At their meeting last Tuesday, Stonehaven and District Probus Club welcomed guest speaker Stewart Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell does research work for the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen and has recently published a booktitled ‘Scattered under the Rising Sun’ which tells the story of the Gordon Highlanders experience at Singapore during World War Two.
Dispelling the myths of guns pointing the wrong way, Stewart gave an accurate account of the fighting down the Malay Peninsula in 1941/42 and the subsequent fate of survivors as prisoners of the Japanese. In 1937, the regiment was posted to Singapore which was the great British naval base in the Far East and took up occupation of a brand new barracks. The sense of family in the regiment was evident when we learned that 65% of the men were born within 50 miles of Aberdeen and that the garrison contained 28 sets of brothers. The pleasures of peacetime life came to an abrupt end however when, on December 7 1941, Japanese forces began landing in North-east Malaya. Conditions for prisoners were truly appalling. The Japanese were eager to use them as a supply of slave labour for which they had a desperate need. Many were sent to work on the notorious Burma railway but as many others were shipped to Formosa, Borneo, Korea, Vietnam and, towards the end of the war, to Japan itself (Corporal George McNab witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb).
Not only were they systematically starved, they were also denied even the most basic medical treatment which, in the tropics, meant that, for example, an ulcer could cause the loss of a limb. Some of the men died when the unmarked ships on which they were being transported were attacked by Allied submarines. Stewart was inspired by documents in the Highlanders museum. His meticulous research enabled him to give details of the fate of many local men. Vote of thanks was proposed by Bob Grant.