In the Jungle – POWs 3

Barry and the men of 27 Line Section, arrived in Singapore in the Autumn of 1941. They spent very little time in that teeming, multicultural city, before being posted into mainland Malaya as an independent unit.

This picture shows some of the men in a very relaxed state in Kota Tinggi. Barry and his Lieutenant were familiar with life in Malaya and unfussy about uniforms and the men adapted quickly to the climate and the work.

27LineS1941_1

They did encounter occasional problems. Barry remembers:

So in late 1941, based at Kota Tinggi in Johore, No. 27 Line Section went on with their job of building telephone lines between the many small headquarters, unmanned but established, “Just in Case”, and the small air strips in Johore and Pahang. I don’t remember much in detail of this period just before the invasion but one incident vividly comes to mind. I was with a small party building a two-pair route in fairly heavy jungle, using trees instead of telephone poles. I had surveyed the route in advance and marked the trees which were to be used for the route. We had a light van to carry our ladders and all the other kit and of course, our packed lunches and drinks. Two members of the working party went ahead with a ladder and a hand augur to bore the four holes required, in the marked trees. The next group climbed up and screwed the L shaped bolts into the holes and fitted the insulators on to them.

Everything went on smoothly except for the odd leech. We were used to them and a touch from the hot end of a cigarette caused them to drop off quite easily. Then one of the forward party came rushing back to the van waving his arms and shouting “hornets”. He was followed by a cloud of very angry hornets eagerly seeking targets. We had no shelter except for the van which fortunately had an enclosed cab into which we all scrambled, about eight of us, a very tight fit but this discomfort was much preferable to being stung by a jungle hornet. They are much bigger than bees or wasps and have a reputation for very aggressive behaviour, and deliver a sting several times as powerful as a wasp. […]

So we sat or stood in the cab on top of one another for an hour or more with the hornets buzzing around looking for a way to get at us, but the windscreen and the windows were a good fit and a thoughtful Signalman had stuffed bits of paper or rags around the holes in the floor of the cab where the pedals came in. When the hornets eventually gave up we drove a circular course around their tree and continued our route building on the next section, taking great care to avoid any hollow trees. A day or two later we returned to the area and built a wide curve around the hornet tree. We had been lucky as three or four stings from jungle hornets could be fatal.

31 thoughts on “In the Jungle – POWs 3

    • Thank you so much. I will be putting up more posts about the story of these men and their thousands of fellow POWs. This will become my main writing focus in the New Year, once the publication of my novel is out of the way. I am still hoping to reach some more of the relatives of the men and women of 27 Line Section.

      • As I told you on my site, exposure was part of my goal, hopefully you will reach the families and it also gives my site background for the CBI that many people know little about. Hope everything works out for you!!

      • Thank you very much. I appreciate the encouragement. Our nation is in debt to our military. What most of them would really like to see is all of us being good Americans and standing BY them. Thanks again.

  1. Vivid picture of these poor guys steaming hot in the cab of a van trying to avoid death by wasps. Funny but not. I’m allergic to wasps and this is actually quite a terrifying story to me! Love the photo of these handsome young men looking ever so jaunty with their askew hats.

    • I found this photo in my father’s photo albums, but it rightly belongs in the dossier my mother made in early 1945 of all the men in the unit. The wives and mothers sent her photos to help with the debriefing of some men rescued from hellships. The men’s names are on the back and they each have a story. It cheered me so much to see that they were enjoying themselves before the nightmare began.

    • I’m afraid the blog is somewhat wide ranging, if you choose only the category POWs you will get the story. There is a book of letters, memoirs and stories of these men, but I need to get a novel out of the way, so that I can bring the POW book to publication.

  2. So much I learn from you, A gift, each and every post. As though I’m peeking through a window of my father’s ‘world.’ Thank you so very much. Blessings to you.

  3. Love this! I’m researching my husband’s family tree as well as my own and his uncle (who raised him as his own) was a Medical Technician in two campaigns of the Asiatic-Pacific Theater: New Guinea and Southern Philippines. I’m struggling to find the translation for some of the military coding (what the heck is “Meritorious Unit Award GO 1816 Hq FEAF 45”? Or “Philippine Liberation Ribbon and One Bronze Star GO 23 Hq USAFFE 45”?). I know GO means General Order, and I know 45 is for the year, but otherwise, I keep hitting bumps in the road.
    But I’m a fan of any historical military blog, they all help me learn as I go. I’m a big fan of anyone who brings some of the lesser-known locations in our nation’s military history.

  4. Hilary, what a wonderful story to write about. We civilians or “arm chair historians” always fail to drill down to the boots on the ground. “CBI” or “Guadalcanal” or “Battle of ABC”. Your stories bring us to the jungle floor and his experiences. I know very little about “jungle hornets” but if they are similar to the Japanese hornets, those a HUGE suckers. Thank you for sharing.

    • I am lucky to have such direct memoirs. My father wrote about his experiences in his 80s, but I also have the letters he wrote to my mother at the time. There are so many stories like this. I believe they are the same hornets!

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