‘Don’t stand still.’ Changi to Bukit Timah – POWs 8

In September 1942 Barry’s Line Section was sent by their captors, as a working party, from Changi to Bukit Timah near Singapore town. They were to build a memorial for soldiers of both sides killed during the invasion of Malaya. They marched the 16 miles to the new camp, carrying everything they owned. Barry remembers:

 As our party, No. 27 and the rest of No. 1 Company, arrived at the site one of the POWs already working there whispered to our Commanding Officer, “Just keep the tools moving. Make a noise. Don’t stand still.” We noted guards standing around the site all with fixed bayonets and each of them carrying a stout bamboo rod to encourage the laggards. We had not met this situation before as none of us had yet experienced the sensation of working directly under the eyes of a Jap guard.

Some of my Glasgow men had inevitably been in prison at some time in their careers and we had good advice from them. “Keep your head down, do not be noticed. Do what you are told to do and never give the slightest hint of reluctance. If you are hurt or very tired carry on with every appearance of bravery and co-operation and perhaps a guard will take pity and give you a rest.”

Some men seemed quite unable to grasp the fact that their very survival depended on their maintaining a very humble appearance, obeying orders, combined with eagerness to please our masters. A sour look, a shrug, a turned away shoulder or any such gesture earned an immediate swipe, accompanied by loud shouts.

Dancing on the Docks 2

In July 1941 the men of 27 Line Section stood waiting (as soldiers spend so much time doing) at Liverpool docks to embark on their troopship for a distant unknown destination. The Scotsmen in the section decided to while away the time by dancing an Eightsome Reel. Sergeant Pawson (from Glasgow?) was the leader and he made up eight separate Eightsomes – 64 men. Their captain, my father Barry Baker, attempted to play the mouth organ for them, while the Scotsmen taught the Englishmen the steps and the moves. Then they danced.

Barry remembers:

The reel was such a success that it gathered quite an audience of porters, sailors and others, so we did it all through once again. After that came the order to board, so my last memory of England for more than four years was dancing on the platform at Liverpool Docks.

27 Line Section is created – POWs 1

In 1941 about 70 men of the Royal Corps of Signals gathered on Liverpool docks preparing to embark for service ‘somewhere’ abroad. They carried tropical gear. Some of the men were career soldiers and had survived Dunkirk. Their units had been disbanded and they had been sent to work at Harnham Camp near the South Coast, restoring lines in the much-bombed coastal city of Plymouth. They were perhaps hoping for a cushier posting after their grim experiences.

These Dunkirk men had been allocated to a newly created unit, 27 Line Section, under a newly created Captain, Barry Baker, all of twenty-five years old, married with a baby son. Barry should have been in France, but he was recovering from head injuries after being knocked off his motorcycle by a young Canadian driving on the wrong side of the road. Backing him up was a 40 year-old NCO, 2nd Lieutenant Sutherland Brown, a married Plant Manager from Malaya.

The bulk of 27 Line Section was made of Scottish Reservists mainly from Glasgow. Many worked in the post office but there were also bakers, electricians, butchers, bricklayers, waiters and many other trades. They ranged in age from nineteen to late thirties. Few if any had been abroad before, none, except possibly the Lance Sergeants, had seen active service.

In his memoirs Barry wrote:

The Glasgow party arrived, bringing most of their own lorries with them, and they seemed to fit in quite easily with the men I knew already at Harnham. We had a few days to sort out duties, stores, transport and drivers and then we were sent on detachment as a whole Section to carry out a most interesting job. This was a great bonus as it enabled us, me and the four sergeants, to get to know one another and to get the Glaswegians and the Southerners properly acquainted and working together without the nuisance of Company Parades or C.O.’s inspections.

These weeks together proved crucial in the years ahead. As Barry remembers:

The whole job lasted only a few weeks but by the end of it No. 27 Line Section had a firm personality and individuality of its own. Later in Malaya or up country in Siam, if any of our men were asked what Unit they came from they would not answer “Malaya Command Signals” or “Attached to 8th Australian Div”, or even “2 Group POW Camp”, but simply “27 Line Section”.