A disastrous World War Two campaign in Malaya was followed by defeat, retreat and a desperate mass escape. Steve Snelling chronicles a grim struggle for survival
The order reeked of desperation. It bordered on the suicidal. For hours Brigadier Bernard Challen watched as his weary troops battled to overcome a roadblock that was barring their escape. One bloody repulse followed another until, his hopes tattered, he resorted to tactics of despair. With his beleaguered brigade group trapped, he instructed the two-mile column, including crammed ambulances, to advance between lines of infantry and towards the positions that had defied them all day.
To his stunned subordinates, the folly was explicable only by the sheer exhaustion of its author. Captain Bob Hamond, a company commander in the 5th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, recalled: “It was mad, quite mad. It was obvious we were going to be picked off as we walked alongside the vehicles, while the first ambulance would be set on fire, blocking the way for the rest.”