Withdrawl to Singapore Island
as Recalled by Private H Ruoff
The journey southwards by the British Battalion was carried out mainly on foot, but sometimes by motorised convoy. Due to the unchallenged Japanese superiority in the air, movement was undertaken only at night.
Once the Japanese had gained access to the west coast, they set about collecting whatever sampans and other small craft they could lay their hands on. Their strategy was to sail up the numerous coastal creeks and tidal rivers in order to land forces in rear of the retreating British Divisions. The disruption of communications and the threat of being cut off hastened withdrawal, whilst at the same time it largely avoided direct confrontation with the enemy.
At no place did the Division stop for long, nor was there any opportunity for digging in. The Japanese pursued the tactic of infiltrating the enemy's rear whenever they were held up in front. Many nights were taken up in leapfrogging retreat.
By 16th January the Japanese had landed troops near Batu Pahat. The British Battalion was proceeding south in convoy near Batu Pahat, when a road block brought the vanguard to a halt. The Japanese had felled trees across the road and had mounted machine gun posts. The Battalion left the road and retreated towards the coast. Lying between the road and the sea were miles of mangrove swamp. We slowly wended our way in single file through the black sludge, stepping from root to root, and trying to avoid plunging into pools of filthy liquid mud. Thus we trudged on all night and emerged from the swamp the next morning .
Two days and one night were passed in the open near the beach. The evacuation by sea took two nights to complete. On both occasions a ship sailed up from Singapore and stood by after nightfall, as close inshore as possible.
On the second night those remaining went out to join the ship, utilising anything that floated. Some went in rowing boats, a few swam out till they were picked up. Once on board ship it was pleasantly warm, and the voyage back to Singapore Harbour was negotiated without incident. It was 26th January 1942.
By eight o'clock on the morning of 31st January, the last troops from the mainland had crossed the Causeway, which was immediately demolished. The final phase of the campaign was about to begin.