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.


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.