The 2/19th Infantry Battalion opened its headquarters at Walgrove Camp, west of Sydney, on 15 July 1940. The battalion’s recruits were drawn principally from the Monaro and Riverina regions of Southern New South Wales, although it also included small drafts of men from Sydney and New Guinea. It trained at Walgrove, Ingleburn, and Bathurst before embraking for Singapore, as part of the 22nd Brigade of the 8th Australian Division, on 2 February 1941.
Immediately upon its arrival in Singapore on 18 February, the 2/19th moved north to Seremban in southern Malaya, where it would train for service under tropical conditions. The battalion remained in the area until early-September, rotating between Seremban and Port Dickson on the coast. It spent most of September based around the airfield at Kluang and on 3 October began to move to Jemaluang on the east coast. Jemaluang was the site of a vital road junction and, with Japan’s involvement in the Second World War becoming increasingly likely, much of the battalion’s time was devoted to preparing defensive positions.
The 2/19th stood to arms on the night of 6 December 1941 but a month would pass before the first of its men were in action. On 7 January D Company was detached to form half a special force deployed to delay the Japanese approach to Endau, a town further north along the coast. One of its platoons was involved in a clash with the Japanese on 14 January. D Company returned to the battalion in time for its redeployment to the west coast on 17 January. The 2/19th was rushed forward to reinforce the beleaguered 2/29th Infantry Battalion at Bakri. It held the vital crossroad there throughout 19 January, long enough to allow for the withdrawal of the remnants of the 2/29th and the 45th Indian Brigade from the direction of Muar. The Japanese had already outflanked the 2/19th’s position, however, and on the morning of 20 January a torturous withdrawal towards Parit Sulong commenced. The force managed to fight its way through a succession of Japanese roadblocks, while constantly harried from its rear and from the air, but was halted by strong positions around the bridge across the Simpang Kiri River at Parit Sulong. With its ammunition exhausted, casualties mounting, and no chance of relief, the force struck out through the jungle for Yong Peng on the morning of 23 January. It was forced to leave its wounded behind; they were subsequently massacred by the Japanese. For his courage and leadership throughout the action, the 2/19th’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson, was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Only 271 members of the 2/19th were mustered at Yong Peng and withdrawn to Johore Bahru. There, on 26 January the battalion received 650 reinforcements, and reorganisation and training commenced. It crossed onto Singapore Island on 31 January and took up defensive positions on the left of the 22nd Brigade’s sector on the island’s west coast. The wide frontage it was required to cover, however, meant its platoons and sections had to be widely dispersed. When the Japanese launched their invasion on the night of 8 February the 2/19th’s position was readily infiltrated and the battle degenerated into vicious scattered engagements in the dark. Like most Australian units involved, it fell into a desperate retreat that ended with surrender on the outskirts of Singapore city on the night of 15 February.
Initially imprisoned in the sprawling Changi prisoner of war camp, it was not long before members of the 2/19th were allocated to external work parties. The largest of these groups was D Force, which was sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. Lesser numbers were dispatched with other parties bound for the railway and to camps in Borneo, Japan, French Indochina, Java, Sumartra, and Malaya. The surviving prisoners were liberated in late-August 1945 and began returning to Australia almost immediately. The 2/19th was formally disbanded later in 1945, having suffered the highest casualties of any Australian Army unit during war.
- 22 Brigade
- 2nd Australian Imperial Force
- 8 Division
- Battle of Muar
- Malayan Campaign
- 620 died
- 197 wounded
- 1 VC
- 2 MC
- 2 MM
- 7 MID
For more information please see Honours and Awards database
Search for related collection items
- AWM52/8/3/19: 2/19 Infantry Battalion unit diary
- Newton, R W; 2/19th Battalion AIF Association, The grim glory of the 2/19 Battalion A.I.F., (Sydney: 2/19 Battalion A.I.F. Association, 1975)