AFTER THE FALL OF SINGAPORE
Three of the remaining five commissioned ships escaped to Australia, they were Tung Song (Ann), Circe and Medusa. Tung Song sailed from Fremantle round to Sydney and saw the remainder of the War uneventfully around New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago. Circe and Medusa, never out of each others sight were converted into mine sweepers having the capability to deal with magnetic mines. They spent three rather pointless years trying to find them as the Japanese didn’t use them and became known as A.I.F. ships ‘Always in Fremantle’. Both ships were to end their days in Australian waters because after the War it was deemed to be uneconomic to have them refitted and refurbished, Straits Steamship accepted compensation in lieu.
Klang which had escaped from Java under Captain Stoker was bare boat chartered to the Americans and spent a year in Fremantle acting as Mother Ship to U.S. submarines. She was then sent to Humboldt Bay in October of 1944 to act as a floating R and R ship for Merchant Seamen in the forward areas of Hollandia. She not only had a radio that picked up Australian and American Forces programmes, but also had music provided by Gramophones and a piano. There was movies every night, fruit machines, table tennis, a canteen and last but not least a Padre for those requiring religious sustenance. W.K. Neill the Officer in charge wrote to the Company saying ‘At present the S.S. Klang is at anchorage in Humboldt Bay, where she is visited daily between the hours of 12 and 5 by dozens of every type of small craft available which seamen use for transportation from their own vessels. These are either at anchorage or alongside the docks. Many ships have small boats and other Paddling craft built out of aircraft auxiliary gas tanks. One day two seamen swam a distance of two miles from their ship to visit Klang. The men had couple of beers and then swam home. One of the most popular features of this floating club for Merchant Seamen is the canteen bar where beer is available, although rationed to two bottles a day. The canteen is well stocked with other supplies such as salted peanuts, shaving equipment, fishing lines and many other articles which are not available in this forward area. We were fortunate in receiving 100 tons of these supplies from the United Seamen’s Service in the States’.
‘The average attendance already at the canteen has been between 200-400 seamen per day. I expect this number to be materially increased when the ship becomes better known and when we are able to tie it to a permanent mooring in Hollandia. The ship is also serving as Forward Headquarters for War Shipping Administration and the Recruitment and Manning Organisation and the United Seamen’s Service, co sponsors of the vessels.’
Two other ships managed by Straits Steamship also operated in the South West Pacific they were Darvel and Empire Hamble. The U.S. Army took over the Empire Hamble and when the Merchant crew marched off her in protest at her condition the Army marched its own staff on board and eventually she became known as the Glamour Ship of the South-West Pacific. She took part in the Wewak landings and carried a cargo of aviation gasoline and Naval torpedoes. Darvel acted as a troop, munitions and stores ship transporting all three between Australia and the Islands as the Allies advanced north towards Japan. She travelled to Bombay in late 1944 and on her return became a Naval Store Ship in the British Pacific Fleet Train. Maruda which had been operating in West African waters joined Darvel at Bombay and also underwent refit before she too joined the British Pacific Fleet. Both ships were part of Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings’ British Pacific Fleet which formed part of Admiral Spruance’s invasion force of Okinawa in March 1945, in July they formed part of Admiral Halsey’s Force for the attack on Japan Maruda was also at Hong Kong when the Japanese surrendered to the British Forces on the 16th September 1945.
Kajang and Matang’s theatre of operation during the War was either Bathurst or Freetown in West Africa. Matang’s shallow draught enabled her to navigate West Africa’s rivers and in December of 1942 she steamed up the Suara Creek, a tributary of the Gambia river to pick up 173 British and Canadian airmen, Master Mariners and others who had been torpedoed or stranded that had been held by the Vichy Authorties in French Colonial Territory. She was also used to transport stores and troops to and from ships anchored out in the bay which were unable to tie up alongside. At the end of the war she travelled to Liverpool for de-commissioning and then on to London for a well earned refit, as luck would have it she tied up behind another Company ship Kajang. Also in London at the same time was Kelantan. After Kelantan had arrived in Colombo in March of 1942 she was ordered to carry the relief garrison to the Cocos Islands arriving just after Japanese Naval aircraft had bombarded the Islands. She had a narrow escape on the voyage back to Colombo when she was attacked by a submarine, thankfully the torpedo passed beneath the ship. She was on the same buoy as Blue Funnel’s Hector when Japanese aircraft bombed Colombo on the 5th of April, Kelantan escaped damaged but Hector was hit five times and settled on the harbour bottom. Kelantan was then ordered to the U.K., her voyage was to prove to be an eventful one. When heading for the Seychelles a fire broke out in the Engine Room on the 29th of April, with the situation appearing desperate an S.O.S. was sent (never received) but Hector Shannon and his men managed to bring the fire under control and Kelantan was able to proceed to Durban for repairs, Shannon was later mentioned in despatches for his bravery. After necessitating repairs Kelantan sailed on the 26th September and arrived in October at Freetown. Her convoy was S.L. 125 made up of forty-two ships and was one of the more disastrous of the War. The escorts were four Corvettes and the ships formed up into eleven columns for the voyage north. Lying in wait was a wolf pack of eight U-boats and for a week they attacked the convoy sinking thirteen of the ships which included the Blue Funnel ship Stentor. Kelantan was detailed as rescue ship and fell further and further behind the convoy as she searched for survivors. She picked up over seventy, in the main from Brittany and Silver Willow and proceeded north on her own attempting to land them at Gibraltar but was ordered to continue to make for the U.K. She arrived off Greenock on a bitterly cold morning on the 8th of November and immediately ran into an outward bound convoy. The Chief Engineer at once informed the Captain that if the engines were stopped he doubted if they could be started again as they were in desperate need of an overhaul. The Captain had no other choice but to anchor overnight and sure enough the following morning it proved impossible to start the engines. The Captain requested assistance and as no-one had heard of Kalantan two of the largest ocean going tugs were dispatched to bring her in. With tows attached Kelantan tore up the Clyde at 11 knots faster than she’d been able to achieve for quite some considerable time. After temporary repairs the ship was ordered to proceed to London but broke down once more in Loch Ewe, she was able to proceed after a short while and arrived at King George V Dock in London on the 15th December 1943. Her crew were paid off and the Officers sent elsewhere, Kelantan was fitted out as a Maintenance and Instructional Ship for the Royal Navy, she spent the remainder of the War in London. At War’s end H.E. Somerville celebrated by inviting Kelantan’s Officers and those of Kepong which happened to be in Hull to a celebratory dinner, a memorable and enjoyable evening was had by all. Kepong had only just arrived in Hull. Having escaped to Colombo Kepong spent most of 1942 in the Persian Gulf with Captain Ebenezer Evans in command, her Chief Officer was W.G. Bradshaw. She sailed from the Gulf at the end of the year with a cargo of salt for Calcutta and was further employed in the Bay of Bengal. She finally sailed from Colombo to the Mediterranean to be fitted out as an Ammunition and Explosive Carrier and remained in the Mediterranean for the remainer of the War. On one occasion her steering gear broke down when leaving Malta and she drifted over minefields and on another she was moored stern on at Benghazi when a strong gale blew up, all the lines parted save one and Kepong spent three very nervous days bouncing around dangerously close to the wreck of another ship. She was sent to the Dodecanese Islands from Haifa under the command of Captain A. Brown carrying stores for a garrison of Commandos which had been landed on Leros Island. The Germans still controlled the rest of the Islands and Kepong had to find Leros without a pilot or chart using an old Atlas as a rough guide. She came under intensive pressure as other ships were sank all around until she remained alone with only the company of a half sunk Destroyer close by. The Eighth Army worked furiously to unload her and both Kepong and the troops were subjected to regular bombing raids which took place eight to ten times a day. Even when empty her tribulations didn’t end and she was pinned down behind the breakwater as a violent storm lashed the Islands, finally after ten nervous days she was able to proceed to Alexandria. She spent the remainder of the War shuttling backwards and forwards to Italy and on one occasion when in a two column convoy came perilously close to an American Munitions Ship when navigating their way through minefields off Messina. The American Ship signalled Kepong by Aldis Lamp saying that the Straits Steamship vessel would be reported for endangering her as she was ‘laden with powder’. Kepong’s immediate reply was ‘Max Factor?’ She finally sailed from the Mediterranean and called at Gibraltar before arriving at Hull on the 5th May.
Ban Hong Liong.
Two other Straits Steamships which saw action in the Mediterranean were Pahang and Perak. Pahang served as a Cased Petrol Carrier and her Commander was Captain George Patterson. She was based in Alexandria and served all the North African ports as close to the Front Line as possible. The importance of these ships cannot be over emphasised as without them the British 8th Army counld not have functioned but they were extremely dangerous ships to man. On one occasion during the night when in convoy just off the African coast enermy aircraft were circling overhead. Just at that moment one of the Penhang’s generators commenced to spew sparks out of its exhaust in the funnel, with great presence of mind the Third Engineer climbed the funnel and placed his steel helmet over the offending exhaust and not a moment too soon. Bombs rained down fortunately missing Penhang but striking Hermelin a Norwegian ship immediately astern causing damage to her hull and Bridge, the generator was immediately taken off line and stopped.
After the Allied Victory at El Alamein Pahang was ordered to Tobruk and it became something of a nightmare when dropping the anchor. With the seabed clearly visible and strewn with unexploded Allied and German bombs one had to pick one’s spot extremely carefully, especially as one was carrying high octane fuel. Pahang followed the victorious Allies along the North African Coast often harried by enemy aircraft but always successful in outmanoeuvring them. When she had been converted for use as a Cased Petrol Carrier in India the fitting of gas extractor fans had not been carried out, therefore Pahang was a floating disaster waiting to happen. There was always leakage from the petrol canisters and to work the cargo all the hatch covers had to be opened so it was possible to work the cargo otherwise men would drop like flies overcome by the fumes. On the morning of the 31st of January 1943 having completed her loading the inevitable happened. H.W. Wilkinson the Chief Officer wrote ‘After the completion of loading and hatches battened down and still lying at our loading berth, the high octane in the after hold exploded into flame and within a few minutes Pahang was ablaze with flames some hundreds of feet high and bursting ammunition and rockets flying in all directions. Fortunately, owing to almost everyone being in bed, except the Duty Watch and Anti-sabotage Guard, there were only very slight injuries amongst the crew’.
‘Standing on shore we watched the masts, Bridge and accommodation disintegrate and sink into the blazing hull, myself clad only in pyjama trousers which had most embarrassingly split right down the back. Mr. Tait, Chief Engineer, was also in his pyjamas, but much worse he was without his spectacles’.
‘We were asked to flood the Engine Room so Mr. Tait and I climbed aboard over the stern (engines were aft) went below and using his knowledge and my eyes opened the necessary flooding valves. A tug was hitched on and Pahang was towed across the Harbour and beached. Despite great efforts to subdue the fire the vessel was ablaze for twenty-three days until the fire burnt out.’. She was later towed to Massawa in Eritria were she was declared a total loss, however she was purchased by Levantine owners who subsequently had her operating in the Eastern Mediterranean long after the War.
Chief Officer Wilkinson moved between Kepong and Pahang during the War but his greatest content came when he was transferred to the Empire Adur (ex Nang Sang Nawa) a Siamese Prize Ship. Captain A.B. Durrant was in command and Mr. D. Aranjo was Chief Engineer another Straits Steamship man. A bone of contention which Mr. Aranjo had was the condition of the Empire’s boilers. Wilkinson wrote ‘ Every so often there would be a loud Woomph from down below and flames feet high would pour out of the funnel, much to the horror and consternation of surrounding vessels. Invariably she belched forth black smoke. The escorts threatened to direct us to other ports, to let us proceed independently, even to sink us. All to no avail’.
‘Among her disconcerting vagaries was that the nut holding on the steering wheel would work slack and fall off. On at least two occasions in convoy at night did the Indian Helmsman walk out of the wheelhouse carrying the wheel with him. Vast confusion.’.
At the end of the War she returned once more to Singapore and saw service for Straits Steamship before finally being handed back to the Siamese.
Perak another Company ship in the Mediterranean had been converted for use as a Hospital Carrier, a rather strange anomaly was the fact that Perak was armed, totally against the Geneva Convention and her Chief Officer W.G. Bradshaw commented ‘On arrival at Haifa on the 26th of May 1943, this job commenced, the ship having been inspected and approved at Beirut by one of the Ministry of War Inspectors, a Mr. Smith. It appeared to me at the time, that the M.O.W.T. must have been rather desperate for a suitable craft, as Perak was already over thirty years old, a coal burner, and (something which was never far from my mind), had open floors except in the Engine Room. This meant that she had no double-bottomed tanks, and therefore was much more vulnerable’.
Ban Hong Liong formerly Van Hoorn and Winhope.
As conversion proceeded problem after problem arose. It was an extremely difficult time, particularly for Captain Cleaver, whose well-founded objections to various proposals, based on a thorough knowledge of his ship, were oft to be regarded as obstructionism, and delaying tactics. The work was carried out by a workshop under the direction of Messrs. Hare and Ramsey, two British with experience, but the labour appeared to be mostly European refugee immigrants, with little or no shipyard knowledge. Certainly there were few if any trained shipwrights amongst them. The foreman, a charming Romanian, was by profession a house interior decorator’.
‘The conversion was at long last completed the ship going into the floating dry-dock for bottom painting and was actually in the dock, when on the 9th of July 1943, orders were received from London, to paint the ship grey and replace armaments’.
‘Various reasons were put forward for this astonishing change of plans. We were told at this time the Germans had requested Geneva to permit a flotilla of small ships up to 1, 000 tons to have their Red Cross protection while they would be engaged in the Channel approaches to pick up any Luftwaffe crews whose planes might have been shot down. With fears of invasion predominant in everyone’s mind in Britain this was refused by the U.K. In return the Germans refused to agree to Perak (just over a 1, 000 tons) being covered by the Geneva Convention. This may or may not be so, of course. What was important to me was that after all I would not be able to read in bed at night with my cabin door open and lights on!’
‘Down came the Red Crosses, away wentt the green lights from round the side rails, on went the grey paint over the lovely white paint which had been so reminiscent of the ships in the pre-war days. The two Nursing Sisters who had been appointed to the ship were transferred to other duties, and in their place came ten ratings to man the twelve-pounder and the four Oerlikons. Thirty-two R.A.M.C. personnel commanded by Lt. Colonel Foster and Captains Anderson and Savage, two other Doctors, also came on board. And so started Perak’s adventures, which must be quite unique, as an Armed Hospital Ship. As was to be the case everywhere subsequently, the Haifa people were delighted to see the last of this problem ship, and must have heaved sighs of relief when on the last day of July 1943, Perak sailed for Alexandria’.
Perak lay for months in Alexandria while her fate was decided the only diversion being the arrival of the surrendered Italian Fleet on the 16th September.
Perak finally sailed from Alexandria on the 26th of March 1944 bound for Naples carrying an American Hospital Unit numbering 150 persons. One can imagine the Americans reaction waiting at the jetty as the ship manoeuvred her way through the burnt out hulks lying in the harbour, instead of a white, red Crossed ship tying up they were confronted with a grey painted ship bristling with weaponry. Perak attended the Anzio landings and because she didn’t have Geneva protection had to proceed in convoy. She was joined in Pozzugli Bay, West of Naples by a flotilla of American Landing Craft also armed to the teeth which was very reassuring for all on board Perak. Perak would anchor off the beachhead and the wounded would be shipped out in ‘Z’ Craft and loaded through the side doors which gave access to ‘B’ ward. Once loaded she would make best speed possible for Naples often escorted by American Landing Craft, she was never directly attacked but other ships were as they sped North. She made a few trips to Malta picking up Yuglslav partisans who had been wounded carrying them back to Bari before crossing the Adriatic to continue their fighting against Hitler’s Army.
Having finished transferring Yugoslavia's Freedom Fighters Perak made a couple of voyages carrying wounded, Naples to Syracuse and Augusta in Sicily. As the weather gradually deteriorated in the Mediterranean it was decided by the Authorities to transfer the vulnerable Perak to calmer seas and she sailed from Naples on the 14th of October 1944. She called at Alexandria where she disembarked her R.A.M.C. personnel before making the passage through the Suez Canal on the 14th of November and arriving in Karachi on the 29th. From there she made the short passage to Bombay to renew her acquaintance with another Company ship Maruda arriving on the 6th of December. Perak then sailed to Chittagong and was employed on the Burma Coast as a hospital ship taking combat troops to places like Akyab, Ramree, Ruy-wa and Kyauk-Pyyu and returning with wounded. It was whilst at Akyab that she renewed another old acquaintance, that of the Angby whose Captain was C.J. Tyers. Angby had been running hard as a stores and ammunition carrier also filling in as a ferry in Trincomalee Harbour, by May of 1944 she was so run down that Straits Steamship sold her to the Ministry of War Transport for £8, 000 rather than face a bill of £15, 000 to keep her in service.
Angby was transferred to Military duties becoming part of General Slim's command, 14th Army, which was in the process of pushing back the Japanese. In December of 1944 she was part of the Task Force formed to attack Akyab Island on the 2nd of January. Loaded with stores and troops Angby sailed for the Island and anchored off Foul Point at 1700 hours. Morning broke on the 2nd and on looking around Angby discovered that she was quite alone, where was the Task Force? Also the Japanese had deserted the Island leaving just four soldiers to guard the lighthouse. Eventually later in the day the Force arrived which left the always unanswered question, was Angby early or the rest late?
Three other Company ships operated in this particular theatre of the War, they were Hong Peng which was a Royal Navy ammunition ship based at Trincomalee, Hong Siang also based at Trincomalee acting as a Naval store issuing ship and Hong Kheng which for some of the time ran East Africa/India under British India management. During this period she also served on the 'Haj' trade carrying pilgrims from Suez to Jeddah the port which served Mecca in all completing a half dozen voyages. In the Gulf Resang with Captain A.E. McNab in command worked for the inland water transport based on Basra and Pangkor was a guard ship. Krian and HMS Kedah operated in the Bay of Bengal and the latter was chosen to be headquarters ship for the invasion of Malaya.
Back in 1942 the Company had reformed itself with C.E. Wurtzburg taking over control from the Ocean Steam Ship Company on the 31st of December. With the approval of the British Government he was appointed Administrator of Straits Steamship, Ho Hong Steamship and the Sarawak Steamship Companies however his powers over the last Company were revoked when it was discovered that the majority of its Directors were still in Sarawak. So the Company could be registered in the UK it was necessary to change its name to the Singapore Straits Steamship Company as there was a Straits Steamship Co registered which operated in the Menai Straits. The Company was duly registered in 1943 and its first Directors were J.R. Hobhouse (Chairman), L.D. Holt, A. Jackson, H.E. Somerville and of course C.E. Wurtzburg. K.N. Black was appointed Manager and W.E. Cruwys the Company Secretary. In May of 1944 C.E. Wurtzburg replaced J.R. Hobhouse as Chairman just after the reconstitution of the Ho Hong Steamship Company. The viability of the Company was in the main down to Wurtzburg's drive and acumen and at a General Meeting in 1946 he made the following statement:-
'The fall of Singapore left us in a very serious quandary, because, owing to the unfortunate loss of Messrs. Alfred Holt & Company's offices in Liverpool during the Blitz, any records which had previously existed in this country in regards to the Straits Steamship Company's affairs were utterly destroyed. In spite of enquires from former Directors of the Company and other likely sources, we started operations with hardly a scrap of paper at all. We had not even a list of the ships, we did not know the names of the Masters, their rates pay or anything. Meanwhile, individual ships turned up at all sorts of unlikely ports where the Company had no agents in normal times and detailed instructions had to be cabled to each in turn. Gradually we discovered what ships had survived and in most cases we managed to discover what had happened to those which failed to report. As time went on we got complete control of the Companies and their affairs and built up an organization to manage them. Negotiations then began with the Ministry of War Transport to determine under what conditions they had been requisitioned before the fall of Singapore and under what conditions they were to operate after the fall. The highly specialised ships of which our Fleets consist did not fall into any of the agreed formulae for requisition and derived rates had to be worked out. These are based on actual operating costs and naturally some time had to elapse before we had sufficient data on which to commence detailed negotiations with the Ministry.'
'You will appreciate that under conditions of War and security, the uncertainty as to the whereabouts of our ships for considerable periods, and other difficulties, it took a long time to accumulate this information. Nor was it possible for the Ministry to settle the questions with us immediately. Apart from that, there was a continuous stream of fresh regulations and agreements coming out, whereby the Ministry accepted financial responsibility for this or that, or the owners accepted responsibility for the other, and so on. As our ships never visited this country, all these arrangements had to be passed to agents in different parts of the world, Australia, India, Persian Gulf, Middle East, West Africa, Mediterranean, and so on.'
Firstly Straits Steamship had to ascertain exactly how it stood financially and after consulting accountants a figure was reached of £323, 000 worth of assets outside Malaya. Wurtzburg was able to obtain office space from Glen Line in Taunton, Somerset, A.T. Wedgewood who escaped from Singapore on the Imperial Airways tender was able to relieve Mr. Cruwys and Captain W. Johnston early arrived from Australia was appointed Marine Superintendent.
With Thanks to Peter Rennie
Late 1944 saw the Board planning for the future and its return to Singapore, a lot of lost tonnage had to be reordered if the Company was to benefit when it finally returned. With a view to this one 'Sarawak Type' ship was ordered to replace Vyner Brooke, provisional name Rajah Brooke and three Motor Ships from Grangemouth Shipyard, the Company also placed orders for 6 cylinder diesels from Rushton and Hornby to be fitted into the 75 tonners as and when the Company received permission to build them.
With the invasion of the Far East imminent plans were drawn up for the building of support vessels and the manning thereof. The Government felt that companies which had experience in the waters in the region would be best suited to man and manage the vessels, Jardines were chosen for the bigger ships, Shell for the tankers and Straits Steamship for the coasters, eighty-six new ships were allocated to Straits Steamship some still to be built. Straits Steamship opened an office at Fenton House in London to cope with the added workload, C. Cameron Taylor on loan from Alfred Holts and K.N. Black in Taunton worked closely together to achieve the near impossible task which the Company was now facing. The logistics of the assignment were enormous, Officers and crews had to be found to man the ships, and organisations to be found in India once the ships arrived prior to the invasion, as the new ships came on stream, ships had to be visited. Britain built fifty-one of the ships and Canada the remaining thirty-five, the ships broke down into three distinct groups, Shelt which was similar to the 75 ton class and the 'B' and 'C' which were somewhat larger. It was decided due to seamen shortages in the UK that the crews would be Chinese and the only source open to the Company was India, a recruitment drive was immediately instigated. The Officer shortage posed the Company different problems, where possible the Company drew on its own resources but had to make up with numbers drawn from the Services. Most of the ships were ready to sail for the Far East in the July of 1945 and the first convoy sailed from Falmouth on the 8th of August but Japan's capitulation terminated their intent. The Canadian contract was cancelled and the British orders were scaled down, still bearing in mind that there would be a requirement for ships in the region.
Seven experts from Straits Steamship and Mansfields which consisted of A.T. Wedgewood, K.N. Black, W.A. Kimpster, E.D. Rushworth, P.A. Holt, H.N. Smyth and A.W. Challis all flew out from England to join the coastal control unit for the Straits of Malacca which had been set up by the South East Asia command in anticipation of the Fleet's arrival. When they had departed Wurtzburg and Somerville sent a telegram to those of the Company already in Singapore having been released from internment 'We share your joy that your period of trial is over. We look forward to your return. You will be very welcome.' The Company feared that it had lost many of its employees, numbered among the survivors were F.S. Gibson (former Chairman), J. Crichton, W.W. Jenkins, H.J.C.K. (Harry) Toms the Marine Superintendent, Captain S. Baddely, the Assistant Engineer Superintendent L. Froggat and T. E. Draggett, the Deputy Manager of the Sungei Nyok Dockyard R.N. Moffatt and his assistants W.G. Price and G.R. Jones, Captain R.E. Borton (Vyner Brooke) H. Morton Second Engineer (Lipis) and G. Spauding and A.E. Boehm (Singapore Steam Laundry).
The first Company ship to arrive in Singapore was H.M.S. Kedah carrying Rear Admiral J.A.V. Morse (Rear Admiral Malaya Designate) and his staff including Commander W.P.F. Legge of Mansfields. She was in the van as the British Forces entered Singapore Waters at daybreak on the 5th of September, she was then ordered to tie up in Keppel harbour. The distinction of being the first Company ship to arrive in Company colours fell to Perak under the command of Captain Cleaver who wrote that his Chief Officer Captain J.R. Blease 'was determined to take her back to Singapore whatever happened - which he did; and as the first ship to return with the Company's colours and funnel correct. He and I spent hours getting the correct funnel blue, and subsequently paint orders were based on our mixture'. ' When sailing into Singapore on her for that first time after the war, I thought he was going to run her through Clifford Pier. It was quite an exhibition for me as I had not been used to small ships, and especially as no pilot was used and he had been away from the port for years.'
Meanwhile at Changi jail J. Crichton and F.S. Gibson could wait no longer so on the 5th of September they secured a car and drove down to the city. Crichton made straight for Head Office and went to the Board Room, you can imagine his surprise for when he entered was confronted with a full blown Japanese Navy Staff meeting in progress, he closed the doors rather rapidly and then made for the waterfront with Gibson.
They met a Royal Navy Officer from HMS Kedah who informed them that their ship was tied up alongside at the docks. Both made their way to Kedah only to be disappointed when informed that because they may be carrying unwanted diseases were forbidden to board, bitterly they made their way to the Adelphi Hotel.
Because of the sorry state HMS Kedah was in by now the Company accepted compensation in lieu and in a very convoluted adventure she finally made her way to the Israeli's who used her to run Jewish refugees to Haifa under her new name of Kedmah.
The vagaries of war suffered by the employees of the Straits Steamship and Mansfield and various other subsidiary companies cannot pass without mention. Chamberlin, Ritchie and Ferguson had not been interred at Changi, Chamberlin was the Master of Relau and was captured at Muntok before being sent to Palembang. In the October for some reason only known to the Japanese he was suspected of being a Royal Navy Officer privy to secret information. Along with another Company employee, Baddeley the Marine Superintendent he was transferred to Japan for interrogation at Sasabo and he later wrote 'In December I was sent to a small camp hidden away in the hills about twenty miles outside Tokyo. This I soon found to be the now notorious secret Kempetai Questioning Camp of Ofuna, a grim place indeed. There were thirty of us here and almost every day the questioners came and questioned us, and heaven help anyone they thought was lying or holding out on them. Altogether I spent seven weeks at Ofuna.' Released from the camp he spent much of 1943/44 working as slave labour at the Mitsubishi Shipyard at Yokohama most of the time chained to another prisoner, many died due to the sadistic brutality of the Japanese guards and others died in the American bombing raids. Chamberlin was then transferred to the steel mills at Kamaichi in Northern Honshu until they too were bombed out of existence, again many prisoners died in the attacks. Chamberlin was finally rescued by the Americans and repatriated, he returned once more to Singapore in April 1946. The following who were caught with him at Muntok were not so fortunate and all died in camp, W. Penrice, W.D. Perkin, G.V. Andrews, F. Messenger, F. Adams and C. McAlister; C.Q. Starkey was the sole survivor. F.G. Ritchie and S.A. Anderson who were caught near Mustok and interred at Palembang used their time to design a new ship to replace Vyner Brooke which they had been on when she was sun their designs were incorporated into the new 'Sarawak' Class ship under construction at Grangemouth, Rajah Brooke and was a floating tribute to the two men.
The Straits Steamship Company was re-registered in Singapore in 1947 where the survivors and ships had returned during 1945/46. Those lost were not forgotten and a ceremony was held in Singapore Cathedral on the 22nd of May 1946, present of the seagoing Officers were Captain W.E. Steele (Lipis), Chief Engineer R. Barton (Giang Bee), Chief Officer F. Sedgeman (Vyner Brooke), Chief Engineer R. Reath (Vyner Brooke) and Engineer J.J. Miller (Vyner Brooke). A tablet was unveiled during the service on the north wall of the Chancel and a Red Ensign was placed above it, the inscription reads:
This Red Ensign was placed
in the Cathedral of the port of Singapore on the 22nd of May 1946 by members of the British Coastal Shipping Community of the Colony as a memorial to those of their number who lost their lives ashore and afloat during the
War of 1939-1945.
And in thankfulness for the restoration of the freedom of the seas whereby Merchant ships may again sail freely in
the service of the community.
Captain F. Caithness a survivor of the Kuala carried the Ensign into the cathedral and was supported by Harry Toms an ex prisoner and by now Chairman of the Company, Captain Busby of British India Steam Navigation, G. Watson represented both P & O and B.I., H.T. Hadley of Anglo Saxon, C. Cruikshank Chief Engineer of Maruda, Tay Gan Tian of Heap Eng Mo and Lim Liat Boo of Soon Be Steamship Company. The cathedral was full, with family and friends of the fallen, Flag Officer Malaya, G.O.C. Malaya as well as representatives of the local shipping community
Ships Lost 1941 - 1945
Singapore Straits Co. Ltd.
The Sarawak Steamship Co. Ltd.
Hua Khiow Steamship Co. Ltd.
Kheng Seng Steamship Co. Ltd.
Sin Kheng Seng
Captured by the Japanese but later returned were Rentau, Rasa, Relau, Rimau and Tapang, unworthy of repairs were Kedah, Kinta, Circe and Medusa.
A month before the service Straits Steamship commenced to trade in the April of 1946 and also to rebuild its Fleet. The surviving ships were joined by sixteen of the Shelt Class from the Ministry of War Transport in the July. Three coasters of just under a thousand tons were purchased in Scotland similar in design to the pre-war Phang they were called Bentong, Bidor and Bruas.
A further three were chartered from the Ministry, Buloh, Beluru and Belaga the latter being for Sarawak Steamship all three were eventually purchased in 1948. Seven of the smaller 'C' Class ships, just under 400 tons were also purchased as a stop gap until the Company could build coasters suitable for the Malay trade to its own design. In 1947 the Company bought three ships of the 'Hansa' Class from the Ministry which had been built in Germany during 1944, they were Kamuning, Katong and Kampar. The same year it took delivery of Rawang and Rengam two 75-tonners which had been built in England to Company specifications and also four small ships which were Australian built, Kinabalu, Klias, Temburong and Timbali for use on the coast of Borneo and Sarawak, two further Shelt Class ships were acquired in 1950 from Middle east owners.
Timbali and Bruas both went to Sarawak Steamship in 1948, Straits Steamship also acquired Ong Tiang Swee naming it after Sarawak's pre-war Chairman. At the annual General meeting in 1947 H.J.C.K. Toms announced that the Fleet now stood at fifty-three ships, two more than pre-war and stated 'Despite the severe losses incurred during the war the serious handicaps imposed upon all commercial enterprises since the war, we have regained, with extraordinary rapidity, a position closely approximating our pre-war standing.' The Company however were never to return to the pre-war conditions and had to adapt to the economic and political changes which were sweeping through the South East Asia region. Besides having to deal with seventeen local seaman's unions the Company were having trouble trying to find European Officers to man its ships, suitable accommodation ashore being the main problem. The Chairman Harry Toms declared 'Many of the Officers recruited by the Ministry of war Transport and eventually taking up employment with the Company were married and had been separated from their wives for long periods during the war. While they were asked not to bring their wives out until they had found suitable accommodation, they either neglected to observe this recommendation or as often as not their wives did a pier head jump and just arrived.' 'Recruitment of additional staff rendered difficult if not impossible unless the wives were allowed to accompany their husbands.' 'Owing to the general shortage of accommodation in Singapore they were forced to take totally unsuitable houses and rooms often at quite exorbitant rents. Many complaints were received and Captain Baddeley, the Marine Superintendent, and I visited these temporary homes, more aptly described in many cases as slums.'
With Thanks to Julian Nichols
'We were so horrified at what we had found that I called a special meeting of the Board and recommended the building of flats.' 'They agreed unanimously. I was authorised to go ahead and was lucky enough to secure a very fine piece of land at a very reasonable price on account of part of it being occupied by squatters. This however did not bother us since we did not intend to use more than about one quarter of the whole at that particular time.'
'Plans were drawn up in record time and the flats were very soon under way. We were able to let them at very reasonable rents and they have proved, I believe, a success in every respect.' This deviation from ship owning solely to property owners was known as the Somerville Estate after two of the Company's former Chairmen D.K. and H.E.
Difficulties with the ships were also experienced especially with the procurement of spare parts, W.E. Cruwys who was in charge of the Stores Department at Glen Line assisted the Company in this respect. Another problem of the Company's ships at the time was their inadequate accommodation, these ships had been designed for the short haul routes in European waters, not the long haul of the Malayan coast and many islands. Straits Steamship prior to the war had carried most of its own Coolie labour, it was now faced with trying to find manual labour from ashore where the Japanese had decimated the local male population, however not without some difficulty the Company managed to overcome most of the problems, some later rather than sooner.
A lesser item but of great significance was Harry Toms purchase of material to kit out his Officers and crew, this marked a turning point in the men's moral and the ships overall appearance. Harry Toms recounted 'Clothing of any kind was in very short supply and very expensive. The crews who always had bought their own clothing were going about in nearly rags. With the help of Captain Baddeley, our Marine Superintendent, and our Stores Department, we got hold of enough drill to make each sailor two suits of uniform and four suits for each Malay Officer. We also designed a cap badge for the Malay Officers. From the moment the first ship was fitted out in this fashion our troubles began to disappear. The ships became cleaner and the discipline good, this particular exercise was referred to as 'Operation Phoenix'.
Conditions in the Company's ports of call had either been destroyed by the departing Japanese or bombed to destruction by the invading Allies, everything was in short supply or no longer existed. This ranged from navigational aids in Sumatra, wharves and godowns in Malaya to jetties in Jesselton and Sandakan, where pre-war round trips took up to three weeks they now could take up to nine weeks to complete.
KUNAK AT JESSELTON
Go to Straits Steamship History Part Four