Thomas Kirkup JEFFERSON 1916 – 1973

Family Details

Thomas Kirkup Jefferson was born 24 July 1916,[1] the son of Herbert Walter and Elizabeth Jefferson.[2]  In 1911, the family lived at 11 Toadpool, West Auckland and there were 2 children, Mary Jane aged 2 and Maud Beatrice aged 4 months.  Herbert Walter Jefferson then worked as a “Brewer’s Drayman”.[3]  Four other children were born, Alfred in 1919 but he died in infancy, 1920, Raymond in 1923, Elsie in 1924 and Gladys in 1927.  All births were registered in Auckland. [4]

Thomas was born during the Great War.[5]  Not only did the period witness unimagined misery of war but the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 accounted for many deaths throughout the UK.  A brief period of economic growth followed but this post war period was defined by industrial conflict, economic depression, poverty and extremely hard times, particularly in the “depressed areas” such as the North East of England and nowhere much worse than the Auckland Coalfield and areas such as West Auckland.  The Jefferson family took the decision to leave their home and look for a new life elsewhere.  The Yorkshire Coalfield offered opportunities of employment and the family settled at Maltby near Rotherham, with Herbert and Thomas finding work at the local pit, Maltby Colliery. 

1939: Herbert and Elizabeth Jefferson are recorded as living at 32 Byron Road, Maltby, Yorkshire.  Herbert worked as a “colliery hewer”, Thomas as a “colliery store worker” and Raymond as a “brickyard labourer”.[6]  Gladys, the family’s youngest child was born in Auckland in 1927, therefore their move to Maltby must have taken place between 1927 and 1939.  Later, the family lived at High Street, Braithwell, Maltby. [7]

1941: Thomas K. Jefferson married Ruth Brewster, registered at Don Valley, West Yorkshire.[8]

Military Details [9]

The service details of Driver T.K. Jefferson have not been researched but the following information is derived from a number of sources and provides an account of his war time service.[10]

  • 14 October 1940: Thomas K. Jefferson enlisted into the Royal Artillery being given the regimental number 1091982 and initially joined the 23rd Medium and Heavy Training Regiment then the 3rd Reserve M Regiment before finally joining the 85th Anti-Tank Regiment as a driver. 
  • 23 September 1941: The 85th Anti-Tank Regiment RA was formed.  The regiment comprised 4 anti-tank batteries, 45, 251, 270 and 281 and it was equipped with 36 x 2 pounders.  It was commanded by Lt. Col. Andrew John Lardner-Clarke.
  • 10 November 1941: Having being posted to the Malay Command, Singapore, the 85th Anti-Tank Regiment embarked for overseas duty.

The Malay Command [11]

The Malay Command was a formation of the British Army established in 1920’s for the coordination of the defences of British Malaya, consisting of 5 small garrison forces in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Taiping, Seremban and Singapore.  With the outbreak of the Second World War, the command was reinforced by units from India.  18 November 1940:  It was placed under the command of the British Far East Command and the short lived South West Pacific Command which was disbanded 15 February 1942 with the surrender of all Commonwealth forces upon the conclusion of the Battle of Singapore.  In November 1940, the total strength of the Malaya Command was 17 battalions. 85th AT Regiment formed part of the reinforcements which arrived between January and February 1942.  

  • 11 November 1941: The 85th AT Regiment boarded the converted P & O ocean liner SS Narkunda at Greenock, Scotland on the River Clyde as part of “Winston Special” convoy WS 12Z.  The convoy set sail just before midnight 12 November.
  • 25 November: The convoy arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone and left 28 November bound for Durban, South Africa.
  • 7 December: The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and invaded the Philippines the next day.  When Japanese forces invaded Malaya on 8 December 1941, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, GOC Malaya, with a force of 88,600 faced the 70,000 strong 25th Army of the Imperial Japanese Army under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita.[12] 

8 December 1941: The Invasion of Malaya and the Battle of Singapore: 8 – 15 February 1942: a summary [13]

The Japanese onslaught through the Malay Peninsula took everybody by surprise. Speed was of the essence for the Japanese, never allowing the British forces time to re-group. This was the first time British forces had come up against a full-scale attack by the Japanese. Any thoughts of the Japanese fighting a conventional form of war were soon shattered. The British had confidently predicted that the Japanese would attack from the sea. This explained why all the defences on Singapore pointed out to sea. It was inconceivable to British military planners that the island could be attacked any other way – least of all, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula. But this was exactly the route the Japanese took.

As the Japanese attacked through the Peninsula, their troops were ordered to take no prisoners as they would slow up the Japanese advance. For the British military command in Singapore, war was still fought by the “rule book”.  The attack on Singapore occurred almost at the same time as the attack on the US Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.  Britain’s naval presence at Singapore was strong. A squadron of warships was stationed there led by the modern battleship “Prince of Wales” and the battle cruiser “Repulse”. 

8 December 1941:  Both vessels put out to sea and headed north up the Malay coast to where the Japanese forces were landing.

9 December 1941:  The RAF lost nearly all of its front line aeroplanes after the Japanese attacked RAF airfields in Singapore.  Any hope of aerial support was destroyed before the actual attack on Singapore had actually begun.

10 December 1941:  The battleship “Prince of Wales” and the battle cruiser “Repulse” were sunk by repeated attacks from Japanese torpedo bombers. The RAF could offer the ships no protection as their planes had already been destroyed by the Japanese. The loss of both ships had a devastating impact on morale in Britain.

Only the army could stop the Japanese advance on Singapore. It was led by Lieutenant General Arthur Percival. He had approximately 90,000 troops, British, Indian and Australian units. The Japanese advanced with 65,000 men led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

11 & 12 December 1941:  At the Battle of Jitra in Malaya, the Allied forces were soundly beaten and were in full retreat. The Japanese attack was based on speed, ferocity and surprise. Captured wounded soldiers were killed where they lay. Those who were not injured but had surrendered were also murdered.  Some captured Australian troops were doused with petrol and burned to death. Locals who had helped the Allies were tortured before being murdered. The brutality of the Japanese soldiers shocked the British.

11 January 1942:  The Japanese captured Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaya.

All the indications were that the Japanese would attack Singapore across the Johor Strait. General Wavell, the British commander in the region, was ordered by Churchill to fight to save Singapore and was ordered not to surrender until there had been “protracted fighting” in an effort to save the city.

31 January 1942:  British and Australian forces withdrew across the causeway that separated Singapore from Malaya.  It was clear that this would be their final stand. Percival spread his men across a 70-mile line, the entire coastline of the island. This proved to be a mistake. Percival had overestimated the strength of the Japanese. This tactic spread out his men far too thinly.

8 February 1942:  The Japanese attacked across the Johor Strait.  Many Allied soldiers were simply too far away to influence the outcome of the battle. 23,000 Japanese soldiers attacked Singapore. They advanced with speed and ferocity. At the Alexandra Military Hospital, Japanese soldiers murdered patients.  Percival kept many men away from the Japanese attack fearing that there would be Japanese attacks elsewhere along the coastline. He was criticised for failing to reinforce those troops involved in direct fighting but it is now generally accepted that this would not have changed the final outcome.  It may only have prolonged the fighting.

14 February 1942:  The Japanese captured Singapore’s reservoirs and pumping stations. The bombing, fighting and heavy shelling continued; many of the Allied troops, separated from their units, wandered around aimlessly and the hospitals were crowded and overflowing. 

15 February 1942:  General Percival called for a ceasefire and made the difficult decision to surrender. He signed the surrender document that evening at the Ford Factory on Bukit Timah Road. After days of desperate fighting, all British Empire troops were ordered to lay down their arms at 8.30 that night. More than 100,000 troops became prisoners of war together with hundreds of European civilians who were interned.  The fall of Singapore was a humiliation for the British government and Churchill was furious.

85th Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery

The regiment formed part of the reinforcements which arrived between January and February 1942, timeline, as follows:  

  • 18 December: Convoy WS12Z arrived at Durban.
  • 24 December: A convoy DM1 left Durban to reinforce the Singapore garrison. 85 AT Regiment was aboard SS Narkunda in a convoy of escorts and 4 troop ships, Aorangi, Mount Vernon, Narkunda and Sussex.
  • 1 January 1942:  Addu Atoll. Maldives – fuelling stop.
  • 13 January 1942: SS Nakunda reached Keppel Harbour, Singapore and the 85th AT Regiment was transported to Birdwood Barracks near Changi.
  • 14 January: 85th AT Regiment was attached to the 11 Indian Brigade and moved some 50 miles north to Jahore Baru and began the defence of Singapore.
  • 15 January: Called into action at a rubber plantation just north of the Sultan of Johore’s palace.  The action lasted for a week.
  • 5 February: 85th AT Regiment was sent to guard the RAF base at Selatar. 
  • 6 February: The RAF base was evacuated and the regiment withdrew to the residential district of Mount Pleasant in Singapore city.
  • 13 February:  the 85th set up defensive positions at Halifax Road.
  • 15 February 1942: The Singapore Garrison capitulated and POWs were marched to Changi Prison.

1091982 Driver T.K. Jefferson was captured at Singapore [14] and spent the rest of the war as a POW.  His name appears on a number of records including the Prisoners of War Far East Master Roll [15] and the Prisoners of War Far East; Malaya POW Camp, Name List as of 1 November 1944 Vol. II.[16] It is understood that he was held at Singapore for the remainder of the war being held in various Working Parties under Camp Leader Col. E.B. Holmes.[17] A note on his Capture Card records “Changi 19 September 1943”.  Changi was a POW Camp on Singapore Island.  His POW number was 1259, later a new number was issued, 6199.[18] 

Bombardier Stuart Harold Young, 85th AT Regiment RA submitted his papers to the National Archives which recount his experiences as a POW at Changi and River Valley Road in Singapore. [19]   As a member of POW “C” Battalion, he worked on the Burma to Thailand Railway at Tonchan, Tampi, Tamuang and Sraburi from October 1942 to the end of the war in August 1945.  Associated documents include handwritten nominal roll of POWs of “C” Battalion, giving rank, military service, POW numbers, unit, civilian occupation, home address of next of kin and notes on their movements as prisoners incorporating a separate list of those POWs who died in captivity.  9,000 POWs died building the Burma-Thailand railway.   The Kirkup family understand that he worked on the infamous Burma Railway.[20]

2 September 1945: POW 6100 Driver T.K. Jefferson R.A. was liberated.[21]

Post War

In 1946, Thomas and Ruth Jefferson lived at 22 Little Hay Nooking Lane, Maltby. [22]

1973: Thomas K. Jefferson died aged 56, his death being registered at Sheffield.[23]

1940 Royal Artillery Tracer Card
Capture Card

REFERENCES


[1] England & Wales Birth Index1916-2007 Vol.10a p.478 Auckland 1916 Q3 and Death Index

[2] Elizabeth nee Kirkup

[3] 1911 census

[4] Ancestry Family Tree by Karen Roberton and email dated 31 October 2020

[5] I do not know if Herbert Walter Jefferson served in the armed forces in WW1.  By 1914, he may have worked as a coal miner and therefore in a reserved occupation.

[6] 1939 England & Wales Register

[7] Capture Card and records found at:

[8] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.9c p.1830 Don Valley 1941 Q1

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/85th_Anti-Tank_Regiment,_Royal_Artillery unless otherwise stated

[10] Royal Artillery Tracer Card

[11] https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Malaya_Command

[12] https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Malaya_Command

[13] http://kokodahistorical.com.au/history/fall-of-singapore

[14] UK Allied Prisoners of War 1939-1945

[15] WO361 Casualties and Missing Personnel 1939-1945

[16] WO 361 Casualties and Missing Personnel 1939-1945

[17]  M.I.9/JAP/No.10204 A as found at:

[18] Capture Card

[19] https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030033205 Document no.25018.  Also, “Life on the Death Railway: The Memoirs of a British POW” 2013 S.H. Young published by Pen & Sword

[20] The document referred to above should be examined to confirm whether or not Driver T.K. Jefferson was included in the work gangs of forced labourers to work on the Burma railway.

[21] WO 361 Casualties and Missing Personnel 1939-1945, a list 1942-1945

[22] Electoral Register, Rother Valley Parliamentary Division, Maltby Polling District p.20

[23] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.2d p.747 Sheffield 1973 Q2