The following are clips provided by Geoff Martin, the son of Sgt Cliff Martin who left some of his memories of his time in WW2.
Why did you choose the Regiment?
Well I’ll tell you the story. I joined in 1937 in the height of the depression. I had been out of work for over six months and I was going round Whitehall and there was a place there called the Central London Recruiting Office, and I was standing outside looking at all the pictures of various regiments and a Guard Sergeant came up with his hat pulled down and said, “Would you like to join the Army, son?”.
I was only 17 but I said “Yes”. So he took me in, I passed all the various tests, I went in front of the Colonel that said, “Well, you’ve passed all your tests and that”, he said, “Which Regiment would you like to join?” I said, “I’d like to join the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders”, and he just laughed at me and said, “It’ll take you two years to understand what they’re talking about, join an old cockney mob”.
I said, “I’ll join the Royal Fusiliers”, he said, “Sorry, but we’ve just finished a squad of those, but what we are recruiting for are the East Surreys”. It was the first time’ I must say’ I’d ever heard of the East Surrey Regiment. That’s how I came to join the East Surrey Regiment. When I went to Kingston it was the first time I’d ever been to Surrey. I lived in Stepney in London, I used to go the other side, Essex side, Southend, for my days out and that sort of thing, or for holidays and things, never had a holiday anyway, but that’s how I came to join the Regiment.
What were your feelings at the time?
Well felt that we just had to do what we had to do. We were trained as soldiers and we had to try and fight them and hold them back, but they were very clever, they were very experienced troops. We weren’t at all, we were with a load of Indian troops, most of our divisions out there were Indian divisions, I was in, or my Battalion was in the 11th Indian Division. Well they just slaughtered us when they first caught us.
I managed to escape from them, or rather my platoon, and we had to get to the coast of Malaysia and commandeer some row boats and rowed across towards Penang. On our way we were picked up by a British Navy minesweeper because we were rowing across and a tropical storm blew up and we were baling out and then all of a sudden somebody said, “Look Sarg, there’s a ship over there”, and we looked and there was a ship with no flag, we didn’t know if it was Japanese or English. Then the click of the tannoy came on and a very cold British voice said, “I say would you chaps like a lift?” and that’s how we finished back in Singapore. Came back up later on through various camps, found that because we were in the same division as the Leicestershire Regiment, two British Battalions had got knocked about so much by the Japanese there were was only about half a Battalion each left and they joined them together and amalgamated them and called them the British Battalion for want of a better title, there were so many Indian troops out there, and of course we’ve been very proud of that title because the first action we had was the battle of Kampar in Malaysia.
Tell us, give us a few sentences about that if you can, about the journey?
Well I was recently asked by a lady, she said, “Well if you were confined in a hold where did you go to the toilet?” and I had to explain to her that there were places like a cradle hung over the side of the ship. Two planks about six feet long with a gap in between and then joined at each end and this is what you did if you wanted to go, so many people wanted to, you had to slide out under the rails and crouch down, a foot on each of these planks. Of course somebody got washed overboard eventually, I mean there was a freak wave because the Japanese were speeding along and so somebody thought of the idea of roping yourself on, sort of thing. It was the first mate of the ship who could speak a little English, a Japanese first mate, who got talking to us and saw the conditions we were in and finally got the Captain to agree to us living on the deck of the ship as it were, but only at certain times, but quite often we had to go in to the, can I just explain the hold. It was a hold and there were the platform of planks that they built and half of us went underneath the planks and the other half got on the top. So if anybody was sick or ill with diarrhoea or anything, it all came through to the people down below, and you were crushed into this hold, and that’s about the only daylight you ever saw, the only air you could get in there. Then as we got nearer to Japan we were told to get up in the night, the Japanese would come round saying the Japanese word for danger, “kiken”, and you all went up on deck, scrambled out of the hold, got up on to the deck and roped ourselves together in fives. Some of the officers with us said strong swimmers would support the weaker swimmers if you had to go over the side. Well this first night we heard this clanging bell and “kiken” and we’re standing there and all of a sudden there was light in the heavens, it was a dark night, and obviously one of the ships had been hit with a torpedo by an American submarine, they were attacking our convoy. This happened on quite a few occasions but fortunately my ship didn’t get hit but quite a few people went down on those ships on that trip to a place called Moji in Japan, that’s where we landed, Moji.
What sort of state were you in, describe your views?
Yes, I think I was about 8 stone by that time, I’d gone right down to under, to about 7 stone at one time, but I weighed about 8 stone, but by the time I got home I was over 10 stone, by the time I’d got back to England, but the Americans took care of us. They took us off the USS Rescue on one of their destroyers which took us to Tokyo Bay where all the British and American fleets were and the Japanese signed their capitulation there. Then we flew from Tokyo to Okinawa, again we were treated to plenty of food and that sort of thing. One of the things I remember was that getting my jaws to work to chew because most of the food we’d had had been rice and barley to eat, and of course you didn’t use your jaws very much. So when it came to eating bread and things like that, your jaws had gone a bit, it was painful to chew, but we soon got used to that.
Did you write any letters or did you receive any letters, did people in the world know where you were and did you keep a diary?
Well I had a very painful experience early on. I saw somebody who had been caught writing a diary and they literally beat him to death. We actually witnessed his beating by the Japanese because no diaries, and they were kicking and beating him, but he died a few days later. So I said, that’s it, I’m not going to keep a diary or anything. So all I’ve got is just memories and things, but I did write cards and letters that were sent to my sister, I didn’t have parents at the time, and she’s kept them. My wife has still got them, she’s got them over there if you want to see any. They came after the war was finished when I was home, that actually came in, but I’ve the letters I sent, or the cards and things. I never head anything from my sister or my brothers, they’d written to me but I didn’t get anything at all, I didn’t find out anything until I got the first letter from my sister when I was in Manila waiting for repatriation to England.
Looking back, how do you feel now about the Japanese?
Ah well, I don’t really feel anything at all very much. There was a time when I could actually distinguish between Japanese and Chinese when I worked in London after I’d left the Army. I could be walking along the street towards a hotel and I could see a group of Japanese and I’d cross the road. It was psychological, I just couldn’t walk near to them. If they were Chinese I didn’t mind at all. Now that might be difficult to understand – can you tell the difference between a Japanese and a Chinese? – that was the way it was. Over the years I’ve mellowed and people say you should forgive and forget. Every time I put my hand to the back my head I can feel a ridge that the Japanese had hit me with a log and the ridge is still there. Fortunately I get a pension for it, eventually, it took me a long time to convince the war pensions people that the headaches I suffered, and still suffer, have been suffering from for years and years, could be due to this blow to the back of the head. I take medication now, daily and nightly.