Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Singapore Royal Engineers ( Volunteers) - SRE (V)

Francis Thomas, SRE (V)

Francis Thomas, School Teacher of St Andrews School, Singapore - Principal from 1959 to 1971

- Arrived in Singapore in 1934, and joined the Singapore Volunteers Corps.

- Attended training in Malacca but shortly resigned from the corps as he was asked to but refused to buy a life insurance policy from the Captain of his company

- In 1939, he joined the Singapore Royal Engineers (Volunteers) – SRE (V) of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, which was converted into a Bomb Disposal Unit.

- The unit had to clear beaches along the Katong and Siglap area to offer good fields of fire for beach defences and to demolish any sea structures like “Bathing Pagars” which ran from the beaches to the sea

- Besides, they have to deal with Japanese Bombs which they have no information of, even when the Japanese have been bombing for the past years particularly in China. British Intelligence failed to collect such information or failed to note that.

- The trainers had ideas of German bombs and found that Japanese Bombs were with simpler designs than the German’s – if they would not go off on impact, it’s a dud and it was easy to dig them out and ferry them back to base camp to dismantle and to diffuse.

- When the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Malaya, a limited Chinese Volunteers were allowed to join the SRE (V) as helpers

- Francis was tasked to teach the Chinese Volunteers the parts of the rifle, to aim, fire and clean them. They were also taught parade ground drills which served to form individuals into a coherent team.

- The Chinese SRE(V) were actively committed to the defence of Singapore and it was a misjudgment of the British forces to have left them untrained and unwanted until too late

- Francis last duty before the fall of Singapore was to demobilize the Chinese Volunteers, tell them to change into civilian clothes and drove them back home.

- On the night of the surrender, the SRE (V) were told to go to Battery Road and the Raffles Place area. The next day, they were asked to return to the Volunteers HQ in Beach Road. From the HQ, they were to march to Changi Barracks.

- The SRE(V) Sergeant ( An Australian who was a car engineer in civilian life) acquired a lorry to drive the unit in dignity to their imprisonment

- As they were not harassed during their journey, they made two more trips back to town to get supplies

- A few days after settling down as a prisoner of war in Changi, a middle aged Volunteer shared this with Francis;

- “This life made us lower than animals. When we were free, we would think about women in the evening; now, we never think of women!”

Extracted from “Memoirs of a Migrant”, by Francis Thomas - published in 1972

1 comment:

  1. My grandfather, John Oliver Plunkett, was a Lt. Colonel in the Singapore Royal Engineers [Volunteers] attached to the Royal Engineers. Imprisoned as POW in Bandong, Java and died in captivity 10.12.42[age 55] at Mitsubishi Dock, Yokohama of septicaemia. Buried at Yokohama military cemetery in Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama, in Japan.
    If anyone has more information I would be grateful - David Haigh, grandson Australia