Private Bertram Cornelius Clayton

5835470 Cambridge Regiment, 2nd Battalion.
Died 26th January 1942, aged 32.

Bertram was born in Woburn Sands.

The Japanese had invaded Malaya on December 8th, 1941. The drove southwards, beating the British and Indian troops they encountered with the speed of the attack and superior air support.

The 2nd Batt. Cambs arrived in Singapore at 1.30pm on January 13th, 1941, in a torrential rainstorm that hid their ship from attack by Japanese aircraft. They managed to disembark, but had no maps and could find no guides to direct them to where they were supposed to go. By nightfall, they had had to erect their tents in ankle-deep mud.

They unpacked what they could, but had no transport to move their gear to where they needed it until some arrived on the 15th, which was “…very decrepit and in a bad state of maintenance.” By the 17th, Japanese air raids were common, and they had suffered 6 casualties by dive-bombers. The Battalion HQ War Diary records the difficulty in getting anywhere, with breakdowns common and no spares to be had, except off other wrecked vehicles, also the decision to go without crash helmets as they looked too much like the Japanese army helmet. There are also complaints about the Royal Army Ordnance Corp insisting on observing their full lunch hour! They ran some recce missions, and also filled in craters on the runway and cleared some jungle. The weather was bad on the 24 – 25th. For the 26th and 27th, the entries read:

26th January 1942: “News disquietning. Battalion reported cut off and difficult to extricate. RAF workshop unit with 6 or 8 single engine, twin seater recce aircraft arrive on racecourse. No armaments at all – carry 4 smoke bombs for signal purposes. Four camps cleared of tents and stores. One camp holding approx 150 remains. Slight enemy air activity.”

27th: “All stores have now been delivered to various branches of Ord., terrific glut of surplus stores – new dumps are opened. First stages of handing over camp. Reported that ring round 2Cambs is broken and they are withdrawing.”

They had became almost trapped in the town of Batu Pahat in North Jahore, but escaped on the 23rd, after receiving orders to leave. As soon as they were outside the town, fresh orders came to re-take it, and hold it for 48 hours more. This they did, although sustaining causualties. When they came to leave again, they found that the Japanese had erected blocks over the only road out. Bertram died during this action.

From dawn on the 26th until 1630 hours in the afternoon continual attacks were launched against these blocks in the hope of being able to clear the road to allow the ambulances and other vehicles of the Brigade to pass through, but in vain. Once again, the brunt of this action was borne by the 2nd Battalion and every man was thrown into the fight including cooks, drivers, signallers and batmen. The opening of the road was a matter of desperate necessity for the Brigade was still carrying with it the accumulated causalities of the last four days’ fighting in the town, for whom there was no chance of evacuation to hospital. The enemy positions were well chosen. The only way of attack lay over marshy ground, thickly wooded, with every clearing covered by both light and heavy automatic weapons. By reason of the limited visibility in this type of country the use of artillery to support the attacks was quite useless and even mortars were employed with difficulty. Up to their knees in mud and water, and hampered by the thick vegetation the companies struggled to reach their objectives, suffering heavy casualties from concealed weapons of the enemy; destroying one post after another only to find that the Japanese position was planned in great depth, with every position covered by another. While the battle was in progress, the guns in the village itself were constantly attacked by Japanese aircraft and threatened by infiltration parties who closed in on the houses armed with machine guns and mortars. Behind the Post Office, the Field Ambulance staff worked under great difficulties, being continually under fire. David Langdon []

By the beginning of February, the Japanese were ready to attack Singapore itself, an island to the south of Malaya, connected to the mainland by a small causeway, which was blown-up to slow the Japanese advance. Those Cambridgeshires who survived and had fallen back to defend Singapore were taken prisoner on February 15th, when the Allied Forces were forced to surrender. A total of 24 Officers and 760 men of the Cambridgeshire Regiment died fighting, or as Prisoners of War.

Bertram is listed on the Singapore Memorial. His parents, Thomas and Elizabeth, of The Grove, only learnt he had been killed in action in December 1945.



Page last updated Jan. 2019.