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World War 2 The Story Of Malayan Prisoners: The Rescue Of 462 Sikh Prisoner From Japanese


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The story of Malayan Prisoners:The rescue of 462 Sikh prisoner from Japanese.

By Harchand Singh Bedi Malaysia

Of 100,000 thousand Empire troops to be taken prisoner on the surrender of Singapore, a handful of Sikhs, of the 5th/11th Sikh Regiment, have regained their freedom, the first of the many we have yet to liberate from Japan. TWO years in slavery, the prisoners of Japan, kicked and slapped by their captors, poorly fed and clothed. This was the fate of Indian soldiers taken at the surrender of Singapore.

Incredible stories of Japanese cruelty to prisoners of war captured in Malaya were told by Indian troops rescued by the Americans when they landed on the Admiralty Islands and at Hollandia. In all 621 former prisoners were rescued including 462 Sikhs, also American, Australian, Dutch, Polish and Czechoslovakian missionaries and Chinese, Filipinos and Javanese.
The Indian troops who were rescued after the Los Negros landing in the Admiralty group on February 29, were the first Empire war prisoners to be liberated in the re- conquest of Pacific territory. Members of the 5th/11th Sikh Regiment, they fought on the right flank of Australia's Eighth Division before the fall of Singapore. They told harrowing stories of the privations and of Japanese atrocities.

Herded like Cattles

Jemadar Shingara Singh, of the 5th/11th Sikh Regiment, describing a nightmare march from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, said: "We were herded along the road like cattle. On our l8 days' march we saw a number of Chinese who had been nailed to palm trees with iron spikes driven through their foreheads. We were told by our guards that they had been suspected of helping the guerillas, mostly Australians, who are still fighting in inland areas. On our way to Manus Island, 35 Sikhs died and were thrown overboard. We were kept under hatches and were allowed two cups of water a day for everything washing and drinking. At Manus we had to dig slit trenches for the Japanese but were left entirely unprotected ourselves."
Lt. Gulzara Singh, In 1926, at the age of 19, Gulzara Singh joined the army in India. He became a proficient soldier, a fact which his appointment as "subedar," the equivalent of lieutenant, proclaims. But for Japan's entry into the war he might easily have gone to the Middle East. However, it was to Malaya the 5th/11th Sikh Regiment went, and Gulzara Singh left a wife and a daughter aged 12 months behind. They landed at Penang in March, 1941. From their camp at Ipoh, Perak, they crossed the Peninsular Malaya, to Kuantan, East Coast of Malaya and took up their war stations and settled down to prepare for the war which must come.

They fought valiantly those Sikhs. Their commanding officer, Colonel Barker, was tremendously proud of the regiment, Singh explained in nervous English. "He was determined to stand against any attack. But he was over-ruled by higher authority" and strategic necessity too, most probably. "We were forced to withdraw to the south. But," declared Subedar Singh with the gusto of a fighter, "at Kluang, Johore, we killed 300 Japanese and blew up their heavy guns." The Sikhs swung down the coast on the right flank of units of the 8th Division, AIF-Brigadier Taylor's Brigade.

Lt Gulzara Singh who had been in the army 18 years, was in Singapore when it fell, on February 15. "When the Japanese came into the town." he said, "they put Europeans and Indians into separate groups. We worked in labour gangs in Singapore for seven or eight months and although the guards were cruel to us at first, kicking and slapping us if we appeared to be lagging, supervision became better later. The Japanese tried to make us shave off our beards and gave us unclean meat. We saw Australians working on roads in Singapore. They seemed quite well but just before we left we saw Europeans working on roads and wearing nothing but a pair of shorts.

Buried at sea

Lance-Naik Gurnam Singh , told a story of the putting to death at Rabaul of 15 Sikhs who had become ill. "Quite a close friend of mine reported to me the death of Havilder Bahadur Khan," he said. "When he became sick the Japanese apparently would not waste time and medical supplies on him. Behadur Khan was given an injection and died almost immediately. The same thing was done to at least 14 others I know of. They were unceremoniously buried at sea."

Nursing Orderly Mohd Afsar, of the I5th Indian General Hospital said that at Rabaul men were often beaten with sticks and rifle butts. "Very few of us had ground sheets and the rest had to sleep out in the open in pouring rain" he said. '"Many became ill through exposure, and medical treatment when it was given at all, was crude and rough." On the ship that took the prisoners to the Admiralty there were 2.000 of them herded into a small space below decks. They were allowed out on the hatchways once a day and usually became the sport of the Japanese soldiers, who inflicted indescribable indignities upon them from the deck above. When the Americans landed on the Admiralty the guards in charge of the Sikhs were called out to fight and the Indians escaped and hide in the jungle for nearly a week before

Escape attempt

Havildar Ajit Singh , of Panjab who was with some British women and civilians two Indian women, twenty British officers and several Indian soldiers he was crowded into a 30ft boat which travelled by night and hide along the coast by day .Two Japanese destroyers saw them one night off the island of Sumatra, Indonesia and an Indian was killed by shell-fire
The boat-load was taken ashore at Bangka Island. At a prison camp at Palembang they rejoined the occupants of another escape boat with which they had lost contact after having set out together. The prisoners included three Australian officers, a Major and two Lieutenants. Ajit Singh and 12 other Indians were sent to Singapore in May 1943 and were drafted with hundreds of Indians to Palau Island in June.

At Singapore they had been used for the construction of roads and airfields but at the island base the Japanese were building at Palau they were put to the salvaging and repairing of boats .In November, 400 were transported to Hollandia They were forced to remain below deck throughout the hot journey. At Hollandia they were put to build army huts and hospitals and unloading ships.

The men had not written home for two years, and the first thought when they were rescued was to let their people know they were alive. In two years they were allowed no mail facilities, either to receive or send letters.
But within a few hours of their arrival in Papua New Guinea as free men once more cables and letter were being prepared for dispatch to far off towns and villages in India. To Kadat, one such village in India's North went the tidings of Gulzara Singh's release.

RESCUE OF 462 SIKHS AMONG PRISONERS (Jap Atrocities) And Ill-treatment
From AXEL OLSEN, "Argus" War Correspondent with Gen MacArthur's Headquarters.

Harchand Singh Bedi Malaysia



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