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15 October 2014
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Flight from Malaya, January 1942

by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mrs Stella Ruth Hardaker nee Ebden, Kenneth Hardaker, Ann, Richard and Wendy Russell, Harry Russell, Evelyn (Chum) Russell nee Leigh Hunt
Location of story: 
Malacca, Singapore, Indian Ocean, Colombo, S. Africa, Atlantic Ocean, Liverpool, England
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 December 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Mrs Stella Ruth Hardaker and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Hardaker fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Kenneth and I lived in Malacca, Malaya. He worked in the Government Department Customs and Excise. His boss was Harry, who had a wife known as Chum, and three children, Ann, Richard and Wendy.

The Japanese invaded Malaya during the night of December 7th/8th 1941 and by mid-January had advanced so quickly that we were ordered to leave Malacca for Singapore. The plan was that I should drive down with Chum and the children in an ancient Austin belonging to a friend, the Harbourmaster at Port Swettenham.

The evening before we left, Chum and I were at a house belonging to a Dutch couple, neighbors, while Harry and Kenneth destroyed all the liquor stocks in the town. This took most of the night and eventually we all had about half-an-hour's sleep. The children at least had proper sleep as our "boy" and his wife kept an ear open for them.

When we left, all went well at first. Then we stopped for coffee and I parked the car on the side of the road on a bank which sloped steeply down and unfortunately one of the back wheels went down a bit. Luckily there were plenty of Army chaps around and between them they heaved the car back up again.

Before long, we came to some road works, with a pole across the road on our side. There were some Army trucks coming the other way and it was then that I discovered the brakes were not working and we crashed into the pole. One of the Army drivers saw what had happened but he couldn't do much apart from giving me a swig of apricot brandy.

So we waited....and then a car came along, driven by someone I knew, followed (quite independently) by a break-down lorry! Without any ado the Austin was loaded onto the break-down lorry and we got into the car and in that fashion we and the Austin arrived in Singapore. We were allocated a Customs Dept. bungalow where we lived for a fortnight. Kenneth and Harry followed us down a few days later and were seconded to the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment up-country to interpret any information the locals might give them.

Chum, the children and I got a passage on an American troopship, the West Point, on January 30th going to Colombo. We had to wait ten days for an onward passage and then sailed down to South Africa, where Chum and the children landed and spent the rest of the war years in Durban. I wanted to get back to Britain and get a job. We sailed up the South Atlantic and were lucky not to come to grief as the sea was apparently full of German U-boats. After calling at Freetown we dodged around the North Atlantic and finally reached Liverpool on April 14th on a misty afternoon.

Sadly, Harry was killed while with the Army. Kenneth was interred in Singapore.

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