Thursday 30 October 2008 by Dianne Rutherford. 5 comments
Collection, Military Heraldry and Technology, Personal Stories, Heraldry

A recent inquiry from a member of the public brought to my attention an interesting collection item held by the Memorial. It relates to Captain William Roy 'Bill' Reynolds from Victoria, who had served with the Merchant Navy, as well as working for a number of companies through Southeast Asia in the lead up to the Second World War.

The piece of the door frame on which Reynolds scratched information of his incarceration.

The item in question is a piece of timber, cut from a door frame in the building where Bill Reynolds was imprisoned from late November 1943 to early February 1944 by the Japanese. Bill Reynolds was a bit of an adventurer and is probably best known for owning the vessel that became famous in Operation Jaywick as the 'Krait'. Trying to piece together his story is a bit of a challenge, there are many instances of records not existing or being hard to find, or contradicting each other. Extensive research into Bill Reynolds was done by Major Tom Hall, which was then published in the early 1990s by Lynette Ramsay Silver in her books 'Krait : the fishing boat that went to war' and 'The heroes of Rimau : unravelling the mystery of one of World War II's most daring raids'. In previous books about the Krait there was usually only a small amount of information about Reynolds and his activities.

In early 1942, as the Japanese advanced and then took Singapore, Reynolds did extensive work in rescuing evacuees around Malaya, including survivors from vessels attacked by Japanese aircraft. He did this in a vessel called the Kofoku Maru - a Japanese fishing vessel he acquired in Singapore. Before leaving Malaya, Reynolds renamed the vessel Suey Sin Fah and with his Chinese crew, made his way to India, using the insignificant fishing vessel as a disguise to get through Japanese controlled waters.

/photograph/067338 MV Krait

The Suey Sin Fah was later selected for a mission to clandestinely enter Singapore Harbour to destroy enemy vessels with limpet mines. For this mission the vessel was renamed the Krait, after a thin and innocuous looking, but very poisonous snake. Reynolds was to take part in this mission to Singapore, called 'Operation Jaywick', however due to engine problems the operation was postponed. Bill Reynolds was then employed by American Intelligence and was replaced for Operation Jaywick, which eventually took place, using the Krait, in September 1943. Reynolds accepted a mission to return to Malaya to collect intelligence for the Americans. He planned to purchase a junk and make his way south through Japanese occupied areas to Western Australia, posing as a man who wanted to purchase rubber and quinine.

Reynolds was taken to Malaya in the submarine, USS Tuna, and on the night of 13/14 November 1943 was deposited in a small boat off Laut Island, near Borneo. Unfortunately a few days after his arrival in the area, some villagers revealed Reynold's presence to the Japanese and he was taken prisoner on 18 November. He was held at Kota Bahru for eight days before being moved to Balikpapan on 26 November.

Reynolds noted how long he was incarcerated at Kota Baru and Balikpapan - 85 days in total.

During the months he was imprisoned at Balikpapan Reynolds scratched messages in the door frame of his prison. Due to the nature of his mission he would have known that his capture and fate would probably not be recorded by the Japanese. There would also be few records in Australia or America about his mission. He no doubt also knew the chances of surviving captivity were slim and may have been concerned that  his wife and son (William Slevin Reynolds, who was serving in the Royal Australian Navy) would not find out what happened to him. Therefore the messages on the frame are very detailed. He made sure that there was a record of his presence there, as it would likely be the only tangible piece of evidence of what happened to him.

Reynolds recorded his name and address on the door frame, along with employment information. He also added a slouch hat to identify himself as an Australian.

In order for it to be easily noticed, he scratched the image of a slouch hat and the text 'A.I.F. 1914-1919'. The slouch hat is instantly recognisable as an Australian symbol and he used it as such. Reynolds however, did not serve in the AIF during the First World War - he was living in England during the war and served with the Royal Naval Reserve.

Reynolds left details of his full name and address in Williamstown, Victoria. He also listed previous places of employment in Malaya and Borneo. These would help establish who he was, and the inclusion of the address would probably also have been recorded with the hope that someone would contact his family and let them know what had happened to him. Importantly for any war crimes investigators or future researchers, he also left details of where he had been held and for how long.

The last message Reynolds scratched into the door frame - noting his removal to Surabaya in February 1944.

On 10 February 1944 Reynolds was moved to Surabaya in Java. The date is noted on the door frame and seems to be scratched hurriedly. This is the last piece of information he left. He was held at Surabaya in solitary confinement for six months. On the morning of 8 August 1944 he was among several prisoner executed by the Japanese. Some of the prisoners were killed by decapitation, while the rest were executed by firing squad. Reynolds was one of the latter. His body was buried in an unmarked grave.

The building in Balikpapan was searched by members of 7 Division, AIF in August 1945. They discovered Reynolds messages and cut away the piece of door frame as evidence. It was donated to the War Memorial in 1946.

Reynolds was not the only person held in the small building in Balikpapan. After he was transferred to Surabaya, an unknown prisoner also scratched a message into the door frame, obscuring some of Reynold's writing. It is hard to make out properly, but this message consists of a cross scratched into the frame and the words 'JEZUS PELEPAS PERTJALAH'. The MBE awarded to Bill Reynolds for his work in Malaya in 1942.

For his activities in rescuing evacuees around Malaya in 1942, Reynolds had been awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) which was promulgated on 17 August 1943 in the London Gazette. The medal was presented to his widow, Brigid Reynolds at Government House in Melbourne Victoria on 13 November 1946 by the Governor General, His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester. It is currently on display, along with a model of the Krait, in the Memorial's galleries.


Peter Stanley

I'm delighted to see that Bill Reynolds's experience has been recognised in this way. However, there is a sad curiosity associated with his story. Despite his clear contribution to the war effort (recognised by his OBE), and the suffering he endured before his death, Bill Reynolds is not actually commemorated by name at the Memorial. Because he was a merchant seaman he was explicitly excluded from the Roll of Honour, and he is not recorded on the memorial to merchant seamen dedicated outside the Memorial building. It is sadly ironic that such a gallant man, though hailed as a hero by the Memorial on its website, should have been excluded from the forms of commemoration that the Memorial embodies. Surely as an Australian who died at the hands of the Japanese, Bill Reynolds should be commemorated by the Memorial? What possible reason could there be for his omission from the formal commemoration? Can the Memorial explain his absence from all but its website? Peter Stanley Dickson, ACT


Bill Reynold’s story is certainly a fascinating one. We have been very pleased to be able to portray it in the Memorial’s Second World War galleries, where his MBE is on display, along with a model of his vessel, The Krait. As well as being remembered in the Memorial’s galleries, Reynolds' name is also recorded on the Memorial’s Commemorative Roll. This is on our website and in the Book displayed in the cloisters. The Roll records those Australians who died during, or as a result of, wars in which Australians served, but who were not serving in the Australian Armed Forces. They were therefore not eligible for inclusion on the Roll of Honour. In fact, Reynolds rejected a commission in the Royal Australian Navy during the war and remained a civilian. Although Reynolds had served with the Merchant Navy in the past, he was not serving on a Merchant Navy vessel when he died. He was in fact working as a civilian on intelligence gathering for the Americans when he was captured, which is why he is not recorded on the Merchant Navy Memorial.

Lynette Silver

As Di Rutherford correctly points out, Reynolds was indeed a Master Mariner and had served with the British Navy in WW1, but at no time during WW2 was he a member of the Australian Armed Forces. As he had rejected a commission with the RAN, his status on the Jaywick mission was that of a civilian whose services were paid for by SOE in London, the original status of the mission being a combined SOE (Australia) and RAN mission. Had he remained with Jaywick, it would have been as a civilian. At the time of his death Bill, having been infiltrated into the islands near southern Borneo, was working (solo) for the United States Bureau of Economic Warfare, a highly secret and very irregular organisation which, among other things, employed civilians with expert knowledge of certain areas to carry out covert work behind enemy lines. My grandfather Edward Farrell, who was even older than Reynolds and whose expertise lay in the waters off North Queensland and New Guinea, worked as a civilian for the same organisation, infiltrating personnel by sea behind the lines. He, like Reynolds, reported directly to General MacArthur's HQ in Brisbane and was paid handsomely, in US dollars, by the Americans. The downside was, being civilians with no military status, they ran the great risk of being executed as spies if captured - the fate which befell Reynolds. As someone who has maintained an active interest in Reynolds for twenty years, and being a great admirer of his bravery, I am pleased to see that his war effort and sacrifice are still attracting interest. Although he, like my grandfather, is not eligible to have his war service officially recorded by Australia, I do have satisfaction of knowing that Bill's story is recorded in the pages of my books.


who is the oldest survivor of ww1


I am trying to trace an australian soldier by name of Reynolds, who may have been stationed in Jersey in the Channel Islands around the early part of 1919 as part of an agricultrual education programme before being repatriated to this anyone related to the this Bill Reynolds? any information welcome by email to many thanks Chantal .. possible grandaughter!