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 Malaya 1941


Having arrived back in England 0n the 31st May 1940 my Father would have been sent on leave, his next posting was to the 53rd Section at Arnold , bestwood lodge , Nottingham ,which acted as mobilisation centre and was returned to the rank of Private on posting (I cannot find any reason for this).

My Father was posted to the "Z" AOW  (Advanced Ordnance Workshop) which was mobilized on the 26th Feb 1941 .by the 5th March the mobilization was complete and they commenced training in foot and rifle drill.

 On the 20th of March the unit arrived at Liverpool Docks and Embarked on the Ship "Duchess of York".
The Duchess of York

The following events are extracts from the War Diary of the "Z" AOW

Officers :-

Major     H Ortiger
Captain   E J Coulthard
Lieut        S C Terry
Lieut        F A Youems
2nd Lieut A E F Wickham

The loading of machinery and other equipment was also completed.
The ship left the docks to lay off  harbour , finally setting sail on the 21st March.

The ship arrived at Freetown ,South Africa on the 4th of April and lay of port for three days , no personnel allowed on shore. The ship berthed in harbour and the personnel were allowed on shore for two days recreation. I remember my Father saying that a representative from the South African Govement addressed the men and stated that if any of them wished to settle in South Africa they would be welcome .

 The Ship then sailed to Bombay , India and was in port for two days , personnel only allowed on shore for the last evening .

 The Ship then sailed to Colombo , Ceylon and was only in port for one day and personnel were not allowed ashore.

 The Ship reached its final destination Singapore on the 15th of May 1941 and the Unit disembarked and proceeded to Anson Road Camp which had been erected and made ready for the 2nd Battalion Loyal Regiment. The Camp was ready for occupation by the unit but the site chosen caused dismay as it had a very deep drain running across the middle which carried refuse from the town to the sea , also the ground became water logged with each shower of rain. The next few days were spent drawing up camp equipment and settling in.

Remark from Commanding officer :-

 "Owing to the condition under which the troops were living the spreading of skin disease in the form of ringworm was difficult to control. A large number affected by this sickness.
Theoretically the unit should have proceeded to Kuala Lumpur which was its destination."

On the 12th July an advance party set off by road for Kuala Lumpur to join the 9th Indian Division ,
(Part of the 3rd Indian Corp)  with a Rail section leaving on the 13th July .  The Convoy carrying the Workshop Machinery arrived on the 16th July. The Machinery was unloaded on the 17th July and the accommodation stores arrived by rail and was unloaded with the assistance of hired transport and "coolie labour".The Main body of the Workshop Company arrived in Kuala Lumpur on the 8th August from Singapore via night Train and day Coaches and were billeted at Maxwell Road Camp.

George Albert Snowdon and mate

My Father dress in Tropical Uniform and two fellow R.A.O.C work mates

On the 9th August the unit began cleaning the camp area , cutting grass and digging slit Trenches and other Regimental Duties . The 10th August saw the arrival of the rear party from Singapore . One A.A.S/Seargent and fifteen other ranks commenced work with "C" Section of the 47 Ordnance Mobile Workshop to maintain Lorry units , but the number of vehicles was almost double that which was intended to maintain so it was decided to employ "Asiatic" workers.

 The 23rd of August saw the Visit of Col W.P.B. Ashton A.D.O.S (e) Malaya to inspect the unit.

A Workshop was set up at Port Swettenham on the 29th August.

Appendix 1. written by commanding officer "Z" Advanced Workshop Major H. Ortiger :-

"The A.O.W sent out to Malaya was smaller in personnel and equipment than that laid down in A.F.G 1098 for an A.O.W. The modified A.F.G. 1098 however only gave details o personnel , workshop machinery , tradesmen's hand tools , transport and fire arms . It made no reference to Workshop Equipment and barrack accommodation stores.

 The Unit brought out most of the equipment shown on the modified A.F.G. 1096 but owing to the entire lack of workshop equipment such as vices , benches , drills etc.  the Workshop could not be formed.

 Two cables were sent to the War Office by A.D.O.S (E) Malaya , drawing attention to this fact and a reply was received about the middle of July stating that the matter would be put in hand and the stores forwarded as soon as provision could be made.

 As it was anticipated that some time would elapse before the stores arrived , a was drawn up of the most essential items required to start the workshop , with the intension of buying them locally to tide over the period of waiting. This list was forwarded to A.D.O.S (E) on the 15th July 1941. "

So basically the "Z" Advanced Ordnace Workshop was sent to Malay woefully ill equipped both in Men and Equipment , this was the same throughout Malaya and would have catastrophic consequences in December.
he reasons for this will be gone into more detail in the Singapore Chapter.

The original plan for the "Z" AOW at Maxwell road Kuala Lumpur was originally planned to have a floor space of 20,000 square feet ( 60962 Square Meters) , but it was decided to increase the size to 24,000 square feet (7315 square meters) to accommodate :-

Instrument Shop
Vehicle Wash
N.A.A.F.I Store
N.A.A.F.I Staff Living Quarters

 When the unit arrived in Kuala Lumpur the other ranks accommodation was almost complete but the site of the camp which was situated on the confluence of two rivers had inadequate drainage , so when it rained the ground became waterlogged and the hard standing outside the Motor Vehicle Workshop became too soft for heavy Vehicles and Bren Carriers. Some of the Mess Halls were built the reverse way around so that the serving hatches were at the opposite side to the cookhouse , The Expense store was built incorrectly and was unusable.
There was only three Latrines for 49 Warrant Officers and Sergeants. So work had to be carried out by the unit to correct these  problems , most of it had been completed by 8th August 1941.

 Between the 1st of September and the 4th of September the Unit underwent a medical inspection and it was found that 106 men required medical attention for skin trouble , the most prelevent was Dermatitis , Ringworm , Prickly Heat and Singapore Foot (Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease is present all year round in Singapore with seasonal outbreaks every year) .

The 5th and 6th of September saw the Port Workshop making vehicles , including 12 Bren Carriers , unloaded from ships ready for the road , the amount of work entailed made it necessary for the workshop to operate both day and night.

Universal Bren Carrier

On the 8th September the Commanding Officer departed to Singapore to discuss the problems regarding the Workshop accommodation and the provision of workshop equipment.
 Large areas of the camp at Maxwell Road became flooded after heavy rain as the problem of drainage had not been addressed .

On the 9th September the Port Workshop also became waterlogged after heavy rain resulting in the Albion Recovery Lorry being put out of action. The Trade Testing of 60 Tradesmen of the unit who applied for upgrading in their trades began.

Albion Recovery Vehicle

A Dental inspection of the unit commenced on the 10th September and a letter of appreciation of excellent work done by detachment of "Z" AOW forming Port Workshop at Port Swettenham recived.

12th September the Dental Inspection was completed .

Between the 18th and the 22nd of September work continued equipping the workshop by building work benches and erecting lifting gantries able to lift 1 ton . There was further work on the drainage of the accommodation area. On the 23rd six unclassified storeman were trade tested , all failed the highest score being 15% ! The Recovery section was also sent out to recover a vehicle belonging to Headquarters by after 5hrs searching for it along the Kuala Lumpur - Klang Road , they could not find it.

 On the 24th of September a District Court Martial was convened under the Army Act against :-

763983 Pte A Inglis "Z" AOW
157522 Pte W Needham "Z" AOW

At Maxwell Road Camp , the composition of the Court was :-

President  - Major R. Peel Royal Corps of Signals
Members   -Capt D. Parry-Evans Royal Engineers
                  -Lt T.G. Stephenson , Royal Gonhal Rifels
Prosecutor -Capt E.J. Coulthard R.A.O.C
Defence     -Lt N.D. Robins , Royal Corps of Signals

George Albert Snowdon my Father , passed his Trade Test and Became Electric Welder A Class 1

george albert snowdon

George Albert Snowdon

On the 25th an application to replace the six unclassified storeman with more experienced men from Singapore.

A proposal by the Malay Command was received to form a Asiatic Branch of Workshop companies to be employed at the Base Ordnance Workshop and "Z" AOW  to release British personal to form 2nd Line Workshops and it was proposed that 46 Tradesmen at "Z" AOW would be Replaced by 70 Asiatics.
 The District Court Marshal was Concluded.

The installation of wiring for lighting and power for the machines in the workshop commenced on the 27th September.

On the 1st October Major H Ortiger and Captain E J Coulthard of "Z" AOW visited the Advanced Base Ordnance Depot at Kent Halt to determine the quantity and variety of the Mechanical Transport spares held.
 Concerns over the provision of spares for vehicles not yet covered was raised with the Commanding Officer Ordnance , who replied suggesting that Asiatic branches of Workshop companies should be formed . The following comments were made :-

1) The proposal would increase the efficiency of the repair orginisation.
2) Scarcity of Asiatic Labour - labour at present available is of second or third class quality .
3) Difficulty of brining labour to the place where it is required.
4) The Effect on the Establishment of the "AOW" - Difficulty may be experienced in running the unit regimentally if Junior Non Commissioned Officers are replaced by Asiatics.

On the 2nd of October Quarter Master Sergeants Smith and Seabury along with Sergeant Petch od the Mechanical Transport repair department visit Advanced Base Ordnance Depot to draw up a list of spare that can be held at AOW at Maxwell Road to reduce the number of visits to A.B.O.D to obtain spares frequently required .

Nine Bren Carriers driven by personel of "Z" AOW took part in a driving demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on the 9th October . The Building of a road to connect the main road to the men's cookhouse was also undertaken.


On the 10th October a Army Doctor form the 3rd Indian Corp visited the unit to discuss skin diseases and how to prevent them with units Doctor and the Commanding Officer.

The construction of a  Instrument workshop was commenced on the 11th of October.

Instructions from R.A.O.C Malaya on the 14th October , were received to dispense with the Written examinations of Clerks and Storemen for the purpose of Trade classification . Personnel suitable for promotion up to and including the rank of Lance Sergeant will be automatically classified as Clerks and Storemen class II. Similarly personnel suitable for promotion to sergeant will be automatically classified as class I.

On the 14th October , Brigadier Moir  , commanding Lines of Communication Area visited the unit and accompanied by Lt Col Patterson were taken on a tour of the Workshop and accommodation areas the question of providing a wire perimeter fence was discussed . 
 In the afternoon the unit was visited by Major General Verschoyle Cambell accompanied by Col W W Linnie of Lines of Communications and Lt Col B A Austin from the 3rd Indian Corp.
Three Painters from the unit proceeded to 14th section RAOC , to supervise labour gangs engaged on the camouflage of tentage throughout Malaya.

The Mechanical Transport Workshop opened on the 15th October to receive vehicles requiring 3rd line repair from Ordnance Mobile Workshops and Army Base Ordnance Depot.

The unit was notified that it was to receive on the 18th October ,  from the 3rd Indian Corp the following amenities were to be provided :-
1 Dartboard , 12 packs of cards , 1 Table Tennis set ,2 sets of dominoes and 1 set of Monopoly , these items are the first to be provided out of the welfare fund and fall far short of the units requirements . The unit did not have sufficient funds of its own to equip the unit effectively with the games or sports equipment.

On the 19th October the unit received the approval to erect a 8 foot (2.4 meters) unclimbable wire perimeter fence at a cost of $8000.

Major L Whatley visited the unit on the 21st of October to discus questions affecting general policy of the repair service of the AOW,
 He also carried out an inspection of "z" AOW Armourers shop and recommended that extensions and alterations should be made to the present building. The next day Major Ortiger and Captain Couthard carried out a reconnaissance of the area around Maxwell Road Camp and located a suitable site and informed H.Q. Line of Communications.

After an inspection of the accommodation  area on the 23th October by the Commanding Officer of the Hygiene Section it was decided to dig a pit to place all refuse from the cook house after it had been reduced in the incinerator to assist in the reduction in the number of flies and other insects which collect near the men's cook house.

 On the 23rd of October orders were issued that two N.C.O's of the unit would be put on duty at the most popular rendezvous of the men of "Z" AOW in an effort to reduce the number of charges being brought against men of the unit by the Military Police as a result breaches of the discipline committed while off duty.

Colonel W P B Ashton inspected the Instrument Workshop being constructed and ordered an extension to be built on to it to house a Battery Charging Plant. He also discussed plans to employ Asiatic Laboures in the Work Shop. The next day Major Ortiger visited Kuala Lumpur Trade School to enquire into the availability or otherwise Asiatic Labour.

On the 1st November a notification arrived that a Diesel Generator would be dispatched from the UK as an alternative power supply for the "Z" AOW workshop . Captain Coulthard left on leave.

By 3rd of November all the item required for the workshop had been purchased that were available at thet time 

The cost of building a shed to house the Generating Plant would be met from local funds. The unit also received notification on the 5th November that other equipment would be shipped from the UK excluding a engraving machine that would not be available for another nine months.

The chief Engineer from Malaya command visited the unit on the 6th November to discuss the following items :-
1) The Source of power supply for the workshop machines
2) Camouflage
3) Dispersal
4) Expansion
5)Workshop facilities

On the 7th November more building work was carried out to improve storage etc.

Pte Allison of "Z" AOW (remanded for court martial) was taken to Singapore on the 8th November under escort to be examined  by a medical specialist at the Alexander Hospital.

9th November , Captain Coulthard returned from leave.

Between November 11th and the 28th November the unit continued organizing the workshop and finalizing the building work and setting up a instrument workshop. The unit received notification on the 24th November that the Charges against Pte Allison should be dropped on Medical Grounds.

The last two entries in the War Diary were :-

29th November :- Action taken as laid down in operation instructions
30th November :- Further action taken as laid down in operation instructions 

Were these an indication that an Invasion was finally going to become a reality ?

The is no further War Diaries of the "Z" AOW for December , January and February , not really surprising as the following events happened so swiftly , having spent nine months setting up a Ordnance Workshop the Japanese were about sweep it away along with the British Army in just over two months , starting with the invasion on the 8th December 1941.

 Kuala Lumpur was almost empty by the 1st of January 1942 , an official order for all white woman to leave was issued on the 3rd of January with the Japanese reported to be only 100 miles away . The Camp at Maxwell Road was ordered to evacuate to Singapore and a detachment of 50 men left for Singapore on the 3rd of January . The rest of the camp was cleared by the 5th and 6th and part left by road and part by rail , the rail section arrived at Johore at 6pm on the 7th and the next few days were spent unloading the train and preparing the transport by road into Singapore .

 The men arrived at Malborough Camp (14 Section R.A.O.C) on the 9th of January and got quartered in . Some of the men were sent to work at the Base Ordnance Depot (Alexandra) that day .

Invasion of Malaya 8th December 1941

The invasion of Malaya by Japan has all ways be portrayed as a unprovoked attack by Japan on not only Malaya but also Pearl Harbour , Hawaii and the Philippines and Malaya and Singapore were lost by Incompetence by the Commanders  , But the truth is more complicated than that .

Sir Robert Brook-Popham

Photo from :- British Empire & Commonwealth Forces in the Far East-SE Asia 1937-1946

On 11 November 1940 The new Commander in Chief Far East , Sir Robert Brook-Popham arrived in Singapore , at the same time a Merchant Fleet Ship the SS Automedon was attacked by a German Surface raider Atlantis off the North Coast of Sumatra .The Automedon was carrying a mixed sort of cargo and mail bags on its journey from Liverpool via South Africa to Penang , Singapore , Hong Kong and Shanghai . The Raiders not only recovered fifteen bags of Secret mail and decoding tablets from the strong room , they also found a green diplomatic bag with Brass Eyelets (so that it would sink if thrown overboard) , the bag contained highly sensitive information for the eyes of Brook-Pophams only . The information stated that because of the commitments of Britain in the European and Middle East wars it was unable to provide much protection for the Far East Territories in the event of an Japanese invasion , it also provided details of Navel Strengths and RAF units and comprehensive description of fortifications on Singapore and the probable roles of New Zealand and Australia in the event of War with Japan , in short a complete analysis of Britain's state in the Far East  and its ability to resist an attack by Japan .

 The Captain of the Atlantis recognized the importance of the information from the Automedon and using a previously captured Norwegian Tanker the Ole Jacob he sent a Skelton crew straight to Japan were the documents were handed over to the German Embassy. A report was then sent to Germany were Adolf Hitler personally instructed the contents to be handed over to the Japanese , who despite their initial suspicion of a Germen ploy to lure them into an attack in the Pacific ,  soon realized this information was gold dust for any plans for a war in the Far East. The loss of this information has never been officially acknowledged by Britain even to this present day.

 In August Winston Churchill and the American President , Roosevelt had their first WWII meeting at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland in secret as the American President was still facing strong opposition any American involvement in the War in Europe from isolationist in Congress . Roosevelt was strongly in favor of America entering the War but found it politically impossible to unilaterally declare war . In October 1940 Arthur McCollum had produced a memorandum detailing an eight point plan to provoke Japan into attacking American , British and Dutch interests in the Pacific Region :-

  1. Arrange with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific , particularly Singapore
  2. Arrange with Holland for the use of bases and supplies in Dutch East Indies
  3. Provide all possible aid to the Government of Chiang Kai-shek
  4. Send a fleet of heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore
  5. Send two divisions of submarines to the Far East .
  6. Keep the Main strength of the U.S. fleet in the vicinity of Hawaii.
  7. Insist that the Dutch Government refuses to grant to the Japanese any economic supplies , especially Oil.
  8. Along with Britain impose a complete embargo on all trade with Japan.

 Points 7 and 8 were crucial , Japan as an industrialized nation could not function without oil so armed conflict was virtually guarantied  , but the Japanese Government was sharply divided over the strategy . The Army wanted to invade Malaya , Singapore and then Sumatra (Dutch Oil Field located in Palembang) via French Indochina and Thailand , but the Navy favored attacking the American Fleet at Pearl Harbour , Hawaii and also the Philippines . The Emperor Hirohito ruled that both plans were to be implemented.


  What followed is still a controversy in America but also in Britain also , In December 1940 an agreement was signed in Washington between Britain and America which would mean both countries having a full exchange of technical information concerning German , Italian and Japanese codes . In January 1941 an American team of cryptographers arrived at Blechley Park , Home of Britain's decrypt operations . One of the key reasons for the American visit was their interest in cracking the Japanese codes . the Britain's Hugh Foss and Oliver Starchey had penetrated the Japanese diplomatic code machine in 1934 and Colonel Tiltman had cracked Japanese millitary code as far back as 1933 and the new Army ciphers in 1938.  The American Navy had broken the Japanese Navel codes using their decryption machine known as Purple , and it is alleged that the American Administration knew that an Japanese attack was immanent and Pearl Harbour and the Philippines were going to be the targets . Britain is alleged to have also known about the planned invasion of Malaya as they had set up a 'Decrypt' Post in Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) with one of Alan Turing designed 'Bombe' decrypt machine installed there to work on Japanese codes .

  The Americans instruction for the three Aircraft Carriers based at Pearl Harbour to be sent out on maneuvers  prior to the attack only fuels this conspiracy .   
Japans attack on Pearl Harbour brought America into the war against Japan , and Hitler , by Declaring war on America saved Roosevelt the trouble of getting Congress to declare War on Germany also.

jap bike

 Japanese Soldiers using Bicycles to rapidly advance 

 So Japan armed with its comprehensive assessment of the British capabilities in Hong Kong , Malaya and Singapore from the SS Automedon did the British really have any chance against the Japanese ? In the above War Diary it is quite apparent that there was an acute shortage of everything from just basic tools for the work shops ,  but if you look at the Army , Navy and the Air force , they were desperately short of the required equipment to defend Malaya and ultimately Singapore. The Air force for example were supplied with obsolete air craft like the Brewster Buffalo and were absolutely no match for the Japanese air craft such as the Zero , the loss of the command of the air was probably the biggest single reason why defeat in Malaya and Singapore was inevitable , but add to the fact that the Army was comprised of badly equipped units (they did not possess a single tank ) and they were badly prepared for the warfare that was about to be unleashed on them by a highly trained Japanese Army.

jap tanks

Japanese Type 95 Tanks in Malaya 1941

 War material was available but it was deemed that the Middle East should take president over the requests from the Far East .The British Government worked on the principal that in the event of an attack by Japan they would have plenty of time to send reinforcements ,  a policy that proved to be totally unworkable but also condemned more Soldiers including my Uncle , Charles William Nicholson , Air Men and Navy personnel to years of terrible captivity or to their Deaths in Japanese Prisoners of War Camps . The British , like the American administration totally underestimated the capabilities of the Japanese armed forces with disastrous results .The  HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse disaster .
Memorial for HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales at the National  Arboretum


Japanese Troops in Kuala Lumpur it Fell on the 11th Jan 1942

  If you click on the Malaysia Animated link below you will see how the Japanese swept down the Malay Peninsular , my Fathers unit "Z" AOW would have been evacuated as the Army fought a desperate rearguard action , He described how he was part of a general retreat through the Jungle with other refugees all heading for Singapore.


 Wounded Being Evacuated from Malaya



Below is a war time propaganda film about Malaya



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