Alex and Betty Walker. Alex was killed in Malaya.
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- 22 September 2005
This is the true story of the Walker family of Greenock and their search for the truth.
The story begins in the year 1931. Alex Walker, aged 11, was a talented musician and entertainer, a member of the Greenock & District Strathspey and Reel Society and winner of the Most Meritorious Pupil award in his school.
Unemployment was high, and being the eldest member of the family, Alex had to leave school and find work. He got a job in the Westbum Sugar Refinery, mainly, to help with the family income and also to pay for his advanced violin lessons in Glasgow. His ambition was to become a member of the Glasgow Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the spring of 1939, everyone knew that a war was pending. Alex was courting a young lady by the name of May Bovaird. Meanwhile, most of his pals were excited about the prospect of joining the local Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Cadets.
Later that year conscription was introduced which saw them being assigned to their various units in preparation for embarkation to Europe and the Middle East.
Alex however was deferred until early 1940, and was eventually posted to the Far East, as a private in the Second Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
Days before Alex was due to report to Stirling Castle to join the Battalion, May and Alex decided to become engaged. May's Mother, however, wanted them to wait until Alex came home on his next leave, but like most young couples, at the time, they decided to go ahead with the engagement and had a small party with family and friends.
Alex's young brother, Billy, remembered the day he proudly accompanied him to the train station, carrying, his kit bag, while Alex carried his rifle and violin. His parents, family, friends and all who knew him were at the railway station to say their goodbyes - little did they realise it was to be the last time they would see this popular man alive.
Meanwhile, Alex's fiancee May was busy at home preparing a food parcel for him. Unfortunately, she was delayed because the bus she was to travel on was late, which resulted in her arriving at the railway station in time to see the train leaving the platform, May just managed to wave to Alex as the train moved out of site, clutching the food parcel she broke down in tears and had to be comforted by a Military Policeman standing by her side.
So Alex was off to war to help protect the British Empire in the Far East, although he at the time did not know for sure where he was heading for until the ship he was travelling on crossed the Equator.
Now that Alex was away from home, the Walker household was a different place to be in. No longer was he heard practicing his violin and breaking into song with some of the favourite songs of the time.
Betty, his sister recalls: “Alex was my hero, and although I was only eight years of age then, I can still remember standing outside the Sugar Refinery gates, waiting for my big brother to appear after a days work. He would lift me on to his shoulders and carried me along the road a short distance to where we lived - "how proud I felt".
During the year of 1941, everyone was helping in some way towards the War Effort, and very few letters were received from Alex because of censorship. However, May did receive a letter from him dated (11/4/41) in which he mentioned that their troopship was crossing the Equator and the usual ceremony was carried out. Thereafter, the Walker family received very few letters. The Argyll’s arrived in Singapore and were immediately sent into the Malayan Jungle to commence special training in preparation for the impending Japanese threat. Instead of attacking Singapore from the sea however the Japanese attacked through the hills and jungle, overrunning the British forces. This was a Japanese army who had been fighting since 1931 and the poorly equipped British forces were no match. They were annihilated. The ‘forgotten war’ in Malaya was ignored and the worst disaster in British military history was hushed up.
On 3rd March,1942 the Walkers were informed that Alex was reported "Missing" until further notice. Needless to say his family and friends were very concerned regarding this news and were hoping and praying that Alex was safe, although he could be a Prisoner of War.
As days became weeks, weeks into months, and finally months into years, Alex’s parents and friends tried to find out from several organisations, including Stirling Castle and the War Office what happened to Private Alex Walker, but alas to no avail.
In June 1945, when Germany surrendered unconditionally, almost everyone seemed to be rejoicing as they felt that the War was finally over. However, for the Walker family and numerous other families in similar circumstances, the waiting game continued.
Thereafter, when the Americans dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese finally surrendered in September 1945, and thus officially the Second World War was over.
In March 1946, four years after Alex was reported "Missing", the Walker family finally received the dreaded news from the War Office, that Alex was reported to have died in the Malayan Jungle, on or shortly after 13th January, 1942. The circumstances being recorded officially, that Private Alex Walker was killed in action, and that a further letter would be sent in this connection, from the Records Office. Four days later this letter was received by his parents, dated 9th March 1946.
As a little girl of 13 years of age Betty could not fully understand what had happened to Alex and continually kept asking her parents, sister Nan and brother Billy; "why is Alex not coming home?" - Many tears were shed during the following months and years that followed. Eventually, the family tried to settle down to living a somewhat normal life, although Alex was always uppermost in their minds.
In 1947, further tragedy was to befall the Walker family, when at the age of 51, their father died suddenly of a heart attack, which may have been partly due the fact that he never really got over the loss of Alex.
Since that time Betty and her husband Bill have been involved in exhaustive research, trying to find out exactly what happened to Alex. They contacted several retired officers and other ranks of the 2nd Battalion A&SH who survived the onslaught of that Campaign.
They were helped in this quest for information by a Malaysian Historian by the name of Chye Kooi Loang, who had written a thesis based on the 'Jungle Journey' undertaken by remnants of the 2nd Battalion A&SH after the Slim River disaster in January 7th 1942. They wrote to him in December, 1996, and he replied stating that Alex died on 13th January, 1942 in the jungle at Kerling to the North of Kuala Lumpar along with Captain Lapsley and several other Argylls, due to wounds, sheer exhaustion and other means (by bullet or bayonet).
Bill and Betty were became determined to travel to Singapore and Malaysia to visit the Kranji War Cemetery and go on to the site of the incident which resulted in Alex’s death. They flew to Kula Lumpur in 1998 to retrace the steps of Alex 56 years previous. They made their first stop at Kampar, about 90 miles from Kuala Lumpar. Here was where one of the first big disasters took place, involving the British Battalion, who were badly mauled by the Japanese. Then down to Goeping where a number of Argylls were killed, including Sgt. Albert Darroch from Gourock, who was a very brave man but never lived to wear his Distinguished Conduct Medal.
They then headed down to the Slim River area, which was the place where the 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders fought a courageous battle against over-whelming odds. Unfortunately, due to bad communications and lack of intelligence reports, they were caught off balance. Here Japanese tanks and artillery formations swept across the bridge. This caused the Argyll’s to become disrupted into small groups. One company was almost wiped out and only about one hundred men of the 1000 strong Battalion managed to escape, soon to end up as prisoners in Pudu Prison at Kaula Lumpar. Alex was apparently killed at a place called Kerling, and visiting this spot some 58 years on with Chye Kooi Loang and some local people proved to be quite a moving experience.
The Stoddarts meeting with Chye Kooi Loang set off a chain of events which led eventually to the dedication of a memorial stone in the grounds of Finlaystone, to those soldiers of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders who lost their lives in Malaya. After 60 years the family of Alex Walker have finally managed to piece together the story of how he lost his life along with many others. The research continues, but their story is one which illustrates perfectly the horrendous effect of war and the loss of a loved one.
There follows a list of those Greenockians who were killed in Malaya
DARROCH, Albert, D.C.M. Sgt. A. & S.H. 1936-41 29th December, 1941, Malaya
HOLMES, Peter Pte. A. & S.H. 1938-42 7th August, 1942, Malaya.
HOOKEY, Ernest Victor Sgt. A. & S.H. 1933-41 17th December, 1941, Malaya.
MILNE, Alexander H. B. Pte. A. & S.H. 1937-42 14th January, 1942, Malaya.
McKEE, James Pte. A. & S.H. 1935-42 13th January, 1942, Malaya
McPARLAND, Edward Pte. A. & S.H. 1936-41 19th November, 1941, Malaya
TURNER, George Sapper R.E. 1940-46 24th March, 1946, Malaya
WALKER, Alexander Campbell Pte. A. & S.H. 1940-42 13th January, 1942, Malaya
WATT, James Cpl. A. & S.H. 1933-42 13th January, 1942, Malaya
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