Collie Boys in Singapore

Collie Cardiff RSL Branch will be featuring a 'Did you Know' column in the Collie Mail once a month. The column aims to be informative about the town's military past.

The 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion was raised at the end of 1940 as one of the support units for the ill-fated 8th Division of the 2nd AIF.

The 2/4th was predominantly a Western Australian Bn, formed with men from across WA.

After initial training at Northam military camp, the 2/4th moved to Adelaide and then to Darwin where it joined the 23rd Brigade.

Among the almost 1000 man battalion were 22 'Collie Boys', eager to serve the nation, as their fathers had done before them during the Great War.

After further training in Darwin the Bn sailed under escort to Singapore arriving in January 1942. It was not long before the 2/4th was in action.

The Japanese had captured Malaya and were preparing to attack Singapore, the British were desperately preparing their defences and the battalion was quickly deployed across the Island.

After heavy air raids the Japanese attack on Singapore started on the 8th February - despite spirited opposition, the battle was virtually over in less than a week and on 15 February Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered Singapore.

The 2/4th Bn suffered heavily. The 2/4th had 137 men killed or missing and 106 men wounded.

These casualties amounted to almost one-third of the battalion.

However worse was to follow, with the remaining men held in Japanese prisoner of war camps for three years.

By the war's end, another 263 men from the battalion would die, including 10 'Collie Boys'.

Following the surrender, prisoners of war were concentrated in Changi gaol. From Changi the Japanese formed groups of prisoners to serve as slave labour throughout Southeast Asia.

Some of the 2/4th Bn were sent to Borneo, while others worked on the Burma-Thai Railway and some were transported by sea to Japan to work in the coal mines.

Sandakan-North Borneo

The Sandakan POW Camp was established during WW2 by the Japanese, eight miles inland from Sandakan, on the east coast of North BORNEO (Sabah).

In 1942 and 1943, 2500 Australian and British soldiers were shipped to North Borneo to construct a military airstrip and the prisoner of war camps at Sandakan.

Prisoners were broken, beaten, worked to death, thrown into bamboo cages on the slightest pretext, starved and subjected to the most hideous tortures by their Japanese captors.

But this was only the beginning of the nightmare. In late 1944, Allied aircraft were attacking the coastal towns of Sandakan and Jesselton, and in January 1945, (with only 1900 prisoners still alive), to escape the bombardment the Japanese abandoned the camp and moved 250 miles to Ranua, taking the prisoners with them as slave labour.

Their journey became known as Sandakan Death Marches. Of the 1000 plus prisoners sent on the death marches, only six (all of them Australians) survived.

By 15 August 1945 the remaining POWs at the Sandakan camps, too weak to march, were either killed or died of illness/starvation.

Three 'Collie Boys' were subjected to the unimaginable horrors at the Sandakan Prisoner of War camps. All three were privates, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion.

The three soldiers were; WX7883 Private William Herbert BEARD WX16416 Private Charles HOLME WX17582 Private George LAKE

Awards and Decorations

After the war a total of 12 Awards for bravery were made to men of the 2/4th Bn. Included in those were two Collie Boys; Sgt Henry (Harry) Charles FUHRMANN MM, and Cpl Arthur Melville MAGILL MM

'Collie Boys'- Roll of Honour - 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion

The 2/4th BN had 961 personnel in Singapore, 137 of these were killed in action and 239 died whilst held as a POW. The fate of the 22 'Collie Boys' who served with the 2/4th Bn is shown below;

  • WX7905 Sgt 2/4th MG Bn Frederick John ANNESLEY POW (died at sea, 16 September 1944, age 28 yrs, whilst en route to Japan, sinking of POW transport ship, Rakuyo Maru)
  • WX7883 Pte 2/4th MG Bn William Herbert BEARD POW (died 10 July 1945, age 34 yrs, Sandakan No2 Camp)
  • WX7909 Pte 2/4th MG Bn Thomas DAVIDSON POW (died 17 September 1943, age 33 yrs, Illness Thailand)
  • WX16416 Pte 2/4th MG Bn Charles HOLME POW (died 07 June 1945, age 23yrs, the second Sandakan-Ranua death march)
  • WX17582 Pte 2/4th MG Bn George LAKE POW (died 08 April 1945, age 23 yrs, Sandakan No1 Camp)
  • WX8012 Pte 2/4th MG Bn Kevin George MOIR POW (died 07 August 1943, age 24 yrs, illness Thailand)
  • WX8137 L/Cpl, 2/4th MG Bn John William Haynes NEEDHAM POW (died 05 December 1943, age 30 yrs, Illness Burma)
  • WX7902 Pte 2/4th MG Bn William Hawksley PHILP POW (died 18 September 1943, age 35 yrs, Illness Thailand)
  • WX7904 Pte 2/4th MG Bn Raymond Matthew SMITH POW (died 19 April 1942, age 36 yrs, Illness Malaya)
  • WX17973 Pte 2/4th MG Bn John WILSON POW (died 25 August 1943, age 36 yrs, Illness Thailand)

'Collie Boys'- 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion who returned home

  • WX 7886, FINLAY, Thomas Albert (POW) WX 7864, FLANAGAN, James Joseph (POW) WX 7852, FUHRMANN, Henry (Harry) Charles DCM (POW) WX 7869, GREEN, Thomas Henry (POW) WX 7889, ISAAC, John (POW) WX 9528, LAMBIE, Andrew (POW) WX 16886,MAGILL, Arthur Melville MM (POW) WX 7885, MILLER, Albert (POW) WX 7831, QUINN, James Patrick (POW) WX 7835, ROSEL, William Lowes (POW) WX 16952, SIMMONDS, Roy Albert (POW) WX 16885, SQUANCE, Clifford Dudley (POW)