Reginald Griffiths Gill. He was a Signaller onboard the SS Strathallan
Story kindly sent by Jean (daughter) of Reginald
The following quotes are from my mother’s memoirs. Billie Gill, born 1923, married my father in Esk, Qld in April 1943.
“On 12th of February they packed up in Palestine and travelled all night by train, to camp at Bitter Lakes.
On 17th it was pack up again and with an issue if Canadian beer, terrible stuff according to Jack Wheeler, and then the tugs took them out into the harbour to board the troop carrier Strathallan, which was a converted 24,000 ton passenger liner. It was packed to the roof with troops, and thankfully the food was good. Not a bad effort making decent food for that many people on the confined space of a ship — and I expect there was hundreds of crew as well.
On 19 February 1942 they departed from Suez, and headed towards South East Asia, and the Dutch East Indies, where they were to be landed.
But the Japs got to Java before them. As I’ve always heard it, one or both of the couple of ships ahead of the Strathallan were captured. The Strathallan captain saw what was happening and turned tail and ran. The rest of the convoy following behind the Strathallan followed suit and turned tail and ran. Well, it makes a good story,
Whether true or not. Reg always said they didn’t know that the Japs were already there, so what was intelligence doing? Didn’t they have communications with ships at sea in convoy? Reg said they then went as fast as they could go, with no naval escort, away down south into the very cold water almost to the Antarctic Convergence, and then back up to Fremantle.
In the many books I’ve read about the 6th and 7th Division’s return to Australia I have never seen this episode mentioned, but men from Esk (eg Stella Findlay’s husband) who had been in the Middle East were captured at Java while returning from the Middle East and later worked on the Burma Road.
It seems a funny idea to go away down into the Antarctic when Fremantle was so close to Java anyway.
What confusing stories are so often told—and they were told right afterwards too.
Thing is, that the rank and file usually knows nothing about the wider picture—Reg used to say that as signallers—they knew a lot more of the facts than the fighting soldier who knew little of what was happening. I can understand that. And so much stuff in the newspapers only comes from such sketchy incorrect source to be prettied up by the reporter to make a good story.
11th March 1942 at Fremantle everyone crowded onto one side of the liner till it got a terrific list to starboard so all were glad when a ship pulled out and they were able to slip into a berth. Soldiers were sliding overboard and down ropes before anyone could say jack or the MP’s knew what was on.
Everyone was granted leave for Perth till midnight and that fixed everyone up. Reg and company returned laden with apples and peaches and the boat sailed on 12th March 1942 with 47 still AWL—the convoy was led out of Fremantle by a Yankee Destroyer.
On 17th March they disembarked in Adelaide—where they would all be billeted in private homes in the Payneham area where they stayed for 8 weeks until the Australian Government could catch their breath and decide what to do with them—so unexpectedly returned to their home shores were the men from the Middle East. They had been expected to be taken to Indonesia to fight the Japs but the Japs beat them to Java and a couple of ship loads sailed right into the trap and became Jap POW.”
Another quote: “Anyway there was this set of Strathallan cutlery Reg had pinched off the ship on which he came home from Egypt. I saw them with my own eyes, and he offered them to Mum and for once she said ‘No thanks, you’ll be wanting them yourself when you come home.’ So Reg put his set of branded Strathallan cutlery back in his kitbag and they went into army store—and he never saw them or the bag again.”
What a family treasure that cutlery would be if we had it today!