Alexandra Hospital Massacre

May 23, 2009

Originally uploaded by Brian Spittle

The massacre of prisoners and patients at Alexandra Hospital on February 14 and 15, 1942 is one of the more notorious incidents of the war in Malaya and Singapore. Even as a young child I remember hearing stories about it though never from my father. In fact, he was busy making notes about bed bugs and latrines on Pulau Tekong at the time. As it turns out, however, what happened at Alexandra Hospital was of a good deal on interest to him.

After my father died I discovered three detailed eyewitness accounts of the incident among the notes he had hidden away in the attic. All were in his own hand writing.

One of these accounts was by someone he knew quite well as a fellow bird watcher at Kranji, J. Wharton. An extract from his account appears in the illustration. Another was from a Private Gurd, and has been quoted in other published accounts of the incident. The third, by a Lt. F.T. Moore, can be found in the following BBC site, WW2 People’s War:*

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/60/a8515460.shtml

It is identical to the account in my father’s notes.

I have no reason to think that my father knew either Private Gurd or Lt. Moore.  Presumably their accounts were in general, if clandestine, circulation in the camp. Neither can I be sure when my father copied them. He used discarded Roberts Hospital memos from August 1942 on which to do so but could have equally well used his notebook,  My guess is that the accounts were copied down much later, possibly when he was at Kranji.

I later learned that my father had another connection to the incident. The sanitary assistant he relieved on Pulau Tekong was subsequently posted to Alexandra Hospital.  He was to be killed there.

* WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar

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8 Responses to “Alexandra Hospital Massacre”

  1. Martin Scott Says:

    Hi Brian

    That account by FT Moore you’ve referred to above, and the one in your father’s notes if identical as you say, is often purported to be a transcript from the original war diary of the hospital. The story goes that the diary was being destroyed with other papers as the Japanese advanced, and an intrepid young Army clerk (either a British soldier called Redman or an Australian called Daley, and there are probably numerous others who make the claim) quickly typed up a copy and hid it in a hatband (Daley), or a canteen (Redman), or whatever, for the duration of the war.

    The story doesn’t quite hold up because the “diary” contains entries from after capitulation, so it was most likely something that was written in captivity and somehow passed around. I’ve seen about four different versions, some with an amendment adding that an investigation found that the Japanese were not fired on from the hospital. I think it’s pretty clear this addition is false.

    At any rate, I suspect that while the original source of the account probably won’t ever be verified, the document quoted by Moore, Redman, Daley and numerous others basically went viral in Changi, and was copied down by many POWs, some making minor amendments as they went.

    My grandfather was admitted to Alex shortly before the massacre – I’m attempting to identify the Australians lost there.

    Regards, Martin.

  2. Brian Spittle Says:

    Dear Martin:

    Many thanks for your comment. I had not heard the story but what you say certainly sounds plausible.

    Wharton’s account seems to record his own experience, at least in part. My father knew him at Changi but I get the impression that he didn’t write down the account until the latter part of his captivity.

    Good luck with your work on identifying the Australians at Alexandra Hospital.

    And thanks again.

    Regards,
    Brian

  3. Rob Waller Says:

    Thanks for this blog, which I have just come across. It is going a long way towards helping me understand the experiences of my father. Like others, I gather, he never spoke of his experiences to his family. Although obviously damaged, he made a gallant job of protecting us from what he had been through. He died last month, aged nearly 95, and it fell to me to say a few words at his funeral. I included what we did know of his capture while wounded at Alexandra Hospital, and subsequently, I believe, on the railway. After the funeral, a friend googled his name, and found an account of the massacre by Jeff Partridge. I imagine you are familiar with this (http://www.postcolonialweb.org/singapore/history/hospital/ah5.html).

    He identifies “Corporal C.N.C. Bryer, Privates S.W.J Hoskins and F.A.H. Gurd, Captain R. de Warrenne Waller and Medical Corporal G.W. Johnson. These were the only men out of two hundred taken prisoner in the servants’ quarters who lived to tell their stories.”

    From this account I now know that my father must have seen or heard horrific things. I am finding the graphic account given by Partridge hard to get out of my head, and I am in awe of the endurance and forbearance exhibited by my father and all the other former POWs.

    I am curious about whether my father would have been asked for an account of this event after the war, and whether there would be a record of this.

    • Brian Spittle Says:

      Thanks you for your comment. I really don’t know what I’m doing with the blog other than working through some of the notes my father made and seeing where that takes me. But I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found it helpful.

      I’m not an expert on what happened at Alexandra (or anywhere else) though I have seen Jeff Partridge’s account and have been in touch with him briefly. One of the written accounts in my father’s notes is that of Private Gurd. A few years ago I tried to track it down at the Imperial War Museum but it’s very hard to find out quite where such accounts originated. What happened at Alexandra must have been absolutely horrific though I do have another eye witness account among my father’s notes to the effect that not all the Japanese troops behaved badly and that the Japanese medical officer was appalled when he arrived on the scene.

      I gather that many of the returning POWs were interviewed about their captivity, at least briefly, on the ships home. Some of those records are publicly available as I understand it. Was your father at Changi or elsewhere?

      There is a Researching FEPOW History group that could be a source of more in-depth information. Here’s the link to their website if you haven’t already come across it: http://www.researchingfepowhistory.org.uk/index.html

      Yes, a regret is in not prodding my father to talk about this more. He brought it up himself from time to time but not very often. And as he was in the UK and I moved to the United States some years ago, the opportunities to talk were even more limited.

      Best wishes and thanks again for your note.

      Brian Spittle

  4. Martin Scott Says:

    Rob

    I’ve been researching the massacre for about six years and I have collected a copy of your father’s affidavit, which is held by the National Archives in the UK at Kew. If you or Brian can send me your contact details, I’ll arrange to send a scan to both of you. Give me til the weekend though, gotta get the scanner up and running.

    Thanks for the blog, Brian.

    Martin

    • Brian Spittle Says:

      Hi Martin:

      That would be very good of you. Many thanks. My email address is bspittle@comcast.net

      I live in the United States now and will be visiting the UK very briefly in mid-October. I was hoping to get to the archives at Kew.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  5. Rob Waller Says:

    Martin

    Thanks for this… my email address is rob_waller[at sign]mac.com

    I’m in some trepidation about what I might read, and as Brian says, becoming regretful I didn’t ask more questions. I suppose we all worried about bringing things to the surface that he had managed to put away somewhere deep. But after the funeral it emerged he had spoken of his time as a prisoner to one of his carers.

    I hope the email address is clear: trying to avoid my email address being picked up by spammers!

    Rob

  6. Martin Scott Says:

    It’s away.


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