Mike Subritzky

“That Old 161 Battery Snapshot”

A black and white photograph depicting 161 Battery in dacron uniforms, in front of an odd shaped, three storied building, hung on the wall outside the Battery office in Papakura for many years. Most modern day Gunners wouldn’t give the photograph a second glance, but like many other toanga held by the Battery, that picture and the events that came to its’ being, carry with them a small, but very interesting history.

In 1972, 161 Battery recently returned from Active Service in the Republic of South Vietnam was sent on a TOD to Singapore/Malaysia where it served as the third Battery, of the 28th ANZUK Field Regiment. The Regiment being made up of the 1st Battery Royal Artillery “The Blazers,” and 106th Battery Royal Australian Artillery, and 161 Battery Royal New Zealand Artillery.

On paper during that period in history 161 Battery was the third and “politically missing” Gun Battery for the Regiment. I can’t remember exactly when the Battery deployed the Singapore, however I do remember that our work-up training was carried out in thick snow in Waiouru, and some few days later we exited a C130 at Changi Airfield where the outside temperature was some 39 degrees Celsius in the shade; the humidity enveloping us just as soon as the aircrafts’ ramp was lowered.

We were barracked in Nee Soon barracks which had been made quite famous by the Leslie Thomas book and movie “Virgin Soldiers.” The movie had actually been shot in the barracks of the Royal Highland Fusiliers who were stationed directly behind ours. They were three storied “Empire” buildings, built in lots of four, each group surrounding a large parade ground; the buildings were from the British Raj period.

The parade ground directly in front of our barracks was universally known as “Punjab Square” and it was considered the “Holy of Holies” in the Brigade as it had powerful bravery associated with it. We were told that when Singapore fell during the early part of the Second World War, the Japanese had taken over our barracks and had held some 300 Punjabi soldiers, standing to attention in the middle of our parade ground, in the hot son while they (the Japs) had relaxed in the shade of our barracks, drinking cool drinks and insulting the 300 Punjabi’s who they had captured. The Japanese Commander had decreed that all British soldiers on the Island had to sign a “non-escape” document; however the Punjabi soldiers refused to sign such a thing stating that it was illegal under the Geneva Convention for them to be ordered to do so.

The Japs forced the Punjabi’s to stand bare-headed, and at attention for an entire day and night, then at about 1000hrs the following day, the Japanese Commander once again ordered them to sign the “non-escape” document. Yet again the Punjabi soldiers refused to sign stating that it was their duty to the King, and the British Empire to take every opportunity to try to escape and rejoin the Army of their King.

By about mid-morning the Japanese Commander ran out of patience and ordered machine guns to be brought up and cover the parade ground, then on his order the machine guns opened fire and slaughtered all 300 of the unarmed Punjabi prisoners of war. They were then buried where they fell… in the middle of our parade ground.

We never marched or doubled across that parade ground, but rather ensured that we skirted it from some distance. The Brit RSM guarded the honour of that particular piece of real estate like I have seen no other; the history behind the bravery of those young Punjabi soldiers was legend.

We completed a first exercise in Malaya, in which we managed to under-sling four guns under Wessex helicopters and insert them into the jungle, transport the same four guns via Whirlwind helicopters in several internal loads carried inside the aircraft to some other jungle outpost, transport one gun down the South China Sea in an Assault Craft and sink a second gun complete with stores somewhere in the South China Sea, near a place called Mersing… We did manage to salvage the lost gun later that same day when the tide changed.

Upon the return of the Regiment to Nee Soon Barracks the entire Regiment spent some three days stripping down all guns (and associated stores), maintaining and re-painting, before taking a few days well earned leave. Realising the historic significance of the Kiwi Battery being present in Singapore, the Brit CO decided that an Official Regimental Photograph was required to be taken so as to record for posterity the “complete” 28th ANZUK Field Regiment.

Immediately the RSM, a barrel-chested gentleman who did not suffer fools sprang into action and organised a Troop of Brit Gunners to set up a photographic stage. This required many, many tables and chairs being brought out from the Baggies bar and the NAFFI onto Punjab Square and in the most Regimental fashion I have ever witnessed being placed “precisely” where the RSM required them. It was one of the few times in my life I ever saw an RSM actually use his pace-stick. He measured precisely the required distance twirling his pace stick as one or another of the Gunners placed a chair for the first rank (Officers seated), a chair for the second rank (SNCOs standing), a table for the third rank (OR’s standing), and a second table for the fifth rank (OR’s squashed). It took the RSM and his dirty-hand gang, an entire day to complete the layout for the Official Regimental photograph, and by days end the set-up was complete. Due to the lighting requirements the photographs couldn’t be taken until 1000hrs the following morning in the cool of the day and when the light was perfect… so ended the RSM’s day.

That night we Gunners were given leave and as young men did back then we piled into taxies and headed for all of the bright lights of “The Paris Bar,” “The Nelson Bar,” “The Melbourne Bar” etc, etc, etc. eventually ending the evening in the tourist attraction of that era “Bugis Street.” In due course after many Tiger and Anchor beers later, tired young Kiwi Gunners wended their weary way home to barracks, bed, and mossy net. We were woken bright and early next morning by our Kiwi Orderly Sergeant (either Sergeant Paul O’Connor or Sergeant Dennis Palmer), with those never to be forgotten words “Oh My Bloody God!!!”
Then from somewhere out of my sleep I heard a roll call of many of the Battery’s hard men of the period… “Botica, Murray, Nikora, Barrett, Bell, Watene, Bliss, Downs… On the Double!!!”

By now every OR had leapt out of his bed and was stumbling towards the balcony to see what all of the fuss was about…

There below us was Punjab Square transformed from a parade ground into something of an outdoor Carnival or Mardi Gras, with tables and chairs laid out for seating, the entire length and breadth of the parade ground… there was even a table and seating for four patrons perched atop the POL point on the far side of the parade ground!!! Every OR in 161 Battery was under suspicion and the CO and the RSM were both furious, and it was only four hours until the Regimental photograph. Astonishingly, not one single Gunner or OR appeared to have any knowledge as to the events that had taken place that previous evening although the last recollection of several was either in the Paris Bar or some other den of inequity.

Somewhere around breakfast time the Young Officers of our Battery (no names-no pack drill), approached the RSM and took ownership of this particular prank. After turning purple with rage for several minutes the RSM ordered 161 Battery to reassemble the photo shoot, which we did… in double quick time and in a much tighter formation than the RSM’s original concept.

At exactly 1000hrs, the 28th ANZUK Field Regiment formed up in formation and duly the Official Regimental photograph was taken. One of our own officers, our BK, Captain Gus Rivers was an avid shutter bug and just as we were returning the chairs and tables back to the respective messes Gus asked our Battery Commander if he might take a photograph of the Battery. Our BC Major Barry Dreyer agreed and so Gus Rivers immortalised 161 Battery on Punjab Square in Singapore all of those long years ago…

161 Battery RNZA, 28th ANZUK Field Regiment (attached) Singapore 1972
161 Battery RNZA, 28th ANZUK Field Regiment (attached) Singapore 1972. This photograph was taken at Punjab Square, Nee Soon Barracks, Singapore. The building behind is the ANZUK SNCO’s Mess. Note: Raglan Panthers painted on the gun shields.

Front Row:
2nd Lt M. Pearce *, Capt C. Flinkenberg, Capt R. Williams, Capt R. Turner, Capt A. Rivers (BK), WOII N. Fisher (BSM), Maj B. Dreyer (BC), WOI G. Young (RSM 16th Fd Regt), WOII B. Ayling, Capt N. Thornton, Lt J. Rolfe*, Lt J. Wasson.

Second Row:
Sgt K. Burnell, Sgt C. Crookes, Sgt N. Evans, Sgt D. Palmer, Sgt J. Niwa, Sgt J. Elliott, Sgt P. O’Connor, Sgt B. Duggan, Bdr G. Brennan, Bdr R. McRae,
L/Bdr J. Waters, Bdr P. Botica, L/Bdr J. Bell, Bdr R. Barrett.

Third Row:
Cpl P. Siohani*, Gnr P. Nikora, Cpl B. Deverill*, Gnr R. Down*, Gnr K. Berkland*, Gnr J. Rabbit, L/Bdr A. White, Gnr G. Hays*, L/Bdr C. Karatea, Gnr G. Timu*, Gnr R. Silbury, Gnr M. Subritzky*, Gnr J. Botica*, L/Bdr G. MacElroy, L/Bdr H. Ruru*, L/Bdr N. Murray*.

Forth Row:
Gnr B. Oldham, L/Bdr W. Davis*, L/Bdr B. Eggerton, L/Bdr D. Baylor*, Gnr R. Hudson*, Gnr R. Bliss, Gnr J. Nagle*, Gnr D. Prebble*, Gnr D. Watene*, Gnr G. Columbus*, Gnr E. Goldsmith, Gnr P. Watson*, Bdr H. Ngawhata.

Fifth Row:
Gnr R. Kahikura, Gnr G. Pickering, Gnr L. Wynne, Gnr S. Cleaver*, Gnr G. Brooks*, Gnr R. Gerard, Gnr J. Tawhara*, Gnr D. Lewell*, Gnr B. Bevan, Gnr R. Donaldson*.

Not in the photograph: L/Bdr T. Brown, Gnr D. Stratton*.

Photo: Captain Gus Rivers RNZA
Singapore 1972

* Denotes those men who did not serve in Vietnam.