Most people associate World War Two with Europe. Beginning in September 1939 Germany expanded its territorial holding eastward to the English Channel. Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France all fell in turn under the influence of Nazi Germany. The period 1940-1943 is largely the story of Great Britain’s attempt to hold the advancing Germans at bay. The tide turned, of course, with the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.
That’s one war.
The other took place a world away.
This other war–the war in the Far East–officially began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That action roused the sleeping giant of the United States and brought U.S. troops into a war that was largely–at least in the case of Britain–being fought with U.S. resources and British blood and British courage.
Few people consider the fate of those men who answered their nation’s call to fight in the East. For some it would be a nasty, brutish, and short experience of warfare.
Barely a year after the war in Europe started my grandfather and my great uncle joined the British Army. They joined together–their service numbers are a single digit apart–and they served together, joining the Royal Artillery.
After training they were posted to 48 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. They then spent several months deployed on the home front receiving orders to deploy to the Far East in defense of Britain’s Imperial interests, most significant being Singapore.
They boarded a troop ship a matter of hours prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I don’t doubt that they expected to be fighting in the fields of France and not the jungles of Indonesia. And then that fateful day happened, and it changed the course of their lives.
My grandfather (Gunner Harold Gissing) would be killed in action in just a matter of weeks from arriving on station. My great uncle (Gunner Charles Gissing) would be wounded, captured, and spend of the rest of the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Their fate was shared by Dutch, Australian, and American troops. In fact, a unit of the Texas National Guard fought alongside Commonwealth troops in the attempt to slow the Japanese invasion of Java.
It’s a remarkable story. The more remarkable because its true, and largely unknown. I hope to play some small part in changing that.