‘” There are now sixty barges on the beach Sir”, the young lieutenant said, still out of breath after his run to the command post. “Our guess is each of them held something like sixty soldiers.”
Brigadier ‘Billy’ Key, commander of the 8th Indian Brigade, nodded sombrely. He had at least 3.000 heavily armed Japanese troops to deal with and their objective was blindingly obvious: to capture the airfields. And there wasn’t much he could do to help Lt Col Arthur Cumming’s 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment defending them. He simply didn’t have the troops.
Just after midnight, when the Japanese troop ships had heaved into sight about a mile offshore a single British 18 pounder gun had opened fire on them. Thus, one hour before the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor, the defences at Kota Bahru fired the opening rounds in the Pacific War.
The Australians of No. 1 Squadron RAAF had sortied their Hudson bombers in the dark, vainly searching for the enemy in the high winds and monsoon rains. At daybreak they had taken off again, attacking swarms of Japanese landing craft that were struggling through the rough seas towards the coast. Sortie after sortie they flew through such a withering anti-aircraft fire that after only a few hours, just five serviceable Hudsons were left.
Flight Lieutenant John Leighton-Jones and his entire crew were killed in their Hudson A16-94. After hitting a large troop transport and setting it afire, they crashed into a Japanese landing barge, taking it and its sixty occupants to the bottom of the Gulf of Siam.
Having no graves, they are now remembered on the Singapore Memorial:
- Fl/Lt John Graham Leighton-Jones, RAAF, Age 22
- F/O Ronald Hewitt Siggins, RAAF, Age 24
- Sgt David Ward Walters, RAAF, Age 21
- Sgt Graham John Hedges, RAAF, Age 20