This is an excerpt from Arnold Kemp’s family memoir: “The Sentimental Tourist”. It is his account of the wartime escape of another Arnold Kemp, his uncle, and the younger son of the minister in Birse who is also mentioned here, Rev Arnold Low Kemp
Uncle Arnold’s escape
A REMARKABLE TALE of the war comes to us from my Uncle Arnold (Addie). Uncle Addie was also able, if less literary than his older brother (my father Robert Kemp), and an active and adventurous boy. His informal education was to prove of at least as much value as his studies in the classroom. Indeed, his childhood ploys on the Dee probably helped to save his life later. He was dux of Aboyne intermediate school and then followed my father to Robert Gordon’s. He took a diploma in tropical agriculture at Marischal College (the other wing of the university) and was appointed an assistant manager of a rubber estate in the state of Kedah, North Malaya. He left in 1937 on the PO steamship Corfu and immediately joined the local volunteer force. In 1940 he moved to Perak, transferred to the Federated Malay States Volunteer Forces and began extended wartime training.
In December 1941, while he was on long leave in Sydney, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and northern Malaya. He joined the Australian Imperial Forces but on his urgent recall to Malaya by the volunteer forces was granted an immediate discharge to enable him to return. He arrived in Singapore in January 1942 in the midst of a severe air raid. He was sent by train to Kuala Lumpur but it was overrun by the Japanese and he had to withdraw by stages to Singapore.
The Japanese assault forces penetrated the Singapore’s island defences about the 6th or 7th of February. Their gunfire turned night into day. Addie was in charge of a section of about 10 men with two machine guns, deployed in pill boxes on the tiny island of Berhala Repin, straight across from Admiralty Steps on the Singapore sea front. Fires raged throughout the city and the harbour area. Some members of the company were killed as the Japanese strafed and bombed at will: they had total control of air space.
On Friday, February 13, two days before the fall, a party of Allied soldiers was spotted on a pier half a mile from Addie’s pill box. Their company commander, Eric ‘Whisky’ Bruce, ordered him to take a couple of men and guide the party back to company headquarters. It was a hairy journey as Japanese planes searched for victims. Addie and his men ducked and dived, cowering in the craters with which the road was pitted. But when they reached the pier they found that the party had been cut to pieces. Bodies were spread about everywhere. They found no survivors but as they were about to leave noticed a man, half buried, who still seemed to be alive. When they pulled him free, they found that his body had been severed; ‘he came away with no lower part attached’. Convulsed with nausea, they covered him as best they could and left. Later that night their nerves were again shaken when a Japanese bomb fell on a rock near Addie’s pill box. A jagged boulder crashed through its concrete roof and came to rest on the lid of a full box of hand grenades.
During this week many ships were sunk in the harbour roads. Early one morning Addie saw an empty lifeboat gliding towards the pill box. He swam out to it and, grabbing its trailing painter, beached it, and secured it to an overhanging tree.