2/29th Battalion Relatives Pilgrimage to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand

Added on by 2/29 Battalion.


4th September 2007

Association's trip to dedication ceremony

There was a bit of procrastination on my part before I finally committed to organising the trip to the dedication service for the Memorial at Parit Sulong in Malaysia. This is the site of the Massacre where many of the Allies were murdered by the Japanese in January 1942. This event was subsequent to The Battle of Muar where members of the 2/29th and others held back the enemy. They were finally forced to give ground and make their way back to Singapore.

The trip came together extremely well, we had twenty seven starters for Singapore plus two who were working locally and were to take our numbers to a symbolic twenty nine. These two joined us for the dedication service on September 4th 2007. This trip was to be one of the most remarkable experiences of my life and surpassed all my expectations.

The main group had been in Singapore for three days and had explored many of the places of interest where our grandfathers, fathers, uncles and cousins were known to have been whilst on service. We visited St Patrick's where Gary Simmons' dad did his officer training and the places where our men had constructed roads and a memorial to the Japanese. We also saw the Ford Factory where the surrender took place, The Changi Chapel and we were privileged to tour Selerang Barracks. A trip to Kranji War Cemetery to visit the graves of some of our family members was a day of great sadness. Ed Burton spent time at his dad's grave. Jack Barker visited the grave of a cousin George Pullen. Both soldiers were injured and died following the Battle of Muar. Waine Pickering reflected on his father's name inscribed on the wall dedicated to the men who had no grave. Dianne Martin spent similar time remembering her uncles' one of whom died in the Battle and one who went missing at Benut. For some it was their first trip to this region. The journey was not without some trepidation and yet there was a real need to make a connection with their loved ones. During our stay in Singapore we were able to take in other historic spots such as The Battle Box and the fabulous museum.

We started early for Parit Sulong as we had a three hour drive into Malaysia to be there by 11AM for the service. We arrived about 10.30Am and got settled for a wonderful, moving service with representatives from the Australian and Malaysian Governments, our Army and other dignitaries. There were seven veterans, mainly the 2/19th and two widows. None of the members of the 2/29th were able to attend but they had the largest support group.

After the service we walked a short distance to the Bridge and the scene of where Ben Hackney had hidden himself under the PWD building. More emotion. Brenda Hodge's uncle, Daniel Kennedy was one of those massacred. We then attended lunch with the official party and were entertained by a group of local dancers. We left for Muar and stopped approximately where the Battle had taken place. We held a service for not only those who we had lost there but for all who had served. We read a poem, read the names of those who were on the trip and the family member they were representing. The Ode was spoken and the Last Post was played.

Most of us at this point knew the misery that had befallen our grandfathers, dads, uncles' and cousins. We spoke of 2/29th members Bob Christie, "Doc" Victor Brand, John Lack, Jack Meagher, Mervyn Brace, Vic Wedlick, Ed Sellens, Jake Ogden, Wif Muir, Stanley Barker, George Pullen, Leo Stiles, Daniel Kennedy, Bill Pickering, Phil Simmons, Alec Burton, Don McRae, brothers Fred and David Dean. Francis Smith also mentioned although he was at Gemas and was injured there.

All these men were represented by sons and daughters and so on. Meagher and Brace were captured and went to Pudu Gaol before going onto the railway. Most of those who survived went back to Changi and then on to The Railway. On the way back from Muar we stopped for another little ceremony at Kulai, about the mid way point between where Waine's dad and Dianne's uncle, Fred Dean, had gone missing after serving with the Chinese Guerrillas. This was again a very touching and deeply moving experience for us. We arrived back in Singapore about 8PM.

We lightened the mood the following day with a visit to Sentosa Island. We travelled on the cable car, visited the aquarium, saw the dolphins, had dinner on the beach and attended the water and light show.

Some of our group returned home, leaving twenty one to go to Thailand. We landed in Bangkok and were transferred to our hotel. The following day we travelled to Bampong Station where our men had left the train in 1943 after leaving from Singapore five days earlier. This is where the men started from to march to various camps along the way to Burma. We then made our way to our base in Kanchanaburi. We visited the War Cemetery and caught up with Rod Beattie who not only manages the Cemetery but has a museum just across the road. Col Stiles and wife Marion visited Col's dad's grave. The day was busy, we visited the Bridge on the River Kwai, had lunch beside the bridge then took a long- tail boat to the other cemetery at Chungkai, (the site of a hospital during the war)and on to the sleeping Buddha. We transferred to our hotel for the evening.

The following day we went to Hellfire Pass, walked the track through the cutting and looked through the visitors centre. We then drove to Home Phu Toey where we had lunch and visited The Weary Dunlop Museum and The Jack Chalker Gallery. No one seems to visit Hellfire Pass without getting caught up in the tragedy that affected so many soldiers as prisoners. Most visitors say Hellfire Pass has a presence.

Rod Beattie met us early the next morning as we set out for the Three Pagodas and the Burma border. Along the way we were shown camp sites where our fathers had worked on the railway. We saw where Doc Brand had his hospital at Tamoronpato. We had a service at Tarkanoon where Col Stiles' dad died in the arms of his 2/29th mates. In addition to the Last Post, the Battalion Song was played by Marg Hogan on her recorder. We saw where Nieke once was, Cholera Hill, had lunch at Sangkla Buri and then on to Three Pagodas at the border. It was pouring with rain just as we arrived, but cleared enough for us to move about freely. On the way back we held another service at Kami Sonkuri, the camp where my father died. We arrived back at our hotel exhausted after another long, and at times, emotional day.

To lighten the new day we had an elephant ride after visiting Sai Yok Waterfall. Then it was back to Wampo Station for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the river and the Wampo Viaduct. This is part of the remaining railway line to Kanchanaburi. The train seemed to hurtle along the track and we did our best with the Battalion Song. A quick visit to the Rod's museum and a last chance to visit the cemetery and we were off to Bangkok.

A free day and then a farewell dinner and some reminiscing. Such a trip cannot but bring us closer as we share the not only sad times but the wonderful happy recollections. It was concluded by all that this was a most memorable trip and a once in a lifetime opportunity. We had come together, some of us were old mates, some we had met for the first time, but we all came home as part of The 2/29th Family. The benefits of this encounter were clear to us all.

Doug Ogden

December 2007