Monday, 12 March 2007

HMS Scott Harley

Michael Pether from New Zealand shared with me this facinating insight into a story related to the HMS Scott Harley.

There are well documented accounts of some of the ships that fled the chaos of Singapore as the Japanese troops were advancing across that small island in the final days before its surrender - these include the tragic story of the SS 'Vyner Brooke' which left on the night of 12 February and, earlier, the SS 'Empire Star' which had left at dawn on that day with a convoy that is variously described as ranging from six to thirty two vessels.

Other vessels mentioned as being in this convoy are 'Gorgon', 'Yoma', 'Delamore', 'Jalibahar/Jalibar', 'Jalakrishna /Jalikrishna' and 'Li sang/Lee sang'. This convoy was apparently accompanied by the light cruiser HMS 'Durham', HMS 'Stronghold' and possibly the HMS 'Kedah'.

No published accounts, however, seem to record the fact that at dawn that day the Royal Navy requisitioned auxiliary minesweeper HMS 'Scott Harley' (620 tons, built 1913) also departed (possibly with the convoy) and was one of the few ships leaving at that time which successfully reached the safety of Batavia (now Jakarta).

Some authors have estimated that only two or three of the approximately 40 ships (i.e. not including small craft such as junks and launches) that left Singapore during 11 - 13 Feb 1942 actually made it to safety and that only about one in four evacuees/escapees during the last week before the surrender reached sanctuary. Our family's recollections include the statement that eight out of the thirty two in the convoy mentioned above safely made it to Batavia, but this cannot be proven.

On the 'Scott Harley' was my grandmother Annie Clark, a New Zealander in her fifties, who had been living in the Far East (as it was called at the time) for some years with her husband and children. This is also a slice of the story of Annie Clark and her daughter Kathleen who both experienced the war as wives of men in Japanese POW camps.

To make it easier to understand the context of her following account of the harrowing last week before surrender and (with the benefit of knowing the massive loss of life and ships escaping Singapore at this time) the very lucky voyage of the HMS 'Scott Harley' I will include some information on the family she refers to in Singapore at the time.

Annie was a gentle lady who, in the decade leading up to the fall of Singapore, had travelled and lived with her husband as he worked in Siam, Borneo, Shanghai, and by 1940 in Malaya. In 1941 they moved to Singapore where her husband Norman "Nobby" Clark (also a New Zealander) was an engineer in the Government Rice Mills. Nobby was a NZ Artillery veteran of the First World War campaign at Gallipoli. Also in Singapore by 1940 were my father Harold Pether (an Englishman and a manager with C.C. Wakefield & Co. - now known as Castrol Oil), mother Kathleen (who was Annie's daughter) and their baby daughter Maureen. Harold wisely put his wife and daughter on a ship to New Zealand in Dec 1941 when the Japanese invaded Malaya.

In 1940 Nobby and Annie had left behind in Kuala Lumpur their 17 year old son John "Jack" Clark, fresh out of boarding school in New Zealand and in his first job as an Assistant with ICI. Malaya Ltd. In 1941 Jack joined up with the Federated Malay States Volunteer Forces, where he was a Private in the 2nd Selangor Battalion.
Nobby Clark and Harold Pether were to become civilian internees after the fall of Singapore - firstly in Changi and then Sime Road Camp. Jack Clark went missing (some recollections point to him being executed by the Japanese) whilst escaping from Singapore's island fortress of Blakang Mati after the surrender on 15 February 1942. He is remembered on the Singapore War Memorial at Kranji (his last days and the FMSVF are the subject of ongoing research by our family).

Michael has sent me an account of Annie's experience during the last days prior to the fall of Singapore and her evacuation to Batavia on the HMS 'Scott Harley' - from Batavia she spent many weeks on ships to India, Ceylon and Australia, before reaching New Zealand in June 1942.The account was written by Annie and her husband (probably in 1961) - According to Michael it seems they are referring to a diary for much of the content.

If anyone can help Michael with any further information related to this ship or to any of the pople mantioned in this contribution Michael would be pleased to hear from you and I can put you in touch with him. I can also forward further information related to Annie Clark's experience that Michael has shared with me if it would help garner more information.

I am also keen to obtain a photo of the HMS Scott Harley should anyone know where I can find one.

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