'The Story of the Tanjong Pinang' by David Wingate


Some 20 years ago, I found a hand-made green canvas bag in a suitcase in the attic. This  I discovered was the POW diary of my mother’s first husband David Rintoul SRA(V). I then spent the next couple of years deciphering the tiny and faded handwriting written in various POW camps in Singapore and Thailand from 1942-46. Thus started my ever growing interest in, this turbulent era of Malayan history and, my mother’s family who had lived in Malaya since 1905. Her father Jim Landon had moved to Malaya as a Rubber plantation manager and his wife Penelope joining him sometime in 1914. They were to live at and manage the Cluny Estate, Slim River Perak. When War began Jim joined the Perak Local Defence Corps and was present at the Battle of Slim River. Pen had joined the Medical Auxiliary Service Selangor and when evacuated to Singapore, they both volunteered as plane spotters and also worked at First Air posts. They were fortunate enough to be offered accommodation with a friend of theirs, E.J.H. Corner, at his house in the Singapore Botanical Gardens. John Godber FMSVF, married to my mother’s sister Thyra, wrote in his exceptionally well-written POW diary about various visits to see them in Singapore at 30 Cluny Road, during the Japanese attack on the Island.  I had the privilege to read John’s POW diary and it is a fascinating and most moving record of those times.

 

Jim Landon stayed on in Singapore to become a POW in Changi and Sime Road camps and survived the War (briefly). Unfortunately Pen Landon was evacuated on the Straits Steamship vessel the ‘Kuala’ which was sunk at PomPong Island south of Singapore on

14 Feb 1942. Pen managed to swim to the Island and helped tend to the wounded with the late Brig. Dame Margot Turner, (see her affidavit later in this account). Both Pen and Margot were later evacuated on the small vessel ‘Tanjong Pinang’. This vessel was owned by the Soon Bee Steamship Co and managed by the Heap Eng Moh Steamship Co. She was very small being 97’ long with a beam of just 22’.2”, 133gt. I have been researching this ship for many years collecting mostly sketchy accounts written after the War. It is interesting that in the Lloyds Registry, she is referred to as the “Tandjong Pinang”. Built at Taikoo Shipyards in Hong Kong in 1936, official entry number: 14521. In a recent email to Mason Nelson (MVG Member) whose father had recorded where the ‘Tanjong Pinang’ had been sunk, I wrote:

 

 Kuala

 

 

“I have been doing some more ferreting around looking for the ‘Tanjong Pinang’ wreck site. Your father had the wreck listed as 30 miles north of Pulo Ubar. Well I was reading through more of the documents I have on this sinking and re-read some accounts of the survivors of another wreck who came across Lt. Basil Shaw RNZNVR who was the captain of the ‘Tanjong Pinang’. Lt. Shaw and 2 able seamen survived the sinking (amongst a few others) and landed in a damaged dingy on the North East coast of Bangka Island near the village of Parit 9. According to the narrative of  Sub. Lt E.G.C. Patridge, MRNVR. quote " My ship, ‘FUH WO’, was beached and blown up on the morning of the 15th February 1942. Ship's Company slept that night in a deserted house belonging to the Chinese owner of the 'PARIT 9' Tin Mine. On the morning of the 18th I was sent into the jungle by the Captain, to look for a place where we could hide from the Japanese who were organising search parties all over the island. During my absence the Japanese arrived at Parit 9 village and took the ship's officers and European crew into their custody. Upon my return to the village of Parit 9, I contacted A.B. Lorigan RN. We slept in the village that night, and on the morning of the 19th proceeded to the North shore about 5 miles distant, where we met a party of Royal Air Force personnel under Flt. Sgt Anderson. I organised this party and billeted all hands in a deserted Chinese hut. On the morning of the 20th (Feb 1942) I was walking along the North Coast when I met Lt. Shaw RNZNVR, who had just come ashore in a damaged dinghy. With Lt. Shaw were two ratings, one British and one Malay. I took this party back to the hut and did all I could for them, as they were suffering from exposure, having been some 26 hours without either food or water. I had some conversation with Lt. Shaw, who stated that his ship had been 'blown out of the water', by enemy action and that a very large number of civilians including women and children had been lost. He stated that this had occurred during the hours of darkness 36 hours before, i.e., the night of the 18/19th February 1942. He had found himself swimming in the water and had got into a damaged dinghy with the other men."   This narrative continues and states that they were all robbed and beaten up by gangs of locals.

 

Another narrative by Able Seaman J. Richardson (ex. H.M.S. Prince of Wales) says that he was at the helm of the ‘Tanjong Pinang’ the night of the 17-2-1942

at 21:30 when she was sunk. He was on a raft for 8 days before being picked up by a Japanese cruiser and taken to Muntok Hospital where he met a nurse who had been similarly rescued from the ‘Tanjong Pinang’, this must have been Margot Turner QARANC, later Brig. Dame Margot Turner D.B.E.

There is a further note in Sub. Lt Partridge's narrative which states: " On the morning on of the 20th February while I was still at liberty, I met Lt. Shaw RNZNVR, commanding officer of H.M.S. ‘Tanjong Pinang’. This was in the vicinity of PULO UBAR Light House on Bangka Island. He, with one European and one Malay rating, had just landed from a damaged dingy. Shaw said that his ship had been crowded with women and children survivors from another ship, and his ship had been sunk by gunfire; that he believed the two ratings and himself were the only survivors. Flight Sgt. Anderson RAF was with S/Lt Partridge on the 20th February and also refers to meeting Lieut. Shaw. S/Lt. Partridge and Ft/Sgt. Anderson, while foraging that day, were captured and beaten by Chinese (probably Indonesians) who later handed them over to the Japanese. Nothing more has been heard of Lt. Shaw or his companion; in view of their weak state it is probable that they are dead."

There is another narrative by Leading Seaman Robert W. Archer and I quote some of it :
"We got ashore on a beach on the south east end of Bangka Island at about 18:00 on the 22 February. We were robbed that night of all our money and possessions except clothes, by a party of about 20 Malays armed with poles and knives. We could get no medical help for the nurse, Miss. Black, ex Alexandria Hospital. Her leg was badly poisoned. She died on the night 23/24 February. She had been engaged to an RAF officer. We buried her body on the beach about five miles to the north east of the village of Rambut. We lived in or near Rambut village for about seven weeks and were captured on the 25th April. We were brought to Muntok and put in police charge.”

”Interesting that consisted of Lt. Shaw (Capt), S/lt. Gerrard RMNVR., a Lt/Cdr (unkown name other than name beginning with E, and fair well built!), Eng. Brown., A/B. Archer, O/S. Baird, A/B. Richardson, A/G. Hissey (these last 4 survived were interned as POWs at Palembang. Also ship's Company A/B. Young (Devonport), A/B Sanderson Scotch (Portsmouth), Sig. McCue (NZ), 2 other Malay seamen, a Chief P.R.A, one stoker (tall dark), total 14 Europeans, 3 Malays, 4 Chinese.”

So last night I was thinking that my previous search was on the south east coast of Bangka, but no Pulo Ubar Lighthouse. On re-reading some of these accounts I realised that Pulau Ubar Lighthouse is hundreds of miles to the east so it couldn't be that one. So Lt. Shaw came ashore near Rambut, well nearly, infact it was Rambat on the north west coast of Bangka Island. Parit 9 Tin Mines are nearby. The ship went down 30 miles north of the Lighthouse....which lighthouse is nearby? well of course it had to be
Tanjung ULAR Light. Both the names of these places are so similar to those in the narratives. Those caught were later taken to Muntok which is a short journey away (a few miles) to the south west...... I have tonight ordered Indonesian Maritime Charts for the area and will be doing a search and maybe we will have come closer to finding the final resting place of the ‘Tanjong Pinang’ and the final resting place of June & Thyra’s mother and Jen Howe (Godber), Tim, Pen, Jeanie and my maternal grandmother Penelope Landon, Medical Auxiliary Service of Malaya.

Mason, you know that I have been searching for this ship for years and you have helped as well. Your father also recorded where she went down and I assume that his report was from these narratives and as such the different spelling of the names. Stupid of me not to have thought of this before now!!
 
 David Wingate.

 

The Indonesian Maritime charts did indeed show an un-named wreck site approx 30 miles north of Tanjung Ular Light and I have sketched the chart below. Again this is not a confirmation of the wreck position but does finally give some better indication as to her final resting place.

 

Affidavit of  Margot Turner:

 

 

 

I, Evelyn Marguerite Turner, Sister Q.A.I.M.N.S. of 2 Palmeira Square, Hove, Sussex, say:-

 

      I went to Malaya (Tanjong Malim) in March, 1941, with 17th Combined General Hospital and met Mrs. Landon in May 1941 and saw her fairly frequently (playing tennis etc.) till I left Tanjong Malim in December 1941 on going to Singapore on the move of the 17th Combined General Hospital.

      I saw Mrs. Landon with her husband at the Docks at Singapore on 13th February 1942 the day on which I embarked in the ‘Kuala’. We sailed during the early part of the night of the 13th February and I saw Mrs. Landon on the ship and spoke to her.

      The ‘Kuala’ was anchored off an Island Pompong some sixty miles from Singapore. At about 0800 hours on the 14th February the ship was bombed and received a direct hit at about noon. I swam ashore and met and spoke to Mrs. Landon on the island (I cannot say how she got to the Island) I was with her on the Island till 16th February 1942, she helped me nurse the injured and wounded.

     

During the night of 16-17th February, all women, children and wounded were taken off the island in rowing boats and placed on board the ‘Tanjong Penang’, a small cargo boat which was very crowed. As a nursing sister I remained on deck but all the passengers, including Mrs. Landon, were below decks in the hold. I saw Mrs. Landon on the ‘Tanjong Pinang’ and spoke to her. The ‘Tanjong Penang’ sailed for Java on the morning of the 17th February 1942. She was hit by gunfire at 9.30 p.m. on that day and sank in about 5 minutes. As I was making for the hold to see what help I could give I met Mrs. Stafford, a V.A.D. who told me it was useless to go down to the hold as all the people appeared to have been killed. The ship had heeled at an acute angle and I just stepped into the water, swam around, got hold of a raft and then during the night picked up 16 people but not Mrs. Landon. I was on the raft for four days during which time all the sixteen people either died or fell off the raft through exhaustion.

   On the night of the 21st February I was picked up by a Japanese Cruiser and taken to Muntok Camp on Bangka Island and interned. Sister Mary Cooper Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R) and Mrs. Watts Carter and three Eurasians who got away from the ‘Tanjong Pinang’, how I do not know, were brought into camp at the same time as myself. The two ladies have since died.

      I was released on 19th September 1945 and went to Singapore.

      I have naturally made enquiries as to any survivors from the ‘Tanjong Pinang’ but have never heard of any”.

 

{There is a good book on Dame Margot Turner D.B.E., R.R.C. by Brig. The Rt. Hon. Sir John Smyth, Bt., V.C., M.C. called “The Will to Live”.  ISBN 0 7089 1560 4. }.

 

To end this is an extract from a letter from Jim Landon, Pen’s husband when he was released from POW camp in Singapore:

 

                                                                             Raffles Hotel, Singapore.  23/9/45.

I have been free for nearly a week now, and before I say anything else I want to thank you so much for the helpful post cards which came in with great regularity, at least as many as the Japs would allow in – I am coming home to England soon, but meanwhile I am waiting on here as long as I can bear it, hanging on to the 1% hope I still have that Pen may have been picked up at sea and taken to some unknown camp. I am afraid however that the information I had from one of the very few survivors of the sunk boat, leaves very little more than a 100 to 1 chance……..

 

The entry in the Colonial Office Registry of Deaths:

 

Mrs. Penelope Minna Landon, wife of J.M.P.Landon of Singapore. Date of Death, on or about 17.2.42, Bangka Strait, Presumed to have lost her life following the sinking of the

ss. ‘Tanjong Pinang’………………..