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A Radar Operator in Singapore, Sumatra, Japan - and Home to Sheffield

by Richard_brindley

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Richard Brindley
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06 November 2003

I joined the army in April 18, 1940 when I was 23 years old. I was sent to Harrogate Barracks on Pennypot Lane. This was a fortnight after my medical exam in Sheffield where I was “A2” because of my poor eyesight. The unit I joined was the Royal Field Artillary (RFA). Life was tough with plenty of drill on the Barrack Square and in the gym. I was soon taken off drill when the Battery Sergeant Major picked me for a tug-of-war team. I had been a member of a tug-of-war team in college. I never went on parade again during my six weeks training.

Then came what was to change my life. They asked me to volunteer for a secret electrical force (LDF — Local Direction Finding what we now call RADAR).

I was prompted by the drill sergeant to apply. They asked me what I knew about a wireless valve, I knew far more than the questioner did! I had studied this at college. Secondly they asked me where the Khyber Pass was. On answering both questions correctly I was one of six to be picked.

I was given a weeks embarkation leave and went home. Being quite green to army ways, I didn’t realize that if France hadn’t packed-in in June I would have been there after ten weeks in the army.

We were given train ticket rations, put on the train to Watchet in Somerset. We were the second batch to be trained as RADAR operators. We signed the secrets act promising not to reveal anything about radar. It was a glorious June when France packed in. We had a ball working hard at lectures and on the set. During the evening when we went out in civies, my pal, a Scots lad, I met two great girls. We decided one day to have a lie-in. The sergeant caught us and ordered us to go on a cross-country run, we were meeting the girls at night. I’ve never run so fast in my life to get back in time for our date.

The camp had been a nudist-camp in peace time and had its own beach. So we were in the water before breakfast, dinner-time and tea-time. My mum thought I had gone mad when I asked her to send my swimming trunks!

We were posted to the dirtiest town I’ve ever been in Widnes in Lancashire. They made chemicals, and the silver in your pocket went green with the chemicals.

We danced with the girls at the Catholic Church, there was a long interval. I was curious, then my partner said the father had some liquor on the side. I’ve never drank much so I wasn’t worried.

I seemed to spend a fortnight on every gun site in Liverpool, I even met my college girlfriend off the Mersey ferry. She was engaged to a Protestant priest so that was it.

In October I was transferred to Wolverhampton, a lovely city. Had a great time. The snag was in a couple of months we were being made ready for going abroad. We made our wills with our best friend was a executor. My pal Joe Lanham was murdered on a death march in Borneo so I had the sad task of seeing his wife and infant daughter. I got the money owing to them. A week later I was asked to ask the widow to return one days pay to the army as he had been killed a day before they thought he had.

In November 1941 we arrived at Princess docks in Liverpool having had a month in Oldham. We got on the Monarch of Bermuda and proceeded to Glasgow where we became part of a large fleet of transports, destroyers and a cruiser, The Royal Sovereign.

After a week or so we arrived at Freetown (the White Man’s Grave) here we heard that America and Japan had declared war on December 8 (the Emperor’s Birthday). Now the two yellow races were fighting. We had a great time on the boat. I played solo with my pals for thirty-five days until we reached Durban.

Durban is a lovely seaside town with orange trees lining the roads. We thought we were going to Iraq, then an English colony. Unfortunately, we were the newest convoy to Singapore. We had a squadron of Hurricanes and our sergeant. The railway squadron went onto Iraq to run the railway. We originally would have been guarding it. The railway ran ammunition to the Russians in Murmansk. We arrived in Singapore in the middle of an air raid. There are three batteries in an AA regiment. The authorities had only enough guns for two batteries so the members of five-regiment were given a rifle each and told to go up the jungle. None of them could fire a rifle so I don’t expect they lasted long. As Luddendorf, a German General in World War 1 said the “British soldiers are lions led by donkeys” Some things never change.

We had a few weeks in Singapore and then we were sent to Sumatra to guard an oil plant. The Japs sent paratroopers to capture the oil plant. They were given time to come out with their hands up. Typical Japs didn’t come out at all so the Dutch army set fire to the oil plant at Palambang I think I would have stayed in because the native troops were very handy with their knives and boasted about cutting Japs’ heads off.

Soon the Japs landed in Sumatra and so we had to destroy our guns and equipment. Destroying guns is very easy, you put a shell down the barrel attach a long line to your lanyard, pull the firing lever and the next thing you know the gun barrel looks like an open banana. I had to blow up the radar equipment. This was done with gun cotton and a five-minute fuse. It is true what they say in books, five minutes seems like five hours when you are waiting for the explosion.

We then made our way to the port through the jungle. A silly officer asked us to look after a bottle of whiskey for him. The last thing I remember was shooting at the monkeys before I blacked out. I woke up and suddenly saw a tree was shooting at my pal, I soon realised it was a camouflaged Jap!

We arrived in Java in Batavia. It has a funny native name now. The Japs landed with overwhelming forces. We fought with the Dutch from March 1st to March 8th. I was lucky and went down with Malaria so first thing that I knew about the end of our fighting was when a Jap officer came into our ward. He greeted the ward sister very affectionately, they had been in the same grammar school in Java in their teens before he returned to Japan. It was very unfortunate for one Jap private. He stole a nurse’s watch. The sister saw the officer who asked her to identify the private. She did and he shot him on the spot.

I worked on the docks until October, we often brought food from the ships. If the Japs caught you they stopped you but still gave you the food back. That was so you didn’t loose face which is very important to the Japanese.

Then we were put on a boat to Japan. The first stop was the French Indo-China. From there we had a terrible journey. Most of us got dysentery, I did, but survived. Two-thirds didn’t. Strangely enough I’ve got a copy of what I wrote about it. An Australian officer asked me to describe the voyage. My mother saw it in the ‘Daily Mirror’ and thought I had written it so I’ve got a copy.

In Japan I worked for nearly three years in a coal mine. It was a drift mine so you walked down the mine. When you were sick they put you on the top to work. We soon got used to the diet of rice and fish and sour cherries.

I can’t say the minors were cruel. They were all ex-soldiers who would do anything not to finish up in the army again. It was a cruel system, in their army; you were conscripted at eighteen and served up to fifteen years. You were sent to China and your relatives didn’t know whether you were dead as you were not allowed to write home. In our Japanese village, the ex-soldiers married eighteen-year old girls. There was no courting; a marriage broker introduced you to suitable girls. I had an offer of marriage from a miner. He said I could marry his daughter after the war was over. I declined his offer.

The girls were very pretty in their kimonos when you saw them at night. During the day they wore European clothes. The men were very macho. I remember one lovely girl bringing her husband’s lunch, I can see her now with black hair, lovely kimono, and white socks in open sandals. For her pains she was knocked to the ground because she wasn’t waiting on the mat when her husband came home. I told him I was a miner’s son and if he had done that in my village her brothers would have knocked him senseless.

We heard the news from the miners about the end of the war. They talked about the atom bomb. We had seen the Hiroshima bomb but thought it was the U.S. bombing the Japs with a giant bomb.

When the war ended, the camp commander gave his sword to our major. The Yanks dropped food parcels and clothing. We were taken past Osaka, which was completely engulfed in flames, to Wakayama. Here we were stripped, sprayed with DDT and the new clothes we had just been given were burnt! We could also send a telegram home courtesy of the Western Union.

We sailed to Okinawa. After a few weeks we flew to Manila in the Philippines. From here, we went by ship to San Francisco calling at Pearl Harbor on the way. The boat, ‘Marine Shark’ broke down, for three days we stood still, then our Navy personnel (POWs) put it right in three hours!

We arrived in Oakland. Here, U.S. ladies put us in groups of 50 and gave us coffee and donuts. The ferry then took us to Angel Island in the Bay. After two weeks getting fat, we were sent by train to Tacoma. We stayed another fortnight there and then went by Canadian National in six days to New York. From there we went to Amersham for a week where they checked our health. Finally, I was sent home to Sheffield via St. Pancras.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Harry Lanham

Posted on: 21 November 2003 by Geoff Glew

Very interesting biography.

Thought you might like to know that there is a Harry Lanham listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site ( He died 26/4/1945, and is buried in the Labuan War Cemetery, Brunei Bay, Borneo.

Kind regards

Geoff Glew

Message 1 - Singapore and Palembang

Posted on: 31 December 2003 by Peaceful1

I think my grandfather was possibly in the same artillery unit or regiment that fought alongside the Dutch in Sumatra.

He was in the Royal Artillery and sailed from Glasgow in the same convoy to Durban. He boarded the Aorangi in Durban on Christmas Eve, destination Singapore.
He was also involved defending an oil refinery/dump (Palembang) with the Dutch!
He also ended up in a Japanese POW camp, he had to work down mines and was nearly killed when a mine collapsed on him.
Forunately he survived and witnessed the atom bomb 'mushroom' from with the POW camp, eventually returning to England via Canada.

Before all of this, he fought in France and at Dunkirk, he escaped like many hundreds of thousands thanks to the Royal navy and many other ship owners. He then joined an anti-aircraft unit durring the Battle of Britain, before he was eventually sent to Singapore.


Message 2 - Singapore massacres

Posted on: 22 February 2004 by VincentH

Hiya all,
Mother when she was alive told me dreadful stories of how the Japanese Kempetei called a "census" of all the local young men on the pretext of identification purposes.

Several thousand of these young men whom the Japanese hoaxed to this "cencus" were taken to a beach and machine gunned to death. I heard retelling of this story even whilist I was at school in Singapore in 1961.

My question is can anybody please give me a survivors story as to this attrocity. Before anyone goes on to tell me the stories of Japan's brutality were untrue or exergerrated, remember my parents lived this I am not buying into theories of how nice these sons of bitches were!

My father was involved with Force 136


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