Someone once said laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. It's a good thing I don't make either then. I'd thought I'd show you a little of what goes into the preparation of a tour's commentary, this post is by no means structured, I'm just typing it up as I go along so I apologise in advance if I meander, and also for the inevitable spelling and grammatical errors.
The Australian 8th Division was an under-strength division when it deployed to Malaya. It had only 2 of its 3 allocated brigades, the 22nd and 27th. The 23rd was left behind in Australia and ultimately suffered the same fate as its sister brigades when its component battalions were deployed in the unsuccessful defence of Rabaul, Ambon and Timor where most of its strength was either killed or captured. The Division was assigned to the task of guarding the western half of the island after the British had withdrawn across the Causeway into Singapore at the end of January 1942. The 22nd was assigned to cover more than 10km of coastline from just west of present day Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve to the present Poyan Reservoir. It was on the 3 battalions of this brigade that 15 battalions from the IJA 5th and 18th Divisions fell on on the night/morning of 8/9th Feb 1942 signalling the start of the invasion of Singapore.
The 27th Brigade was assigned to cover around half of the frontage given to the 22nd, from the Causeway westwards to the east bank of the Kranji River, a little over 4km. This sector was not attacked on the night of the 8th but on the next night. Their opponents were the Imperial Guard Division and the numbers weren't so lopsided here as compared to the night before. It was also in this sector that the Imperial Guard would come in and suffer terrible casualties as oil which had either been deliberately released from an oil tank farm or from tanks damaged by bombing or shelling was set afire. The 27th Brigade gave a good account of itself and only withdrew because it's brigade commander was worried about his flank being exposed, but that's another story.
We start with a map pulled from the official history authored by Lionel Wigmore. The map shows the positions of 2 of the Brigades battalions, 2/26th and 2/30th. The third battalion, 2/29th was the divisional reserve. Most of 2/26th was concentrated along Kranji Road while 2/30th covered the Causeway and the area immediately south and west.
We'll be focusing on placing A Company, 2/30th Battalion. The War Diary of the 2/30th states that A Company was placed on high ground overlooking the approaches to the Causeway. It also states that "the area was exposed to heavy shelling and during daylight hours movement was kept to an absolute minimum with defensive preparations being completed by night".
Here's a map taken from the 2/30th Battalion War Diary placed side by side with a map of the area as it stands today. I wanted to overlay one on top of the other but the scale didn't sit right. As you can see A Company is sited right on the south side of the Causeway. If my memory on symbols hasn't failed me, within the company lines there are at least 4 machine guns, 2 sited to cover the Causeway with the other 2 facing east, at least 1 mortar as well as anti-tank guns . Note the oil tanks north of the railway track was well as Sungei Mandai and Woodlands Road on both maps.
Right click and "View Image" for a slightly larger picture. Sorry, trying to figure out the best way to upload larger images.
So we have A Company placed just south of the Causeway, next we have some pictures I pulled from the NAS (they have a great online presence showcasing their digitised archives) which originate from the Australian War Memorial. They are post war pictures of the Causeway (Sept 1945) and the description that accompanies the photograph states that this section of the Causeway was "held by the right flank of A Company, 2/30th Infantry Battalion" So this picture is basically looking towards Singapore and facing SSE. We can verify this by noting the train tracks running through the middle of the photograph. The train tracks would be on your left as you come in from north to south.
But what's really of note is the low ridge that can be seen in the background. If you take a drive along Admiralty Road West today you will find that the road traverses the base of the ridge for most of its length. The ridge is more densely covered by trees today so the outline isn't as well defined but it's still there. The elevation is most noticeable on the western end of the road near a Shell facility and a couple of point blocks of HDB flats. The lack of vegetation doesn't make it hard to imagine just how exposed to observation and artillery fire A Company was, by that same token it's also not hard to imagine the excellent fields of fire that the company would have commanded from their positions on that ridge.
Here's a shot of the other side of the Causeway, still facing south. The seawall facing westwards verifies the direction the photographer is facing. Note the road curving to the west after it reaches land again.
And here is an excellent shot of the area looking north just right after the Causeway connects to Singapore. The train tracks are visible just to the south side of the house. Note the fairly uncluttered skyline of Johore Bahru, with the imposing Johore state secretariat building (present day Sultan Ibrahim Building) about the only thing that really stands out. This building, together with the 5 storey tower at Istana Bukit Serene would come to be used by the Japanese as observation posts in the lead up to and during the initial stages of the invasion of Singapore.
So we've got maps and pictures that we can use to place A Company, 2/30th Battalion at the start of the invasion of Singapore and we can identify the general area of their positions in the context of the present day. One of the key elements to any historical tour, especially a battlefield tour is context. This is especially true in a place like Singapore where nothing ever stays the same for very long. If we can't be standing on the very ground where events took place then pictures and maps will have to do, but what would really work is if there is an opportunity to have both of these conditions be true. Understanding context, framing yesterdays events against this present moment in time, if done right, should go a long way to getting people to appreciate the realities of the time. At least that's my theory.
The fun part is for all those hours involved in gathering all the relevant material and poring through books and other sources I probably would have to compress everything to about 5 minutes worth of commentary, it's probably a good thing that I find this fun and stimulating. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this peek into the thought process (or what passes for it) involved in crafting my commentary. Please do share any thoughts you might have, I would love to hear them.
National Archives of Singapore
Australian War Memorial
The Japanese Thrust by Lionel Wigmore