The Battle of Gurun, Extracts from Lieutenant Abbott's Diary

13 Dec 1941
It was almost dark when A Company began to withdraw from Alor Star under heavy Jap fire. By now we'd had no sleep for five days and had marched well over 30 miles the previous night. The ground was all swamp and rice fields, and such paths as we could find were at right angles to each other. A false step either side meant a fall into waist high water and oozing mud. For half the night we dragged ourselves back and forth through that swamp. Time and again we returned to the junction where we had been before. We were hopelessly lost.

Then without a moment's warning, a barrage of mortar bombs began exploding around us, followed instantly by the deadly whine of machine gun bullets. We dropped like stones into the slush. Five of our company were killed in that short battle with Indian troops of our own Brigade, guarding the next road bridge. When we crossed it we discovered that one whole platoon was missing. All those agonising hours in the swamp had brought us just three miles from where we had started.

14 Dec 1941
At 0500 hours we reached Battalion Headquarters at the village of Gurun, and started digging trenches for the next onslaught. The Japs attacked that afternoon, and we counter-attacked with temporary success. Our company was now reduced to twelve.

15 Dec 1941
The main enemy attack started at dawn. John Kerrich, my company commander, was killed in the first few minutes, so were three other chaps. Then the Jap tanks came through. Japanese, British and Indian troops were all mixed up together. The buildings around us were blazing, and the crackle of burning timber mixed with the deafening thunder of the tank guns and the uproar of rifle fire.

I collected the few men who were still alive and ran into the rice field behind the village. As we ploughed our way knee deep through the mud and slime, bullets and shells came at us from all directions. We reached the protective cover of the jungle, and collapsed exhausted in the undergrowth.

The next 36 hours remain an agonising dream. We had no food, our clothes were in ribbons, and at the end of it most of us were marching in bare feet. We cut our way through jungle, swamps and acres of rubber plantation. I suppose we covered about 25 miles, with only my compass to guide us. It was sheer luck which brought us eventually back to the main road at a point the Japanese had not yet reached. I think we were all proud that we still had every rifle we'd started out with.


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