Arrival of the 2nd Bn. The East Surrey Regiment in Malaya

At the outbreak of the 1939-45 War the 2nd Bn The East Surrey Regiment was stationed in Shanghai. In August 1940 the Battalion was moved by sea to Malaya. The peninsula is over 400 miles from north to south, and varies in width from 50 to 250 miles. On either side of the mountain range in the centre is a coastal plain. The main trunk road and the railway from the Thailand border to Singapore run down the west coast. Malaya, both up- country and on Singapore Island itself, is largely jungle with high ridges, while the coastal areas consist of mangrove swamps, paddy fields and rubber plantations. The climate is hot and sticky, and there is a heavy rainfall.

At that time Britain was not at war with Japan, and peace-time conditions prevailed. The Battalion spent the first six months in the Pasir Panjang area in the south west of Singapore Island. In February 1941, the Battalion was moved up country north of Alor Star to within a few miles ofthe Thailand border. Here they joined the 6th Infantry Brigade of the 11th Indian Division consisting of the 6th, 15th and 28th Indian Infantry Brigades. The 6th Brigade was comprised of the 2nd Surreys and two Punjabi battalions. The 15th Brigade with the 1st Leicesters also had two Punjabi battalions and a battalion of Jats. The 28th Brigade was formed of three Gurkha battalions.

The Divisional front covered some 35 miles, with 6 Brigade on the left and 15 Brigade on the right. The 2nd Surreys were in a hutted camp in a rubber plantation at Tanjong Pau, some 12 miles north of Alor Star and the same distance south of the Thailand border. Work began in June 1941 on a defensive line to run east and west, north of Jitra. It was designed to protect the Alor Star airfield. The defences of the Jitra Line were not completed before the Japanese invasion.

Outbreak of Hostilities

On 7th December 1941, the day of their treacherous attacks on Pearl Harbour, Manila, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the Japanese landed in Southern Thailand and at Badang on the north east coast of Malaya. 11 Indian Division took up their defensive position on the partially prepared Jitra Line, and continued digging, wiring and mining. The rain was almost continuous. The Battalion's position was in waterlogged paddy fields. There was a wireless link by No 19 wireless set to Brigade Headquarters, but all other communications were by line or runner.

Officers of The 2nd BN The East Surrey Regiment on 11 December 1941


Battalion Headquarters

Commanding Officer


Lieut Colonel G E Swinton MC

2nd in Command


Major F B B Dowling MC



Captain E A F Howard

Intelligence Officer


Captain A J H Martin



Captain W G Gingell MBE MM

Medical Officer


Captain H B Thomson RAMC



Reverend P Rawsthorne RAChD

Headquarter Company



Lt D K Smith



Lt E W Bateman



Captain K R Bradley, Lt L P B Bingham



Lt J T Barnard

Rifle Company A

Captain J A Kerrich


Lt. S S Abbott

Lt. J D Carter


Lt. R C Humphries

Lt. J G Quarrell


Rifle Company B

Captain A C Hill


Captain W G Vickers

Lt. P A C K Bruckmann


Lt. R H ColIs

Rifle Company C

Captain C O'N Wallis


Lt. B F Boothby

Lt. R P Cave


Lt. R H Cross

Rifle Company D

Captain A C A Cate


Lt. R H V Bobe

Lt. T R Bond


Lt. G B Falkner

Lt. D H Leage


Other officers, companies not known

Captains E A L Andrews, W A G Edwards, R W English


Lieutenants R S T Bowden, R W R Bradford, D G Daniels, M G D Edmonson, J W Gilbody, W K Meyers, E J Peel- Yates, R J Randolph, L A Sear, H P Sharland, R D O'C Thompson, J E Whitaker, P F H Wilkinson


The Battle of Jitra, 11 - 12 December 1941

Further Japanese landings took place south east of Badang three days later. In the western sector the Japanese attacked across the northern border of Malaya on the evening of 10th December 1941, and, supported by tanks, quickly overran the forward troops. A night withdrawal to a reserve line was ordered, but the enemy had now blocked the main road bridge to the south, causing many wheeled and tracked vehicles to be abandoned.

During the ensuing five days of confused fighting, 11 Indian Division was overrun and suffered heavy losses. The brunt of the fighting was borne by the 1st Leicesters covering Jitra to the right of the Surreys. On 12th December the Divisional Commander decided to withdraw and 2 Surreys were sent back to hold the river bridges on the line of retreat. On that day Lieut Colonel G E Swinton, the Commanding Officer of 2 Surreys, broke his leg in a motor cycle accident while carrying out a reconnaissance. Command devolved on Major F B B Dowling, the Second in Command. Captain A C Hill, the senior company commander, handed over command of B Company to Captain Vickers and took over the duties of Second in Command at Battalion Headquarters. During the evening of 12 December, Captain W G Gingell, the redoubtable Quartermaster of 2 Surreys, encountered an enemy patrol at Kepala Batas. Taking them on with his ration parties, drivers and storemen, 'Jungle' succeeded in killing all the members of the Japanese patrol.

east surrey regiment malaya

The Battalion was ordered to withdraw to Alor Star where there was a good deal of close quarter fighting. A Japanese patrol came over the river bridge at Alor Star which was immediately blown on the orders of the Divisional Commander. Unfortunately, nine of the Battalion's carriers which were patrolling on the far side of the river were lost.

When the Alor Star bridge was blown, the Japanese started firing down the streets and from houses on the water front. A number of our troops were cut off on the north side of the river. A party managed to get across the river by boat and landed in B Company's area, which was under light machine gun and mortar fire. Immediately more stragglers appeared on the far bank. Captain Bruckmann reports that Private Griffin, on his own initiative, took a boat single-handed back across the river to collect the stragglers. He writes, 'Private Griffin, despite the fact that he was by this time being sniped at continuously, volunteered to cross again in the boat. In all, I believe he crossed seven times, each time bringing back ten more soldiers, British, Indian and Gurkhas. Mortars were also firing into ovr position; many bombs falling short into the river and on to the opposite quay from which he was fetching the mt:n. He behaved throughout with the utmost courage and devotion to duty'.


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