- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bert Oliver Miller
- Location of story:
- Far East
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 June 2005
The drama had but two in its cast, a Catalina and a Jap fighter. The Catalina staggered in from the northeast with the Zero tight. Outpaced and outgunned the small flying boat banked and began to climb.. slowly.. and then turned and fell out of the sky to crash somewhere near Changi. The fighter diving too fast pulled out late. It ripped into a bunch of coconut palms and then wobbled on noisily until it piled into the side of one of the larger nearby buildings. Time stood still for a tantalising moment, and then the walls fell in completely embracing the cockpit and its occupant. The thought of rescue could not have been further from our minds we too concerned with our own version of self-preservation.
We had travelled from the other side of the world but one has to admit that those who disembarked from the USS. West Point did it with more dignity than those from the Empress of Asia. She had taken a bomb through her vitals and provided her occupants with no alternative than to leave ‘over the side’. Such were our kind of introductions to Singapore.
From then to the 14th of February, what had seemed more than a lifetime, we had been ‘standing’ and ‘withdrawing’ until spread in and around the city itself.
Jap naval units had taken station around the island and sought, indiscriminately the few remaining 25-pounder batteries. Shells from the guns concentrated on the mainland, punctuated with the click, whine and ‘crump’ of nearby mortars, hammered the pockets of resistance still operational.
The never-ending flights of bombers blasted everything. Buildings folded like decks of cards on to streets festooned with wire that once fed telephones and power. An ominous web supported in its disorder by the uprooted poles and crumpled stanchions.
Thousands of refugees crouched in the hollow drainpipes and monsoon ditches, seeking protection from shells, bombs and the machine-gunning from the low flying planes.
No deep shelters existed the waterlogged ground and on the surface any substantial refuge was out of the question as the city was so congested, there was no space. Many of the streets were impassable. Civilians driven from their up-country plantations had abandoned their cars bumper to bumper, and when struck by bullet or shell fragment would burst into flames; igniting the car in front and behind. Such chain reactions would spread the fire to the length of a block.
Meanwhile, demolitions had gone ahead at the Naval base with the oil tanks well alight. Smoke darkened the sky and midday became dusk. So high and so vast the great columns seemed to reach forever. In the canals and ditches, bloated corpses of air raid victims and their animals floated on oil from the streaming tanks.
Among the ruins, stark and stiffening bodies lay unburied, while along the thoroughfares the water from burst mains dowsed corpses as it rushed to waste.
Still the bombing went on: unopposed. The same areas were struck again and again. It was devastation of devastation: if anything like that is possibly conceivable.
Casualties were reaching 2000 a day.
The air was full of choking dust and during the showers the clouds wept black tears as the rain passed through the oil-laden smoke: there was no escape from the stench of cordite, sewers and the rotting flesh.
All through the rest of the day and the following night, we existed in a nightmare of cacophony, and then the dawn broke on February 15th 1942. The sounds of war continued for the biggest part of the morning and just as it seemed as though, in our frustration, we could stand it no longer, our war ended.
The defence of the island had disintegrated and we had been left mentally naked and physically empty. With the noise of the bombardment still pounding in our heads, we buried our immediate dead but still managed to struggle for cover as a breechblock from a nearby spiked Bofors whistled erratically over us. We still took defensive positions when lorries passed and even attempted to bury ourselves when a plane roared in too close.
The dust began to settle and the truth of the situation forced itself on us. We had been blasted into another world and in this new environment it was a silence that screamed at us. Some wept, some cursed and those too exhausted to curse or weep and unable to fight fatigue any longer, fell where they stood and fitfully slept.
Then we waited. Waited and wondered about an operation that had proved as futile as it had been demanding. For a while, we floundered in confusion. We could feel certain only of the past, The present offered nothing but bewilderment and contradiction.
Of the future?
For us the survivors, there was that overwhelming relief at escaping the bomb’s brutality and the misery and wretchedness dispensed by shell and bullet, but there was no indication as to the way ahead. We little knew that to so many, our immediate deliverance was merely a reprieve and what we had supposed to be an end to humiliation and suffering was in fact just the beginning.
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