The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (WX15783) Private David Charles Cripps, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.255
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 12 September 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 Greg Kimble, the story for this day was on (WX15783) Private David Charles Cripps, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

WX15783 Private David Charles Cripps, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion
Died at sea (Rakuyo Maru)
12 September 1944

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private David Charles Cripps.

David Cripps was born in Geraldton, Western Australia, on 15 December 1921, the son of David and Mary Cripps.

His father was a farmer who had enlisted for service in the First World War, but was given a medical discharge after suffering from chronic dermatitis. The elder David Cripps died when David was just three years old. His mother later remarried, but had no more children.

Young David Cripps grew up in Northampton, where he attended school at Bowes.

On 13 August 1941, at the age of 19, David Cripps enlisted for service in the Second Australian Imperial Force. Soon after joining his training unit, he developed laryngitis. After a week of recovery, he was back in training.

In early October he was allotted to reinforcements to the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion. Largely consisted of men from Western Australia, the battalion had been established to provide direct fire support to infantry brigades of the 8th Division.

After taking the journey to Darwin, where his battalion was undertaking garrison duties following the Japanese landings in Malaya, Private Cripps embarked for overseas service on 30 December 1941.

Following a Japanese attack on Rabaul, the convoy carrying Cripp and his battalion turned and sailed to Sydney, and then Fremantle, finally reaching Singapore at the end of January 1942. Here it was hastily deployed in support of the 22nd and 27th Brigades in the north-west of Singapore island. Heavily engaged and outnumbered around the landing beaches, over the course of the week it was pushed back towards the city.

After days of air raids, the Japanese attacked Singapore on the 8th of February, crossing the Johore Strait and attacking along the 22nd Brigade’s front and the 27th Brigade near the Causeway.

The machine-gunners suffered heavily. In early February, 137 men were listed as killed or missing, 106 wounded, and 24 described as having “shell shock”. These casualties constituted almost one-third of the battalion.

Despite this, the battalion kept fighting, sending out patrols until receiving the order to surrender. Despite orders to surrender weapons and ammunition, the men destroyed the majority of their equipment before being marched to Changi gaol.

Cripps was one of the 3,000 men who was part of A Force, the first Australian group to leave Singapore for Burma. After sailing in the Celebes Maru on 15 May, a third of A Force disembarked at Victoria Point in the far south of Burma. Another third were sent to Mergui and the remainder to Tavoy, all tasked with building air fields.

At first the conditions for prisoners were adequate, if basic. Japanese control was fairly lax and a relatively good working relationship with the Japanese was established. Despite this, prisoners who attempted to escape were executed without trial.

In September 1942 the Australian prisoners were consolidated at Thanbyuzayat to begin work on the Burmese end of the Burma–Thailand Railway. As work went on, conditions for the prisoners became worse. Without adequate food and medical supplies many were falling ill. Their condition worsened in 1943 as cholera, smallpox, dysentery and malaria broke out and malnutrition became endemic. Relentless labour on inadequate rations in a deadly tropical environment caused huge losses. By the time the railway was completed in October 1943, at least 2,815 Australians, over 11,000 other Allied prisoners, and perhaps 75,000 other forced labourers were dead.

After the railway was finally completed in October 1943, Cripps and the other surviving prisoners were gradually returned to Singapore.

While the suffering and deprivations of the Burma–Thailand Railway are well known, the most dangerous period in a prisoner’s life was travelling in captivity. Over-crowding, sickness, disease, and the dangers posed by Allied submarines caused stress and anxiety. Conditions on board ships were severe: over 1,000 prisoners might be crammed into spaces suitable for a few hundred and given little food, fresh water, or adequate sanitation facilities. The prisoners of war called these transports “hellships”.

On the 6th of September, David Cripps was among the 1,318 Australian and British prisoners of war assembled on the hellship Rakuyo Maru which was part of a convoy bound for Japan.

On the morning of 12 September the convoy was attacked by American submarines in the South China Sea. Rakuyo Maru was sunk by USS Sealion II. Kachidoki Maru, carrying British prisoners of war, was hit by USS Pampanito.

Prisoners able to evacuate the ships spent the following days in life rafts or clinging to wreckage in open water. About 150 Australian and British survivors were rescued by American submarines. A further 500 were picked up by Japanese destroyers and continued the journey to Japan.

David Cripps was one of 1,559 Australian and British prisoners of war killed in the incident.

He was 22 years old.

With no grave but the sea, today his name appears on the Labuan Memorial, which commemorates over 2,000 men who died while prisoners of war and who have no known grave.

His name is 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 David Charles Cripps, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (WX15783) Private David Charles Cripps, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, Second World War. (video)