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Colonel Walter Page, MC, TD 1914-2014

Several men who wore the Cambridgeshire Regiment cap badge are the stuff of legend and one of
that gallant breed was our very own former Association President, Colonel Walter Page. He began
his military service in 1939 by nature of the fact that when working in Wisbech with a firm of
solicitors a farmer client by the name of Clayton (who happened to be Honourary Colonel of the
Cambridgeshire Regiment and distinguished First World War C.O.) was calling, wishing to raise a
second battalion. So persuasive was his presentation that six, including Walter, stepped forward to
enrol. Commissioned June 21
st
(his 25
th
birthday) he and the first 400 recruits later attended their
first annual camp at Dibgate where they trained with the 1
st
Battalion. When hostilities were
declared in September the troops were mobilized and following further defensive duties in the UK,
as part of the 18
th
Division, he and his comrades headed for overseas, anticipating they would fight
Rommel. On route, Japan had bombed Pearl Harbour and also attacked Hong Kong, and the Division
was diverted to the Far East to defend Malaya and the strategically important Island Baseof
Singapore from invasion.

As a captain commanding the Carrier Platoon (HQ Company), he had landed at Singapore Naval Base
on 13th January 1942, his vehicles painted an ill-suited desert sand colour, and like the rest of the
Division, with no time to prepare for jungle fighting. Meantime the enemy had already gained 500
miles in Malaya and with little effective air cover and no realistic naval capabilities (the Repulse and
the Prince of Wales had been sunk before they arrived) the 53rd Infantry Brigade (5 & 6 Royal
Norfolk & 2 Cambs) were rushed 100 miles up country just three days after landing to stabilize the
line. The left of arc was the western coast, centred on the town of Batu Pahat, extending a screen to
Yong Peng, 20 miles to the east. 2 Cambs were centred at Batu Pahat, joining remnants of two
British battalions that were mixed with a small force of local Malay volunteers. For ten days this
small force withstood several attacks and inflicted many casualties; however the more numerous
enemy had freedom of movement and this lead to a serious situation that would result with the
defenders being outflanked, cut off and isolated. With little options available, the force had to
extract and on 25th January 2 Cambs were selected to spearhead a breakthrough and push along the
only road that was the life line through the jungle corridor to the safety of the south. (A column of
troops, including elements from 6 Royal Norfolk, had tried to open that road from the opposite
direction that same day but had failed, with only one Bren Carrier reaching Senggarang village, 8
miles south of 2 Cambs).

With no communications and reduced rations and ammunition, the sleepless column cleared
Senggarang of snipers but were halted when they reached a road block that had been made from
felled trees, bolstered by enemy infantry covering the way ahead and supported by heavy machine
guns. Rifle sections deployed to flank the obstacle but could not penetrate the swamps and
undergrowth and were beaten back despite heroic attempts by some to dismantle the obstruction in
a head-on assault (it was here that Captain Grounds fell). The situation became critical as those
troops and vehicles bottled up in Senggarang were now under fire from Japanese snipers, adding to
the desperate situation with casualties mounting. With one more surge to take the initiative, the
C.O. of 2 Cambs, with the support of 25pdrs from 155 Field Regiment ordered an attack on the
block with Bren Carriers.

Captain Pages five carriers ran the gauntlet, being fired at from front and sides for a full half mile, he
behind the LMG and his batman sat behind, who pelted back Japanese grenades with Pages own
tennis racket!* They had cleared the first obstacle, having smashed through it and then paused to
take stock of their situation at a safe distance to find that their carriers had all been peppered by
armoured-piercing bullets. Most were now unserviceable, and the men were in not much better
shape as most had become lightly wounded and one carrier had careered into a ditch, leaving the
dead crew sprawling over the road. Having outrun their nearest troops they proceeded with caution,
mindful of their isolation, and drove another mile until halted by another similar obstacle. Pausing
for breath and ill-prepared for a second assault, they were soon joined by comrades who told them
of the order to destroy transport and break out on foot (the solitary carrier that had earlier been
able to break through to 2 Cambs from the south had reported that the road was impassable for
wheeled transport and that further Japanese ambushes and wrecked vehicles strewn along the
route would make the escape impossible, plus, if that was not enough, the causeway that linked
Malaya to Singapore was to be blown up within a matter of days, adding another critical dimension).

With enemy forces blocking the way ahead and giving chase behind the commanding brigadier had
no choice if his men were to avoid certain annihilation. Thus all transport and Guns were destroyed
and worst still those wounded that were unable to march were left behind under the Padre (Noel
Duckworth) to await their fate.

In a supreme test of endurance the men marched on, those that went left of the road through jungle
and swamps and rivers, whilst those that followed the coastal route to the right of the road in fear of
being seen by Japanese vessels at sea. Captain Page had taken the coastal route, together with a
party of 150 men until halting at a native village where they negotiated the use of local boats, him
leaving with the last to depart and reaching Singapore after the Causeway had been destroyed. For
those that took alternative routes, some 2000 had been able to be rescued by Royal Navy vessels
down the coast, whilst others had hacked through the jungle either as individuals or small groups, a
distance of over 70 miles. Astonishingly 600 from 2 Cambs reached Singapore, the last arriving on
the night of 30th/31st January.

Redeployed into the final defensive perimeter, comrades of the Regiments 1st battalion had now
landed, but the strategic die had been cast, and although they with others fought a hard contest a
Japanese victory was imminent. The defenders were now running low on food and ammunition, the
water supply had been cut since the enemy had manage to repair the Causeway and taken control of
the reservoir, and significantly, the Japanese could attack with aircraft and artillery with impunity.
Given this situation and no chance of sea-borne evacuation it would be only a matter of time before
the inevitable collapse.

The fate of those left behind is well known, as when the cease-fire was ordered on 15th February
the survivors (16,000 British, 14,000 Australian, and 32,000 Indian troops) passed into captivity and
went on to endure the most harshest privations at the hands of the Japanese for the next three and
a half years. However for Captain Page his story was to take another course, for 36 hours before the
surrender he with 12 others from the Battalion were ordered to leave the Island and become an
official escape party. Initially he was told that he was to be assigned to embark on a special mission,
but when he learned the true meaning of his task he greeted it with dismay, now being told for the
first time that surrender was imminent.

Each unit was to make similar lists of men to evacuate, but when Pages party took their turn to be
received at the docks the last vessel had already left, but undaunted, they found a ships lifeboat and
on the afternoon of the 15th they left with Singapore in flames amidst the crashing of Japanese
artillery shells as they headed for Sumatra. There escape could not have been timelier. After many
adventures they arrived eventually in Colombo on 9th March, having travelled 1000 miles at sea and
even narrowly escaping being torpedoed by an enemy submarine. On arrival he and another
Cambridgeshire officer were assessed, and with nothing else to offer the local military authorities
assigned them to become staff officers under Ceylon Army Command, remaining in Colombo until
January 1944. Attending a staff course in India, Walter Page passed his three month course and was
posted to 2nd Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment who were then preparing to fight in Burma.
In their advance they Crossed the Chindwin River then headed for the Irrawaddy, before heading
south for Mandalay, advancing 400 miles and being supplied by air and this time experiencing the
Japanese on the run. Walters luck however was not finite, falling foul of scrub typhus, he was
evacuated by air and was weighing in at just 7 stone having been unconscious for six weeks, and very
lucky to be alive, as only one in three men were known to survive the disease. Regaining some
strength he was returned to India where he was later re-assigned to a staff headquarters where he
worked in the Statistics Branch, crunching numbers, before final orders came for him to return to
England.

Walter married in July 1945, but the ever persuasive Colonel Clayton came to his door once more
with the result that he re-joined on the re-forming of the Cambridgeshires in 1947, becoming the
last Commanding Officer before retiring in 1959 (with 15 parachute jumps to his credit, made when
the Cambs had an airborne role). Since then he maintained his links with the Regimental Association
and became President, in which role he served until standing down to become Patron, and in those
times embraced a close interest in all our activities, being a very familiar and encouraging
personality. His passing leaves a huge gap, and although inevitable, is sad because he was one who
was liked and respected in equal measure by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

*For his courage at Senggarang on 26th January 1942, Captain Page was decorated with the Military
Cross however he was not to know of this until 1945 when those that survived captivity were in a
position to be able to confirm his award!

MDB 19/5/14