Triumph of the spirit

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The stories of Deeside and Donside soldiers who fought the Japanese in Malaya up to the surrender of Singapore in 1942 are included in a new book.

Scattered under the Rising Sun was written by Stewart Mitchell, a volunteer at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen.

The book tells the story of the men and their families, bringing to light many previously untold accounts of courageous spirit, humour and compassion.

The men who fought in the Far East felt they were a ‘forgotten army’ as it was almost six months after the end of the war in Europe before they arrived home, by which time most of the British people had moved on, pleased to forget about the war. In this 70th anniversary year of the fall of Singapore in 1942, ‘Scattered Under The Rising Sun,’ has been released.

After their capture in 1942, the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders were forced into exhausting slave labour for up to 18 hours a day on a starvation diet of plain boiled rice, with virtually no meat or vegetables.

There were 53 men from the Dee and Donside areas in the 2nd Battalion in December 1941, when the battle for Malaya and Singapore began. These were a close knit group and included brothers George and Charlie Michie from Tough, near Alford but many of the others were, back home, near neighbours of other men serving with the Battalion. These included eight other men from the Alford area, seven from Tarland and five from Skene. After capture 75% of these men were taken to Thailand and two to Taiwan. The casualty rate of the whole group was 44%, similar to that of the Battalion as a whole but high by any other standard.

There are at present only five surviving men who served with the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders in Malaya in 1941 and became prisoners of the Japanese. One of these is Bill Kellas who grew up in Logie Coldstone and joined the Gordon Highlanders at Tarland Feein’ Market. Bill was a drummer in the pipe band and was posted to Singapore in 1937.

On the 13th February 1941, Singapore, Bill was receiving orders to go out on a patrol from another local man Lieutenant Bobby Irvine, from Drum Castle. Bill was on the outside edge of the trench speaking to Lieutenant Irvine when a mortar round made a direct hit on the trench. Bobby Irvine was killed instantly. Surprisingly Bill, and another Gordon who was standing next to him escaped unhurt. Two days later the British forces in Singapore surrendered and so began three and a half years of captivity.

Scattered Under the Sun, by Stewart Mitchell is published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd. ISBN 9781781590256.

Full story in this week’s Piper