole personnel, including the company commander, joined the infantry in the attack and met a heroic death in battle. ... As a result [of this action], the Ogaki Battalion, intercepting the enemy line of retreat, was able to destroy a brigade of enemy troops.

It seems likely that, after this, the Japanese decided to focus their efforts instead on small frontal attacks to provide cover for infiltration and outflanking activities. From around 0830 hours, the Japanese again attacked the forward left C Company of the 2/29th Battalion. At least one account states that the Japanese advanced down the road on bicycles, but this (the bicycles) seems unlikely given the destruction across the road so it probably refers to the road in front of C and B Companies. It was discovered that Japanese snipers (later said by American Intelligence to have much patience but were poor marksmen) had infiltrated the area during the night; Lt Clarke was killed by a sniper. [Brune (2014), 322. This event is not recorded by Captain Bowring, but see below for events from around 1000 hours.]

At around the same time (0830 hours), the 2/19th Battalion's A and B Echelons arrived at Yong Peng on their way to the Bakri crossroads area via Parit Sulong where 17 Platoon (Lt Varley) of D Company was left to defend the bridge. Lt Col Anderson went on ahead with (Maxwell? and) Colonel Thyer (Bennett’s senior staff officer), followed by B Company. Anderson's group arrived at the 45th Indian Brigade HQ at the 99.5 mile peg at around 0930 hours. Lt Col Anderson reported to Brigade HQ at 0945 hours, adding that 'owing to a breakdown of comms [communications] the tactical position was not very clear'. The 2/19th Battalion was ordered to cover the road junction (the 'Bakri crossroads') that connected the road from Parit Jawa on the coast with the main road between Yong Peng / Parit Sulong and Muar. The Bakri crossroads should not be confused with the small town of Bakri, along the road to Muar. [2/19th Battalion War Diary inc Appendix A and Appendix B]

At the same time, Capt Newton of the 2/19th Battalion sought to locate a suitable area for that Battalion's A and B Echelons. According to the 2/19th War Diary, 'the terrain of the country made this a difficult task as the rd [sic] was for the most part built-up, with wide and deep ditches on either side and flanked by swamp.' A few hours later, Capt Newton decided to use a harbour about 7 miles south of Battalion HQ. This was subsequently moved to within two miles of Battalion HQ 'because of the dangers of causeway and Parit Sulong bridge being cut'. It is believed that the 2/29th also had its B Echelon in the same general area although, apart from the reference in the 2/19th Battalion War Diary, no other mention of it exists. [2/19th Battalion War Diary inc Appendix A]

18 January 1942, 0945 - approximately 1100 hours

Despite fresh attacks on the C and B front companies, Lt Col Robertson was probably sufficiently confident (or needed) to head to Brigade HQ near the 99.5 mile peg for a conference with Brigadier Duncan and Lt Col Anderson, riding as pillion on a motorbike driven by Despatch Rider Sgt Syd Baulkham. (Brune suggested that Robertson left because he felt confident that his Battalion was 'more than holding its own'.) It is estimated that they left at between 0945 and 0950 hours and took 10 minutes or so to ride the two miles, past the Bakri crossroads (the soon to be location of the 2/19th Battalion just forward of the 100 mile post). [Lack et al (2005), 84. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 323. Captain Bowring's account in Christie (1983) states that Lt Col Robertson left at 1100 hours, but this recollection is inconsistent with the record in the 2/19th's War Diary - see below.]

The 2/19th War Diary records that Lt Col Robertson arrived at Brigade HQ for a conference at 1000 hours attended by Brigadier Duncan, Colonel Thyer, and Lt Col Anderson. Lt Col Robertson reported enemy movement to his south west, and asked that A Company, located at the Bakri crossroads since the previous evening, be relieved. This was agreed to by Brigadier Duncan - as soon as the 2/19th Battalion was in a position to do so. Duncan also decided that the 2/29th Battalion would wait for the Jats to arrive so a counter attack could be mounted. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. Lack et al (2005), 84]

At around the time that Lt Col Robertson left, Japanese forces began firing towards the Battalion's leading positions. At 0945 hours, a carrier driven by Sergeant Wedlick went forward to find out the source of the fire and dislodge them. According to Captain Bowring, he had 'reckoned without the Japanese who had climbed trees'. Wedlick's gun jammed and he was forced to withdraw. B and C Companies then '... patrolled well forward and were in contact with the enemy force estimated to be 2 Bns [Battalions]'. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Christie (1983, 44 - Captain Bowring's account. Brune (2014), 323.]

Quoting Bagnall and Metcalfe, a news article in Australian newspapers reported the same event a few days later:

They had just secured photographs when about 10 o'clock light fire announced the infiltration of a Japanese platoon. Our troops replied with mortar, rifle, and machine-gun fire on the Japanese position, only to find the Japanese fire coming from other directions, including steady sniping from trees.

The Japanese were said to be 'in trees and must have come up during darkness. Engaged with S.A. [small arms] fire and later with 3” mortars'. [Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1942, 6]

The Battalion War Diary recorded the presence of a road block at 1000 hours between the 2/29th position at the 101 mile peg and the Bakri crossroads (just forward of the 100 mile peg):

Recce patrol detailed contact Bde HQ - forced back at rd block approx 500x E Bn HQ. [2/29th Battalion War Diary]

Communications with Brigade HQ were probably cut at around this time. Soon after 1000 hours, Japanese infantry, said to have been 'a couple of hundred' troops on bicycles, advanced towards the leading B and C Companies with machine gunners in front. Captain Bowring later wrote that 'every man of the left [C] company was pinned down, although there were not too many casualties among them'. Dozens of Japanese were reportedly killed in this attack. According to Bowring, 'these machine gunners were fearless, taking tremendous risks to reach favourable positions'. [Bowring (1954), 2 - 3. Lack et al (2005), 84. Christie (1983, 44 - Captain Bowring's account]

After the conference at Brigade HQ, and possibly unaware of the road block between that location and the 101 mile peg as communications had been cut, Lt Col Robertson returned to his Battalion riding as a pillion passenger on a motorbike driven by Dispatch Rider Sergeant Syd Bauckham. Travelling past the left bend in the road (out of sight of both Battalion positions) they were shot at by a platoon of Japanese troops that had infiltrated between the two Battalion positions. Lt Col Robertson was hit and fell off the back of the motorbike within 100 to 200 yards of Battalion HQ. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Christie (1983), 66. Harrison (1966), 50. Geelong Advertiser, 21 January 1942]

Captain Brand was attending to a casualty when he '... heard the rattle of shots down the road, and looked up to see Bauckham, the D.R. riding up the road with his left arm hanging loose and a strained smile on his face. He turned into the rubber and rode up to us, capsizing his bike almost on top of the man I was dressing. He was severely wounded in the left arm and chest'. Someone called out that Lt Col Robertson had fallen off the bike around 200 yards back. [Christie (1983, 66 - Captain Brand's account]

Although unconfirmed, this photograph (taken by the same photographer at Bakri) appears to show Captain Brand attending to a wounded 2/29th soldier; the motorbike in the background lends credence to the possibility that this could be Sgt Bauckham (AWM 011308)

The photograph above appears to be from the same set of photographs and is clearly of the same scene, but it is not contained in the same grouping in the AWM collection. [Wigmore (1957), Chapter 11, relating to the Gemas battle.

Upon learning of the situation, Sergeant Wedlick and Captain Gahan took an armoured carrier to where Lt Col Robertson had fallen off and brought him back in. Lt Col Robertson was seriously wounded, having been hit by at least one bullet in the knee or thigh and probably also with other critical injuries when he fell off the motorcycle. Captain Brand stated that, after arrival at the RAP, Robertson 'was lifted out of the carrier, badly wounded and only partly conscious ... with a head injury and ... some bullet wounds. Half an hour later he quietly died'. The War Diary noted that 'he died a few minutes after reaching HQ'. According to Captain Bowring 'he died from loss of blood and shock half-an-hour later'. In their newspaper report of the events three days later, the photographers reported that Lt Col Robertson was taken 'to the dressing station in a carrier but he died some four hours [sic] later without regaining consciousness'. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Christie (1983), 66. Harrison (1966), 50. Geelong Advertiser, 21 January 1942. Christie (1983, 44 - Captain Bowring's account, 66 - Captain Brand's account. Melbourne Argus, 21 January 1942]

Several reports after the war, including Captain Bowring's, note that Lt Col Robertson had been 'medically boarded' and was due to be relieved by 19 January 1942 to return to Australia. No documentary evidence has been found to support this statement, and Lt Col Robertson's own letters to 16 January indicate no sign that this might be the case; if anything, his letters note his reply to his wife about newspaper reports suggesting that the Australian government was looking to retire older military commanders, but he dismissed the idea that it would affect him.

2/19th War Diary map showing the Battalion disposition at the Bakri crossroads.

The 2/19 Battalion's B Company reached the Bakri crossroads first at around 1030 hours and took up their position about one third of a mile south on the road to Parit Jawa. That Battalion's C Company arrived next, taking up a position arond 400 yards north (closest to the 2/29 Battalion position). A Company were positioned around 100 mile post (south of the crossroads), while D Company (less two platoons) were positioned north of the 100 mile post (in the area facing the swamp on the front right). The two platoons that did not go to the Bakri crossroads were Lt Varley's, left at the Parit Sulong bridge, and Lt Wilson's, at the Bukit Lankap Endau river. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, including map above.]

By this time, the 2/19th war diary stated 'enemy between 2/19 and 2/29 at 101 MP'. It seems very likely that the Japanese took advantage of their initial minor roadblock and the 2/19th Battalion's setting up to move additional forces between (and around) the two Battalions. It is not clear why the 2/29th Battalion or its gunners did not attack that position to their rear, but it may be that they were more focussed on defending their frontal positions. The 2/19th War Diary noted that 'remnants Ghawalis [sic] & Raj Rifles, south of B Coy [i.e., on the road to Parit Jawa]. Jats about 7 miles North road junction [i.e., closer to Muar town]'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

After Lt Col Robertson’s death, the journalists noted that reconnoitring patrols left the encampment to discover the extent of Japanese penetration. These patrols revealed that the Japanese had encircled the Battalion's position and made a road-block cutting off the road to the crossroads. Meanwhile in camp, all men were lying in deep mud, the aftermath of rains, while Japanese snipers were pinging bullets into the camp. [Melbourne Argus, 21 January 1942]

Gunner Harrison also noted that the death of Lt Col Robertson's made it clear to everyone that the battalion now had to defend both its front and rear positions. [Harrison (1966), 51.]

Map of the Bakri Crossroads area, Johore State, Malaya, as at 1100 hours 18 January 1942 (Map copyright Andrew Warland)

Major Olliff, known by his men as 'the Count' (but also a 'perfect gentleman') now took command of the Battalion. Japanese snipers continued to target Australian officers. At around 1100 hours Lieutenant Harry Clark was killed by a sniper. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Christie (1983, 44 - Captain Bowring's account.]

The ongoing fighting meant further casualties were brought back to the RAP for treatment. Despite rifle fire from Japanese positions, Captain Brand also ventured forward to treat the wounded men, including several Indians attached to the Battalion, some of whom were in an ammunition truck that was destroyed. Captain Brand gave the mortally wounded men morphine to ease the agony of their wounds. Other casualties included Tibbetts who had a bullet wound to his ankle and Ben Hackney who had a bullet wound to his left calf. [Christie (1983, 67 - Captain Brand's account.]

18 January 1942, from 1230 hours

The 2/19th Battalion was in position at the Bakri crossroads by 1230 hours on 18 January 1942. [Lack et al (2005), 85. 2/29th Battalion War Diary. 2/19th Battalion War Diary]

At 1300 hours, the 2/19th Battalion’s B Company (Captain Keegan), located on the left flank of the Battalion, around 1,400 yards (1,300 metres) down the Parit Jawa road, reported the movement of Japanese troops to the south-west of its position (from/towards Parit Jawa). That Battalion's C Company (Captain Snelling), '... stationed astride and to the left of the Muar Road, just forward of Bakri village' (and therefore closest to the 2/29th position), reported that the road between the 2/19th and 2/29th positions was cut. An initial attempt by armoured cars to clear the road failed. [Wigmore (1957), 228). Lack et al (2005), 85. 2/29th Battalion War Diary. 2/19th Battalion War Diary]

As it had by now been relieved by the 2/19th Battalion’s C Company, the 2/29th Battalion’s A Company under Captain Sumner was now ordered to break through the road block, said to be some 600 yards north-west of the crossroads. The first attack, at 1430 hours, ascertained that the roadblock consisted of a burnt out truck and a number of fallen trees, and there were Japanese on both sides of the road. The attack failed. A second attack at 1510 hours, with the support of the 2/19th Battalion’s carriers, two platoons of C Company (Captain Sumner, platoons commanded by Lt Glasson and Sgt Davies), and a mortar detachment, succeeded. It was only then that they found that Lt Col Robertson had been killed that morning. The 2/19 C Company continued 'aggressive patrols'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. Wigmore (1957), 229. Note that Bowring (Christie (1983, 45) states that A Company arrived at around 1800 hours. This does not appear to be correct based on other evidence. Christie (1983), 67 - Captain Brand's account.]

With the roadblock removed, supplies of ammunition and food, a wireless truck and other gear was sent forward at 1600 hours 'with little opposition' under escort of the 2/19th Battalion’s carriers. Burials could now be performed. Padre Macneil, who had come up with the ration truck, officiated at burial of Lt Col Robertson, Lieutenant Clark, and three Other Ranks. Bowring wrote that when Captain Gahan detailed a section of the mortar platoon to dig [Lt Col Robertson’s] grave (and those of Lt Clarke and three other men in the Battalion HQ area) the sergeant in charge of the section burst into tears and most of his men were also visibly affected. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. 2/29th Battalion War Diary. Bowring (1954), 3. Christie (1983, 47 - Captain Bowring's account, 67 - Captain Brand's account.]

Lt Col Robertson’s service file records that he was buried at Bakri, ‘near 101 Mile Peg, Muar Road. Ref Sheet 3. 9/15 836605’.

A Jats officer (possibly Major White, see below) reached the Bakri crossroads at 1600 hours and reported to Brigadier Duncan that his battalion was located six miles north west of the village.[Wigmore (1957), 299].

According to a statement made by Captain Cahill (2/19 Bn), an Indian ambulance arrived at the 2/19th Bn B Echelon area (located around the 98 mile post) at approximately 1630 hours and was sent forward to collect the 2/29th wounded but was unable to find any; only two men from the 2/19th suffering from dysentery were evacuated. This statement conflicts with the next paragraph. It is unclear if Capt Cahill was referring to a different event involving an ambulance. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Capt Cahill's statement]

At 1630 hours, Major White (second-in-command of the Jats), Captain Gibson (2/29th HQ Company Commander), six badly wounded men (including the Despatch Rider Pte Syd Bauckham who managed to return to Australia before Singapore fell), the Padre, the Quarter Master (QM), and the photographers, 'having secured motion films of the guns and infantry in action' were evacuated back to the 45th Brigade headquarters and thence to Yong Peng, becoming the source of much-needed information on the battle at Bakri, including Lt Col Robertson’s death. 12 wounded remained behind, with the expectation that they would be evacuated as well. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. 2/15th Field Regiment War Diary. 65th Battery, War Diary. Christie (1983, 47 - Captain Bowring's account, 68 - Captain Brand's account.]

By 1700 hours, the 2/19th Battalion position came under shell fire. According to Wigmore, Lt Col Anderson was 'chafing under the delay' (of bringing the Jats in) as it was 'playing into the hands of the Japanese' by delaying his proposed offensive. [Wigmore (1957), 229]

Japanese snipers in the trees had been menacing the battalion area all day. Towards dusk, an infantry section (about 15 men) was ordered to clear the area before dark. [Harrison (1966), 51].

At 2000 hours the dispositions were as follows: [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

After dark (according to Bowring), the 2/29 Bn C Company's Lt Carr, occupying the 'extreme left forward platoon of the battalion', reported that one his (rifle) sections was unable to withdraw because of the presence of a large enemy force. Extra supplies of grenades were sent forward (see example in photograph above), but the Japanese forces had moved on before they could be attacked. [Christie (1983, 47/48 - Captain Bowring's account, 68 - Captain Brand's account. Brune (2014), 327.]

Gunner Harrison described the night of 18 January 1942 as follows:

Then darkness dropped on us abruptly as it always does in Malaya and with its coming the tension and the strain sharpened. It was a moonless night and visibility under the trees was close to zero. Anxious eyes strained to pierce the warm, velvety darkness and imaginative ears hurried to convey all manner of alarms to receptive minds.

Fire flies caused many a finger to tighten on the trigger, and the wind rustling the trees brought its moments of wild speculation. Was that dark mass between those two trees really coming closer? Could that noise be caused by someone slithering towards us with a knife, or a grenade? Were those two dead Japanese on the roadside by the tanks really dead? The blood of heroes flowed but sluggishly through my veins and that morning I had felt them both for a pulse while holding a revolver to their heads as I did so. I remembered the cold, clammy flesh and the unmistakable stillness. Reason told me they were dead but imagination bestowed on them the gift of life and the power of vengeance, and I shivered superstitiously despite the warmth of the night. [Harrison (1966), 52]

At around 2000 hours, around 100 to 150 Japanese (believed to be separate from the instance reported above) advanced 'shouting and clashing their weapons together and generally working themselves up into a frenzy'. According to Captain Brand there was 'a few minutes of intense silence and then a terrible outcry - Japanese yells and screams, bursting grenades - then the yells of our men - "Come on you yellow bastards". Members of C Company left their slit trenches and engaged the Japanese to throw them off. A further 40 Japanese then attacked and were engaged with bayonets and pushed back. No ground was lost. The rest of the night, which was 'pitch black', was 'reasonably quiet' with patrolling on all fronts. Captain Brand continued to attend to wounded men at the RAP, one of whom had formed the idea that Major Whiteman and his Indian sappers were Fifth Columnists. [Christie (1983, 47/48 - Captain Bowring's account, 68/69 - Captain Brand's account. Brune (2014), 327]

Japanese forces continued their build up between the two battalions. The 2/19 Bn War Diary noted that heavy enemy shelling forced a forward troop of the 2/15th Field Regiment then located at the 100 mile post to withdraw to the 99.5 mile post. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

The following deaths were recorded for 18 January 1942. The list excludes C Company deaths which almost certainly occurred sometime during the evening of 17/18 January, as noted earlier:

The 2/19th Battalion’s C Company (Captain Beverley) was ordered to keep the road open overnight between the two Battalions. The night 'which was very dark', passed without incident in the 2/19th Battalion perimeter. Plans were in place to mount an attack by the 2/19th along the Muar Road the next morning, to facilitate the recovery of the 4/9th Jats and to 'test the strength of the enemy'. [Lack et al (2005), 90. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Wigmore (1957), 231. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Lodge (1986), 109. Brune (2014), 327]

During the night of 18 January, Lt Col Anderson deployed his forces ready for an offensive against the Japanese the following morning. It would appear, from the evidence, that the Japanese Ogaki battalion moved quietly through the night to prepare for an attack on the Bakri crossroads area. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

19 January 1942 - Japanese flanking

Lt Varley's 17 Platoon from the 2/19th Battalion D Company had left the Parit Sulong bridge (replaced by the Norfolks) soon after midnight on 19 January and re-joined that Battalion's B Echelon commanded by Captain Newton by 0300 hours. [Wigmore (1957), 238. 2/19th Battalion War Diary]

At 0600 hours the 2/29th War Diary recorded that the weather was fine. [2/29th Battalion War Diary]

At 0700 hours, the 150 men of the 2/19th Battalion's A and B Echelons under Captain Newton, with Lt Varley's platoon, reported the movement of between 200 - 300 widely dispersed Japanese to their east heading in a north easterly direction. It seems likely that these forces had flanked south of the A/B Echelon area and were now moving 'back' north to cut them off. Fighting broke out in the north east area of the perimeter and snipers shot from trees. Captain Newtown ordered his forces to consolidate and return fire. Captain Bracher ordered 20 vehicles and one carrier to withdraw along the road towards Parit Sulong to get out of danger (one, driven by Sgt Meal, headed back to the Bakri crossroads, passing a road block on the way - see below). Only three trucks made it to Yong Peng; the remainder was destroyed, including one at Parit Sulong which blocked the road. Trucks and concrete cylinders from the A and B Echelon area were made into a roadblock by the Japanese around 600 yards north. [Wigmore (1957), 238. 2/19th Battalion War Diary]

At around the same time as the A and B Echelons came under attack (around 0730 - 0750 hours, and before any offensive could begin at the crossroads area, delayed by non arrival of the British Anti Tank section, the Ogaki Battalion that had been outflanking the 2/19th and 45th Brigade positions during the night attacked the 2/19th Battalion's A Company area forcing its carriers off a ridge from the southern side of the Muar - Yong Peng road. According to the 2/19 Bn War Diary, the Japanese '... took the high ground overlooking and within 150 yards of the 2/19 Bn HQ'. [Wigmore (1957), 231. Lack et al (2005), 90. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Lodge (1986), 109. Brune (2014), 329 - 330]

The 2/19th Battalion A Company was ordered to attack immediately and recover the hill. That Battalion's C Company was ordered to employ the Indian Rajput and Garwhal troops in the B Company task astride the Parit Jiwa road. A carrier was sent to Captain Keegan of B Company to attack the Japanese from the rear, moving on the line 40 yards south of and parallel with the main road.[Wigmore (1957), 231. Lack et al (2005), 90. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Attachment B. Lodge (1986), 109. Brune (2014), 329 - 330]

A Company had re-gained the ridge area by 0830 hours. B Company then attacked from the rear, and A Company frmo the right flank, thereby sandwiching the small Japanese force which took heavy casualties (said to have been around 140 dead) and then withdraw in a south-easterly direction.[Wigmore (1957), 231. Lack et al (2005), 90. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Attachment B. Lodge (1986), 109. Brune (2014), 329 - 330]

Reports came in from the 2/19th Battalion's transport Sergeant Meal around this time that the 2/19th Battalion's A Echelon was (or had been) also under attack by 400 to 500 Japanese. [[Wigmore (1957), 232/233. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Attachment B. Lodge (1986), 109.]

It is clear that by this time, Japanese forces were located to the west of the two battalion areas as well as to the east, and were moving south to Parit Sulong.

At 0930 hours, two scouts were sent out from the 2/29th Battalion to contact the 2/19th Battalion but failed to do so. [Wigmore (1957), 233]

At 0940 hours, the 2/19th Battalion War Diary recorded the existence of Japanese troops to the south and a roadblock at the 98 mile peg further south along the road to Parit Sulong, threatening the line of withdrawal. This was probably the road block created by the Japanese after their attack on the A and B Echelon area, already noted. Attempts to reach A Echelon failed because of the roadblock [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

Light attacks continued against the 2/19th A and B Echelon areas during this time. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix A]

Japanese aircraft scored a direct hit on the 45th Brigade HQ south of the Bakri crossroads at either 1000 or 1100 hours. The 2/19th War Diary shows both times in different areas of the diary but Wigmore shows it at 1000 hours. Brigadier Duncan was concussed and in severe shock and most of his staff (except his Brigade Major) were killed. Major Julius was killed. A note in the 2/19th Battalion War Diary records that, at 1000 hours on 19 January, Lt Col Anderson was requested by the acting Brigadier (Duncan) to assume command as 'most of Bde staff were casualities'. Lt Col Anderson (2/19th CO) took over command of the Brigade and decided to withdraw the 2/29th back to the crossroads area. Wireless commmunications broke down around this time as well. [Wigmore (1957), 233. Lack et al (2005), 90. 2/29th Battalion War Diary. 2/19th Battalion War Diary (different areas). Lodge (1986), 109. Brune (2014), 330 - 331.]

At 1130 hours the 45th Division Brigade Major (BM) (possibly the one who had survived the bombing of his HQ above) arrived at the 2/29th Battalion HQ area, in advance of the arrival of the Jats. The Major advised that Brigade HQ had been heavily bombed. He asked for a section to accompany him in an endeavour to support the movement of Jats who were reported to be coming in from the jungle on the right flank. [Christie (1983), 47/48 - Captain Bowring's account.]

The 2/19th Battalion War Diary reported the following for 1100 to 1200 hours:

Light contacts and enemy movements reported by A and C Coys to the south and south west and in view of these reports, it was impossible to render any assistance yet to A Echelon, as the forces threatening Bakri were then in considerable strength and the loss of Bakri x-roads endangered both the 2/29 Bn and the Jats. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

At the same time (1130 hours), the A and B Echelon areas continued to come under attack from Japanese aircraft, machine guns and bombing, mostly directly at vehicles on the road. An attempt to reach Battalion HQ by carrier failed. The carrier was destroyed by the land mine but the wounded crew were rescued. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix A]

From 1130 to 1530 hours, A and B Echelon noted only light attacks but reported large concentrations of Japanese assembling west of their perimeter and north across the main road, from where machine gun fire was directed towards the area. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

The 2/19th Battalion position came under further attacked from 1300 hours but these were held off with 'deadly' fire. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

At 1330 hours (2/19th War Diary and Bowring say this was at 1400 hours), the Jats finally began to arrive at the 2/29th position, '... the majority passing to the west of our position and straight through to 45th Brigade HQ'. Around 200 Jats arrived in the 2/29th perimeter area, clusted initially in the area occupied by A Company. [Wigmore (1957), 233/234. Harrison (1966), 55. Christie (1983), 48 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

At 1400 hours (or possibly 1500 hours, the 2/19th War Diary has both times), two companies of Jats passed through the Bakri crossroads with information that the main Battalion was following immediately. They were ordered to assemble in preparation for an attack to relieve A Echelon. Subsequently, firing broke out between the 2/19th and 2/29th positions and no further Jats arrived. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

From 1400 to 1430 hours a Japanese aircraft dropped bombs in vicinity of the 2/29th Battalion HQ, but there were no casualties. This was surprising as, according to Harrison, 'all the enemy had to do was to drop bombs on either side of the tanks, and they could not fail to hit something'. [2/29th Battalion War Diary. Harrison (1966), 56. Brune (2014). Christie (1983), 69 - Captain Brand's account.]

From 1430 hours, Japanese forces moved south of the 2/19th B Company (Captain Keegan) position and attacked at about 1500 hours. B Company, supported by carriers and mortars, as well as D Company, successfully defended its position. The 2/19th War Diary noted that the position was grave'. Westforce was advised of the seriousness of situation and was instructed to withdraw to Yong Peng'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 333.]

From 1530 hours, Japanese artillery, with planes above directing the fire, now started shelling the 2/29th A Company area on the east side of the road, using a 'box pattern' (Harrison). The Jats (who were generally not in slit trenches) suffered heavily and, in their attempts to escape shelling, crossed the road in the area between C and HQ Company. The Japanese shelling then shifted to the west side of road. C Company sustained some casualties but the mostly unprotected Jats suffered further heavy losses. Most of the Australians were protected to some degree by being in slit trenches but few of the Indians were. Captain Brand later described the Jats as 'the most helpless lot of men I had ever seen. They had no Medical Officer, carried no field dressings, would not obey orders, and did not know how to take cover'. According to Lance-Corporal Roxburgh of HQ Company (quoted in Brune): 'The Indians in front of us instead of lying flat on the ground panicked and began rushing madly through our position. The result was absolute carnage ...' The shelling on the 2/29th position continued and most were 'panic stricken'. During the bombardment, Pt Boyd was killed and Pte Jack Dorward was severely wounded. [Harrison (1966), 57. Christie (1983), 48 - Captain Bowring's account, 69 to 70 - Captain Brand's account. Brune (2014, 333).]

Harrison noted how the men would know when a shell was heading their way:

Every now and then we heard a soft, ominous plop from the direction of Muar. This was followed seconds later by a shrill whine, the tops of the trees shook violently, and suddenly the ground flew up and hit us in the face.Harrison (1966), 56]

As wireless communication had broken down and in view of the likelihood that the Jats had been cut off somewhere, a message was sent to the 2/29th Battalion at 1600 hours via an armoured car to withdraw from that position at 1800 (later 1830) hours. It is not clear if this message was received - see below. The 2/19th War Diary recorded that: 'The question of relieving of A Ech now became urgent but pressure was now being maintained on all the tps in the forward area'. [Wigmore (1957), 233. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

Japanese shelling of the 2/29th position eased from 1630 hours but mortar fire and air attacks resumed. An infantry attack was launched by the Japanese on the leading B (right) and C (left) companies. According to Bowring, the 'enemy machine-gunners who came creeping up on the right flank met with a hot reception and were beaten off'. B Company repelled the attack but with heavy casualties. [Wigmore (1957), 234. Christie (1983) 48 - Captain Bowring's account]

On the left flank (C Company), 'a strong attack caused a few of the more advanced positions to become untenable'; C Company suffered heavy mortar attacks and automatic fire, driving a platoon back 50 yards. C Company then counter-attacked and drove enemy back for a distance of several hundred yards. [Christie (1983, 48 - Captain Bowring's account.]

Some of the wounded were evacuated during the afternoon by truck but not all managed to get through. Many men had metal splinters, including Sgt Wedlick and Cpl Barker. The Japanese began to use bullets that could pierce armour plating. [Christie (1983) 70 - Captain Brand's account.]

The Battalion's position was increasingly becoming untenable and Captain Morgan told Captain Brand that the Japanese might break through; accordingly, Captain Brand fixed a red cross sign on a tree among the wounded. Major Olliff sent a message back to HQ Brigade at the crossroads asking for the road to be kept open if possible, but that proved to be impossible.[Christie (1983) 71 - Captain Brand's account.]

Further south down the road to Parit Sulong, by 1630 hours, Captain Newton, located in the 2/19th A and B Echelon area, formed the opinion that, given the concentration of Japanese forces to his east, south and west, the 2/19th Battalion had 'either been overwhelmed or had withdrawn in the other direction'. Consequently it was decided to evacuate the area as soon as it was dark, via the eastern side of the road. A complete cessation of fire by 1700 hours appears to have supported the need to evacuate. The remaining personal were to withdraw in three companies under Lt Varley, Capt Bracher, and Capt MacDonald, heading north then east then south to rejoin the road beyond the causeway to Parit Sulong. [Wigmore (1957), 238. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix A]

The 2/19th Battalion War Diary recorded that wireless communications were restored at 1700 (or 1730) hours. The 2/29th Battalion received a message (either by wireless or the earlier carrier delivery) ordering it to 'cut its way back to 2/19th travelling east side of the road'. Major Olliff provided his artillery program to ensure that his withdrawal would be covered. The wounded, numbering around 50 AIF and Indian, were to be loaded on all available trucks and proceed when they could. Many Indians stormed the trucks, hoping to escape. Based on a suggestion from the Anti-Tank gunners, the sides of the trucks were reinforced in part with the steel armour plating from the Anti-Tank guns. Papers and maps were burnt. [Christie (1983), 71 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B]

Meantime, at the 2/19th Battalion A/B Echelon area, at around 1715 hours, Lt Varley's group were initially prevented from crossing the road. The machine gun was put out of action and Varley's party got away and lost contact with the others, re-joining them on 21 January. Captain Bracher's party managed to cross the road and covered the road for the remaining troops to cross over. Captain Macdonald was wounded leading his men across; he instructed the party to continue without him, led by Captain Newton. These two groups continued south. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix A]

The 2/29th Battalion's Commanding Officers met at 1735 hours to finalise a plan for withdrawal. Information was given that the 2/19th Battalion had been trying to link up with the Battalion all day, unsuccesfully. A Company was to move first, followed by Battalion HQ, HQ Company, C Company and then B Company at the rear, moving at 10 minute intervals. Transport, said to be with around 40 - 50 wounded troops, was to move last at 1815 hours, with the anti-tank guns and a small rifle detachment at the rear. [Christie (1983, 48 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

At around the same time, the 2/19th Battalion formed a 'wide perimeter', presumably to assist the withdrawal. Unfortunately however, wireless communications between the battalions was again broken off around 1740 hours (which may have been a factor in 'friendly fire' from the 2/19th Battalion. The 2/19th Battalion's C Company, on the same side of the road as the 2/29th Battalion's HQ Company, came under attack from enemy patrols, likely to be those associated with the road block between the two battalions. [Christie (1983, 48 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

It was to be another 'very dark night'. Artillery support for the withdrawal was provided by the 2/19th Battalion and 65th Battery from the crossroads. Japanese machine gunners set up in two concrete/brick dwellings between the two battalions and possibly across the road also (or with line of sight of that area), ready to block any attempt at withdrawal. This meant that they were probably just out of the line of fire of the 2/19th Battalion and 65th Battery further down the road at the crossroads. See also the photograph below which appears to show the open area next to the swamp through which the 2/29th A Company and HQ Company had to withdraw. [Brune (2014), 333).]

Australian War Memorial Description: 'The area between the Bakri village and the 101 mile peg on the Muar Road where the Japanese bayonetted 19 wounded Australian soldiers to death and then threw their bodies into a swamp'. (AWM - 117510)

It is worth examining the terrain of the area in the map below from the 2/19th War Diary to understand what happened during the withdrawal. Photographs taken after the war show that the swamp came almost right up to the road, making any withdrawal very difficult - the Japanese had machine guns on both sides of the road, and there was little or no space between the swamp and the road to withdraw.

A water truck was sent forward first to see if the road was open but was met with a stream of bullets and careered off the road. Some of the Indian drivers turned on their truck lights, drawing attention to themselves and their position; their lights were subsequently smashed. Captain Brand, accompanied by Lynch, Warburton and Hughes, tried to carry a wounded man through the road block but found that the man had died, and gave up on the idea as there were simply too many wounded to carry. [Christie (1983), 72 - Captain Brand's account.]

Several detachments from A Company attempted to reach the Japanese machine gun position/s but failed and were either killed or forced back to the open area. The rest of A Company, which left first at 1800 hours, was caught in heavy fire whilst crossing the open ground to the rear of its original position on the east side of the road, and suffered many casualties. Only 45 - 50 Other Ranks made it back to the Bakri crossroads.[Christie (1983), 48/49 - Captain Bowring's account, 72 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

The following men from A Company were reported killed on 19 January 1942. Note that this list seems too low if A Company, less one platoon of 50 men, had around 100 men and only 45/50 made it back to the crossroads.

Battalion HQ and HQ Company, located on the west side of the road, was next to attempt the withdrawal, but had to cross the road which by that time came under Japanese machine gun fire. The other side of the road afforded some protection at first as it was lower than the road and so out of side of the machine guns. But the men then had to cross an open area. At 1815 hours, Major Olliff CO was shot in one hand and, after noting aloud that he had been shot, was then killed by a shot to the chest. Men (Australians and Indians) first had to cross the road and then, after having some cover at first from the lower terrain on the other side of the road, had to cross an exposed stretch of ground of approximately 20 yards, completely controlled by Japanese machine gun fire, before reaching the relative protection of rubber trees. Signaller Lt Sheldon was said to have been shot crossing the open area. [Christie (1983), 48/49 - Captain Bowring's account. Brune (2014), 334 quoting L/Cpl Roxburgh.]

According to L/Cpl Roxburgh (quoted in Brune), 'word was sent back from A Company that the Japanese had consolidated in front' of their position. Faced with little alternative, HQ Company moved back north east (towards B and C Companies) to skirt the open ground (around the Japanese) and then into the swamp to the east of the road, missing a small track that had been used by some of the Jats, and soon after by B and C Companies. The men of HQ Company came under fire from a barrage of artillery fire from the Australian battery meant to support the withdrawal and many were killed as a result. Having missed the track, HQ Company continued east of the crossroads area to near Parit Sulong, aiming to reach Yong Peng - see below. They did not reach the 2/19 Bn position. [Christie (1983), 48/49 - Captain Bowring's account. Brune (2014), 335. ]

The following men from HQ Company were reported killed on 19 January:

C Company detached a Platoon under Captain West to attempt to bomb the Japanese machine gun positions and clear the area for transport but were unsuccessful. The Company then followed the route into the swamp taken by HQ Company, where they continued to come under Japanese machine gun fire. Some men were shot (a 'mercy bullet') by their fellow soldiers, unable to drag them further through the swamp. C Company eventually caught up with HQ Company around 1930 hours, probably after leaving the swamp. A mixed body consisting of seven Officers and 150 ORs from C and HQ Companies then assembled under Captain Morgan. [Christie (1983), 48/49 - Captain Bowring's account, 76 - Captain Brand's account. Brune (2014), 336 quoting Sgt Bert Mettam.]

The following men from C Company were reported killed on 19 January:

B Company followed the main body of HQ and C Companies throught jungle to the east and reached the 2/19th Battalion that evening without further casualties. Five carriers and two Anti Tank guns, acting as rear guard, remained in position until B Company were clear of area. [Christie (1983, 48/49 - Captain Bowring's account.]

The following men from B Company were reported killed on 19 January:

At least 50 wounded men who were unable to leave remained with Captain Brand (the Medical Officer) and the remaining transport drivers, waiting for the road to be cleared. [Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account.]

At 1930 hours, the anti-tank guns at the 101 mile peg were demobilised and the anti-tank gunners prepared to leave. The anti-tank crews attempted to move down the road in a truck and were stopped by 'a nest of machine-guns located in two houses, on either side of the road'. According to Harrison, a 'large infantry officer' took control and ordered a small group with bayonets to attempt to take the machine gun post. They were killed. [Harrison (1966), 58. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account, 72 - Captain Brand's account.]

Two trucks carrying wounded men and two carriers attempted to get past the road block. One carrier and a truck of wounded behind it driven by Jim Vague were successful while the other one was abandoned. The remaining three carriers were demobilised. [Harrison (1966), 58. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account, 72 - Captain Brand's account.]

Captain Brand was now left with a truck of around 50 wounded men and around 25 exhausted riflemen. As their position seemed hopeless, Captain Brand made the decision to depart with six walking wounded and eleven anti-tank personnel, leaving the wounded behind. According to Harrison, they had to 'run the gauntlet of machine gun fire and make the eighty-yard dask to the jungle on our left'. Not long after they left, 'shots rang out ... and every man made for the shelter of the swamp'. Yelling and screaming from the wounded after they left made it clear that the Japanese were killing them. This group of men, travelling in single file along the edge of the swamp, now found themselves being shelled by Australian artillery. [Harrison (1966), 59. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account, 73/74 - Captain Brand's account.]

At the edge of the scrub, Captain Brand found himself in the company of Pte Cant, Cpl Aldridge, Cpl Cameron, and Ptes Robinson and Neilson, as well as another man. Guided by Pt Cant, the party headed north east through knee-deep water and jungle, and through 'terrible country'. They eventually linked up with Captain Gahan and his party (which included Warburton, but not Quick), and a bit later the 2/19th Battalion on the road to Parit Sulong during the evening of 20 January 1942. [Harrison (1966), 59. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account, 73/74 - Captain Brand's account.]

Parties from the 2/29th Battalion began to arrive in the 2/19th Battalion's perimeter from around 2000 hours. Captain Maher (2/29th Battalion B Company) temporarily assumed command of the 2/29th Battalion which now consisted of B Company (4 Officers under Captain Lovett, 100 ORs), C Company (3 Officers including Captain Morgan, 45/50 ORs), and A Company (45/50 ORs) - around 190 to 200 of the approximately 550 men who had been at the 101 mile peg. Whilst organising this force it came under heavy machine gun fire but suffered no casualties. The force moved inside the 2/19th perimeter and bedded down for the night. The Bakri crossroads area was to be held, to allow men from the 2/29th to arrive, until 2300 hours. [Wigmore (1957), 234. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

The remnants of HQ Company and some of the anti-tank men, meanwhile, continued to move east of the 2/19th position. According to Harrison and Bob Christie, the officers in the group (Gibson, Morgan, McGlinn) decided to split the group into groups of six, but then took the compasses. According to Cpl Jim Kennedy (quoted in Brune), 'they took the compasses! Bob Christie was with us; Jackie Cowell, Strahan White and Alec Ross and us (Roxburgh, Kennedy).' The eleven anti-tank men remained together, led by Bill McCure, and agreed to head to Malacca (by then in Japanese hands), then Sumatra. The fate of each group varied. Some ran into Japanese patrols and were either captured and taken to Pudu Prison in Kuala Lumpur or executed, joined the Chinese communists, managed to escape to Sumatra (where they were captured), or made it to Australia. [Harrison (1966), 66. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account. Brune (2014), 337)]

20 January 1942 - Withdrawal from the Bakri crossroads

According to the 2/19th Battalion War Diary, orders for the evacuation of the Bakri crossroads area came at 2330 hours. The message was originally received from HQ AIF by Lt Col Anderson in high grade cipher but as the cipher had been destroyed it was not possible to decode it. Eventually, the message was received in syllabic 'Withdraw on Yong Peng'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

On the same day, the two forward companies of the 6th Norfolk at Bukit Pelandol had been forced back by a Japanese force from the coast, thereby controlling the road and sealing off the Bakri area. [Wigmore (1957). 235]

Japanese forces continued to shell the Australian positions from 0100 hours.[2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

Lt Col Anderson called a conference of his commanders at 0430 hours to establish a plan to withdraw from the Bakri crossroads at 0700 hours. The Battalions now consisted of the following for the withdrawal:

[Wigmore (1957), 236. Christie (1983), 49 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 339)]

The withdrawing force was to proceed as follows:

[Wigmore (1957), 236. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B. Brune (2014), 339, quoting Lt Col Anderson in Newton's 'The Grim Glory of the 2/19 Battalion AIF')]

2/19th War Diary map showing the Battalion disposition at the Bakri crossroads. The map also shows: (a) the previous location of the 2/29th along the Muar Road, (b) the direction of Japanese attacks on 19 January, (c) the two road blocks on 20 January and (d) the swamp area the withdrawing force had to travel through to get past the second road block on 20 January.

During the night, Captain Newton and the men of the 2/19th B Echelon as well as Lt Varley's platoon, decided to head into the jungle but in the process Lt Varley's platoon became separated from the main group. The next morning, having heard that the bridge at Parit Sulong had been taken by the Japanese, Captain Newton decided to withdraw south to Batu Pahat. [Wigmore (1957), 238.]

As the 2/19th column was moving south towards Parit Sulong, it was already outflanked by the Ogaki Battalion (and possibly other elements of the main force) which had established road blocks to the rear, and was being pursued at the rear by the rest of the 5th Regiment forces.

The force moved off at around 0700 hours towards Parit Sulong and Yong Peng, aiming to reach the 95 mile peg by that evening to take cover in rubber trees before the open swampland and exposed causeway. Around an hour later, at around 0800 hours, the advance guard (B Company) came up against a company of Japanese manning a roadblock near the 99 mile post, '... covered by a well dug position on top of a cutting with approximately six machine guns'. Swamp lay right up to the road on the left. Rubber and more swamp lay to the right. [Wigmore (1957), 236. Christie (1983), 49/50 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B. Brune (2014, 340/341]

B Company attacked but faltered, suffering heavy casualties, and Lt Ibbott was killed. Accordingly, Captain Beverley's A Company was ordered to 'create a diversion and noise to the south' (2/19th War Diary] and attack the Japanese left flank (right side of the road, from the 2/19th Battalion position). The men of A Company were said to have sung Waltzing Matilda. B Company, led by Lt Col Anderson, again attacked and three platoon commanders were killed. Lt Col Anderson led the final assault on the position, 'putting one gun out of action with a grenade' and 'shooting two Japs at other gun with his pistol'. [Christie (1983), 49/50 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014, 340/341]

The roadblock was cleared by 1100 hours and the force continued on at 1145 hours, moving through the former A Echelon area, with no sign of any survivors of previous Japanese attacks. The area 'had consisted of transport drivers, 6 platoon, 1 section carriers, 2 detachments mortars plus Lt Varley's platoon from Parit Sulong' [2/19 War Diary]. They recovered much needed rations. [Brune (2014), 341.]

At around 1230 hours, the force reached another roadblock at the 97.5 mile post, at the top of a rise where the rubber finished and swamp began. This roadblock consisted of two machine guns in a concrete block, four to the right and another eight on the left. The 2/19th Battalion's A Company (the new advance guard) attacked first. Then, in support of the attack, the composite D Company were ordered to attack on the left flank with carrier support. A D Company platoon, led by Lieutenant Cootes, were ordered to test the strength of the Japanese by flanking to the left but were said to have gone in 'too far' or was cut off. By this time the rear of the force was being attacked by the Japanese; despite his wounds, Brigadier Duncan led a counter attack, was was killed. [Wigmore (1957), 239. Christie (1983, 50 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. ]

Lt Carr's (D Company) platoon was then ordered by Major Vincent (2IC) to attack via the swamp on the left. Lt Carr's platoon reached within 60 yards of the machine guns and was ordered to assault; Carr was killed. According to Bowring, 'Carr, followed by Corporal Uren and his men, all of whom rose as one man and singing 'Waltzing Matilda', were mown down'. [Wigmore (1957), 239. Christie (1983, 50 - Captain Bowring's account. Brune (2014), 343.]

Lt Cootes, who apparently heard the shooting, approached the Japanese position from the rear and attacked. 23 out of his 42 men were killed before Coote's withdrew. The 19 survivors failed to re-join the main group and were eventually caught or executed, including Lt Cootes who was executed on 12 March 1942. [Christie (1983, 50 - Captain Bowring's account. See also Brune (2014), 342, quoting Gunner Jim Kerr.]

The 2/19th Battalion War Diary noted that 'continual endeavour all afternoon to force Jap position, with very limited success and heavy casualties. Very heavy attacks by Japs on rear and very heavy shelling'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

By 1730 hours the force, which was now in an 'extremely serious' position and 'demoralised', was constricted into a length of road around 800 yards long. At 1800 hours, another attack was successfully repulsed by the Japanese. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

Lt Col Anderson decided to mount a dusk attack under the cover of heavy smoke and high explosives. According to the War Diary, 'every man was fighting mad'. The 2/19th's reserve C Company (Captain Snelling), supported by carriers, advanced on the right; it became pinned down around 150 yards short of their objective. The carriers and heavy weapons were focused on the Japanese positions. [Wigmore (1957), 239. Christie (1983, 50 - Captain Bowring's account. Brune (2014), 343. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

The 2/19 War Diary states:

Mortar shells were directed on to targets by Infantry men a few yards from the target ... gunners were fighting with files, bayonets and axes (range too short for 25 pdrs. except to Jap rear areas West). A gun crew pushed its 25 pdr [around] a cutting a blew out the first road blocks (vehicles) at 75 yds range. Carriers pushed within 5 yds of Jap M.G.'s and blew them out. Two carriers almost cut the walls of a 4 inch walled concrete house to pieces with Vickers. House contained 3 Jap M.G.s and about 60 men. Men went forward under heavy M.G. fire and chopped road blocks [consisting mostly of felled rubber trees] to pieces with axes. [2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

The 2/19th Battalion War Diary noted that at 1730 hours 'C Coy attack with bayonet successful. 3 road blocks cleared.' After dark, the 2/29th Battalion's B Company was ordered to attack at bayonet point but found that the majority of the Japanese had withdrawn. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

By about 1830 hours the Japanese 'had had enough and cleared out, leaving hundreds of casualties'. As darkness had fallen, the wounded were collected and placed on trucks, gun limbers and every available space. Control had been regained and the infantry were deployed on either side of the transport. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

The force then continued to withdraw south along the long causeway (visible in the maps), with swamps on either side of the road. The force was now lead by an advance guard, with 'carriers at the head of main body, then vehicles (filled with wounded), armoured cars at rear, troops marching in single file on each side of road, with M.T. in the centre'. 'It was a very dark night which added to the fatigue.' [Christie (1983), 50 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

During the evening of 20 January, Captain Brand and Captain Gahan's now combined party happened upon the 2/19th moving south to Parit Sulong. The force included 150 men from the 2/29th and some 2/15 Artillery with guns. According to Brand, 'trucks crept along nose to tail and a few 25-pounders limped along on punctured tyres'. [Christie (1983), 76 - Captain Brand's account.]

The following men from different 2/29th Battalion Companies were reported killed on 20 January:

By the time it reached the area north of Parit Sulong, the Japanese Ogaki battalion had suffered many casualties. Its post-war citation reads as follows:

This battalion, under the command of Major Ogaki, participated with the Konoe Division in the drive along wth the western seacoast of Malaya, maintaining rapid pursuit of the enemy. Taking the lead from the Iwaguro Pursuit Unit Corps, on 15 January it confronted as superior enemy force and checked its advance in the vicinity of the mouth of the Muar River and, after crossing that river with great difficulty in face of strong enemy resistance, made a surprise attack from the rear of the enemy position [Note - believed to the the 45th Indian Battalion], which it destroyed.

Next, to undertake a surprise attack on the enemy around Bakri, the battalion made a detour from the coast road, and in the early dawn of 19 January, intercepted the line of retreat of the main enemy forces. Attacking and being counterattacked from all sides by superior enemy forces accompanied by armoured cars, the battalion lost more than half its officers and non-commissioned officers and suffered very heavy casualties among the rank and file in the most violent battle of the campaign to that date.

Captain Seno, who then commanded the battalion, bravely sustained the attack on the enemy rear, cooperating closely with our forces attacking their front, and notwithstanding its own heavy losses the battalion wiped out an entire enemy brigade.

21 January 1942 - on the road to Parit Sulong

At 0200 hours the force was 4 miles from Parit Sulong an on the open straight causeway without any cover. It was decided to push on to about three miles north of Parit Sulong where it halted to rest. [2/19th Battalion War Diary, Appendix B.]

At around 0300 hours, Lt Varley (CO of the 2/19th Company Platoon that had previously been guarding the Parit Sulong bridge) re-joined the unit. As Lt Col Anderson was unsure what lay ahead, he sent two despatch riders to the Parit Sulong bridge. They were challenged by men speaking a foreign language, but not fired upon. A patrol from C Company determined that the Parit Sulong bridge was in Japanese hands. Accordingly, Lt Col Anderson decided to attack the bridge at 0700 hours. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 344.]

Approaching Parit Sulong, the 2/19th Battalion's C Company was fired upon from the south bank of the river. [2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 344.]

The force arrived the the area to the north of Parit Sulong during mid morning of 21 January 1942. Communications were re-established with WestForce who advised that support had been sent. According to the 2/19th Battalion War Diary, a Malay lured Lt Col Anderson, Major Anderson and a small escort towards the village, claiming that the bridge was held by the Johore military forces; they were ambushed but C Company was able to force the ambushers back. According to Wigmore (1957), Lt Col Anderson disbelieved their report. The 2/19th Battalion's B Company moved forward towards the bridge on the north (left) side of the road. Its C Company took the south side, intending to take Parit Sulong village. They found that houses and other vantage points in the village had been turned into Japanese machine gun nests. [Wigmore (1957), 242. 2/19th Battalion War Diary]

Japanese pressure at the rear exacerbated the already difficult situation. Japanese shelled the convoy during the day and through the night. The remmants of the 2/29th (which included Captains Bowring, Maher (temporarily CO), Lovett, Gahan, Brand, and Lieutenants Bonney and Hosford, as well as the RAP and some wounded) was now formed into two equal companies, each assigned to hold one side of the road as the front line, while the 2/19th formed the sides of the perimeter and the attacking force. Captain Brand found Ptes McGovern, Browning, Bennett and Bredin and others in the trucks carrying wounded men [Wigmore (1957), 242. Christie (1983, 52 - Captain Bowring's account, 77 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. ]

At 1000 hours, Japanese heavy tanks attacked but were beaten off by the field guns of the withdrawing force.[Christie (1983), 53/54 - Captain Bowring's account, 78 - Captain Brand's account. See also Brune (2014), 344/345.]

By around 1100 hours, the force held a triangle-shaped perimeter with '... apex at the bridge, baseline about 1000 yds from apex with A Coy near the bridge, B Coy north side of road, C Coy south side, then 2/29th Bn and Jats south side and D Coy north'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

At around this time, Indian troops led by Major Anderson attacked Parit Sulong from the west. This group managed to reach the north bank of the Simpang Kiri west of the bridge and exchanged fire with Japanese across the water. [Wigmore (1957), 242.]

Despite requesting it, neither air nor any other support arrived. For the rest of the day there was irregular sniping and shelling. According to Captain Brand, mortaring was constant and wounded and killed were lying everywhere. According to the 2/19th War Diary, the Indian troops were demoralised or had broken down and thrown away their arms, and had become 'an absolute nuisance and were finally sent out of the area to become POW'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

Faced with this situation, at around 1700 hours Captains Brand (2/29th) and Cahill (2/19th) approached Lt Col Anderson with a plan to load all the wounded on trucks and, headed by an ambulance, hope that the Japanese would let the convoy pass. After it was decided that only 15 of the most severely wounded would go on one or two ambulances, the convoy was ready. The ambulances were to be driven by wounded men. [Christie (1983), 53/54 - Captain Bowring's account, 78 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. See also Brune (2014), 344/345.]

At around 2200 hours, the drivers in the two ambulances rolled them back to the force perimeter. [Christie (1983), 53/54 - Captain Bowring's account, 78 to 80 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

At around 1730 hours, several machine gun nests on the north bank of the river were cleared out and that bank secured. [2/19th Battalion War Diary]

As darkness fell, Japanese tanks infiltrated into the perimeter. Sgt Tait of the 2/15th Field Regiment manned his 25 pounder gun and beat them off, creating a roadblock for the other tanks, which then attacked through the rubber plantation; these were destroyed by D Company using bakelite bombs and Mills grenades. [Christie (1983), 53/54 - Captain Bowring's account, 78 to 80 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

During the evening, Lt Col Anderson sent General Bennett a message requesting ammunition, food and morphia. A reply was received to 'look up at sparrow fart'. Later, Anderson received a message from the wireless truck, stating that 'Australia is proud of you - HQ 8 Aust Div'. It was now clear that no relief would be provided. Captain Maher of the 2/29th Battalion's B Company was killed when a shell blew up a car in which he had been placed. [Wigmore (1957), 244. Christie (1983), 80 - Captain Brand's account. Brune (2014), 346.]

At around 2200 hours, the drivers in the two ambulances rolled them back to the force perimeter. [Wigmore (1957), 244. Christie (1983), 53/54 - Captain Bowring's account, 78 to 80 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

Throughout the night, it said that not a shot was fired but many 'strange sounds' were heard. The 2/19th War Diary described the night as 'nasty'. Wigmore notes that, thoughout the night, the column was 'assailed by the fire of tanks, artillery and machine guns'. [Wigmore (1957), 244. Christie (1983), 53/54 - Captain Bowring's account, 78 to 80 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

The following men from different 2/29th Battalion Companies were reported killed on 21/22 January:

22 January 1942 - Parit Sulong

The 2/19th War Diary recorded that there was 'enemy pressure all night'. During the hours before dawn on the morning of 22 January 1942 the Japanese recommenced shelling the troops who were given 'a frightful pounding'. Many men were killed, including Captain Maher of B Company. [Christie (1983), 79 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 346]

At around 0800 hours on Thursday, 22 January 1942, RAF aircraft dropped medical supplies and some food (and returned to bomb the Japanese and - inadvertently - Australian positions). [Wigmore (1957), 245. Christie (1983), 54 - Captain Bowring's account, 80/81 - Captain Brand's account.]

At 0900 hours, five Japanese heavy tanks fired at the force. Lt Col Anderson made the decision to abandon the position, ordering the companies to move off at spaced intervals to the north east and make their way to Yong Peng, around 35 kms away. [Wigmore (1957), 244. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

The 2/19th Battalion War Diary recorded the following:

... decided to leave M.T. Guns and wounded and withdrew North, then East to Yong Peng. Orders were given for the force to withdraw to the North (Bearing 340 degrees), then East 'B' Coy, then 'C' Coy, then 'A' Coy, then 2/29th Bn., then 'D' Coy at five minute intervals'. [2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

Around 145 wounded were left behind; 110 Australians and 35 Indians. The prisoners were tied together at around sunset on 22 January 1942. Some were bayoneted, some shot, and some survived. Petrol was then doused on the bodies (dead or alive) and set alight. All but two (or three) survived, including the 2/29th Lt Ben Hackney and a soldier named Wharton. [Christie (1983), 54 - Captain Bowring's account, 80/81 - Captain Brand's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. Brune (2014), 347/350.]

Many men drowned or were killed attempting to cross a stream of the Simpang Kiri river. [Christie (1983), 54 - Captain Bowring's account, 80/81 - Captain Brand's account. Brune (2014), 347/350.]

Captain Brand reported that the following 2/29th men were together around midday on 22 January:

Others included Sgts Fowler and Barton of the 2/15th Field Artillery and also two 2/19th personnel - 65 men in total.[Christie (1983), 54 - Captain Bowring's account, 82 - Captain Brand's account.]

The following 59 men from different 2/29th Companies (except the some men of HQ Company - see below) were reported killed (or were murdered by the Japanese at Parit Sulong) on 22 January 1942:

The following lists HQ Company deaths that were recorded for 22 January 1942, all 'probably Killed in Action'. Note that this is the same day as the killings at Parit Sulong. It is not known if these men were at Parit Sulong or with the rest of HQ Company.

The following is the list of 2/29th Battalion men who had served at Bakri and who died from 23 January 1942 until 27 January, presumably during the withdrawal to Yong Peng.

24 January 1942 - Yong Peng

Despite many navigational, terrain and other difficulties, the withdrawal was 'reasonably successful' [2/19th Battalion War Diary] and many of the men reached Yong Peng from 1500 hours on 24 January. [Christie (1983), 55 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary.]

According to Wigmore, of the 2/29th Battalion hat had taken the weight of the Japanese advance ner Bakri, only 130 men mustered at Young Peng; the remainder were killed or missing. According to the 2/29th Official History, 58% of those who went into action from 17 January 1942 had been killed by 23 January, although the actual numbers appear to be 178 dead of the 600 who fought. [Wigmore (1957), 249. Christie (1983), 55 - Captain Bowring's account. 2/19th Battalion War Diary. 2/29th Battalion Roll of Honour. ]

28 January 1942

There were no deaths recorded for (the separate group of) HQ company men from 22 until 28 January 1942. This may be because they attempted to keep well away from the Japanese. The following is the list of 2/29th HQ Company men who had been at Bakri, and who were reported killed on (or possibly around) 28 January 1942. All except Pte Stanton and Pte Wheatley (who were reported as Killed in Action) were 'probably Killed in Action'.

The following is the list of other (non-HQ Company) 2/29th Battalion men who had served at Bakri and who were reported killed on 28 January 1942.

February 1942

The following 2/29th HQ Company Private was reported to have been killed on 4 February 1942, probably Killed in Action. It is not known if he was with the Anderson convoy or HQ Company.

After reaching Yong Peng, the remnants of the 2/29th Battalion withdrew to Singapore where they were reinforced with around 500 men and 19 officers. The reinforcements came from Queensland (220), NSW (150), Tasmania (70) and Victoria (100) - many of whom had been in the military for only a month. Col Pond felt that the Queenslanders were the best trained of the reinforcements. Before 4 February, the Battalion was then deployed to the Causeway Sector as the 8th Division reserve. On 9 February, the 2/29th was deployed to a position between Mandai village and the intersection with the road to Choa Chu Kang (or Tengah airfield?). (Christie (1983), 97 - Col Pond's account. Brune: 434, 439). Two Bakri veterans of the 2/29th Battalion were killed on that day:

On 10 February, the 2/29th Battalion was deployed near Bulim (the Kranji - Jurong line). Faced with Japanese flanking movements, the Battalion withdrew first to near Keat Hong and then Bukit Panjang on the intersection of the Woodlands and Choa Chu Kang roads. In an attempt to re-take the Jurong line, the 12th Indian Brigade with the 2/29th attached was to attack the right flank. After dark, the 2/29th Battalion was attacked and withdrew first to the pipeline thence to the racecourse. (Brune, 452 - 460). The following 2/29th Battalion Bakri veterans were killed on 10 February:

The 2/29th Battalion re-grouped early on 11 February. The following Bakri veterans were recorded as being killed in action from that day until 20 February 1942:

March 1942 to 1945

From 12 March 1942 (when two were executed) a further 239 men of the original 2/29th Battalion who had served at Bakri died mostly as Prisoners of War, but also from drowning and from injuries received. Of the original 1003 men who joined before Bakri, 455 died by the end of the war. Of the 597 men who joined as reinforcements at Singapore (including from other Battalions who had been in Malaya for a period of time beforehand), 222 died, 44 of which were before the fall of Singapore.

Lest we forget.

'Robbie to Dorie: Lt Col John Robertson's Letter from Malaya 1940 - 1942' was released on 24 April 2014 at the annual reunion lunch of the 2/29th Battalion Association in Melbourne. See the Battalion Association's website for further information about the activities of the Association.


Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania, 'Photographers Narrowly Escape Capture in Malaya', 21 January 1942.
The Argus, Melbourne, 'AIF Advance Relieves Imperial Units', 21 January 1942. A similar article was published on the same day in a number of other newspapers under the headline 'AIF Clearing Up Situation in Muar River Area'.
Anderson, W. (2/29th Battalion). Personal account of his experience. Australian War Memorial. 88/51.
Australian Army Journal (1966). 'Battalion Resupply Vietnam Style', by Maj Sharp
Australian Army (1986), Manual of Land Warfare, Part 2 - Infantry Training, Volume 1, Number 2, 'The Rifle Platoon'.
Australian War Memorial. War Diary, 27th HQ Brigade. AWM 52 8-2-27-13.
Australian War Memorial. War Diary, 2/15th Field Regiment. AWM 52 4/2/15.
Australian War Memorial. War Diary, 2/19th Battalion. AWM 52 8-3-19-9.
Australian War Memorial. War Diary, 2/29th Battalion. AWM 52 8-3-29-1 to AWM 52 8-3-29-7.
Australian War Memorial. Singapore and Tanks Burning (film). AWM F01171.
Australian War Memorial. Untitled film made by Mr Aiken of Ipoh showing the 2/29th Battalion marching in Segamat, and includes colour video of Lt Col Robertson (film). AWM F03385.
Bennett, H.G. Diary & Related Matters. 1941 to 17 January 1942. Australian War Memorial.MF0020 (Roll CY 783).
Bennett, Lieutenant-General H.G. Why Singapore Fell. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1944.
Bowring, Captain W. B. The Muar Road Battle in Stand-To (magazine), RSL, Canberra, May-June 1954.
Brune, Peter. Descent into Hell. Allen and Unwin, 2014.
Christie, R.W. (ed). A History of the 2/29th Battalion – 8th Australian Division AIF. High Country Publishing, Melbourne, 1983 and 1985.
Coates, Lieutenant-General John. ‘Out-generalled, outwitted, and outfought’ – Generals Percival and Bennett in Malaya, 1941 – 1942. Australian Army Journal, Volume II, Number 1, pages 201 – 214, 2004.
Department of Interior. File of Papers - Notes from General Bennett's Diary. February - March 1941. Australian War Memorial. AWM67, 11/75.
Farrell, Brian, &atten, Garth. Malaya 1942. Commonwealth of Australia Army History Unit, 2009, 2011. Includes detailed diagrams for each phase of the tank assault.
Finkemeyer, Colin E. (ed). It happened to us. Fast Impressions P/L, 1994.
Finkemeyer, Colin E. (ed). It happened to us – Mark II. Fast Impressions P/L, 1998.
Finkemeyer, Colin E. (ed). It happened to us – Mark III. Fast Impressions P/L, 2003.
Finlay, I. with Shepherd, A. Savage Jungle. Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Geelong Advertiser, 21 January 1942, quoting VX42812ivate Walter Garnet Fisher, HQ Company.
Hackney, Ben. Dark Evening (personal papers). Australian War Memorial MSS 0758.
Harrison, Kenneth. The Brave Japanese. (Also published as ‘The Road to Hiroshima’). Rigby Limited, 1966. Reprinted 2010. See also
Howe, Sgt Fred. The Battle of the Bakri Cross Roads on the Muar. The Burrowa News, 3 December 1948 – 7 January 1949, 8 April 1949. Howe’s articles describe events after midday on 18 January 1942.
Jacobs, J.W. and Bridgland, R.J. Through: The story of Signals 8 Australian Division and Signals AIF Malaya. Halstread Press, Sydney, (undated)
Lack, J. et al. No Lost Battalion: An oral history of the 2/29th Battalion. Slouch Hat Publications, Melbourne, 2005.
Lodge, A. B. The fall of General Gordon Bennett. Sydney, Allen & Unwin. 1986.
Long, G. Interview with Maxwell and Taylor (Personal Notebook). December 1946 and February 1947. Australian War Memorial. AWM67, 2/109.
Morrison, Ian. Malayan Postscript. Angus and Robertson. Sydney, 1943.
National Archives of Australia. War Crimes - Massacre at Parit Sulong, Malaya - NX71148 Lieutenant BC Hackney. SP459/1, 573/1/234. 1945. 23 page file includes Hackney's 10 pages of evidence given at the Australian War Crimes Commission on 12 November 1945 describing events at Parit Sulong.
Percival, A.E. The war in Malaya. Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1949.
Robertson, John Charles. Service File. VX38973. National Archives of Australia.
Silver, Lynette R. The Bridge at Parit Sulong: An Investigation of Mass Murder, Malaya 1942. The Watermarkess, 2004.
Sydney Morning Herald, 'A.I.F. Success with Anti-Tank Guns', 21 January 1942.
Tsuji, Masanobu. Singapore: The Japanese Version. (Translated by Margaret E. Lake). St Martin'sess, New York, 1960.
Uhr, Janet. Against the Sun: The AIF in Malaya, 1941 - 42. Allen & Unwin. St Leonards, 1998.
US War Department. 'Technical Manual - Handbook on Japanese Military Forces' (TM-E 30-480), Chapter III, Field Organisation 15 September 1944., retrieved 27 February 2018
US War Department, Military Intelligence Service. 'Soldier's Guide to the Japanese Army', Special Series No 27, 15 November 1944. retrieved 3 March 2018
Whitelocke, C. & 2/15 Field Regiment Association. Gunners in the Jungle. Maxwellinting Company, 1983.
Wigmore, Lionel. Volume IV, The Japanese Thrust of the Second World War Official Histories. Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957.

Page created 1 May 2014, updated 7 April 2020. Copyright Andrew Warland. andrewwarland(at)