A ‘bit of a lark’ turned into years of suffering
WHEN Leeming resident John Gilmour and five of his mates signed up for World War II, they thought it would be a bit of a lark.
Enlisting in October 1940, Mr Gilmour became part of WA's own 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, training locally and in Darwin before sailing north, where he would be involved in the 1942 Battle of Singapore.
Far from a lark, the battle lasted over a week, claiming the lives of more than 100 men in the 2/4th. The Japanese captured Mr Gilmour and other survivors, holding them as prisoners of war for the next threeand-a-half years.
Despite the atrocities the men faced as POWs, Mr Gilmour said they never stopped doing the little things to help defeat the enemy.
“I was in Japan; I got taken to an island where there was coal and I had to work in the coal mine,” he said.
“I worked in a steel factory and a graphite factory but my good job was unloading goods that came into Japan.
“They used to bring all their loot and it used to be unloaded off barges; sugar, rubber, clothing, furniture, and we used to have to unload it.
“But we used to enjoy damaging it; we’d wack big hooks into pianos ‘accidentally’ and the items would be loaded on to slings and ‘accidentally’ fall out so you’d see them floating down the harbour.”
Mr Gilmour said once they became aware the war had ended, it still took more than a week for them to finally be free.
“We were marched to work and when we were unloading a warehouse we were all called to the main office,” he said.
“Some of the Japanese men were crying. They marched us back to the camp and on the way back we were told it was all over.
“It took the Americans about a week to find us and they dropped leaflets from planes saying ‘sorry it took us so long’.”
ONLY half of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion returned at the end of World War II.
Today, only John Gilmour, Richard ‘Dick’ Ridgwell and Roy Matthews survive.
Members of the 2/4th ExMembers Association have ensured the memories, photos and stories of these men will never be forgotten.
Association member Cheryl Mellor, whose father Noel ‘Cowboy’ Matthews was one of the few who made it home, and Jan Stewart said as the years passed the need to remember the men who sacrificed so much became stronger.
“The story of these men shaped our childhood. Anzac Day, every anniversary of the fall of Singapore, every anniversary of the end of the war, we would go to a community event,” Ms Stewart said.
“It was kind of like the men who didn’t come back were part of our story as well and we needed to capture that for our children and ultimately our grandchildren so they know the stories as well.
“The best way to do that is through a website. A rock with names on it is not going to do it, it’s not going to tell the whole story or have the pictures of the men and the capacity to keep adding.
“It’s as much a story of the comradeship and how they looked after each other their whole lives.”
The 2/4th Ex-Members Association is looking to fill in the stories of more men who fought as part of the battalion.
Visit www.2nd4thmgb.com.au for more information.
John Gilmour, Cheryl Mellor and Jan Stewart.