The slimmed-down Sarfor marched along jungle tracks towards Sanggau, arriving
there on 29th December. At Sanggau the
first of many uncomfortable and unfriendly encounters with the Dutch armed
forces occurred when Sarfor had to
wait several hours before it was permitted to cross the final river. (11) However at the Singkawan II airbase good
accommodation was found in barracks built for RAF personnel, and food and
clothing could be obtained. Sadly the
Dutch troops on the airbase appeared lax, one Punjabi observer reporting that
the locally enlisted men looted buildings whilst the Europeans drank
heavily. Colonel Lane signalled Singapore requesting that the Punjabis be
withdrawn from Borneo and employed on
operations elsewhere but the response received stated that from now on the Battalion
was under Dutch command. The civilians
and surplus administrative troops in Sarfor
were ordered to proceed to Pontianak
for evacuation to Java. (12) The local Dutch commander, Lieutenant-Colonel
Mars, agreed that the Punjabis could remain in their barracks until 4th January
to recuperate after their strenuous march.
An inventory of the Battalion weaponry made
at Singkawan II listed 603 rifles, 21 Bren guns, 21 sub-machine guns, 2 Lewis
guns, 2 Browning machine guns taken from a crashed Dutch plane, 31 revolvers,
54 hand grenades and 53,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition. All the support weapons had been dumped in
the river at Batu Kitak. Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Thompson re-organised the
remaining Punjabis as far as he could, using the previous four class-company
composition. Captain Chapman commanded ‘B’ Company whilst the Adjutant, Captain Temple, took over command of ‘C’
with the Dutch chain of command remained difficult, with Colonel Lane often receiving conflicting
orders from two different commanders.
The Dutch did not wish to disclose their own deployment details to the
British, and in small operations that took place as the Japanese pushed through
the border area there were criticisms from the Punjabis that the previously
agreed support required from Dutch troops did not appear. Perhaps one reason for the perceived Dutch
failings was that their tactics were based on counter-insurgency operations
rather than general warfare. However it
is fair to say that insofar as confusion reigned along the Dutch chain of
command, it was matched by the British in Malaya and Singapore. Very few Allied commanders and their troops
were physically or mentally prepared to fight effectively against the Japanese
One useful piece of support provided for the
Battalion was that on 31st December three Blenheim aircraft from Singapore
dropped 400 kilograms of rations for the Punjabis onto Singkawan II.
The defence of Sanggau From 5th January the Dutch command deployed
detachments of Punjabis along the tracks that led to the Sarawak
border. Captain Philip Crosland,
commanding ‘D’ Company, and 2/Lieutenant R.W. Large (ex-Sarawak Rangers)
commanding a platoon of ‘A’ Company, fought rear-guard actions as the Japanese
advanced. Japanese casualties were
numerous but Punjabi casualties were light as the Punjabis had the advantages
of surprise when patrolling and ambushing and prepared positions to fight from
when defending. Jemadar Badlu Ram was
killed during one of these contact.
2/Lieutenant Reginald William Large, formerly
commanding Sarawak Rangers with the local rank of captain, was later awarded a
“This officer led a patrol of the 2/15
Punjab Regt against the Japanese at Jagoi Babang, on the Sarawak – Dutch West Borneo border, on the 19 January 1942. His patrol reached to within 50 yards of the
enemy, on whom over thirty casualties were inflicted. The Indian officer with the patrol was killed (13)
and after a time the patrol was forced to retire. It was not until later that 2/Lieut. Large
became aware that the Indian officer’s body had not been recovered. This officer, then, at the risk of his life
returned to the scene of the action. Not
only by this but by his gallant conduct throughout the fight, he earned the
admiration of all. He is recommended for
the award of the Military Cross." (14)
Above: Allied map of Borneo
the end of January the Japanese had reached Paling, located just before
Sanggau. Captain Fairburn’s Sikh ‘A’
Company put in an attack that seized the first enemy trenches but which
ultimately failed when the planned Dutch flanking movement fell apart in a
Japanese ambush that killed the Dutch commander. Badly sited and poorly controlled Dutch heavy
mortars wounded Dutch soldiers and Punjabis alike and killed Subedar Kartar
Singh. The son of Kartar Singh was
serving in the Battalion and he performed his father’s funeral rites.
During the next day the Japanese tried to
break through to Singkawang II airfield.
Their progress was blocked by Subedar Faramurz Khan and two platoons of
Punjabi Musalmans from ‘B’ Company.
Faramurz Khan exhorted his men to fight to the end. After an all-day action the Punjabis were
finally overrun in the early evening, having expended their ammunition. Faramurz Khan and many of his men were
already dead but the Japanese were angry and vengeful because of the 400 or
more casualties that they themselves had suffered. Only three Punjabis from these two platoons
were seen again, and one of them, Lance-Naik Sher Khan, later reported that the
Japanese wired together the prisoners taken, doused them in petrol and burned
them to death.
Japanese landings on the west Borneo coast
troops with commandeered bicycles
Singkawang, Dutch West Borneo (Kalimantan) 1942
Whilst Faramurz Khan and his men fought to
the death at Sanggau the Battalion and remaining Dutch forces completed the
demolition of Singkawang II and withdrew to the south-east towards Sampit. Meanwhile Japanese landings took place on the
coastline to the west, causing the Dutch command to issue wild and impossible
orders to Colonel Lane. From now on the Punjabis fought rear-guard
actions mostly by themselves, as the Dutch units tended to pull out before
contact with the enemy was made. On
28th January Captain Temple’s Khattack ‘C’
Company fought a delaying action on the Penaring Pass,
killing many Japanese troops who advanced on bicycles to within 125 metres of
the Punjabis’ positions. However the
position could not be held as the Dutch troops initially located there had
already left the scene. ‘C’ Company withdrew in good order.
The situation was slightly better at
Bengkajang that evening where ‘C’ Company was joined by a Jat platoon from ‘D’
Company and a Dutch platoon. The
Japanese attacked and were repulsed, having suffered heavy casualties; the
surviving enemy soldiers were bogged down in rice fields under the Punjabis
effective Bren gun fire. But the Dutch
platoon withdrew without good reason and full advantage could not be taken of
the enemy’s disorganisation. ‘C’ Company
withdrew again and joined the remainder of 2/15th Punjab Regiment at
Ngabang. The ammunition state of the
Battalion was 60 rounds per man and one fully charged magazine for each Bren
gun; there were no reserves of ammunition and the clothing and boots of the
sepoys were worn out. At Ngabang Colonel Lane
decided to withdraw the remaining men of Sarfor
to the south Borneo coast with a view to
arranging an evacuation to Java. Colonel
Lane had been seriously ill with malaria since mid-January and he was not fit
to march further, and so the Dutch agreed to evacuate him by air to Java along with
some senior Dutch officials. However the
seaplane took off before Colonel
Lane reached its river mooring, leaving the
Colonel to make his own way to the south coast.
The march to south Borneo Although the Punjabis did not yet know it,
they had fought the last of their major actions against the Japanese; what lay
ahead of them was an exceedingly tough march through wet and often inhospitable
jungle. Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Thompson
visited Lieutenant-Colonel Mars and stated his plan to withdraw to the south Borneo coast. This
was not part of the Dutch scheme, as it appeared to Ross-Thompson that Mars
wished the Punjabis to draw the Japanese after them inland, whilst the Dutch
troops marched to Ketapang on the west coast along a route previously stocked
with supplies. Ross-Thompson declined to
follow Mars’ advised route and organised Sarfor
into two columns that were to march separately to Sampit and Pangkalanboen
Column ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies and part of
Headquarters Company under Major Milligan, with eight other British officers,
eight Indian officers and 344 other ranks.
‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies and remainder of
Headquarters Company under Lt-Colonel Ross Thompson, with nine other British
officers, five Indian officers and 349 other ranks.
There was also a ‘Blitz Party’ commanded by
Captain N.S. MacArthur, of another officer and four other ranks whose task was
to move rapidly to Sampit and make contact with the British HQ in Java either
by radio or small boat. These men
achieved their mission by marching over 160 kilometres in five days and then
finding a useable radio, but in the event the seaplane that had taken off
without Colonel Lane
had forewarned Java of the Battalion’s intentions.
Nearly a month later, after epic treks and
river crossings, both East and West Columns reached their destinations. Apart from a lack of rations, foraging in
villages having produced very little spare food, mosquitoes, leeches, soldier
ants, snakes and wild bees attacked the men.
Many weapons were lost on river crossings when homemade rafts
capsized. By now most of the sepoys were
physically shattered and debilitated by lack of food, and those who fell out on
the march faced an uncertain future as many villagers were unfriendly towards
Europeans. In the larger towns anarchy
reigned. Local members of the Dutch
forces deserted and armed civilians attacked the remaining Europeans and looted
offices and stores.
Both columns travelled down rivers when
possible on rafts or launches supplied by co-operative Dutch officials. When near the coast at Sampit a Japanese
force landed ahead of East Column and two Khattack patrols fought a delaying
action to allow the remainder of the column to withdraw, but even so many men
were left behind, some too exhausted to move quickly. The Japanese soon rounded them up. The remainder of East Column then marched
westwards to join West Column near Pangkalanboen.
A staff officer arrived from Java to advise
that the Punjabis were not to be evacuated but were initially to defend
Kotawaringen airfield and then to operate in the interior as guerrillas, along
with a Dutch unit. The troops were to ‘live off the land’. But this plan came too late to be viable. The
Battalion was no longer physically capable of facing the exertions and
privations that jungle-living would impose upon it. This staff officer also broadcast the
intentions of East and West Columns throughout the area, perhaps in a misguided
attempt to make contact with everybody, but his efforts only resulted in the Japanese
becoming aware of Sarfor and its intended
movements. Events had moved rapidly and
disastrously for the Allies, and the Netherlands East Indies capitulated to the
Japanese on 8th March.
Six courageous officers from the Sarawak
State Forces, now commissioned into the British or Indian Army and posted to
2/15th Punjabis (Captain C.L. Newman, Lieutenant C.S. Sergel, 2/Lieutenants W.
Harnack, D.B. Stewart, A.E.A. Edwards and F.H. Wright) decided to march back
into Sarawak and continue operating
there. Sadly all six were ambushed and
killed by hostile villagers before they reached Sarawak.
boat did actually arrive from Java for Sarfor
bringing welcome rations; it also brought weapons and ammunition, but the cargo
had been incorrectly loaded as Bren guns were without magazines, grenades were
without detonators and much of the ammunition was for Dutch 6.5-milimetre
carbines. Colonel Lane met up with the
Battalion at Pangkalangboen and assumed command of Sarfor again.
Concerned about the physical condition of the men Colonel Lane and Lieutenant-Colonel
Ross-Thompson decided that further resistance would be futile and Sarfor surrendered to a Japanese Naval
Brigade on 3rd April 1942.
Left: Subedar Makhmad Anwar IDSM
murdered by the Japanese
Kula Belait 21 Apr. 1945
Captivity and atrocities In captivity Sarfor
was split up and placed in several camps in South-East
Asia. All the British
officers of the 2/15th Punjab Regiment survived captivity. Some were held in
the Batu Lintang camp, Kuching, and mention is made of them in Don Wall’s book Kill the Prisoners. It was the Indian officers and soldiers who
suffered the most from Japanese atrocities in the camps. Most men, led by their Indian officers,
refused to join the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army led by the
collaborator Subhas Chandra Bose. This
infuriated the Japanese, and in the Kuala Belait camp in Brunei Subedar Makhmad
Anwar IDSM (15)
was flogged and hung by his heels until he was dead. Four jemadars in Kuala Belait camp (Akram
Khan, Mohamed Anwar, Nazir Hussain and Lachman Singh) were made to dig their
own graves before they were beheaded. It
appears that fifty sepoys who had refused to collaborate were tied up and
bayoneted or otherwise murdered.
One personal account of a sepoy in captivity
can be found in Mark Felton’s The Final
Betrayal. Mountbatten, MacArthur and the Tragedy of Japanese POWs. Naik Changdi Ram, 2/15th Punjabis, gave
formal evidence after his release from captivity by Australian troops; the
evidence records beatings, tortures and acts of cannibalism by Japanese
soldiers performed on Allied European and Indian troops.
Sarawak Ranger Suhail Ali stayed with the
Battalion throughout its time in Borneo and
went into captivity with it. The
Japanese offered him repatriation to Sarawak
but he chose to stay with the Punjabis.
He was a tower of strength in captivity, and after release from a camp
in Rabaul he went with the Punjabi survivors back to Ambala in India where the
Battalion was re-raised, returning to Sarawak a year later. Captain Philip Crosland later wrote of him:
‘A braver and more honourable man you could not find anywhere.' (16)
The toll of 2/15th Punjab Regiment personnel
who were killed in action or died of wounds in Borneo,
or who died or were murdered in Japanese prison camps was overwhelming:
9 Indian officers
Indian other ranks
These men are commemorated by the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission in various cemeteries and on monuments
around South-East Asia. On Labuan Island Captain John Harold
Cavendish Brown and thirty sepoys are buried in the Labuan
and thirty-one Hindu and Sikh sepoys are listed on the Labuan Cremation
On returning to India, Colonel Lane recommended rewards
for a number of 2/15th Punjab Regiment personnel in recognition of their
services in the field and in prison camps, but the response was hardly
gratifying. (17) Only the following awards were published:
2/Lieutenant Reginald William Large
of the Military Division of the Order of the British
Subedar-Major Sher Dil Khan, Sardar Bahadur, OBI (18)
Subedar Mohammad Hasham
of British India (1st Class)
Subedar Labh Singh.
in Despatches (including posthumous mentions)
Capt. Sher Dil
Khan, OBI, MBE
9197 Naik Ghazan
9260 Naik Kirpal
10398 Sepoy Ali
Jangi Inam (includes posthumous) (19) 44 awards.
Additional recommendations for an Indian
Order of Merit (Subedar Faramurz Khan) and an Indian Distinguished Service
Medal (Jemadar Badlu Ram), as well as Distinguished Service Orders, a Military
Cross and admissions to the Order of the British Empire
were not approved or were downgraded to Mentions in Despatches. (20)
Indian officers of the 2/15th Punjab Regiment who were granted awards.
Sub.-Major Sher Dil Khan MBE
OBI, Subedar Labh Singh OBI, Subedar Mohammed Hasham MBE
Labh Singh is prominently displaying the neck
badge of the 1st Class Order of British some time after the bestowal parade for
this award. The grant of the MBE to the two other officers had probably been
published by this time but the decorations and the ribbons had not yet been received.
The drums of the 2/15th Punjabi
When the Battalion withdrew from Kuching the
drums were left behind. The band had been very popular in Kuching, and loyal
civilians seized the drums before they could be looted and buried them in the
jungle. After the war the drums were
recovered and returned to the Battalion.
Captain Sher Dil Khan, Sardar Bahadur, MBE, OBI
Subedar-Major Sher Dil Khan
commenced his military career in July 1908 when he joined the 29th Punjabis. In
1922 he was transferred to the 2/15th Punjab Regiment. He was promoted Jemadar
in June 1921, Subedar in March 1928 and Subedar-Major in July 1938. During his
service he has held the appointments of Head Clerk on active service with the
29th Punjabis, Q.M. Jemadar 2/15th Punjab Regiment and Q.M. 2/15th Punjab
Regiment on active service in Borneo in 1941.
He was admitted to the O.B.I. 1st Class in January 1941, and was promoted
Honorary Lieutenant in August 1940, and Honorary Captain on 1 January 1942.
Subedar-Major Sher Dil Khan served with “B.E.” Force
during the last war, Wazir Force June 1922 to May 1923 and served in the Burma
Rebellion, Loe Agra and Mohmand Operations 1935. He went overseas with the
2/15th Punjab Regiment in October 1940 and served in Singapore,
Sarawak, and Dutch West and South Borneo,
being made a prisoner of war following the capitulation of the unit on 3 April
1942. At the age of 55 he fought a rearguard action with the Battalion through
the swamps and mountains of Borneo for about
900 miles, and by his courage and devotion to duty set a fine example to all
As a prisoner of war, Subedar-Major Sher
Dil Khan together with some 500 men of the Battalion. left Java for Singapore in
July 1942 where he went into Saletar Camp. Being one of the most senior Punjab
Musalman officers, every effort was made by the leaders of the I.N.A. to get
him to join the movement. Captain Sher Dil Khan resisted all persuasions and in
August 1942 was taken to the I.N.A. Detention Camp, Bida-Dari, where he was subjected
to every form of menial indignity, mental and bodily torture and starvation. In
January 1943, Sher Dil, since it was obvious that he did not intend to join the
movement, was sent with 149 men of the Battalion to Rabaul, New Britain,
remaining there as a prisoner of war until the end of the Far East War.
Captain Sher Dil Khan has just been
awarded the M.B.E. in recognition of his loyalty. He is well known in A.R.A.
circles as being one of the finest rifle and revolver shots in the Indian Army,
and it was largely due to his efforts that the 2nd Bn. achieved its splendid record
in the years immediately prior to the 1939-45 war.
of Mohd Sharif who Twice Escaped from a Japanese P.O.W. Camp (21)
Mess Waiter Mohd Sharif, of
the 2/15th Punjab Regiment, arrived in Calcutta
the other day on the last stage of a hitchhike from Bangkok
to his Regimental Centre in Ambala, Punjab.
Hitchhiking is almost second
nature to this 34-year-old Chitrali who, before being captured by the Japanese
in Southern Borneo in April 1942, tramped with his regiment from Kuching,
Sarawak, through the heart of Borneo after the
Japanese invasion of 1941.
After capture by the Japanese, Mohd Sharif,
with a party of officers and men of his regiment, was taken to Java on the deck
of a Japanese naval ship. Officers and
men remained together for a month and were then separated from each other by
Within a few months he was
taken to Singapore
where, at the beginning of 1943, he escaped from Bidadari Camp. For eight months he lived with local Chinese,
Malays and Indians until recaptured by the Japanese military police. Modh
Sharif was sent to a punishment camp, but made up his mind to escape again
which he did seven months later.
He slipped outside the barbed
wire of his camp late one night and, although he injured his leg badly,
succeeded in making his way to the mainland at Jahore Baru. On the mainland he
hitchhiked to Ipoh and Taiping, finally reaching
he lived with the local people and although he was in daily contact with the
Japanese his identity was never discovered.
Then the war ended, but not
for Mohd Sharif. His injured leg became so bad that he went into hospital in Bangkok for treatment. He
was operated on and discharged after eight months. It was then that his odyssey
began in earnest.
Reluctant to report himself to
the military police without his pay book which he had destroyed, or any other
means of identification, he set out on his long trek to Ambala.
His journey took him from Bangkok to Moulmein and
from Moulmein to Rangoon. In Rangoon
he boarded a ship and finally reached Calcutta.
While acting as a chowkidar at
a shop in Chowringhee. (21)
Mohd Sharif was recognized by a former officer of his regiment who had been in
a POW camp with him in Java.
A cheerful, indomitable little
man, he sees nothing out of the ordinary in his amazing adventures. He sums up
his experiences thus: “I did not like being a prisoner-of-war with the Japanese
so I escaped. When I left hospital after the war was over, I knew that I would
have to get to my home on my own.”
The military authorities are
now looking after him, and soon Mohd Sharif will be entering the village in
Chitral which he has not seen for so many years.
As I said goodbye to him the
other day, I thought I caught a look of regret in his eye.Perhaps for a moment
this sturdy individual was sorry that the final stage of his epic journey was
the be spent uy=under the shepherding wing of authority.
Since writing this article several more
awards for 2/15th Punjabis have come to light. They are published in the London Gazette
Supplements No. 37822 dated Thursday 19th December 1946 and No. 38079
dated Thursday 25 September 1947. The latter
Supplement was published after the independence of Pakistan and India but it
appears that the awards were issued and received as though they had been
gazetted prior to independence, however they were subject to the new ranking
systems of awards determined by the two new nations.
The citations for these awards are very
interesting in that they tell us much more of the battlefield conditions
prevailing during the fighting in Borneo.
Colonel Lane wrote the initial short citations and Colonel Milligan, who
was appointed Commanding Officer when the Battalion reformed, expanded the
submissions by adding his personal comments.
His Excellency the Viceroy of British India approved the awards.
A recent book of Indian Army and Indian
National Army sepoys’ personal narratives sheds more light on those Battalion
sepoys who joined the INA, and details can be seen in endnote V below. The list that now follows is believed to be
the final list of Battalion awards.
AWARDS OF THE INDIAN ORDER OF MERIT Jemadar
Badlu Ram This
officer as a 2nd-in-Command of a fighting patrol with great courage
and skill led his men within 50 yards of the enemy at BJAGOE BABANG on the
Sarawak and Dutch West Borneo border on the 10th January 1942. The gallantry displayed by this officer
considering the climatic conditions and the nature of the country, was of the
highest possible order though consistent with his actions and courage on
previous occasions. He was thus able to
surprise the enemy and to inflict considerable loss on them, though they were
treble the number of his patrol. His
supreme effort cost him his life but the knowledge of this most courageous deed
was an inspiration to all ranks of the battalion. He is most strongly recommended for an award.
Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel F.G. MILLIGAN
Following the withdrawal of SARFOR from
Kuching to Dutch West Borneo 26.12.41 to 1.1.42, two Jat platoons of the 2/15th
were sent back from SANGU-LEDO to the Sarawak border to provide fighting
patrols in a harassing role to impede the enemy’s advance by jungle track on to
SINKAWANG II aerodrome. These platoons
left 4.1.42 and were joined 7.1.42 by a Sikh platoon and on 8.1.42 by a
Khattack platoon. They were continuously
in action against a large enemy force until 18.1.42 operating in the early days
of the month some 35 to 40 miles ahead of the aerodrome position. Due to the 2/15th commitments
further reinforcements were not available.
Framurz Khan This
officer was in command of the Battery of Field Guns of the Battalion at KUCHING
in 1941-42. His exceptional courage in
action was most valuable on several occasions during the action against the
Japanese at the Kuching aerodrome in December 1941. Later at SANGGAU-LEDO on the Sarawak and
Dutch West Borneo border he showed great gallantry in command of his men in
action and when last seen was urging his men on under most distressing
conditions. He was missing after the
Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel F.G.
This officer was commanding the 18-pounder
Field Guns at the PENDING position, 24.12.41 and successfully checked the
Japanese advance up river by sinking six landing craft. He remained in position with his guns until
all of his positions had been completely over-run after which he successfully
effected a withdrawal under cover of darkness over a distance of some 8 miles
through plantation tracks to the main aerodrome defences. Throughout the night 24/25th when
the enemy were surrounding the force on the aerodrome and were subjecting it to
heavy shell and mortar fire, this officer maintained his guns in action in a
most skilful manner. During the
withdrawal of the force from the aerodrome on the evening of the 25th
he covered a river crossing and a ferry position in a most efficient manner
which was largely responsible for the successful withdrawal of the bulk of the
force. In Dutch West Borneo, Subadar
Framurz Khan was 2nd-in command of ‘B’ Company covering the
SANGGAU-LEDO roadhead. He had supported
his flanks with one platoon of ‘D’ Company and one platoon of ‘C’ Company, two
light tanks and an armoured car. The
SAMBAS river crossing included in his position was further covered by 12 Medium
Machine Guns. At 0645 hours on 27th
January 1942 the Japanese attacked in force estimated at more than one
battalion on the right flank. The light
tanks and armoured car were put out of action and by 0800 hours the enemy was
was heavily pressing the two platoons of ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies. By 0900 hours the enemy had put in a second
heavy attack on the left flank and as the demolition of SINGKAWANG II aerodrome
had been completed, the Dutch gave orders for a withdrawal from the SANGGAU position. The enemy were by this time closely engaged
with ‘B’ Company which had been given the task of covering ‘A’ Company off the
aerodrome and the two platoons of ‘C’ and ‘D’ out of SANGGAU. This officer realising that the enemy were
about to over-run the position, held back two platoons of this Company and
fought the enemy off until late in the afternoon and until the expenditure of
his ammunition. The enemy casualties are
reliably reported as between 400-500.
There is no doubt but that the action of this officer prevented the
annihilation of the remnants of the Force.
When finally overwhelmed, the Japanese tied up the survivors including
this officer and burnt them to death. I most
strongly recommend that this officer be considered for the Highest Possible
Kartar Singh Subadar
Kartar Singh on two occasions displayed magnificent qualities. Firstly during the attack on BJAGOI BABANG on
the SARAWAK border on January 10th 1942 he led his fighting patrol
with such indomitable courage that he and his men were able to approach to
within 50 yards of the enemy, and completely surprise them, inflicting on them
heavy loss. Secondly during the attack
on the Japanese positions at PALING in DUTCH WEST BORNEO this officer showed
complete disregard for his personal safety in aiding the direction of Dutch
Mortars. Owing to his vast knowledge of
Mortar work fire was thus brought to bear on the enemy positions and the enemy
were driven from their trenches. He was
killed in the act of directing the fire of the Mortars.
Remarks of Lieutenant Colonel F.G.
This officer, commanding the Mortar platoon
in the Kuching area did extremely well during the Japanese initial attack and
in conjunction with the field guns did much to account for the very heavy enemy
casualties. In Dutch West Borneo he was
in command of the Sikh platoon sent up to the Sarawak border 7.1.42 on a
harassment role. His platoon remained in
action against heavy odds under the most appalling climatic conditions until
18.1.42. He was killed in action 27.1.42
during the 2/15th counter-attack on a strong Japanese entrenched
position at PALING. He is very strongly
recommended for the above mentioned award (Indian Order of Merit).
Makhmad Anwar IDSM After
capture by the Japanese Subedar MAKHMAD ANWAR and other Viceroy’s Commissioned
Officers were imprisoned in Kuching, where they were separated from their
troops and locked in local cells. The
treatment was very bad and they were beaten regularly as they refused to
co-operate with the Japanese. Subedar
MAKHMAD ANWAR, due to his seniority and persistent refusals to cooperate,
received extra punishments, which in the end caused his death. He
was strung up by his feet and beaten twice daily. The wounds caused by these thrashings became septic
and he finished up in such a bad state that when he died, during one of these
thrashings, maggots had already infected his wounds. The
courage, fortitude and extreme devotion to duty displayed by this Viceroy’s
Commissioned Officer was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Indian
A. ONE AWARD OF THE INDIAN DISTINGUISHED SERVICE
9732 Naik Harnam Singh This
Non-Commissioned Officer was in command of a section of 3-inch mortars in the
PENDING defences at KUCHING in December 1941.
On 24 December the Japanese attacked and the PENDING position was
seriously threatened. Naik Harnam Singh
using cool courage and exercising perfect control over his men was able to
manoeuvre his section so that fire was brought to bear on enemy landing boats,
several of which were sunk or damaged.
His conduct at this vital stage of the attack by the enemy made it
possible for the main system of defence at PENDING to be re-adjusted
Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel F.G.
This Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) was one
of the most outstanding of the 2/15th Mortar commanders. The Mortars alone in the PENDING action
accounted for at least four enemy landing craft. Later in action in Dutch West Borneo, this
NCO did very well particularly on long range fighting patrol work. During the withdrawal to South Borneo over
nearly 1000 miles of jungle, he set a magnificent example to his men of
endurance, and devotion to duty. He
refused to join the Indian National Army despite every form of persuasion and
died on 1st March 1945 as a Prisoner of War in New Britain. He is strongly recommended for the above award
B. TWO AWARDS OF THE MILITARY CROSS Jemadar Rakhmat Ullah
Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer in the Kuching defence scheme was in charge of a
very isolated post in the LOBAS network of mangrove swamps to the west of
Kuching. During the withdrawal to Dutch
West Borneo he and his platoon were cut off from the Battalion, nevertheless,
by marching 30 miles through jungle he arrived safely with his men, at
Headquarters in Dutch West Borneo. He
was at this time the senior Khattack left in the Battalion. He showed the greatest courage in action at
MOMONG and at SANGGAU in Dutch West Borneo and again at SUNGI SAMPIT in South
Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel F.G. MILLIGAN
This Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer was in
command of a Khattack platoon and a platoon of Sarawak Rangers on the extreme
west flank of the Kuching position some 14 miles away from Headquarters. When the Japanese had penetrated the position
and captured the town this officer successfully withdrew having given valuable
information concerning the enemy strength.
Despite the fact that the Sarawak Ranger platoon being newly raised, and
untried native troops were defecting, he was able to control his men over a
most arduous withdrawal through thick jungle and swamp to rejoin the
Battalion. At SANGGAU-LEDO he did
extremely well on the right flank during the Japanese attack on 27 Jan 42. His platoon remained in position under fire
against overwhelming enemy odds and inflicted very heavy casualties. He had also been sent forward on a special
fighting patrol mission to MOMONG on 26 Jan 42 and had shown great courage and
outstanding leadership. Following the
Kuching action where the 2/15th lost three Khattack Viceroy’s
Commissioned Officers, Jemadar Rakhmat Ullah was the senior Pathan left. In this capacity he also acted as Company
Second in Command throughout the operations in Dutch Borneo. At the PENARING PASS action in Dutch North
Borneo he did extremely well showing great courage under fire and spared no
effort on achieving for his company the signal success that marked this
action. Later at SAMPIT he again showed
leadership and power of command of an outstanding quality. He proved to be cool and extremely
unperturbed under fire. The Pathan
Company in East Column did very well indeed and despite the arduous withdrawal
came through with fewer casualties and no losses in arms, an achievement
unsurpassed by other Companies of that Column.
As the Indian Distinguished Service Medal is no longer admissible to
Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers I strongly recommend this officer for the award
of the Military Cross.
Lieutenant Reginald William Large This
officer led a patrol of the 2/15 Punjab Regiment against the Japanese at Jagoi
Babang, on the Sarawak – Dutch West Borneo border, on the 19 January 1942. His patrol reached to within 50 yards of the
enemy, on whom over thirty casualties were inflicted. The Indian officer with the patrol (Jemadar
Badlu Ram) was killed and after a time
the patrol was forced to retire. It was
not until later that 2/Lieut. Large became aware that the Indian officer’s body
had not been recovered. This officer,
then, at the risk of his life returned to the scene of the action. Not only by this but by his gallant conduct
throughout the fight, he earned the admiration of all. He is recommended for the award of the
C. TWO AWARDS OF THE MILITARY MEDAL No.
9847 Lance Naik Sant Singh Lance Naik SANT SINGH was attached
to ‘A’ Company in December 1941 and due to the role and dispositions of that
Company he had to act on his own initiative at all times. He was responsible
for the line telegraph and visual signalling in his area. The length between posts
of telephone wire was 18 miles and during the Japanese attack he surveyed all
lines and kept communications intact. All forward posts were able to send and
receive information without delay. On 24 Dec 1941 he traced a fault to Tabusn
Dysk, a distance of 7 miles away with the knowledge that the enemy were
breaking through our lines. He was a perfect example to all his men and is
strongly recommended for an award.
Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel F.G. MILLIGAN
This is another case of a very junior NCO being called upon to shoulder
considerable responsibility. Due to the very extensive area of operations, the
close nature of the country and natural difficulty in maintaining contact,
Lance Naik SANT SINGH’s effort was above average. He remained loyal as a Prisoner
of War and died as a Prisoner of War in Balikpapan, South Borneo, 4 May 1944.
10055 Lance Naik Beant Singh This Non-Commissioned Officer
volunteered to proceed in disguise on an important mission from Dutch West
Borneo to Sarawak, when in January 1942 the British forces were operating in
Dutch West Borneo. Although after going a considerable distance he was forced
to return, though no fault of his own, he was able to bring back valuable
information. Soon after at Siloeas, in Dutch West Borneo, he showed most marked
devotion to duty by reporting by telephone to Force HQ the movements of the
enemy and our own troops. This duty he carried out under fire at times and by
extreme energy transmitted valuable information at a critical period in
Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel F.G.
This NCO, who was one of the 2nd
Bn 15 Punjab Regiment’s Clerks, was one of the 2 men to volunteer for the
extremely perilous task of going some 60 miles behind the Japanese lines back
to Kuching to ascertain the enemy’s activities and the strength of the forces
with which he was advancing into Dutch West Borneo. He was also given the task
of finding out what was happening to our men who became missing in Kuching on
26 Dec 1941, and particularly in connection with the disappearance of Captain
Mata-ul-Mulk. No praise is too high for the courageous manner in which he
attempted to carry out this task. He is strongly recommended for the above
mentioned award (MM).
D. ONE AWARD OF THE ORDER OF BRITISH INDIA (1st
The citation is not available but Colonel
Lane’s comments were: His services as
senior Sikh Officer were of the highest order in action, and his control over
his men was responsible for the magnificent way in which they carried their
arms and large quantities of ammunition over hundreds of miles of bad country
in Borneo. Recommended for OBI First
E. TWO AWARDS OF MEMBERSHIP OF THE MILITARY
DIVISION OF THE MOST EXCELLENT ORDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE (MBE) Honorary
Captain and Subedar-Major Sher Dil Khan, Sardar Bahadur, OBI. For
his outstanding personal example, loyalty and fortitude whilst in captivity. Owing
to his rank and position and the influence he possessed over his juniors he was
singled out for special ill treatment but he continuously resisted the pressure
both physical and mental put on him by Japanese and members of the I.N.A. to
join and persuade others to join the I.N.A. His
splendid example and bearing under all circumstances was an inspiration to his
juniors and held them loyal to their oath despite the brutal and inhuman
treatment meted out to them.
(When this award was approved by His
Exellency the Commander-in-Chief in India the middle paragraph was amended by
hand to read: Owing to his rank and
position and the influence he possessed over his juniors he was singled out for
special ill treatment but he continuously resisted the pressure both physical
and mental put on him by the Japanese.)
For his outstanding personal example,
leadership and endurance of ill treatment whilst in captivity.
Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer was one of the two senior Indian Prisoners of
War in Kuching Camp, Sarawak, of a party sent there after having refused to
join the INA. Although
all were subjected to continuous ill treatment of a particularly severe nature,
this officer was singled out for special attention. By
his courageous endurance and by resistance to Japanese demands and
encouragement he preserved the loyalty of those imprisoned with him. His example is also reported to have encouraged
and fortified the British Prisoners of War in the Camp in their resistance to
F. MENTIONS IN DESPATCHES
Colonel (temporary) C.M. Lane MC. Lieutenant-Colonel G.R. Thompson (a). Major F.G. Anderson. Major F.G. Milligan (b). Major A.W.D. Slatter (c). Captain Sher Dil Khan, Sardar Bahadur, OBI,
MBE. Lieutenant D.A. Hodges. 2nd Lieutenant W.D. Harnack (d). Subadar Labh Singh OBI. Jemadar Gul Badshah. Jemadar (Local) Makhmud Sanam. 9197 Naik Ghazan Khan. 9260 Naik Kirpal Singh. 10398 Sepoy Ali Mohammed. 12970 Sepoy Naroz Khan (e).
G. OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS
Recommendations that did not result in
R.E. Edwards MC recommended to be an Officer in the Military
Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for ’his
excellent work in raising the Sarawak Volunteers and the supervision of the
demolition of Kuching aerodrome by night’.
He appears to have been commissioned into the regiment in Sarawak and
went into captivity with it.
M.W. Chapman also recommended for an OBE for
‘great resource and initiative in leading a column of 200 men through dense
jungle after the action at Batu Kitang on 25th December 1941 for
four days and for his excellent conduct in the operations at Sanggau’. He was wounded in action at Sanggau and went
into captivity with the Battalion.
Lieutenant Carl Scott Sergel also recommended for an
OBE for ‘leading a reconnaissance party from the Sarawak border to Sampit,
thereby enabling contact with General Headquarters Java. Later he showed skill and ability in leading
a column through dense jungle for six days, arriving at his appointed
destination’. He was the Adjutant of the Sarawak Volunteer
Force and was murdered by villagers in Dutch Borneo as he attempted to march
back to Sarawak; he is also commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.
7251740 Sergeant J. Feeley, Intelligence Corps,
recommended for a MBE for ‘his untiring efforts in cypher work, most times
under fire, and for the example he showed in the long march to South Borneo’.
(a) Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson had been recommended for admission to
the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for ‘the courageous manner in which he
conducted the operation at Sanggau and thereafter on the march to South
(b) Major Milligan was also recommended for a DSO for ‘his magnificent
efforts under the greatest possible difficulties in Borneo throughout the
year. His ability and perseverance were
of the highest order’.
(c) Major Arthur William Donat Slatter, killed in action on 14th
December 1941, had been recommended for ‘the highest possible award’. He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.
(d) 2nd Lieutenant Waldo Harnack was the SARFOR Intelligence
Officer and he had been recommended for a Military Cross for ‘bravery in action
at Sampit on 7th March 1942.
He was murdered by villagers in Dutch Borneo as he attempted to march
back to Sarawak and he is also commemorated on the Singapore Memorial. He appears to have also been recommended for
an OBE for ‘excellent work in spite of opposition by a local organisation’ that
probably did not wish to see its infrastructure demolished.
(e) Interestingly Naroz Khan is listed in the Scotts’ No Gongs for Heroes (spelt Niwaz Khan
but with the same regimental number) as having joined the Indian National Army
(INA) whilst in captivity. Four other
sepoys who had been recommended for awards are also listed by the Scotts as
joining the INA, however there are no supporting documents or statements to
prove this. It appears that more than a
few sepoys, mostly Sikhs, did join the INA or did collaborate with the Japanese
and some of these sepoys joined the Singapore Changi Prisoner of War Camp guard
force, where they came into contact with Major Milligan who was incarcerated
there. These INA sepoys were weeded out
and dismissed when the battalion reformed after the war ended. However it appears that Colonel Milligan took
an enlightened view of their conduct because of their loyalty during combat actions
against the Japanese, and he dismissed them from the Regiment and the Army but
he did not register them as being banned from taking up other government
positions such as in the police. This
information comes from an account provided by Sepoy Singh Malvi that appears in
the book AS TOLD BY THEM. Personal Narratives of Indian Soldiers Who Fought
During the World War II compiled by Ravi Inder Singh Sidu (Quills Ink
Publishing, May 14, 2014). The
independent governments of Pakistan and India did not retain former members of
the INA in their new national armies, but both governments did use some of them
as irregular forces on certain operations where the normal standards of
military chivalry, decency and honour were dispensed with.
 An observer’s comment that might explain
the friction between Sarfor and the Dutch troops was that some of the
Dutch resented the British for bringing the war into Dutch territory.
 This group had a long wait at Pontianak, being
evacuated on 25 January 1942, just two days before the Japanese seized the
port.  This officer casualty was Jemadar Badlu Ram
who had served in the ranks from December 1924 and only quite recently been
commissioned on 21 March 1941.
London Gazette, 1 August 1946. The original
recommendation for award of the MC to ‘2nd Lieut. Reginald William Large, 2/15
Punjab Regt (late Capt. Comdg. Sarawak Rangers)’ was submitted on the standard
Army Form W.3121 (The National Archives at Kew).  This officer had been awarded the Indian
Distinguished Service Medal for gallantry during operations against Mohmand
lashkars on the Northwest Frontier of India in 1935 (GGO No. 309 of 8 May
1936).  After the war, Philip William John Crosland
returned to his job as a journalist with The
Statesman, first in Delhi and later in Calcutta. His obituary
was published in “The Times” of the 7th August 2012.  By this time the gallantry of these
soldiers, and the severe hardships they had endured, no longer had any
immediacy, and this may account for the short thrift given to Colonel Lane’s
 Later granted the honorary rank of Captain. See Appendix I for biographical
details of his services etc.
 A grant of land or money.
 References to the
award of one Indian Meritorious Service Medal with Gratuity and two without Gratuity
have been found but cannot be confirmed as the notifications publishing the
awards have not been traced. If they were indeed granted, it would be nice to
think that Mess Waiter Mohd Sharif was one of the recipients (see appendix II
for this tenacious man’s story).  Contemporary newspaper report by Sean
Farrel.  He was evidently a watchmen or chowkidar in a neighbourhood of central Calcutta (Chowringhee)..
Major-General S. Woodburn Kirby, The War Against Japan.
Volume 1. The Loss of Singapore. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom
Military Series (reprint by Naval & Military Press 2004).
K.D. Bhargava MA & K.N.V. Sastri PhD, Campaigns in South-East
Asia 1941-42. Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the
Second World War 1939-45 (reprint Pentagon Press, New Delhi 2012).
Lionel Wigmore, The
Japanese Thrust. Australia
in the War of 1939-45 (Australian War Memorial Canberra 1957).
J. Lee Ready, The
Massacre of ABDACOM. The Destruction of the United
States, British, Dutch and Australian Forces by the
Japanese in World War II (Monticello
War History 2/15th Punjab Regiment (unpublished manuscript document, private collection).
John and Helene Scott, No Gongs for Heroes (unpublished manuscript document National Army
Colonel J.J. Nortier, An Indian Battalion’s Grim Journey Across Borneo (unpublished
manuscript document, private collection).
2nd Bn. 15th Punjab
Regiment. Battalion Letter for the Period November 1940 to the
31st March 1946 (private
Steven Runciman, The
White Rajahs. A History of Sarawak from 1841
to 1946 (Cambridge University Press 1960).
Don Wall, Kill
the Prisoners! (Don Wall Publications, Australia 1997).
Mark Felton, The
Final Betrayal. Mountbatten, MacArthur and the Tragedy of Japanese POWs by (Pen
& Sword 2010)
Captain C.G.T. Dean MBE, The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire)
1919-1953 (Regimental Headquarters The Loyal Regiment, Preston 1955).
“The London Gazette” –
several dates of publication.
Documents, papers and cuttings from a
Left: The CWGC Cremation Memorial at Labuan
commemmorating Sikh and
appeared in a recent edition of Durbar,
the Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society: http://imhs.org.uk/ )