2/4th Machine Gun Battalion

Western Australia’s 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion was raised at the end of 1940 as one of the support units for the ill-fated 8th Division. Formed with men from across the state, they all came together at Northam military camp, east of Perth, where they carried out their initial training. In July 1941 the 2/4th moved to Adelaide and as more of the 8th Division was deployed “up north”, by October it was in Darwin with the 23rd Brigade. The division’s other two brigades were in Malaya and Singapore and the 2/4th was to follow.

Told of their move just before Christmas, the battalion left Darwin on 30 December, sailing via Port Moresby. Following a Japanese attack on Rabual, New Britain, the convey turned around and sailed to Sydney and then Fremantle. Sailing under escort the convoy finally reached Singapore at the end of January 1942. It was not long before the 2/4th was in action.

By this time the Japanese had captured Malaya and were preparing to attack Singapore. Similarly, the British were desperately preparing their defences and the battalion’s companies were sent where they were needed: B Company was sent to the British Manchester Fusiliers, constructing weapons pits around the Naval Base; C Company went to support the 44th Indian Brigade on the west and south-west coast of the island; D Company supported the 22nd Brigade on the north-west coast; and A Company was in the 8th Division’s reserve, close to the island centre.

After days of air raids, the Japanese attacked Singapore on 8 February - crossing the Johore Strait and attacking along the 22nd Brigade’s front and the 27th Brigade near the Causeway. Deployed to different units, the 2/4th’s companies were quickly in action but by 10 February the Japanese had captured the island’s west coast. Five days later the British forces were pushed back to a defensive line protecting the city. However, the battle was virtually over and on 15 February Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered Singapore.

The machine-gunners suffered heavily. Between 8 and 15 February the 2/4th had 137 men killed or missing, 106 men wounded, and 24 described as having “shell shock”. These casualties constituted almost one-third of the battalion. Worse was to follow, with the battalion held in Japanese prisoner of war camps for the next three and a half years.

Following the surrender, the 2/4th was concentrated in Changi goal. From Changi the Japanese took drafts of men to work throughout their Greater South East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Some of the battalion were sent to Borneo, while others worked on the Burma-Thai Railway or in Japan. By the war’s end, another 263 men from the battalion had died as prisoners.

Glossary

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 400 died
  • 124 wounded
  • 808 captured

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Second World War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 1 MBE
  • 1 MC
  • 1 DCM
  • 2 BEM
  • 1 MM
  • 9 MID
  • 1 ED

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM52/8/5/4: 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion unit diary
  • Cody, Les, Ghosts in Khaki : the history of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, 8th Australian Division A.I.F, (Carlisle, W. Aust.: Hesperian Press, 1997)
  • Ewen, Murray, Colour patch the men of the 2/4th Australian Machine Gun Battalion, 1940-1945, (Victoria Park, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 2003)
  • Saggers, Ian; Saggers, A E, To hell-fire, purgatory and back : an account of the battle exploits and prisoner-of-war experiences of Major A. E. Saggers, commanding officer 'A' Company, 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion and Special Reserve Batallion, A.I.F. : based on his secret diaries, (Dalkeith, W.A.: I. Saggers, 2000)