"...On the day the Japanese landed on the Island I was all set to do or die... "
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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Those last days of 1941 passed in a blur of unreality for my grandfather. It was a risk, sending his precious ones off to sea, but the immediate danger of being blown up in their own home far outweighed any hesitation he might have felt.

After the ship disappeared from view my grandfather made his way back to the empty house which echoed to the weeping of the amahs, broken hearted at the departure of their mistress and little charges. A bleak Christmas meal two days later highlighted the absence of his dear ones.

chapter 1

"Final Days of Freedom "
 Chapter 1:
 Chapter 2:
 Chapter 3:
 Chapter 4:
 Chapter 5:
 Chapter 6:
 Chapter 7:
 Chapter 8:
 Chapter 9:
 Chapter 10:

But any doubts he may have had about the decision to evacuate the family were eliminated a week to the day after they had sailed. Singapore suffered a massive air raid which caused widespread death and destruction. Their own syce (driver) barely escaped with his life by diving under the car – his two companions who he had been chatting with at Brinkmann’s garage were killed outright.

Life took on a strange new routine. The Volunteers were now on active duty, and Joe was fully equipped with rifle & ammunition at the ready. He reported for duty regularly at Alexandra Barracks and juggled the other commitments that demanded his time.

With the syce taken to his bed with fright and shock, Joe would drive himself in to the Gestetner office each morning. The ground floor of the building had been fortified with 600 lb. bales of paper stacked against three sides of the façade, but in spite of this obvious sign that all was not as it should be, the office maintained normal business hours.

A drink at one of the Clubs on the way home preceded evenings spent packing and sorting all the treasures that Eilish and the children had been unable to take with them. A communication from Java informed him that they were on the last and most dangerous leg of their journey – while they had stopped at Batavia and Sourabaya he was at least able to be in touch, but now an uncertain wait was ahead of him.

Nightly air raids meant little sleep as he and the servants moved between the house and the air raid shelter with irritating regularity and the days were long and frustrating. An invitation to a New Years Eve dinner with friends Bob & Blanche McNaught was a welcome distraction and Joe joined the party with pleasure. Just as things were warming up, the air raid sirens went off! My grandfather saw in the New Year squeezed into a dugout in the grounds of the Dutch Club.

After the all clear had sounded the party resumed, and they drank a toast to 1942.

Those first weeks of January were a time of terrible anxiety for my grandfather. The lack of information on the fate of his family was a torment. Singapore continued to receive a regular pounding, and in spite of upbeat announcements that the Japanese were not a serious threat it was clear that they were certainly a determined foe.

Toward the end of the month the long awaited cable arrived – Eilish and the children were safe in Sydney. Joe could breathe freely for the first time in weeks. More good news followed from Gestetner’s head office in London – they would pay the living expenses of the company families who evacuated to Australia, and honour the monthly allotment paid to Joe’s long-widowed mother. With the future looking more uncertain with each passing day it was a great relief to Joe to know that, no matter what, his loved ones were secure.

As the Japanese Forces moved steadily down the Malay Peninsula Joe prepared for the worst. He posted bank books, precious photos and other important papers in the hope that they would escape the coming siege unharmed. A beautifully carved camphorwood trunk packed with clothing and some household goods, including Christmas lights and toys was shipped to Australia; an envelope containing his gold watch was entrusted to the mail and all outstanding accounts were paid in full. He drew up a will and made sure the office and house were well provisioned with tinned foods and bags of rice.

The enemy was closing in and J.B. Dunne was ready.

In those final days of freedom Singapore shuddered and shook under the relentless barrage from the air. Smoke hung heavy in the sky and the streets were a tangle of debris, the dead and the dying. Noise was everywhere – the engines of the bomber planes threatening destruction, the ack-ack guns barking defiantly at the enemy above - explosions rocked the earth and sirens wailed in warning and in grief. Craters yawned in once quiet neighborhoods and a haphazard network of trenches offered a chance of survival as death rained down from above.

And then the impossible happened – on February 8th, 1942 the Japanese landed on Singapore Island!

The city was in a state of chaos. Refugees from Malaya, chased down by the relentless Japanese advance, thronged the streets in search of shelter, food or escape. Ships, groaning under the weight of evacuees, made their way into the treacherous waters, easy targets for the airborne enemy.

Incredibly, in the middle of all this, the Gestetner office remained open for business! Armed to the teeth, my grandfather made a dash from Alexandra Barracks to the office on February 10th to sign cheques for salaries, informing the loyal staff that he could not say when he would return. From there he rushed home to pack a change of clothes and a few extras before returning to the Barracks.

The grounds of C Holland Park, once the scene of kiddie’s parties and garden fetes, were full of Indian troops - some lying asleep with the grime of battle on their faces, their clothes and boots thick with mud, and others sitting on their haunches in little groups talking in whispers. A dense fog of smoke rolled along the Bukit Timah area, blotting out the sinking sun. With a final glance over his shoulder, J.B. Dunne moved into the crush of troops moving along Holland Road. It was the last time he ever saw his home.

The next morning the order came through to standby to defend the Barracks area. Forced to retire later that day, the unit of fighting men moved from one house to the next as the area was heavily shelled. During the rare lulls my grandfather noted the sad reminders of lives hastily abandoned – photos scattered on the floors, wardrobes filled with clothing, silver and glassware in cabinets, food and drink left on counters – and he worried about his own house, left vulnerable to the looter, wondering would he ever get a chance to return again.

But there was little time to think too deeply on worldly goods as he fought for his city, his home and his life. The days merged into one another in a haze of noise, bullets, explosions and death. And then it was over.

Singapore surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese on February 15th, 1942. The following morning J.B. Dunne turned in his rifle, heaved his kitbag over his shoulder, and with a heart heavy with grief joined the thousands of prisoners on the long march to Changi.


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