Victoria Cross : Lieutenant Colonel C G W Anderson, 2/19 Battalion, AIF

Accession Number REL/18489.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Malaya 1942
Maker Hancocks
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London
Date made c 1942
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Victoria Cross. Engraved reverse suspender with recipient's details; engraved reverse cross with date of action.

History / Summary

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Groves Wright Anderson NX12595 was born at Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa on 12 February 1897. The son of Alfred Gerald Wright and Emma Louise Antoinette (nee Trossaert) Anderson, Charles’ childhood was spent on the family farm near Nairobi in Kenya where he attended a state school before being sent to England to complete his education.

Anderson returned to Kenya and following the outbreak of the First World War joined the Kenya Defence Force in November 1914. The following year he enlisted as a gunner with the Calcutta Volunteer Battery before being commissioned as a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion King’s African Rifles in October 1916. For his actions during the Battle of Nhamacurra against the German backed Askari in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) in July 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross. He was promoted to captain shortly before his service was terminated in February 1919.

Following the end of the war Anderson returned to Kenya and managed a farming property in the Rift Valley. He continued to be active in the community during peacetime, serving as chairman of the Kenya Settlers’ Association and, in 1932, as a captain in the Kenya Defence Force. On 21 February the previous year, Anderson wed Edith Marion Tout, of New South Wales, in Nairobi. In 1935, the family including three young children migrated to Australia and settled on ‘Fernhill’, a grazing property near Young in New South Wales.

Shortly before the start of the Second World War, Anderson enlisted in the 56th Battalion (Riverina Regiment) militia with the rank of captain. In October 1939, he was promoted to temporary major, the rank becoming substantive on his secondment to the AIF on 1 July 1940 when he was made 2nd in command of the 2/19th Battalion (2/19Bn), 22nd Brigade, 8th Division AIF under Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Maxwell. The battalion embarked HMT Queen Mary at Sydney on 3 February 1941 bound for the Singapore Naval Base, arriving on the 18th. Almost immediately the battalion moved north to Seremban on the Malay Peninsula.

On 1 August Anderson was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the battalion when Maxwell was promoted to brigadier of 27 Brigade. Following the Japanese invasion of Malaya in December the Australians were under no illusions as to the threat posed by the invading army. The unit war diary of 2/19Bn contains the following Special Order of the Day dated 11 December 1941:

In this hour of trial the General Officer Commanding calls on all ranks Malaya Command for a determined and sustained effort to safeguard Malaya and the adjoining British territory. The eyes of the Empire are upon us. Our whole position in the Far East is at stake. The struggle may be long and grim, but let us all resolve to stand fast come what may and to prove ourselves worthy of the great task that has been placed in us.
Commanders are to make sure that all ranks are informed. It is needless to add that the Far East includes Australia.

On 17 January 1942 orders were received for 2/29Bn to move forward of Bakri and recapture Muar, reportedly lost to a small enemy force that morning. The enemy force was, in fact, a division of crack Imperial Guards. The brigade had lost touch with the Indian 2/9 Jat contingent on the north side of the Muar River. The situation was, according to an 8th Division war diary, ‘confused’. Meanwhile the enemy’s position was being strengthened as Japanese troops moved across the river. That same day 2/19Bn was ordered to follow 2/29Bn to help stabilise the Muar position, both battalions to come under the command of the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade (45IIB).

2/29Bn arrived at Bakri that afternoon and was in position by 1800 preparing for the attack the following day. Almost immediately the battalion came under attack. That evening the 5/18 Garhwal Rifles of 45IIB, sent forward to Parit Jawa as part of the preparations, were ambushed and routed by the Japanese who had already captured the village. Anderson’s battalion arrived at Bakri the following day, taking up their position just after midday by which time 45IIB was already ‘badly cut up’.

At around 10:00 on the morning of the 19th 45IIB Headquarters took a direct hit from an enemy aircraft, killing or incapacitating the entire staff including Brigadier Duncan, the commanding officer. Following the attack, Anderson assumed command of the brigade. By that afternoon, Anderson’s force was all but cut off from the main allied force and was in a desperate fight for survival.

Early on the morning of the 20th, Anderson ordered that the wounded be put on trucks and the remnants of the brigade stage a fighting withdrawal to Parit Sulong. After suffering further casualties fighting through roadblocks, the force commanded by Anderson reached the outskirts of Parit Sulong early on the 21st only to find the town and the bridge over the Simpang Kiri River on the approach to the village already in enemy hands.

Fighting continued throughout the day with mounting casualties on both sides but the larger Japanese force remained unbroken. Late in the afternoon an appeal was made to the Japanese to allow two ambulances full of wounded through the enemy lines. Permission was conditional on the complete surrender of Anderson’s troops, which he refused. The ambulances with the wounded were held on the bridge by the Japanese to act as a roadblock. At around midnight, under cover of darkness, the ambulances were retrieved, following a slow and silent manoeuvre in rolling them back from the bridge.

By 09.00 on the 22nd, after testing the Japanese defences one last time, it was evident to Anderson that if they continued his column would in all probability be annihilated. The order was given to destroy all transport and weapons and for the troops that could walk to make their way as best they could through the enemy lines. Anderson along with 80 men arrived back at Division Headquarters at 22:00.

Ultimately a mere 900 Australian and Indian troops of Anderson’s force escaped. Within days Anderson had re-established 2/19 Bn, supplementing the remnants from Parit Sulong with reinforcements, only to become prisoners of war when the British forces in Malaya surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February.

The General Officer Commanding Malaya, Lieutenant General A E Percival, wrote of the fighting withdrawal of Anderson’s force that the ‘Battle of Muar was one of the epics of the Malayan campaign. Our little force by dogged resistance had held up a division of the Japanese Imperial Guards.’ The Japanese losses were estimated to be a company of tanks and a battalion of men. For his actions during the Battle of Muar, Anderson was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation for the award reads:

‘During operations in Malaya from 18th to 22nd January, 1942, Lieutenant-Col. Anderson, in command of a small force, was sent to restore a vital position and to assist a brigade. His Force destroyed ten enemy tanks. When later cut off, he defeated persistent attacks on his position from air and ground forces and forced his way through the enemy line to a depth of 15 miles [24 kilometres]. He was again surrounded and subjected to very heavy, frequent attacks, resulting in severe casualties to his force. He personally led an attack with great gallantry on the enemy, who were holding a bridge, and succeeded in destroying four guns. Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, throughout all this fighting, protected his wounded and refused to leave them. He obtained news by wireless of the enemy position and attempted to fight his way back through eight miles [13 kilometres] of enemy occupied country. This proved to be impossible, and the enemy were holding too strong a position for any attempt to be made to relieve them. On 19th January, Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson was ordered to destroy his equipment and make his way as best he could around the enemy position.

Throughout the fighting, which lasted for four days, he set a magnificent example of brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage. He not only showed fighting qualities of very high order but throughout exposed himself to danger without any regard for his own personal safety.’

What is missing from the citation is the fate of the 100 Australian and 40 Indian wounded that Anderson was forced to leave behind at Parit Sulong. All but a few of these had, as Official Historian Lionel Wigmore states, ‘met a fate largely typical of what many already had experienced ... at the hands of the Japanese’.

During captivity, Anderson continued to win the admiration of his men. He frequently risked beatings from his captors, insisting on better conditions while working on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway. While in the Tavoy prison camp in South Burma he witnessed the execution of eight members of the 2/4 Anti-Tank regiment who had been recaptured after attempting to escape. He was liberated on 20 August 1945, five days after the capitulation of the Japanese.

Following Anderson’s return to Australia in late 1945, the family returned to their property near Young and later to ‘Springfield’, a property inherited by Edith. The Victoria Cross was presented to Anderson by the Governor General in Sydney on 8 January 1947. Two years later he successfully contested the Federal seat of Hume for the Country Party. Defeated in the following election in 1951, he regained the seat in 1955 and served in the seat till he was defeated in December 1961.

During his final term of office he returned to Thailand as a special representative to lay wreaths on war graves at the River Kwai. In 1960 his final military posting as an honorary colonel with 4 Battalion CMF ended. He returned to Malaya in 1968, at the invitation of the British 17 Division, to take part in a study tour of the Battle of the Muar. Charles Anderson died on 11 November 1988 at his home in Red Hill, Canberra. Cremated with full military honours, he is commemorated in the NSW Garden of Remembrance at Rookwood Cemetery, Lidcombe.