Dowsett’s War, Part 4 – Malaya & Singapore

For the other chapters of Dowsetts War, click here.

While researching the Dowsett family military history I began to notice that sometimes, simple bits of information can suddenly increase in significance once they are put in context.  Particularly, dates and times can hold valuable clues when linked with other key facts.

For example, Douglas Dowsett enlisted in the AIF in New South Wales on the 22nd of July, 1940 – the early stages of the Second World War.  He served as a driver in the 1st Company, Australian Army Service Corps with the 27th Infantry Brigade, which was part of the Australian 8th Division, tasked with defending Singapore in February 1942.

Singapore, Malaya. 15 August 1941. Troops after they have disembarked at Singapore Harbour. Marching centre front is possibly NX51557 Private Aubrey Thomas Stiff, Headquarters, 8th Division.

Australian troop disembarkation at Singapore Harbour, Malaya, 15 August 1941.  AWM 009249/28

The 8th Division consisted of the 22nd and 27th Brigades posted to Malaya in 1941 to assist in the defense of Allied interests there after the rapid capitulation of Thailand as the Japanese advanced through south east Asia towards Singapore and then on to the oil-rich areas of Borneo and Java.  After the loss of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales near Kuantan on December 10 1941, the Japanese faced little resistance in launching amphibious assaults on the coast of Malaya.

The Australian brigades went into action first at Gemas and Muar near Kuala Lumpur.  By the 31st of January the Allied forces had fought a rearguard action back through the Malayan peninsula, across the Johor-Singapore Causeway and back into Singapore.  To delay the Japanese advance, Allied engineers blew a 20 metre hole in the Causeway.

From the 8th to the 13th of February elements of the 22nd and 27th Brigades, many of whom had not seen action beforehand, fought a losing battle against the Japanese as they first assaulted Singapore Island via Kranji in the north and progressively pushed to within 5 miles of Singapore’s urban centre.  By the 15th Singapore had fallen, with the Allied forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival capitulating to the Japanese in the largest surrender of British forces in history.  At this point nearly 15,000 Australians soldiers became prisoners of war at Singapore, representing the majority of all Australian prisoners of the Japanese in World War II.  While only comprising even 13 percent of the Allied forces, the 8th Division suffered 73 percent of Allied deaths in the Malaya-Singapore campaign.  During the next three years until the end of the war, many would die in the bitterly inhuman conditions of the Japanese prisoner of war camps and over 2,400 Australian prisoners would die in the Sandakan Death Marches.

According to Doug Dowsett’s service records, he was listed as ‘missing’ in Malaya on 1st April 1942.  This indicates that he probably became separated from his unit around the time of the Singaporean surrender and capture and was then transferred to the notorious Japanese prison camp at Changi.  Doug’s record was subsequently stamped ‘PRISONER OF WAR’ and would not be updated until after the Japanese themselves surrendered.  He was recovered from the Japanese at Changi POW camp on the 8th September 1945 – almost three and a half years later.

Doug’s brother Roy, 8 years his senior, also enlisted to serve in the Second World War.  His enlistment is interesting for two reasons: one, he signed up at the age of 34 when most Australian soldiers were in their twenties; and two, he enlisted at Martin Place in Sydney on the 30th March 1942 – one day before his younger brother went missing over 6,000 kilometres away in Singapore.

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