Fred Power, 2020
Before Fred voluntarily enlisted at 24 years of age, he was working in a grocery shop in a country town between Goulburn and Yass called Gunning.
Basic recruit training was carried out at Goulburn to get used to sleeping on the floor. They then moved to Walgrove in Sydney where the Battalion was formed attached to the 22nd Brigade of the 8th Division.
After six months the 2/19th Battalion went to Ingleburn and later on to Bathurst preparing for deployment.
“We embarked on the troopship Queen Mary in February 1941 in a convoy of four ships with a destroyer. The other ships continued to the Middle East and we peeled off to Malaya.”
The Australian Government had agreed to a British request to dispatch Australian troops to reinforce the British garrison in Malaya due to growing concerns about a war in the Pacific with Japan. On arrival, Fred’s Battalion undertook 12 months jungle training in southern Malaya.
“The Japs decided to stir us up a little bit. Our Battalion was sent to help out the 2/29th Battalion and the very untrained Indian Brigade who were in a lot of trouble – in danger of being surrounded. Our arrival made it possible for them to withdraw, but the Nips got between us and kept putting road blocks up. A new defensive position had been set up at Parit Sulong east of Muar which had a big bridge across the river, but the Japs had barricaded it.
“There were not many of the 2/29th Battalion left – only 100 so they were nearly wiped out. We had to move back through the jungle and leave lots of wounded behind. They were rounded up, had petrol put on them and set on fire.”
Only 271 members of the 2/19th Battalion and 130 from the 2/29th Battalion were mustered at Yong Peng. “I was a bit lucky – I got a bit of shrapnel and was put in hospital,” Fred says.
“They asked for those who could walk to go to a private house with two nurses. I could hear the fighting getting closer, so I thought I would try to pinch a sampan and get to Java.
“I remember from school there was 1/8th of an inch on the map to get from Singapore to Java so I thought I could make it. I’d rather be killed trying to get away than what happened at Parit Sulong. I asked around and two soldiers agreed to go with me – Harry Parr who had malaria and another mate from the 19th Battalion.
“I was well dressed in hospital pyjama pants, with just boots and a tin hat. We went out to the front of the house, and a car came along the plantation road. We drove down to the wharf and he dropped us off, then drove the car into the harbour as he didn’t want to hand it over to the Japs.
“We were worried about water and looked for a container. A pommy Military Policeman came up and said ‘you’re mad – you’ll never get to Java in a sampan. I am in the Wah Sui (which was a river boat converted to a hospital ship).
“My left arm was in plaster from the finger tips to the shoulder and pieces out of my back from shrapnel, plus malaria so he sent us out to the boat. It took us two days to get to Java, where we transferred to an Indian hospital ship bound for Ceylon. I was there for three months.”
While in hospital in Ceylon, he got a pleasant and very random surprise.
“I looked up and there was my eldest brother who had gone to the Middle East in 1939 – he had come in to find me and was on special leave. He brought me a toothbrush, shaver, shaving cream and face washers – it was wonderful,” he remembers with a smile on his face.
Fred returned to Australia on the TSS Katoomba and spent another three months as an outpatient in Sydney to recover from his wounds. “One of the worst things I remember was when I was in Sydney having my wounds dressed and I was catching a train at Central Station to go home,” Fred says. “I was just getting on as the guard shouted ‘all aboard’ and about seven young teenage girls saw the colour patch of the 19th Battalion. One girl asked me ‘did you know Ronnie Brown and if he is OK?’ I had to say he probably won’t be coming home”.
Other members of the 2/19th Battalion who fought at Parit Sulong weren’t so lucky. They were imprisoned in Changi Prisoner of War (POW) Camp following the fall of Singapore. It was not long afterwards that they were allocated to external work parties, the largest group worked on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway which few survived.
After Fred recovered, he was posted to a searchlight crew in the 55th Anti-Aircraft Regiment based at Finschhafen in Papua New Guinea for six months before the Americans took over to make a base for island operations. He was then deployed to Tarakan Island of the coast of Borneo until the end of the war.
“We were at a picture show, and halfway through a full crate of gelignite and tracers were set off – we knew they weren’t celebrating a birthday!”
Fred served during the war for five and half years and returned to Gunning where he grew up. He then bought a grocery shop in Miranda, Sydney and met his wife who was a sister of one of his Army mates. They were married for 70 years and had two children.
They travelled around Australia on a holiday and dropped in at Sussex Inlet and loved it. “I went out fishing and came back and she had bought a block of land!”
Fred Power is a member of the Sussex Inlet RSL sub-branch and was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Pacific Star, War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal 1939-45 and the Defence Medal for his service during WWII.