Born: 1913, Ipswich.
Died: 15th February 1942; age: 28; KiA against the Japanese – Braddell Road, Singapore.
Rank: Sergeant; Service Number:5825417.
Regiment: Cambridgeshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion – Infantry.
Formerly Suffolk Regiment.
Final resting place unknown.
Relatives Notified & Address: Son of Harry George & Bessie Wright.
Father: Harry George Wright, born 1887, Stowmarket, Suffolk. A Chimney Cleaner – own account.
Mother: Bessie Wright (nee Thurlow), born 1882, Stonham Aspal, Suffolk – died 1930, Ipswich.
Cambridgeshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion
Before the fall of Singapore in February, fierce fighting took place against the Japanese. The British and allied forces held onto bridges causeways and railheads in an attempt to hold back the Japanese’s push across Malaya and onto Singapore. Singapore fell 16 February 1942 and the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the earlier Malayan Campaign.
101 year old survivor of a Japanese prison of war camp pays tribute to an Ipswich man 2nd Lt Basil Groom 2nd Battalion , who’s death has stayed with him all his life. Due to Covid 19, tributes were paid on his behalf at Ipswich War Memorial, in a poignant wreath laying ceremony in Christchurch Park, as part of the commemorations of VJ day. The 75th Anniversary of the end of WW2.
Ernest Walter Brett is one of the last of few survivors left, who was a witness to the Fall of Singapore, and the building of the Burma Railway, that cost the lives of 99 Ipswich men. A further 22 Ipswich men died during the fighting in the Far East while many more Ipswich men died prematurely through poor health caused by their treatment as POW’s by the Japanese.
Lte. Basil Groom was born in Ipswich in 1918. He worked before the War for R. & W. Paul Ltd, joining the T.A. Army in 1938. Basil’s family home was at 165, Valley Road, Ipswich. A keen sportsman, a member of the Old Grammarians Football Club, the Greyhound Cricket Club, and the Y.M.C.A. He lost his life fighting the Japanese at Sengarang, North Johore, Malaya, 26th January 1942. His final resting place is unknown, He was aged 23. Ernie was beside him as he fell.
Ernest was called up in November 1939 and as a private in the Suffolk Regiment he completed his initial training at Gibraltar Barracks in Bury St Edmunds. As the best shot in his intake, he was sent to Romney, Kent to complete a sniper course. Ernest was relieved that he never was used in this capacity. He also completed some training about the use of explosives.
Ernest was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment and with them he completed training in Dumfries, Scotland prior to making the journey to Gourock on the Firth of Forth where they boarded ships for the first part of their journey to the Far East. The battalion began their journey on the Sobieski, a Polish ship used throughout the war for transporting troops. On arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia they transferred to the USS Mount Vernon, one of three large American liners that had been requisitioned. These liners were large and would normally have been luxurious. Now they carried the men of the 18th Division. The journey from Canada took quite a while for the convoy had to zig zag its way across the ocean to avoid U boats. Eventually they docked in Mombasa where they spent Christmas. Ernest remembers that they should have been tucking into a Turkey dinner but the refrigeration failed and they had corned beef instead!
It was here that they learnt they were bound for Singapore.
Ernest recalls that after arriving on the 13th January 1942, they realised there were no tanks and no aircraft to support them. Within days they were sent up country to Batu Pahat where they had to hold the crossroads.
Ernest remembers 2nd Lt Basil Groom telling him to hop on the back of his motorbike and to bring a revolver with him. The duo were sent forward to do a recce. Ernest was quite worried because the motor bike was so noisy.
Holding the crossroads at Batu Pahat was far from easy. Over the next few days the Battalion suffered many causalties, one being 2nd Lt Groom who was shot when he was beside Ernest.
Ernest remembers the Japanese using German planes. With no RAF support there was nothing to stop them. With all transport destroyed a difficult decision was made. The wounded could not be evacuated so they were left with Padre Duckworth who Ernie remembers as a little man in stature, being the cox for a Cambridge University crew in the boat race. One of the wounded was Haverhill man Eric Thake. It was due only to the courage of the Padre in standing up against the Japanese who captured them that they survived.
The unwounded were told to make for the coast, every man for themselves. It was a treacherous journey through jungle and swamps. After lying in hiding for a couple of days they were finally picked up by the Royal Navy who returned them to Singapore.
After returning to the island the Battalion were defending an area at Braddell Road when news of the Surrender reached them. Ernest remembers not feeling good about this because the Cambridgeshires were doing so well. He also recalls that the Japanese threatened to poison the water supply. After capture he was taken to Changi and allotted the POW no. 576. He was one of the POWs who at this time was set to work unloading ships in the harbour. There was very little food, just plain rice and no milk.
Read more of Ernie’s account: Basil Raf Groom‘s page.