Informal portrait of NX34734 Captain (Capt) Reginald William James Newton, Officer Commanding ...

Accession Number P03835.001
Collection type Photograph
Object type Black & white - Print silver gelatin
Maker Unknown
Place made Malaya
Date made c 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


Informal portrait of NX34734 Captain (Capt) Reginald William James Newton, Officer Commanding Headquarters Company, 2/19th Battalion (Bn). Capt Newton was affectionately known in the bn as ‘Roaring Reggie’, due to the frequent use of his particularly loud voice. Capt Newton led his men with distinction during the bn’s actions against the Japanese Imperial Army in Malaya, particularly during the frenetic fighting during and after the Battle of Muar in January 1942. On 19 January after the 2/19th Bn took up positions near Bakri, Capt Newton positioned the A and B Echelon vehicles, which included the bn’s ammunition reserves, about 4 miles from the bn position on the Muar to Parit Sulong Road and about 10 miles from Muar. During the Japanese offensive, his force was attacked by a larger Japanese formation which threatened to overrun his position. At 7.15pm Newton withdrew his force into a swamp. The next day Newton’s force made their way through the swamp on a compass bearing toward Parit Sulong. On 22 January, as progress in the swamp proved to be difficult, Newton changed direction, heading instead for a point between Parit Sulong and Batu Pahat, an area under cultivation. On 23 January, Newton’s group came across a small group of British soldiers, 6th Norfolk Regiment led by Major Kidd, who informed them that Parit Sulong was now in Japanese hands. Newton again changed direction, heading now to Batu Pahat. On 24 January Newton and his bedraggled group moved across land that was under cultivation and headed toward Mampan, which they reached around midday on 25 January. Contact was made with local Malays and food was purchased. Newton had planned to move down the coast to Singapore, but the Simpang Kiri river lay in his way. Searching for boats, his men discovered the Japanese Army had also been through this area, taking all boats and rice supplies. Newton now split his force up into smaller parties of about six men and ten parties set off independently. Some were captured almost immediately, three parties made it to Singapore and a number across the strait to Sumatra; many men were not heard of again. Only two men are known to have evaded capture and returned to Australia: NX35749 Corporal Richard Barratyne (Dick) Pettigrew and NX54533 Private Harold “Darky” Archer. The wounded and the men who could not keep up stayed with Newton, and, between 27-31 January, they slowly made their way from Mampan to the coast between Batu Pahat and Semerah, where they camped at the rear of a local cemetery. The local Malays were now very uncooperative and they now only moved around at night. On 10 February the Malays brought Japanese soldiers to their camp. Now Prisoners of War (POWs), Newton and the remainder of his force were taken to Malacca for interrogation and on 14 February to Kuala Lumpur, to the Pudu Jail. As a POW, he commanded U Battalion in D Force, a working party sent from Singapore to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway. After the construction of the railway the Japanese assembled a mixed group of 2,100 POWs, Newton Force, under the general command of Capt Newton. This group was transported by rail, leaving Thailand on 21 June 1944 and arriving in Singapore on 26 June. The POWs sailed from Singapore on 1 July 1944 in two ships. The Byoki Maru carried half the POWs including Newton and arrived at Moji on 8 September 1944 after a 70 day voyage. The POW working parties were distributed to a number of Japanese organisations with Newton and 250 Australian POWs sent to the coal mine at Ohamma. Although there were already British POWs at the mine, Newton convinced the Japanese the Australian POWs should have their own commander. Capt Newton was awarded the MBE for his service as a POW and the citation for this award acknowledges his courage and leadership; “Captain Newton was a Camp Commander of various Prisoner of War camps in Malaya, and on the Thai-Burma railway and in Japan. He was frequently brutally ill-treated by Japanese guards while endevouring to ameliorate the bad conditions of those under his command and he was outstanding in his complete disregard for the Japanese in the interests of his own troops. His consistent inspiring leadership, courage and personal example over a long period and under adverse circumstances, inspired and raised the moral of those under his command and his fellow prisoners. His efforts on many occasions were directly responsible for saving many lives and casualties.”

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