Western Australia’s 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion was raised at the end of 1940 as one of the support units for the ill-fated 8th Division. Formed with men from across the state, they all came together at Northam military camp, east of Perth, where they carried out their initial training. In July 1941 the 2/4th moved to Adelaide and as more of the 8th Division was deployed “up north”, by October it was in Darwin with the 23rd Brigade. The division’s other two brigades were in Malaya and Singapore and the 2/4th was to follow.
Told of their move just before Christmas, the battalion left Darwin on 30 December, sailing via Port Moresby. Following a Japanese attack on Rabaul, New Britain, the convey turned around and sailed to Sydney and then Fremantle. Sailing under escort the convoy finally reached Singapore at the end of January 1942. It was not long before the 2/4th was in action.
By this time the Japanese had captured Malaya and were preparing to attack Singapore. Similarly, the British were desperately preparing their defences and the battalion’s companies were sent where they were needed: B Company was sent to the British Manchester Fusiliers, constructing weapons pits around the Naval Base; C Company went to support the 44th Indian Brigade on the west and south-west coast of the island; D Company supported the 22nd Brigade on the north-west coast; and A Company was in the 8th Division’s reserve, close to the island centre.
After days of air raids, the Japanese attacked Singapore on 8 February – crossing the Johore Strait and attacking along the 22nd Brigade’s front and the 27th Brigade near the Causeway. Deployed to different units, the 2/4th’s companies were quickly in action but by 10 February the Japanese had captured the island’s west coast. Five days later the British forces were pushed back to a defensive line protecting the city. However, the battle was virtually over and on 15 February Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered Singapore.
The machine-gunners suffered heavily. Between 8 and 15 February the 2/4th had 137 men killed or missing, 106 men wounded, and 24 described as having “shell shock”. These casualties constituted almost one-third of the battalion. Worse was to follow, with the battalion held in Japanese prisoner of war camps for the next three years.
Following the surrender, the 2/4th was concentrated in Changi gaol. From Changi the Japanese took drafts of men to work throughout their Greater South East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Some of the battalion were sent to Borneo, while others worked on the Burma-Thai Railway or in Japan. By the war’s end, another 263 men from the battalion had died as prisoners.
The 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion was an Australian Army unit raised for service with the all volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) during the Second World War. Formed in late 1940 as part of the 8th Division, the battalion was established to provide direct fire support to the division’s infantry brigades. It was the fourth, and last, such unit raised within the 2nd AIF. The unit’s personnel were largely drawn from the state of Western Australia and after formation, the battalion concentrated near Perth for basic individual training before moving to the Adelaide Hills to complete more advance manouevres.
In late 1941, amidst concerns of war in the Pacific, the unit was deployed north to Darwin in the Northern Territory, where they undertook garrison duties in the weeks following Japan’s entry into the war. Following Japanese landings in Malaya, the 2/4th embarked from Darwin and were transferred to Malaya, arriving in Singapore in the final days of the fighting on the peninsula. In the wake of the withdrawal of British and Commonwealth forces to the island, the battalion was hastily deployed in support of the two Australian brigades—the 22nd and 27th Brigades—in the north-western sector of the island.
During the initial Japanese landing, elements of the battalion were heavily engaged around the landing beaches but they were outnumbered and over the course of the week the defenders were pushed back towards the centre of the island, towards the city of Singapore. They suffered heavy casualties during this time, before subsequently becoming prisoners of war after the fall of Singapore.
Meanwhile, a detachment of about 100 men from the battalion, who had been left behind in Australia when it deployed to Singapore, also took part in the fighting on Java. After a brief campaign, the majority of these personnel were taken into captivity when the Allied forces were overwhelmed around Buitenzorg in mid-March 1942, although some attempted to fight on as guerillas.
Eventually these men were either killed or captured; prisoners remained in Japanese captivity until the end of the war in August 1945. During the three-and-a-half years they were held by the Japanese, members of the 2/4th were sent to prison camps around the Pacific, where they were used as slave labour and subjected to harsh conditions and extreme brutality. After the war, the surviving members of the battalion were returned to Australia but the 2/4th was not re-raised.