The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX52468) Private Roy Cotton, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion and NX36763 Private Arthur Cotton, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.46
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 15 February 2019
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by , the story for this day was on (NX52468) Private Roy Cotton, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion and NX36763 Private Arthur Cotton, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

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Speech transcript

NX52468 Private Roy Cotton, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion
NX36763 Private Arthur Cotton, 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion
Presumed dead 11 February 1942

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Arthur Cotton and Private Roy Cotton.

Roy Cotton was born on 18 June 1918 in Narrandera, a town located in the Riverina region of southern New South Wales. Just over a year later, on 1 July 1919, his brother Arthur was born. The two became part of the large family of Robert and Frances Cotton.

After attending Narrandera Intermediate High School, both Roy and Arthur were employed on Kooba Station at nearby Darlington Point.

Following the announcement of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War, Roy was the first of the brothers to volunteer for service. He had spent a couple of months with the Australian Military Forces, serving as a private in the 56th Battalion before enlisting at Paddington in late June 1940.

Initially posted to 9th Battalion, he transferred to the 2/19th Battalion during his first month of service.

Arthur enlisted around a fortnight after his brother at Wagga Wagga. He was initially allotted to the 8th Battalion, but soon joined his brother in the 2/19th Battalion.

During their initial training, the brothers returned home for Christmas on pre-embarkation leave. Their father had enlisted with the Volunteer Defence Corps and would be involved in guard duty at the internment camps at Hay.

After returning to training, on 2 February 1941, Roy and Arthur Cotton left Sydney, bound for Singapore.

Arriving in Singapore in mid-February, the battalion moved north to Seremban in southern Malaya, where it trained for service under tropical conditions. Arthur was detached for ordnance guard duty for around a month, and rejoined his unit as it rotating between Seremban and Port Dickson on the coast.

As the unit moved to the airfield at Kluang and then moved to prepare defensive positions at Jemaluang on the east coast, the brothers learnt that their mother, Frances, had died at home in Narrandera.

Around this time Arthur was admitted to hospital before spending the following month in convalescent hospital. As he returned to duty in October, Japan’s involvement in the Second World War was becoming increasingly likely.

The 2/19th stood to arms on the night that it learnt about the attack on Pearl Harbor, but another month would pass before the Cotton brothers were in action.

In early 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, then returned to the battalion for its redeployment to the west coast.

On 17 January, the battalion was rushed forward to reinforce the beleaguered 2/29th Battalion at Bakri. It held the vital crossroad there 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 battalion’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.

By this stage, Arthur Cotton had been declared missing, and was presumed dead. The battalion had been forced to leave its wounded behind; they were subsequently massacred by Japanese soldiers.

The remnants of the 2/19th were mustered at Yong Peng and withdrawn to Johore Bahru to receive reinforcements and reorganise. On 31 January the battalion crossed onto Singapore Island and took up defensive positions on the west coast. The wide frontage it was required to cover, however, meant its platoons and sections were 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. By then, Roy Cotton had been declared missing, presumed dead.

Arthur and Roy Cotton were spared the experiences endured by those who survived the invasion of Singapore: imprisonment in Changi prisoner of war camp, the backbreaking labour of working on the Burma–Thailand railway, and the horrors of prisoner of war camps in Borneo, Japan, French Indochina, Java, Sumatra, and Malaya. But this would have been cold comfort to their friends and family: Roy was 23 years old, Arthur just 22.

Today they are commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, which bears the names of more than 24,000 men who died during the campaigns in Malaya and Indonesia or in captivity and have no known grave.

Their names are also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Roy Cotton and Private Arthur Cotton, who gave their lives for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

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