University of Oxford
51 files

Harold Batten and family at Singapore and Camp Batu Lintang, Sarawak, Borneo

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 19:42 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Grandfather Harold Cecil Lenan Brosnan Batten, born 1900 in Singapore: About 1941, my grandfather was working on a ship called Ban Han Leong. Prior to this, he had been working in the marine salvage industry, and previous to that, he worked for Singapore Dock Company.

He was the Second Mate (tbc) on the ship. It was part of an auxiliary patrol when it suffered a bombing attack in Penang in 1941. It was repaired and in February 1942, there is a sailing record that it was carrying troops and civilians, in the company of the ship Sin Hik Lee. It sailed on 7 February and safely arrived at Tanjon Pirdk [sic?] where the troops and civilians disembarked.

It set sail again two days later for an unknown destination, carrying AA guns to an Australian garrison on Timor. It is believed the vessel was bombed by the Japanese, not torpedoed, as it was passing through the Karimati Straits, off Pontianak Island. The photograph of the diorama confirms this.

The bomb severely damaged the ship. It limped to a nearby island and was shipwrecked on the coral reef surrounding the island. His grandfather remembers the ship was alight, but he was knocked out and had a shrapnel wound in his leg. He was lying near the waterline. One end of the ship was below the water and the other end was out of the water. The Chinese crew abandoned ship leaving his grandfather behind, probably thinking he was dead. There is no record of any of the crew reaching the island.

When his grandfather wakes up, he makes a shelter out of the tarpaulins. It's raining and this has helped to put out the fires. He collects rainwater for drinking. There is a cat that has also survived! He survives on the ship for a couple of days but is in a sorry state. He lights a beacon on the furthest point away from him - the highest point.

The cat has been collecting flying fish and taking them to his grandfather. He cooks them and shares them with the cat.

He prays to the Virgin Mary. He passes out. He wakes up in a canoe. He is being taken to the island by inhabitants. They care for him. He has carried out some self-surgery, but he is in a sorry state.

The Japanese, knowing that the islanders are harbouring people, fly over the island dropping leaflets. They will bomb the island if enemies are not given up. His grandfather decides to give himself up to save the islanders.

He ends up in camp Batu Lintang near Kuching, Sarawak on Borneo. The camp contained service personnel and civilians.

Because he was a good cook and had been a stores officer, he ends up in charge of that section of the male part of the camp.

While there, he puts together a book, in secret, in memory of the people there - probably put together over a long period of time (see photographs).

He was a "target" as he was a very clever crafts person. He made toys for the children of the Dutch families interned. Some of the Japanese soldiers were impressed by his skills, others not so - they would stand on the toys. Some of the toys may still exist.

He worried about his wife and son as he knew Singapore had fallen in February 1942.

The camp was finally relieved by the Australians a couple of weeks after the unconditional surrender of the Japanese. Suga, the Japanese Commander of the camp, had two sets of orders which involved the death of the internees. He did not carry these out!

His grandfather received a lighter from the Australian Red Cross (see photograph).

He received a military watch from an Australian officer in recognition of what he had done (see photograph. Note: strap has been replaced).

Another item from that time is the rosary in the box (see photograph). Made while he was on the ship or in the camp? It consists of fishbone beads. The plastic symbols are known to have come from the inside cockpit of a Japanese Zero fighter - added at a later date. The crucifix has been lost over time. Christopher does not remember it.

His grandfather eventually ends up back in Singapore. He learns that his wife had died early on, but his son is still alive.

A month or so later, he meets him. His son (Christopher's father) is so shocked he loses the power of speech for a couple of weeks. He thought he had lost both of his parents.

Now for his story...

Father Frederick Harold Lenan Brosnan Batten

In 1942, the Japanese entered Singapore. They came to the house that was the home of my grandparents. My father was in the garden. He was about 12 years old at this time. The patrol burst into the garden and one soldier goes towards him with a fixed bayonet, but the officer in charge tells the soldier he is just a child. My grandmother was distraught. The officer orders his grandmother to make tea and she takes her son with her. The soldiers do not touch their tea until they have seen his grandmother and his father drink it.

His grandmother and his father go into hiding at the local Catholic church. Singapore got its water from the mainland and the Japanese cut this off. His grandmother got blackwater fever and died 26 January 1943. She was very weak, and she was worried about her husband.

His father was now on his own at the age of 12 or 13 years.

The White Fathers take him under their wing. He goes with them to a colony, Bahau, which was set up in the jungle north of Singapore. This was an agricultural settlement set up under a self-sufficiency scheme initiated by the Japanese authorities. Bishop de Vals has pushed for this to save Catholic Singaporeans.

His father was under the protection of the White Fathers.

His father gets blackwater fever and a Japanese doctor says he is dead, but he is saved by a Siamese nurse who holds a mirror over his mouth, and she sees he is still alive.

His experiences were to affect him. Some of his experiences from this time caused nightmares in later life. Christopher remembers waking at times to hear blood-curdling screaming noises! He "survived" but there were lots of internal scars which affected him, his life, and his family in many ways.

Christopher was 7 when his grandfather died but never heard him or his father say anything derogatory about the Japanese.


Item list and details

1. Diorama 2. Rosary in a box made by Harold Batten in POW camp out of fish bones 3. Treasury of Thought - Made by Harold Batten. Sort of autograph book made from wood and webbing 4. Lighter 5. Watch - strapped replaced 6. Photograph of home in Singapore (c1902, but looked the same when the Japanese invaded Singapore). Believed to have lived there since 1895/6. 7. Photograph - Batten family 1935. Frederick Batten with parents

Person the story/items relate to

Harold Cecil Lenan Brosnan Batten and Frederick Harold Lenan Brosnan Batten

Person who shared the story/items

Christopher Harold Batten

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Harold is his Grandfather and Frederick his father

Type of submission

Shared at Wetherden Village Hall, Suffolk on 11 November 2023. The event was organised by Wetherden History Group.

Record ID

101182 | WET009