The Battle of Gurun, 14-15 December 1941

Fighting continued right down to Gurun, some 20 miles to the south, where the railway and main road converged. Here the Divisional Commander decided to make a stand. The 6th Brigade held the left sector resting on the flank of a great jungle covered massif, Kedah Peak, 4,000 feet high, with the 28th Gurkha Brigade on the right and 15 Brigade in reserve south of Gurun. The Surreys were disposed with A Company (Captain J A Kerrich) astride the main north/south road, with B (Captain W G Vickers) and C (Captain C O'N Wallis) Companies to their right, between the road and the railway. D Company (Captain A C A Cater) had been detached and put under command of the 1/8th Punjab Regiment.

At 0300 hrs on 14th December the enemy came probing down the road with tanks, artillery and the equivalent of two brigades of infantry, and encircling to the west across the Surreys' front reached the shoulder of Kedah Peak. The result was disastrous. The forward company, A, was the first to encounter the enemy and was quickly overrun. Captain John Kerrich, the Company Commander, was killed and his company virtually wiped out, only nine men surviving. Lieutenant John Quarrell, a platoon commander, was seen hurling grenades at the leading Japanese tank, until he was badly wounded.

The way to Battalion Headquarters was now clear and the enemy thrust down the road and surrounded both Battalion and Brigade Headquarters. In the close quarter fighting, Major Pat Dowling (the Commanding Officer) and a number of officers and men were killed, including Captain K R Bradley (Carriers), Lieutenant D K Smith (Signal Officer), Captain H B Thomson (Medical Officer) and the Padre, the Reverend Peter Rawsthorne. Captain E A F Howard, the Adjutant, escaped as he had been sent to D Company which had been withdrawn westwards under the orders of the 1/8th Punjab Regiment. Captain Cater's account of the events affecting his company is at Annex B. The majority of 6th Brigade Headquarters staff were killed, though the Brigade Commander and a few others got away.

B and C Companies, under Captains Bill Vickers and Clive Wallis, to the east of the road, hung on doggedly and prevented the Japanese from turning the Battalion's flank. They held firm in their positions until midday on 15th December and then withdrew through the rubber estates to the east of the road. Their defence, in the words of the Regimental History 'for the time being prevented the Japanese infiltration from developing eastwards, and bringing complete Disaster on the rest of the Division'.

Men cut off from their companies in the confusion of the battle were gathered into parties and moved off through the jungle to link up with what was left of the Battalion. At a point east of Gurun a party consisting of Captain Alastair Hill (the acting Second in Command), Lieutenant E W Bateman, two young officers and a number of Other Ranks set out to rejoin the Battalion. The long, slow and arduous march through the jungle has been recounted by Corporal NaIl of C Company. Some men, including the two officers, L/Cpl Reynolds and others died of hunger or exhaustion. The remnants of the party eventually reached Kampong Lasah, a village some 30 miles north east of Taiping. Captain Hill was now in a state of complete exhaustion and could go no further. He insisted the party should move on without him, and they left him in a woodcutter's hut near the village in late January 1942. He was not seen again. Lieutenant Bill Bateman and the rest of his party succeeded in reaching Taiping.

Map of Gurun Positions

After the mauling at Gurun the Divisional Commander decided to withdraw to the area of Taiping, north east ofIpoh, and about ~G miles to the south. What was left of the Battalion embussed for a long slow journey in heavy rain. The roads were full of transport and there was no adequate traffic control. Gurun was the last battle of the 2nd Bn The East Surrey Regiment as such. After four days of action this fine Regular battalion had been reduced to ten officers of the rank of captain and below and 260 Other Ranks, and in such a state could no longer be regarded as a fighting unit.


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