|Australian remembers their gallant history in Gemas|
22 February 2012 - I went to Gemas, Negeri Sembilan on my work visit today. I can't help but to stop at the World War 2 Memorial by the Kelemah river built by the Australian government. It was the historic site of the first engagement between the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the invading Japanese during the Malayan campaign.
The Japanese invasion of Malaya began shortly after midnight of 8th December 1941. The first attack on the invasion force was carried out by Hudson bombers of 1st Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). 10 December saw the first naval engagement with the Japanese by an Australian vessel, HMAS Vampire. HMAS Vampire was a V Class destroyer that also managed to save 225 crew of the ill fated HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse during the Battle off Kuantan sea. The destroyer also played a major part in the Battle off Endau and Indian Ocean before sunk by Japanese aircraft in April 1942. My friend Herbert Wong managed to get an Australian flag with the autograph of its crew veterans during their visits to Malaysia many years ago.
|Australian flag with HMAS Vampire veteran autograph belongs to Herbert|
The Battle of Gemas marks not only the first time Australian troops engaged the Japanese army directly, but also one of the few successful defensive action of the Malayan Campaign. The 2/30th infantry battalion of the 8th Division 27th Brigade, were known as "Galleghan's Greyhound" after their first commander Lt. Colonel FG "Black Jack" Galleghan. The 27th Brigade was the last AIF infantry brigade raised for service during the Second World War and was deployed to Malaya in July 1941.
|Rubber plantation burned by the retreating Allies in January 1942 - scorched earth policy|
On the afternoon of the 14th January 1942, B Company of the 2/30th Battalion lay in wait at Gemencheh Bridge, several miles of Gemas for the approach of Japanese army. They were camouflaged by the heavy jungle that overlooked the bridge, which they had wired with explosive the day before. At around 4.00pm the first Japanese soldiers appeared, riding south across the bridge on bicycles. They were completely unaware of B Company presence. After several hundred had passed, the bridge was blown and B Company opened fire.
"At 1600, I saw four or five cyclists appear around the bend of the road... it was quite apparent that they were the enemy. I recognized them by the short peaked high doomed cap and their rifles slung across their back diagonally.
About 150 yards or less behind them around the bend, came a tight compact column of cyclist four and five abreast... they were jabbering away, laughing, joking and singing. At 1620, I gave the order to blow up the bridge and all hell broke loose as the whole Company as one man engaged the thoroughly surprised and terrified enemy troops on the road."
Captain J. Duffy, 1942.
|Kelemah river, battleground in 1942|
Captain Duffy, Commanding officer of B Company recalled "the entire 300 yards of road were thickly covered with dead and dying men. the result of the blast when the bridge was blown and the deadly fire of our bren guns."
The initial action lasted for 20 minutes, not everything went to plan. Japanese soldiers not caught in the ambush cut the telephone line to the Battalion headquarters and as the result, the artillery was unable to fire in support of the ambush. Duffy ordered his men to retreat back to the main battalion line in Gemas.
|Remnants of the old wood bridge blown by AIF in 1942|
The rest of the 2/30th Battalion, along with supporting infantry, artillery and anti-tank unit, were then drawn into a battle that lasted well the following day. The 2/30th suffered significantly casualties - 18 killed in action, 55 wounded and 8 missing. Japanese casualties were considerably higher, estimated at around 1,000.
On the eve of the battle, Lt Kol Galleghan had told his men, "the reputation of not only the AIF in Malaya, but of Australia is in the hands of this unit". Their effort to uphold this reputation was recognized when they were later awarded the battle honour "Gemas". All Commonwealth forces had withdrawn to Singapore by January 1942, the Australian having lost almost 700 men. After the fall of Singapore, around 22,000 Australian were held as Prisoner of War by the Japanese. At the end of the war, only 13,872 were recovered and about one-third of the POW died during the brutal captivity in the hands of the Japanese army.
|En. Abdullah and me at the Battle of Gemas memorial|
Updated: 26 February 2012
|That's Danny the able ready photographer at the site taking some snapshots on the Sg Kelemah Memorial|