Selarang Barracks was built in 1938 for a battalion of soldiers. Its first occupants were the men of the 1 st Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders. Following the fall of Singapore in February 1942, it was used to house Australian POW.
On 30th August 1942, following the recapture of four soldiers who had tried to escape from Singapore, the Japanese Commander, General Shimpei Fukuye, ordered all of the POW in Changi (British) and Selarang to sign a ‘No Escape' document worded, “I the undersigned, hereby solemnly swear on my honour that I will not, under any circumstances, attempt to escape”. Less than a handful agreed, the rest refused.
General Fukuye was enraged by the mass refusal, and the next day, he ordered all of the POW, excluding the few who signed and those in hospital, to move to the Parade square area of Selarang Barracks. Some 17,000 men had to cram it to this small area and the eight buildings surrounding the square. This became known as the ‘Selarang Barracks Square Incident’ 1 2 (external links).
Despite the desperately squalid conditions on the men crammed in to the barrack square area, with little water and very poor sanitary conditions, the men were still refusing to sign on the third day. On the 2nd September, General Fukuye ordered the senior officers of the prisoners, Lt. General E. B. Holmes and Brigadier ‘Black Jack’ Galleghan to attend the execution of the four escapees, Corporal Breavington and Privates Gale, Waters and Fletcher. The execution took place on Selarang Beach, with the firing party made up of Indian soldiers who had gone over the the Japanese inspired INA (Indian National Army). Corporal Breavington pleaded for the other three to be spared as he was in charge of the escapees. This was to no avail. The INA firing squad botched the execution and none of the four men was killed outright, they had to plead for the execution to be completed. They were then buried on the beach. Despite the executions, the stand-off continued until the Japanese threatened to bring all the sick from Roberts Barracks nearby at Changi. Lt. General Holmes, knowing that dysentery was spreading rapidly through Selarang, and what could happen if this was done, ordered the prisoners to sign. This they now did, many signing with false names such a Winston Churchill and Mickey Mouse.
After the war, the remains of the four men were exhumed and reburied at Kranji. General Fukuye was tried for war crimes in 1946. He was found guilty and executed by firing squad at the same place as the for soldiers he had had shot four years earlier.
LEFT: Cpl Breavington, Army Ordnance Corps, 2nd LEFT: Pte Gale , Army Ordnance Corps
RIGHT: Pte Waters, East Surrey Regiment & Pte Fletcher, Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
The Headstone on Corporal Breavington’s grave shows him as being a Private. This was his substansive rank, and these are used in military cemeteries.
The following poem was written by an anonymous POW after the execution of the four soldiers.
THE CORPORAL & HIS PAL
He stood, a dauntless figure
Prepared to meet his fate.
Upon his lips, a kindly smile One arm around his mate.
His free hand held a picture
Of the one he loved most dear
And though his hand was trembling
It was not caused by fear.
No braver man e’er faced his death
Before a firing squad
Than stood that day upon the square
And placed his trust in God.
He drew himself up proudly
And faced the leering foe, His rugged face grew stern, “I ask
One favour ere I go
Grant unto me this last request
That’s in your power to give.
For myself I ask no mercy
But let my comrade live”,
Then turning to the guardhouse
Where his sad faced Colonel stands
A witness to his pending fate
Brought here by Jap command.
He stiffens to attention
His hand swings up on high
To hat brim, in a swift salute,
“I’m ready now to die.”
They murdered him in hatred,
Prolonged his tortured end,
In spite of all his pleadings,
They turned and shot his friend,
They said it was an example
Of what they had in store
For others who attempt escape
Whilst Prisoners of War.
Example, yes, of how to die,
And how to meet one’s fate,
Example, true, of selfless love
A man has for his mate.
And when he reaches Heavens Gate
The Angels will be nigh
And welcome to their midst, a man
Who knew the way to die.
Whilst here below in letters gold
The scroll of fame e’er shall,
The story tell of how they died,
A Corporal and his Pal.