Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Motor Launches 'Osprey' and 'Mary Rose'

On the evening of February 13th, Captain George Mulock was ordered to report to Fort Canning, where he was informed that his tenure as Extended Defences Officer was complete, because within hours there would be no colony to defend. Although unwilling to abandon the colony, Mulock had important work to carry out and his knowledge of naval and military intelligence, including the MAGIC/ULTRA machines made him a potential Japanese target.

He was ordered to requisition the Osprey, a motor launch, and convey key Australian diplomatic personnel to safety. The Osprey was designed to seat ten persons, but when the party arrived it numbered nearly forty. At the party’s head Australian Commissioner Vivian G Bowden CBE, and his staff. Bowden had refused to leave, but on Percival’s urging he finally decided to leave. However, in the early hours of February 14th the group was confronted by a mob of Australian deserters armed with Tommy-guns and hand grenades.

The party, led by Captain Mulock, eventually was able to make their way onto the Osprey, but because of the large number of persons aboard, transferred to the motor launch Mary Rose, anchored in the middle of Keppel Harbour. The Mary Rose, a forty-foot motor launch would fittingly be probably the last ship out of the colony. According to Richard Gough’s The Escape from Singapore’ the launch was skippered by an elderly RN officer ordered to take it through the Banka Straits to Pulembang in Sumatra. The launch carried some 38 passengers including Mr Vivian Gordon Bowden (Australian Commissioner to Singapore), Mr A.N. Wootton (Commercial Secretary) Mr J.P. Queen (Political Secretary), Lt. Colonel John Dalley (Commanding Officer, SOE 101st Special Training School), Captain C. Corry, Wayne of Special Branch and a Policeman.

Captain Mulock’s main priority was the safe passage of key personnel, however at his side also lay a secondary and more important duty. Boarding the Osprey and later the Mary Rose, Mulock carried a large case carrying a vital component of the Allied war effort. Mulock had received orders from Admiral Spooner, to take the top-secret de-coding machine, used to decipher and re-assemble Japanese naval ciphers, and throw it into the harbour once clear of the colony. It was vital that this piece of technology not fall into Japanese hands less they discover that the Allies had been able to decipher the so-called ‘Emperor’s Codes’ for some considerable time.

From his new headquarters at the Ford Motor Factory on Bukit Timah Road, General Yamashita warned the Japanese Navy and Air Force to comb the seas around Singapore for a possible Expeditionary force. A large naval force anchored at the head of the Banka Straits was now positioned directly in front of the ships carrying evacuees. General Percival would write “I regret to have to report that the flotilla of small ships and other light craft which left Singapore on the night of 13-14 February encountered a Japanese naval force in the approaches to the Banka Straits. It was attacked by light naval craft and by aircraft. Many ships and other craft were sunk or disabled and there was considerable loss of life. Others were wounded or were forced ashore and were subsequently captured.”

On 17 February 1942 the Mary Rose was caught in a searchlight by two Japanese patrol vessels that threatened to open fire. In the absence of a white flag, a pair of underpants was hoisted. The craft was escorted to Muntok harbour, Banka Island in the East Indies.

The prisoners were held in a cinema-hall at Muntok where Bowden informed his captors in their own language of his diplomatic status and remonstrated with guards who attempted to remove his personal possessions. Soldiers punched him and took him outside. During the struggle, Captain Mulock, himself only two years younger than Bowden had his nose broken by a rifle butt. A local resident saw 'an elderly white-haired gentleman' forced to dig a shallow grave and stand at its edge before being executed.

This insight was kindly provided by

Mr R B D Hughes
Nephew of Captain George Mulock DSO, RN, FRGS
Head of Extended Defences/Extended Defences Officer for Singapore August 1939-February 1942


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