Tag Archives: Royal Artillery

Conclusion: British Pre-War Concert Parties

By Sears Eldredge

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, The Philippines, and Malaya on 7/8 December, the long-expected War in the Pacific had begun.    

The 88th and 137th Field Regiments, Royal Artillery of the 11th Indian Division had arrived in Singapore only nine days before the Japanese attack.  

A few days after the start of hostilities, Major Leofric Thorpe submitted his Official Report to the Singapore Services Entertainment Committee. In his conclusion, Thorpe argued why another concert party would be urgently needed in the near future—one which (given the not-so-subtle subtext of the report) he should be put in charge of.

With the war now being fought, there will be an even greater need now. When the situation stabilizes, and the number of troops perhaps increase, no better way of maintaining the morale of the men could be tried. . .. Another show should start as soon as circumstances permit.[i]

As Thorpe would quickly discover, circumstances for another Concert Party did not soon present themselves, and when they did, they would not be in the circumstances he had imagined. 

On 29 January 1942, nearly a month and a half after the start of the War in the Pacific, the convoy carrying the 18th Division arrived in Singapore. While trying to unload its cargo of men and equipment, it came under heavy attack by Japanese aircraft. By this point in the war Malaya had already been lost and all Commonwealth forces had been pulled back to defend Singapore Island. Once on land, the 18th Divisions’ troops were immediately thrown into the final battle for the island. For Fergus Anckorn, their preparedness for such a situation was absurd: “Three and a half months without setting foot on land. Talk about being ready for action. Our knees were jelly. And, you know, we had to go off that ship under fire, under bombing.”[ii]    

Seventeen days later all the surviving Commonwealth forces were prisoners of war.  


To learn about the reorganization of Concert Parties in Changi POW Camp, Singapore, read “In The Bag” (Chapter 1) in my book, Captive Audiences / Captive Performers.

RICE AND SHINE WILL CONTINUE, 6TH OCTOBER 2021, 10AM


[i] Thorpe, Report, 21.

[ii] Anckorn, Interview, 20.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Full Source List for ‘Rice and Shine’: British Pre-War Concert Parties posts, here.

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

88th & 137th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, 11th Indian Division

By Sears Eldredge

On 25/26 November, members of the 88th and 137th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (Support Units for the 11th Indian Division) aboard the “Dominion Monarch” in an earlier convoy, produced an elaborate concert party as they sailed across the Indian Ocean towards Singapore. Its aim was not only to help the men pass the time, but bolster their patriotism. An Entertainments Committee had been formed chaired by Padre Hosklin with Major Cary Owtram, 2nd Lt. Morley Jenkins, and several other officers and men, along with a civilian, Mr. Raymond, and Sister McGuire, as representative of the Nursing Sisters on board.

Programme cover for I Remember. Courtesy of Eve Allum.

Their show was a revue with the evocative title, I Remember. It was a first-class production with scenery, costumes—even wigs—and a cast of more than twenty-five singers, musicians, and other entertainers, featuring “Ace” Connolly and his Band, the “Kings of Swing.” Besides soldiers (and the lone civilian, Mr. Raymond), the cast included four female nurses[1] in a series of songs and comic sketches, one of the latter involving two Sisters and two Lieutenants, in “Temptation.” (With thousands of soldiers and a small group of Nurses confined together on a ship for months at a time, this sketch probably had very pointed topical allusions.)  

One soldier, who took the stage name “Akki” (but was really Bombardier Ackhurst), did a series of imitations in “Faces I Remember.” Two Indian soldiers—perhaps brothers[2]–performed in a large-cast number entitled, “Capetown,” which had been their last port of call. Major Owtram, himself, sang “Rose of England.” And Lance Bombardier Bob Gale, a member of “The Kings of Swing” Band, wrote three original songs for the show, one of which, “Distance Makes No Difference,” underscored another “message” of the revue. Gale also appeared onstage with his trio, “The Rhythm Breakers.”[3]

The next to last number on the bill was a rousing patriotic number, “Dominion’s Parade,” which included representatives of the British Commonwealth on stage promoting the theme of the show—the preservation of the Empire. Following the Finale, the audience, as the custom was, stood and joined the entertainers in singing “The King.”

RICE AND SHINE, BRITISH PRE-WAR CONCERT PARTIES CONTINUES, 18TH AUGUST 2021, 10AM


[1] Sisters Ingham, Adams, Woodman, and Hill.

[2] Sergeants. J. & A. Bhumgara.

[3] Including Gunners Goodwin and Winchester. 

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 5510

Full Source List for ‘Rice and Shine’: British Pre-War Concert Parties posts, here.

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Search for Relatives of BSM John Carley, 965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery

by Brian Finch

A pre-war football medal awarded to John Carley has been found and the finder would like to return it to the family.

John Carley served as a Battery Sergeant Major with 965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery, in the battle for Hong Kong in December 1941.  Philip Cracknell’s article about this battery can be read here

Following the surrender on Christmas Day 1941 all the defending forces were incarcerated in prisoner of war camps.  On 25 September 1942 1,816 prisoners of war were taken from Shamshuipo camp and put on an armed Japanese freighter, the Lisbon Maru

This ship set sail on 27 September, also carrying Japanese troops and not marked to show that it had pows on board.  It was torpedoed on 1 October by an American submarine, the USS Grouper.  During the 24 hours it took to sink, the pows on board were confined to the holds with the hatches battened down and with no access to food, water, fresh air or toilet facilities.  Since many of the men were suffering from dysentery the stale air soon became foul and suffocating, some men died during the night.  The condition in all three holds where the pows were confined were atrocious, but those in the third hold had the worst time.  This was where the gunners were held, and as their hold was filling with water they had the unenviable task of manning an inadequate hand pump to keep the ship afloat.  In the stifling atmosphere the men could hardly breathe and were only able to pump for a few minutes at a time.  As one man became exhausted another would take his place.  This went on all night until by the early hours of 2 October all the men collapsed out of sheer exhaustion.

Shortly after this the men in the second hold managed to break out and open all three hatches. Most managed to get out and jump into the sea to save their lives, but they were then shot at by the Japanese with rifles and machine-guns.  Tragically, in the third hold, where the gunners had worked so hard to save the ship from going down earlier, the only ladder broke, and most of the men then went down with the ship.  John Carley was almost certainly one of those brave men who kept the ship afloat for so long and then perished as they went down with the ship.  It is certainly known that he died in the sinking.  He was one of the 828 who tragically died in this terrible incident.

Bryher Bell has contacted Philip Cracknell to say that he has a 1936 football medal for John Carley when he was serving in Aldershot.  He would love to be able to trace the family so that he can return this medal to them.

If anyone knows of any relatives or descendants of John Carley, please can they contact Philip Cracknell at philip.g.cracknell@gmail.com to let him know.