Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy at Sleepy Valley

In past articles, I described some interesting places found around Princess Elizabeth Estate.
I had also mentioned some places in the vicinity being famous as World War II heritage sites like Bukit Batok Hill and Ford Motor factory.

From historical records, we learned that Bukit Batok and Bukit Timah were the places where some of the fiercest battles were fought between the defending British forces against the invading Imperial Japanese Army.
Though there is a heritage marker at the top of Bukit Batok Hill and another at Bukit Timah Hill, most people today do not know exactly where these battlefields were. I will take you to one of the sites of a battle at Bukit Batok.

One of the most tragic events of the war in Singapore happened at a place called Sleepy Valley.
Sleepy Valley was a rubber estate in then what was called West Bukit Timah. Today the area is called Bukit Batok.

During a retreat from the enemy forces, a whole battalion comprising 1500 Australian, British and Indian soldiers was trapped and almost annihilated by the Imperial Japanese Army.
 Of the 1500 men, only 400 eventually managed to escape from the ambush.

A little background of the war till that time:
At 10.30 pm on 8th Feb 1942, the Japanese Army crossed the Straits of Johor and invaded Singapore through the Lim Chu Kang Sarimbun area. These areas were defended mainly by British soldiers from the Australian regiments.

By 9th Feb, the British forces were pushed backed where they formed a defensive formation called the "Jurong Line".  The Jurong Line covered the entire stretch from Kranji River in the north to the Jurong River in the south. Tactically, this blockade would contain the Japanese forces within the western sector of Singapore island.

However, the Jurong Line didn't hold, and by the afternoon, the British forces began retreating again.


(Photo; Old Ford Factory Museum)


In the above war movement map, you can see the Australian forces spread out along the Jurong Line.
The 12th Brigade in the north retreated towards Bukit Panjang and defended its position there.
The 44th Brigade located south at the Jurong River, retreated towards Pasir Panjang and the City.

In the centre, 15th Brigade and the Special Reserve Battalion moved east towards Bukit Timah.
It is this last group of soldiers under the command of Brigadier Coates that re-grouped and fought the Japanese around Bukit Batok* area.

By the evening of 10th Feb, the commander realised that they were almost surrounded by the Japanese and made plans for his troops to retreat south through Sleepy Valley towards the British lines at Ulu Pandan. This was to be at first light in the morning of 11th Feb 1942.

(* I use the term Bukit Batok as a reference to the area found today. In 1942 the entire area was still called "Jurong/West Bukit Timah" . Bukit Batok region was named by HDB/MND after the 1970s.)



Unknown to the retreating British forces, the Japanese Army 18th Division, whom they had been fighting, had already bypassed them along the ridge line that borders today's Jalan Jurong Kechil. (See the black arrow movements above)

The British forces regrouped, in an area where today the  Bukit Batok Nature Park and St Mary of the Angels Church lies, and was ordered to move in columns through Sleepy Valley.

AMBUSH !
This escape route was unfortunately open farmlands with little cover and the Japanese Army had them trapped when they closed the pincer movement at the end of the valley, a location where today's traffic turnoff from Toh Tuck Road to PIE lies.

The result was that 1100 men out of 1500 were killed at Sleepy Valley. By 10.30 pm, only 400 soldiers managed to escaped from the Japanese to the Australian defence line at Ulu Pandan.

An aerial view of the region where the British forces were caught in the open

Today, this former battle site, Sleepy Valley, is long forgotten. Very few now have heard of it, much less know about its tragic history.

Bukit Batok East Ave 3 runs through it with Yusof Ishak Secondary School and condominiums like Park View and Burgundy Hill occupying the site where the massacre of British forces took place.

A graphic representation of the final movements of 15 Brigade and Special Reserve Battalion
superimposed on today's street map showing the location of the Sleepy Valley battle ground.


If you live in Bukit Batok or will pass through it, do remember this unmarked heritage site where once men fought and died for their country.


The Bukit Batok area today where the tragedy took place on 10th & 11th Feb 1942.
(Click on photo for enlarged view)


Related links:-
A grave discovery
Ford Motor Factory
Bukit Batok Hill War Memorial
Bukit Batok Hill
Bukit Batok New Town
Searching for an unmarked grave at Sleepy Valley
A dirt track saved 400 soldiers


15 comments:

  1. Thank you for a well-researched blog about Princess Elizabeth Estate, the places where some of the fiercest battles were fought between the defending British forces against the invading Imperial Japanese army in 1942.

    James, you mentioned that your blog "keeping alive my memories of my old home village" of Princess Elizabeth Estate which apparently refer to nostalgic memories after World War II.

    The memories of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore is the darkest era which my late mother did not want to tell me these stories and experiences.

    The wartime stories of Singapore's history should teach the younger generations the importance of war and peace, the respect of a sovereign, independent nation without the use of military weapons and altruistic powers to undermine smaller nations and the peoples.

    Japan learnt the lessons of world peace from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    On August 6th, 1945, at 8:15 A.M., Japanese time, a B-29 heavy bomber flying at high altitude dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. More than 4 square miles of the city were instantly and completely devastated. 66,000 people were killed, and 69,000 injured.

    On August 9th, three days later, at 11:02 A.M., another B-29 dropped the second bomb on the industrial section of the city of Nagasaki, totally destroying 1 1/2 square miles of the city, killing 39,000 persons, and injuring 25,000 more.

    On August 10, the day after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese government requested that it be permitted to surrender under the terms of the Potsdam declaration of July 26th which it had previously ignored.

    Lets pray for world peace for all nations.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you very much for this post of a rather forgotten part of our past.

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  3. Paul CameronJanuary 08, 2013

    Hello James, and thank you for this interesting article on Sleepy Valley. It is of great importance to me, as my late Grandfather William Cameron, of the Special Reserve battalion ,E Coy, 2/4th Machine Gunners, died in battle here.
    He died approx. 10am on the morning 11th Feb 1942 , whilst retreating from the Battle , and to this day our family does not know where he is buried.
    According to Major Saggers some 10 months after the battle, the remains of approx. 62 Australian soldiers were buried in two separate common graves.
    Would it be possible to obtain some good/ higher resolution copies of the maps and images used in this article please,as my wife and i are visiting im March, and wish to visit these areas along with changi museum, Bukit Timah hill, etc.

    Thank you once again
    Paul Cameron
    Perth, WA

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  4. In the late 1980s when the workers were clearing the jungle near church at St Mary of the Angels, they discovered a grave belonging to a Japanese officer who fell in battle during world war 2. The Japanese Embassy was alerted and they exhumed the remains.

    This story was featured in the press.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I have wrote about that event in my blog under Dec 2011 "A grave discovery".
      I was working as the Parish Administrator at St Mary of the Angels Church at that time and saw the old grave marker. Pictures are in my blog article.

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  5. Dear Mr Tann,

    Thank you kindly for your excellent research on the tragic situation at Sleepy Valley on 10 February 1942. Next time I am in Singapore I will go there using your maps and information to pay my respects.

    Best regards,

    Garth

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  6. Hello Garth,
    Do drop me a line if you intend to pass through Singapore.
    I might be able to take you on a tour of the site at Sleepy Valley (today called Bukit Batok) as I did for Paul Cameron , whose grandfather fought and died at Sleepy Valley.
    You can read about that in my article of Jan 2013, "Searching for an unmarked grave" and view Paul cameron's visit photos at this link:
    https://www.facebook.com/james.tann/media_set?set=a.10200259095073967.1073741830.1650802845&type=3

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  7. thank you so much for this article. i had grew up in bukit batok, but i didn't know about this story.

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  8. Hi James,

    Thanks for a really enlightening post! My late father who was a history buff like yourself would have been thoroughly fascinated by this account. He had a fortnightly column in the Straits Times Life! section from 1998-2002 known as 'Long Life' where he shared historical accounts about growing up in Singapore from the 1930s-1980s. After he passed away in June 2002, I compiled all his published writings and got them published as a book by Landmark Books with support from Lee Foundation in 2005. He had a chapter in the book entitled 'Battle Sites of WW2' and he recounts an unrecorded battle that took place in Upper Paya Lebar Road. You can read that chapter in the attached links below:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5cQY69Tq5fISThOWXlURHlBMnc/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5cQY69Tq5fIcktjQnlOMFFhVEU/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5cQY69Tq5fITUhaU0xET3V1NlU/view?usp=sharing

    Wondering whether you might be aware of such a battle that took place in that vicinity as witnessed by my late father.

    I think there might be quite a number of such unrecorded battles prior to the fall of Singapore in February 1942.

    Cheers

    Keen Len



    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Keen Len,
    I believe I have seen and read your book at the National Library.
    I am very sure that there are a lot more battles that have been unrecorded. Even for the battle at Sleepy Valley, I had to peruse several records before having a clear idea of what happened there. All these because the official records normally skim through the events. In this case, maybe it was because it was debacle for the British forces and so left untold the better? After all, as they say, history is written by the victors. For the story of Sleepy Valley, I had to go back to the Unit records and stories told by the soldiers themselves of what happened there.
    There are also several mentions of fights at Nee Soon, Mandai and Woodleigh. The Woodleigh battle would be part of what your father described at Paya Lebar as the Japanese Imperial Guards were ordered to take the Woodleigh Pump station around the 13//14 Feb 1942. There is a detailed record of the fighting that took place at Keat Hong defended by the Indian Hyderabad unit and the Argylls and Sutherland boys but even this battle is seldom quoted.

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  10. Wow, thanks for throwing more light on this battle which my father witnessed! Great stuff! Now when I pass through Woodleigh area I will view it a little differently. Any chance of you putting up some accounts or records of the Woodleigh and even the Keat Hong battles?

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    Replies
    1. Hi KeeN,
      I may come round to write about the battles at Ama Keng and Keat Hong as it's closer to where I live and can somehow tie it into my blog ?? Recently I was recounting the battle movement of the Imperial Japanese Guards to a friend who gave a talk at RI. The Guards moved and fought across what is now RI and the former san teng cemetery as part of the strategy to capture Woodleigh and MacRitchie. Even the boys weren't aware that Bishan was a battleground.

      Delete
  11. Excellent info in your story James. I have a distant cousin who was killed and one of the 62 identified by Major Saggers and originally buried at that spot. Thanks so much for this blog.
    Roberta

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    Replies
    1. Hello Roberta,
      May I know the name of your cousin who was killed there?
      Is he interred at the Kranji war cemetery?
      Maybe I can check it up for you.

      Delete
  12. Hi James
    I'm sorry I didn't realise you had replied to my post. My Dad's cousin was Douglas Arnold White, he ended up in the Special Reserve Battalion and was killed on 11 Feb 1942. His body was one of those identied by Major Bert Saggers when the Japanese allowed him to return to the spot to bury his men ten months later.
    We're currently in Singapore so went out to Eng Kong Gardens today to visit the spot where he was found at Eng Kong Gardens. Such a peaceful spot and quite moving to be there - but a shame there is no plaque or monument to mark that tragic event.
    Doug was re-interred by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and buried at Kranji after the war. Doug's nephew has supplied me with much of the information I have and has visited Doug's tombstone at Kranji which is marked 'Buried near this spot'.
    We have visited Kranji ourselves in a previous visit, but at the time I didn't realise Doug was buried there.
    Many thanks for your posts - it was vital in helping me compile the facts around Doug's death.
    Regards
    Roberta Edes (from Brisbane, Q'ld)

    ReplyDelete