STEP RAILS AND
STEP RAILS AND CHANGI
Writing this novel, the author
has drawn on his own experience during the war against the Japanese on Malaya
and Singapore, and the first months of his P.O.W life in Changi.
He was the youngest of three
mates who had trained on a Machine Gun in Australia, which was left behind when
they were sent to Malaya with the 8th Division A.I.F. Despite
repeated requests, before and after the Japanese invasion, the Army never
supplied them with a Machine Gun.
He tells of the fighting during
the retreat to Singapore. How he was attached to a jungle patrol, and meets up
with a Major attached to intelligence. Here he has his first experience of the
brutality of the Japanese. After the surrender and their only food a small
ration of rice, their Officers asked for and got permission from the Japanese to
catch fish off a nearby beach, for their wounded.
One of the three had experience
of fishing in North Queensland so he was selected to oversee the building of a
He tells of the arrogance and
complacency of the British and how they insisted a lagoon that was producing
fish for the Australian wounded be kept for the recreation of British Officers.
To supplement the meagre ration
of rice, the three mates went under the wire to get coconuts and fruit. They
discover a Chinese mother and daughter who had witnessed the slaughter of their
family and neighbours and were hiding. The mates promise to help them escape
across the channel to the Malayan mainland.
In Store Price: $29.00
Online Price: $28.00
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages:
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published: 2005
A. Richards, known as
Peter, was born at Hornsby, N.S.W. He now lives at Bundaberg.
At the height of the
Great Depression, when many families had trouble putting food on the table, he
was taken from school and sent to a farm in Queensland, where he remained until
enlisting in the A.I. F. in 1940.
Trained as a machine
gunner in the Ammunition Company 27th Brigade 8th
Division, he became a prisoner of the Japanese when Singapore surrendered on 15th
Feb 1942 and a member of the Changi fishing party, which had permission from the
Japanese to catch fish for the Australian wounded who had been hospitalised.
In April 1943, he was
sent by ship to work in factories in Japan.
Owing to the passage of time and the unreliability of
memory, this novel is a fictionalisation of actual events that the author
experienced. It is as he remembers. All names are from the authors
had become careless. To get the coconuts and anything else we could scrounge to
eat, we had to sneak under the wire of the Changi Prisoner of War camp. We had
been doing this for a few months and had become quite proficient in climbing the
trees with the help of climbing stirrups I had fashioned out of fence mesh.
were members of an Australian P.O.W. fishing party, which had permission from
our Japanese captors to go to the beach and catch fish for our wounded soldiers.
We were guarded outside the camp, but the walk to the beach, under Japanese
guards and working on the fish trap, gave us first-hand knowledge of the
Japanese patrols and the approximate times they went around the camp. The
soldiers singing their marching songs as they marched usually warned us of their
approach, and we could take evasive action.
we had decided to climb the coconut trees beside the path used by the Japanese
patrol as they went around the perimeter of the camp. We had avoided these trees
because of their open position and the chance that we could be surprised by a
Patrol was usually regular, and mostly before lunch, but occasionally there
would be an extra patrol. It was my turn to be up the tree, and I was reaching
for the last ripe coconut, when suddenly a Jap patrol, out of sight around the
bend, burst into song. I froze, remembering how wed debated the possibility
of hiding amongst the palm fronds should a patrol come by. There was no way I
could climb down the tree in time, so I was about to put our theory to the test.
was 23:00 hours on January 14th 1942 and the three of us were in the
back of our company Ute, leading an ammunition truck up towards the town of
Segamat, with ammunition for the artillery. Initially it had been the British
and Indian troops that had opposed them. Now it was the turn of the Australians
to try and halt their southward march.
was our first journey towards what we called the front. However there was
really no such thing. Wed also been told that the Japanese used the road
until they struck resistance, and then went around through the paddy fields,
were the machine gun section of this ammo company and were supposed to have a
machine gun set up in the back of our Ute. Unfortunately the Army had so far
refused to supply one. Their excuse was that other soldiers need was greater
darkness limited our vision, but the moon would rise later making it easy for us
to see the road. Recognizing familiar landmarks was not so easy.
shags on a rock! Thats us, Lazy said.
ducks is more like it, I said.
on; keep your eyes peeled for that marker, Curly said. We must be getting
close, forget sitting ducks or shags.
course, we were not much good without a machine gun. But a bloody sight less
useful if were not ready.
agreed with him. All we had were our trusty 303 rifles. Wed been sent because
our Sergeant (Sarge) believed I knew the road better than other drivers, because
I had driven him up this way a few times before the A.I.F. became involved. But
I suspect he also wanted to get us out of his hair, so he wouldnt have to
listen to us whinging about not having a machine gun.
think we just passed that culvert you were looking for. They must be around here
somewhere, Lazy said.
thumped on the roof of the Ute, signalling our driver Rowdy, to stop.
boys should be around here somewhere.
rubber trees on our right seemed endless, but up ahead there was a break and
some kind of clearing or paddy field.
off your motor, Curly said to Bill the truck driver. We should be able to
hear something if theyre around here.
the sudden silence there was a murmur of voices, and the clink of metal on
metal, up ahead on our left.
must be them, Curly said. Move to the end of the tree line.
moved up quietly, and as we passed the last of the trees I could make out the
shape of the artillery guns on our left. Don, the Gun-Sergeant, came to meet us.
in time, were packing up getting ready to move, he said.
where? Our Lieut will want to know.
have to ask Captain Johnson
Whos the truck driver? he asked.
am, Bill said.
Ill come with you and show the way. You boys stay here; Captain Johnson wants
to see you. Hes cranky and really pissed off about something. He climbed
onto the side of the truck, and directed Bill off the road behind the guns.
wonder what he wants with us? Lazy mused. Maybe he just wants a message
delivered. Anyhow, well soon know
I can see someone coming? Through
the gloom I could see a figure approaching. Yes; its Captain Johnson.
walked up to us and asked, Youre the machine gun crew?
right, Sir, Curly replied.
I want you to set your machine gun up there on the bend in the road. Well be
pulling back very soon and I want you to be lookout for us. Keep a sharp lookout
interrupted him. What bloody machine gun? Have you got one to lend us?
looked in the back of the Ute and frowned. Whats going on? You just said
youre the machine gun crew. Wheres your blasted gun?
never been issued with one, Curly said. Every time we ask, the answers are
the same; someone elses need is greater than ours, or they just havent got
I dont believe this! What the hell do they think you three are going to do if
you run into the Japs? He called to his sergeant. Don; over here! Don
hurried towards us. Didnt you tell me you knew one of the crew on this
machine gun section, and that they be lookouts for us while we were moving?
did, Don replied, he pointed to me. Driver Hillyer came from the same
district I did. I know hes a good shot. Why? Whats the problem?
problem is, Capt. Johnson spluttered, his face turning scarlet with rage.
The bloody Army hasnt given them a blasted machine gun! He turned to
address Curly. I suppose you did your training on a gun back in Australia?
Captain, but left that gun behind when we came over. They told us a gun would be
supplied when we got here. As you can see, were still waiting.
Captain looked up the road then back at us. Ive lost contact with the boys
in front of me. I let H.Q. know my problem and they send me ammo and you three;
heavily armed with a rifle each. Talk about stuff ups! But Ill still have to
use you. Go up and keep lookout on the bend. Ill signal when the last gun
pulls out, and remember, Ive had no contact with the boys in front, so be
careful, Ive heard that the Japs have tanks and our boys may have gone bush,
so the first ones you see could be Japs.
Sir, Curly said. Just one thing, its not our fault that we have no gun.
Our Sarge is sick of us whingeing about not having one.
Im not blaming you boys, its the bloody boofheads who got us into this
mess. Talk about stuff ups, he hesitated then said. This may help you.
About two miles back the Sikhs have set up a recovery yard, and you might be
able to find a gun there. Don said there is nothing for us, but you might get
lucky. Keep a look out for my signal, and when you get back, tell Ron were
going back about five miles, where theres a fork in the road.
hurried to the Ute. Rowdy drove up and parked, facing the way wed come.
twenty feet further on there was a culvert and Curly said, Thisll do us.
Well take cover in this drain. Lazy and I will go left, you and Rowdy on the
on, I said, we wont be able to see Jonnos signal from here!
sky was lightening up a bit, and visibility had improved. Curly gazed up and
down the road. Bloody hell,
okay. This is what well do; Rowdy can go back to the bend and give us the
drum when Jonno signals. Us three will stay here. If theres any shooting,
well be hidden in the drain, and its not far to the bend.
moved back to watch for the signal. Wed nicknamed him Rowdy because he was so
quiet we often forgot he was there. We should have named him Bottle-O or
Miracle-man because no matter where we were, he could always find a bottle of
was pleasantly surprised when there was only about six inches in the bottom. We
had been told they had a rainy season but so far every week was the same. It
rained. Lazy said the rainy season was every day after lunch.
could hear Curly and Lazy talking quietly. I didnt need to hear the words,
because I knew Lazy would be going on about his pet subject, Politicians, the
Army, and some unnamed professor, who wanted five thousand planes for the
defence of Australia.
had worked for a wholesale grocery firm before joining up in Townsville. I
assumed that he was a prolific reader, because he had an opinion on everything,
especially Politics and was obviously better educated than Curly or myself.
had been crouching in the drain for about thirty minutes when Curly whispered,
Whats holding up Jonnos mob? The lights getting better, and the
moonll be up soon.
didnt reply. I could see something about one hundred yards up the road.
Close-up, the trees were now in focus, but further along it was still hazy.
everything happened at once.
glanced behind, and saw him stand up. I looked back to the front again, and saw
that the shadow I had been watching had moved. Before I could call out, shots
came from in front of us. Rowdy screamed in agony and the three of us returned
firing ended as abruptly as it began. After the initial shots, silence engulfed
us. I carefully climbed from the drain, my boots full of water.
watching! Ill see how bad Rowdy is, and get him up to the Ute.
I crawled up to the corner, Curly called to me. Theres no more bloody
movement up there. I reckon theyve taken to the bush to go around us. Well
give them a burst when we leave.
called back. I dont think you should, we returned their fire quickly but
with only three rifles, if you fire again they might wake up that theres not
many of us. They probably think were in force around the corner.
had copped two bullets in his shoulder. He was not a big man so I managed to
carry him up to the Ute. I laid him on the ground, put down the tailgate and
turned around to call the others, but both were already beside me, and together
we placed him on the floor of the Ute. Curly and I got in while Lazy jumped
behind the wheel and we took off.
examined the wounds as best I could. Hes hit high up on his shoulder. I
think I can stop the bleeding. Pass me some bandages. The night sky was
starting to lighten up, and we could now see reasonably well.
Lazy to keep a sharp lookout for that recovery yard, I suggested.
Dont you think we should get Rowdy to the medics as quick as we can?
looked at him. As I said back there, were sitting ducks, standing in the
back of this Ute with only a bloody rifle. Now if theres a chance of getting
a machine gun, I reckon we should take it. Rowdys wounds are not that bad. A
few minutes wont matter.
suddenly gave a shout, and stamped on the brakes. There it is!
jumped from the Ute, and joined Lazy as he ran over to where we could see a heap
of broken weapons. I kept working
on Rowdys shoulder, doing the best I could do with what few bandages we had.
boys returned to the Ute within minutes. Bloody hell weve struck the
jackpot! Curly yelled. There were two, and theres grenades there as
magazines? I asked.
Yea, well go back and get them now. Hows Rowdy?
too bad, Ive managed to stop the bleeding. The bullets went through the
fleshy part and I think missed the bone.
let out a moan as he regained consciousness. Bloody bastard, hell! Jesus
Christ! What happened?
been shot in the shoulder, but hang in there, were taking you back to the
medics. Hows the pain?
awful! I could do with a drink. I reached for my water bottle. Not that
bloody stuff! Ive got a bottle under the seat.
I said. The Sarge warned you about having grog in the Ute. The boys are
coming back now, Lazy will get it for you, okay?
got seven mags and a box of grenades with primers. Some of the mags dont look
so hot, but we should get three or four good ones. Curly was putting them
into the Ute. Also found a bag
of spare parts. I dont know if theyre any good.
a bottle of grog under the seat, pass it up, he sure needs a drink now.
caught up with Capt Johnson about a mile down the road. They were setting up two
of their guns on the road itself. Lazy pulled up alongside the Captain.
been shot, were taking him back to the medics. Well let our Lieut know
your new position.
heard you, but it didnt last, so didnt think you were involved. Bad luck
about Rowdy. Harry Purcell and his boys must have gone bush.
we moved off, I called back. Thanks for the tip about the arms dump, we found
one gun we can probably use. Curly was using the time going back to examine
the magazines. And what about covering the lot with our groundsheet. Now that
weve got a gun, we dont want to lose it.
would we lose it? he asked.
mate, they reckon they havent got a gun for us. There must be others who
should have a bloody gun, whose need, theyll say, is greater than ours.
Thats what they say every time we ask for one. Lets wait until weve
checked them out, then if both are okay, we could make big fellows of ourselves
and hand one over.
wounding was the first time anyone in our mob had been injured. I had often
wondered how I would feel when the bullets were flying and it was not as Id
imagined. There had only been a short burst of gunfire, then nothing. Even
crawling up to Rowdy and carrying him to the Ute, there had been no thought of
danger. Everything happened so quickly; it was over before I had time to be
gave an occasional moan as the Ute bumped along the track. The bandages and pad
were doing the job; no more bleeding that I could see. He opened his eyes, as I
reached over and took the bottle out of his hand.
okay, I said. Im just making sure you dont drop it. He settled
a look at that, Curly said from behind me. Bloody hell, hes downed half
a bottle, let him have the rest, it should dull the pain.
drove into our camp and Sarge hurried over. We told him about Rowdy.
Christ! Is he bad?
enough. We only pulled in to let the Lieutenant know that Capt Johnson has
pulled his mob back about five miles, where the road forks. He reckons they
wont be there long, and to tell you hes lost contact with Purcells
Sarge had resigned look on his face. Okay, were pulling back as well.
After you drop Rowdy off, go back to our old camp.
made good time to the medics, and after handing Rowdy over we were held up by
some stupid Corporal wanting to know how Rowdy had been hit.
our way back Curly said, We better decide about these guns. Get Lazy to pull
over and well check them and decide what well do.
pulled the Ute up under a tree and we hurriedly checked the guns and bag of
tools Well, theres two main springs in this bag; everything else we
looked up. We should get one gun out of them. The main spring is buggered in
both. If those springs in the bag are okay, well at least have one, but if we
have to requisition a replacement spring, everyone will know weve got a
bloody machine gun, and if youre right, Snow, theyre sure to confiscate
not. Look at them; they both looked stuffed. I
havent examined them
yet, but just looking, Id say the mag holder in that ones bent out of
shape, and the other one looks as though it was run over by a tank. In other
words, to our Sarge and Lieut, theyre scrap. All we have to do is report that
we found them, and what bad luck that theyre both buggered. Theres no way
theyll be reporting that we have a machine gun in that condition. Dont
I already have a reputation for fixing things, so Ill ask
permission to try and repair one.
what about the spring? Lazy asked. I dont think we should depend on the
two you found in the bag, they look as though theyve been bent and
think Snows right, let him show them to the Sarge when we get back, and tell
him theyre both rat-shit, but wed like the chance to try and fix one of
reported to Sarge and showed him the broken guns. He barely glanced at them, as
he asked us how Rowdy happened to get hit. Curly related the episode with Capt
Johnson. When he finished the report the Sarge said, Okay. Go up and get
something to eat, and park over there near the cooks truck. And whats the
condition of those guns you found?
told him the story wed prepared, finishing up with, So Snow reckons he
might make one usable, but itll depend on getting one or two parts.
shook his head. Ill send it back. There must be a repair depot on Sing?
on, Sarge, theyve already been thrown away. The same thing will hap
again if we send it back. Theyll take one look and dump it. Why not give me a
chance to fix it? If I can, well have a machine gun. I
I reckon its the
only way well get one.
He gave a grin. Yeah, why not? At least
itll get you off my back. Okay, go ahead and see what you can do. I will find
out if there are parts available.