The Norfolk Regiment Badge
The Royal Norfolk Regiment Badge

5770484 Private Bertie Robert Howard (POW)
5th Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment
53rd Infantry Brigade,
18th Infantry Division
Singpore, Malaya, Thailand, Burma
1939-1945

This file last updated 27 June, 2022 13:57



The Norfolk Regiment Badge
The Royal Norfolk Regiment Badge

Introduction

A labourer when he enlisted, Private Bertie Howard was a member of the Territorial Army (TA) element of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. The TA is the equivalent of the Australian Active Army Reserve, although the British regimental system is vastly different to that in Australia. Each regiment had Regular Army battalions, TA battalions and service battalions, all with different levels of training and readinesss.

He was born on 14 Apr 1916, and the POW record shows that his unit was the 5th TA Battalion of The Royal Norfolk Regiment, and his Next of Kin was his wife (name not recorded) who lived at 5 Moorgate House, East Dereham, Norfolk.

The 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions were a part of the British 18th Infantry Division. The 4th battalion was assigned to the 54th Infantry Brigade and the 5th and 6th (City of Norwich) Battalions to the 53rd Infantry Brigade. Both brigades were part of the 18th Infantry Division. The three battalions were for the early part of the war assigned to coastal defence duties and training to repel a German invasion.

In October 1941 the division left England, assigned to the Middle East. Like the Australians and Indians, they would find the situation in Malaya and Singapore was dire as the Japanese advanced through the peninsular. Many of the troops of all three nations were raw, with little experience, the units themselves often poorly led and poorly trained while those lately arrived had no experience of the climate, the terrain and the conditions they would find. The 5th Battalion landed in Singpore on 13 Jan 1942 and just 33 days later was forced to surrender. in what was Britains worst ever military defeat.

The Australian troops of the 8th Division reassigned from North Africa and brought back up to strength with recruits from Australia were strong and experienced, but fighting in the desert is not the same as fighting in tropical jungle. Poor senior leadership and poor tactics played a large part in the outcomes in MALAYA and SINGAPORE. The Australian division did not disembark in SINGAPORE until the 14 Jan 19142.

The lately arrived British 18th Division, and the understrength 8th Australian Division combined with two Indian divisions and altogether made up the bulk of the military units that fought in the defence of SINGAPORE. The Japanese advance employed three divisions.

80,000 British, Australian, Indian and local troops were captured by the Japanese in SINGAPORE and they were joined by the 50,000 troops who were captured in MALAYA. 27% of Allied POWs died or were killed while in Japanese custody and those who survived would remain POWs until August 1945.

The conditions in the SINGAPORE POW Camps were vile, but worse was to come, as the prisoners were marched north to toil on the Japanese railway, starved and beaten, with little food and no medicines but somehow building the railway, its bridges and cuttings as they went.

British Army records show that Bertie was captured on 15 Feb 1942 and liberated on 5 Sep 1945. and that he had been incarcerated in the Malai 2 Camp in Serangoon Road SINGAPORE, then other camps such as Chunkai, Tamakan Bridge, RANGOON prison and was in Tamuan Camp near KANSCHANBURI when he was liberated together with other British, Australian and Dutch prisoners of war. He was a drummer in the band and a worker on the railway.

The family have some photographs of unknown provenance, many of which appear to have been taken immediately after some POWs were released in order to record for posterity the conditions under which they were incarcerated, and the physical condition of the prisoners themselves. One of the photographs appears to be of Japanese or possibly locally enlisted asian guards - the resolution is insufficient to be sure, and there are no descriptions with the photographs. The final four photographs are those on which I have based my judgement that the photographs were taken after the prisoners were released, as they are aerial shots of the bombing of a bridge and other scenes.

Download the Japanese POW photos. CAUTION. Not suitable for children.

[Against all odds, some photographs were taken in Changi prison and some in other prison camps in circumstances when discovery of a camera or negatives would have meant almost execution of the prisoners involved.]

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This record of service prepared for Colin Howard and Julie Wallis by Clive Mitchell-Taylor June 2022.


5th Battalion, The Royal Norfolk Regiment
Extract from the Unit War Diary
13th January - 15th February 1942

Date

Entry

13 Jan 1942

Battalion arrived at SINGAPORE Naval Base. Disembarkation commenced 1400 hours. Total of Bn disembarked, 40 Officers, and 917 Other Ranks. Bn moved by March route to WOODLANDS CAMP, Naval Base. Working parties unloaded ship.

14 Jan 1942

Unloading of ship continued

15 Jan 1942

Unloading of ship completed. Lectures on Jap tactics given to all ranks. Lieut-Gen. Percival, G O C Malaya spoke to all officers at 1700 hours. Warning order to move received during evening. Two officer's interpreters joined.

16 Jan 1942

CO. IO. SO. and Coy reps move to JAMALUANG and reported to 2/19 A I F. CO met Bde Commander, 22 Australian Bde. Recon of JEMALUANG area carried out. Order to move Bn to AYER HITAM received.

17 Jan 1942

AYER HITAM MT less 1st. Ref. (Total of 36 Officers 777 OR's). CO and

18 Jan 1942

Battalion moved by to JEMALUANG. Took over def. positions, which had been previously received.

19 Jan 1942

Three patrols sent out during morning. One to Kluang Road then North. One to Mersing Road W. One East towards the sea. At 1200 hours orders received to move to KLUANG, afterwards altered to AYER HITAM. Owing to shortage of transport Battalion moved in two parties. CO went ahead and reported to Comdr 11 Div. at AYER HITAM.

20 Jan 1942

Battalion harboured one mile West of AYER HITAM in 11 Div res.

21 Jan 1942

'B' Coy took up defence position facing West. About 2 1/2 miles West of AYER HITAM. Sent out patrols that encountered the Japs, Two men wounded and one missing. During evening road to BATU PAHAT reported blocked.

22 Jan 1942

At dawn patrol of two patrols-plus one carrier sec, made contact with British Bn at 73 Mile Stone. They reported road open. Battalion ordered to keep road open throughout the day. Coy's disposed in blocks as far as 73-Mile Stone. One patrol Coy-plus five carriers and two armoured cars moved forward to contact B Battalion. About 1600 hour's D Coy made contact with enemy near 73rd Milestone. One patrol was ambushed and Captain S. C. H. Boardman, O. C. Coy, was killed. Orders to move to BATU PAHAT received about 1730 hours. In meantime one carrier returned and reported road blocked. No knowledge of other carriers or forward patrols. No information from D Coy patrols. Discussion on phone with Div. Commander resulted in order to stay in area 72nd Milestone. During night and move to BATY PAHAT in morning. D Coy patrols withdrawn and Battalion harboured. No information regarding one patrol A Coy or carriers.

23 Jan 1942

At dawn cycle patrol - plus one patrol B Coy acting as advance guard moved forward 1/2 mile and encountered a road block. Cycle patrol fired on. B Coy patrol tried to by-pass roadblock but was unsuccessful. Lieut. G. H. R. Pallister seriously wounded. Remainder of B Coy endeavoured to outflank roadblock on North. Several casualties - 2/Lieut. P. H. McKean killed. 3" mortars used on supposed enemy positions and C Coy put round South flank. All efforts to move block unsuccessful at that time. C Coy successful in getting two patrols beyond roadblock but did not get across road. At approx 1130 hours Div Commander ordered Battalion to withdraw to AYER HITAM into harbouring area South of village. CO reported to 11 Div at 1300 hours and received orders to be ready to move at 1600 hours by MT to BATU PAHAT via SKUDIA and PONTAIN KECHIL. Battalion moved off at 1600 hours and went into harbouring area five miles West of SKUDIA. CO reported to Commander 28 Bde at PONTAIN KECHIL.

24 Jan 1942

Battalion left harbouring area at 0400 hours and arrived two miles South of BATU PAHAT at 0700 hours. CO met Commander 15 Bde who ordered him to report to Lt. Col. G. C. Thorne, O C. 2 Cambs. This he did, and received information that 2 Cambs had commenced withdrawal the previous evening and had been stopped just clear of the town. Col. Thorne ordered 5 Norfolk's to retake and occupy 2 Cambs previous positions in centre and on East of town. Zero 1045 hours Battalion attacked with two Coy's forward (A right, D left) supported by 3''Mortars and one tp RA. (No RA on to enemy positions owing to lack of communications. There were indications of a threat from two high positions East of Main road. At 1500 hours B Coy were ordered to occupy these features which they did. They were then attacked and had to withdraw below the crest. It was decided to regain this hill at night.

25 Jan 1942

C Coy together with remainder of one coy 2 Cambs attacked at 0400 hours. Attack was unsuccessful although Coy reached a position just short of the crest. During previous night and early morning 24/25 Jan 42 fairly heavy mortar and L.M.G fire was experienced. The line was readjusted during morning, the enemy making no effort to attack. About 1300 hours Bde Commander ordered Battalion to hold present positions and cover withdrawal of 2 Cambs, then withdraw. Thinning out commenced 2100 hours and positions were finally abandoned at 2115 hours. Battalion marched back about 4 miles and were then ferried by M T to crossroads near BATU PAHAT Aerodrome. Arrived at mid-night.

26 Jan 1942

Battalion was disposed tactically according to 15 Bde orders, relieving British Battalion. During morning CO went to HQ 15 Bde at SANGARRANG and received information that road from SANGARRANGS to RENGATE had been cut by several blocks. At approx 1000 hours the Battalion was ordered to move towards SANGARRANG, sending all transport ahead. At 1430 hours Battalion was ordered to protect transport and stand by ready to go forward with transport when blocks had been cleared. At this time some 250 vehicles were on the road head to tail with head of column just off Sangarrang Bridge. At 1745 hours Bde Commander ordered all transport to be destroyed. All men were to make their way to South of RENGATE across country and Bridge was blown at 1830 hours. Battalion less a few stragglers crossed the Bridge, majority going North.

27 Jan 1942

Majority of Battalion (approx 500) reached BENHUT about 2300 hours. Another party (approx 160) went South of road and made for coast.

28 Jan 1942

Main party reached B Echelon Road Camp, SINGAPORE by MT.

29 Jan 1942

Battalion rested and commenced to reorganize and refit. Reverted to Comd 53 Bde

.

30 Jan 1942

Re-organization continued. CO and 12 men return.

31 Jan 1942

Re-organization continued. Capt. H. E. Schulman and approx 150 men returned having been picked up from the coast by the Royal Navy.

1 Feb 1942

Reorganization continued. 1st. ref. rejoined Battalion from 7 M.R.C. (4 Officers, 120 OR's).

2 Feb 1942

Reorganization continued.

3 Feb 1942

CO plus reconnaissance groups left Serangoon Road Camp at 1000 hours for Naval Base. Battalion proceeded by MT to Naval Base at 1600 hours and relieved JATS. Dispositions, C Coy right in Seletar Grange - B Coy centre, Beaulieu House - A Coy left in Dockyard, D Coy in res. (residential area). Strength of Battalion, 35 Officers, and approx 800 Other Ranks.

4 Feb 1942

Battalion moves. Shelling commenced. Coy's worked on Defences - wiring and sandbagging.

5 Feb 1942

Defensive works continued. Intermittent shelling all day.

6 Feb 1942

Defensive works continued. Intermittent shelling all day.

7 Feb 1942

As above. Lieut. Potter, Lieut. Carey and 3 Other Ranks cross Straits of Johore and spend 24 hours on enemy territory.

8 Feb 1942

GOC 11 Div visited Battalion area at 0500 hours. Defensive works and shelling continued. Lieut. Potter's patrol returned.

9 Feb 1942

Intermittent shelling. Defensive works continued. Demolition in dockyard commenced.

10 Feb 1942

Defensive work continued. Some shelling - further demolitions in dockyard.

11 Feb 1942

As above.

12 Feb 1942

Battalion withdrew from Naval Base to SEMBAWANG commencing 0300 hours. D Coy acted as rearguard for Bde. During morning Battalion occupied positions North of Aerodrome, C Coy right, - A Coy centre - B Coy left - D Coy in res. At 1400 hours CO visited 8 Bde. At 1600 hours Battalion came under orders of 8 Bde and commenced to withdraw to SINGAPORE City via NEE SOON. D Coy and B Coy were bombed en route. Several casualties. CO proceeded to 3 Corps HQ via 53 Bde HQ to a certain 53 Bde area. Battalion reached harbouring area on Braddell Road by 2100 hours and rested for night. Battalion reverted to command 53 Bde.

13 Feb 1942

Battalion took up defensive positions. D Coy right - A Coy centre - C Coy left. B occupied 2 Cambs area until arrival of 2 Cambs about 18oo hours and then went into Battalion res. At approx 2000 hours right forward pl of A Coy were attacked. Attack was beaten off with few casualties. Heavy firing and shelling all night but not on Battalions positions.

14 Feb 1942

Heavy attack on 2 Cambs resulted in left flank being exposed. Line was readjusted by 2 Cambs counter-attack and by putting in B Coy less 1 pl between 2 Cambs and 6 Norfolk. During night enemy infiltrated between 2 Cambs and forward and rear pls of C Coy establishing machine gun posts in C Coy res pl area. RA support was excellent. SOS fire called for by C Coy.

15 Feb 1942

Both A Coy and C Coy endeavored to eliminate MG post, 3'' mortars assisted. Battle on A Coy and C Coy fronts continued from dawn to 1600 hours. By order of Command 53 Bde Battalion ceased fire at 1600 hours. Strength of Battalion 30 Officers and approx 660 Other Ranks.

17 Feb 1943*

Changi P.O.W. Camp.
Lieut. Colonel.
Commanding 5th Battalion. The Royal Norfolk Regiment. NBW.

* This is the date that the source provides. The record may have been prepared a year after the events, but it is more likely that the correct year is 1942. The Colonel is not named.