The final hours...

Sergeant Jack O'Donnell, 10th Australian General Hospital (AGH), kept a diary during his imprisonment.

Bombs were being dropped around us continuously this day. Casualties were coming in thick and fast. About mid-day the Japanese decided to give us a taste of their HE (High explosive shells) and concentrated on the Cathay [Building]. Shell after shell hit us and huge pieces of concrete, shrapnel etc were flying. We received 17 direct hits and numerous near misses.

An ambulance out front caught fire and the whole building was enveloped in smoke and fumes. At this stage, I'm afraid most of us were quite prepared to meet our Maker as it didn't seem possible that the eight storeys above us could withstand much more without collapsing on top of us.

At one stage volunteers had to be called to unload an ambulance of wounded. Four Field Ambulance chappies immediately raced outside and brought them in, while one poor chap was left on his own for only a minute or so, but his screams above the exploding shells and falling masonry are something I'll never forget.

These same Ambulance boys brought him in too. Theirs was indeed a heroic deed and worthy of the DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] which I believe they have been recommended for. They faced almost certain death but came through it unscathed.

After lunch rumour had it that we had asked for cessation of fire at 4pm while a parley took place. This rumour was the only correct one we heard and the cease-fire order was given.

Singapore had taken a terrific battering this day. Water and sanitation were disrupted while the dead were lying around in thousands. All essential services with the exception of the electric light had been blown kite high.

At 2000 hours that night, and things were now deathly quiet, all arms in our building were collected, the men marched out with their gear; an official announcement was made that the island had accepted unconditional surrender and we must consider ourselves prisoners of war.

[Jack O'Donnell, 10th AGH, Diary entry, 15 February 1942, the day of the Allied surrender.]

By 15 February the nurses had all been evacuated from Singapore and the hospitals were overflowing with wounded men, cared for by male orderlies. St Andrew's Cathedral was crammed with sick and wounded men, and doctors had improvised an operating theatre in one of the smaller annexes. Bombing and shells caused further chaos and shrapnel came through the windows wounding men for a second, third or fourth time. On the last day of the fighting a shell came through the roof of the cathedral and exploded. Sixteen men were killed and another eight died later from their wounds.

We were in the cathedral. The smoke was going up all over the place. You could see the huge oil fires burning. There were lots of people running around and lots of people killed. I think about 12 o'clock the adjutant called me in and he said, 'Look at this'. And there's a message: 'Destroy all heavy equipment by 4 o'clock.' I said, 'God, it must be the surrender.' So we got to work very busily doing all sorts of destruction, or they did, I was pretty busy trying to do some surgery. I spent half my day giving anaesthetics on the baptismal font.

[Captain Des Brennan quoted in Hank Nelson, Australians under Nippon, Sydney, 1985, p.17]


Last updated: 12 February 2019

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), The final hours..., DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 2 October 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/japanese-advance-december-1941-march-1942/fall-singapore/final-hours
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