I recently received a most amazing email from Barbara Mearns in Scotland after she came across this website looking for information on Christmas Island.
In February 2021 her cousin was clearing out his attic and found letters that her father, Captain George Kinloch, had written from Christmas Island during World War 2! She attached to the email the four letters he wrote to his sister Nan along with his background.
I find the letters quite poignant. Here is a man so far from home living in dark times with an uncertain future. The war clouds are hurtling towards Christmas Island. George must have been so worried for his family and friends back in Europe and yet the tone of his letters is upbeat as he speaks of every day life.
Fate is such a strange thing. It was kind to him in the form of a transfer from Christmas Island back to Singapore. He left for Singapore a mere four months before the murders of Captain Williams, his replacement, and his men at the hands of Indian soldier mutineers. That fact would not have been lost on George. Yet at the same time fate was also delivering him ultimately to the Japanese. Such are the twists and turns of life, particularly in war.
Many thanks and gratitude go to Barbara for allowing me to share these historically important letters and the background of her father. They are as follows with her explanatory text in [ ] brackets:
Captain George Kinloch R.A. on Christmas Island,
April – November 1941
My father, George Kinloch (1906-1974) a teacher from Port Glasgow, Scotland, joined the Royal Artillery in July 1939 and served six months with the Clyde Coast Regiment. In March 1940 he sailed from England to Singapore and served as Battery Captain with the 7th Coast Regiment at Fort Pasir Laba, Johore Strait, (ie on the west coast of Singapore Island) and at Fort Siloso on Blakang Mati (now Sentosa) Island (the Artillery HQ where he studied Urdu and Malay).
He was ordered to Christmas Island in March 1941.
His task was to set up and calibrate a 6 inch Naval P3 gun, set up a fort, site and dig trenches and train locals to defend the island against invasion. His force comprised 25 Indians (Punjabi Muslims): mostly privates/ jawans and one officer/ jamadar, plus 4 B.O.R.s (British other ranks) as admin staff. When X detachment (as it was called) was first talked about in the Mess, Dad expected a ‘first class regular officer’ to be entrusted with the task. He was very happy where he was, and amazed to be given command. The Brigadier’s parting shot was, “Well Kinloch, you may now consider yourself Officer Commanding Indian Ocean because it is all yours!”
After establishing the new fort, he was replaced by Captain Williams, who, with his B.O.R.s, was killed by a party of jawans in March 1942.
In November 1941 Captain Kinloch was transferred back to Fort Pasir Laba, then became Battery Captain for Fort Labrador, at Keppel Harbour, on the southern tip of Singapore. When the Japanese invaded, on 11 February, his command destroyed 2 Japanese landing craft and then engaged land targets. On the 13th they were severely bombarded by mortar fire: 6 men were killed and 10 wounded. He was ordered to blow up and abandon the fort.
After surrender he endured 6 months in Changi Jail. He was then taken on the Fukkai Maru to Korea, where he was in camps at Jinsen and Konan. At the latter he was the Senior British Officer. The camp was liberated by the Russians but after three weeks there was still no clear indication how the hundreds of prisoners might leave: possibly by rail via Siberia, which concerned my father: would all the men survive the journey? Then, on 21 September, Russian fighter planes shot down an American aircraft (a B29) dropping food to the P.O.W.s, Fortuitously so, as the uninjured American crew, on returning to the American sector, explained the camp’s predicament and the Americans arranged repatriation. After sailing to Los Angeles on the US Mexico, and a train crossing to Novia Scotia, my father crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth and returned home, at the age of 39, on 30 November 1945.
He returned to teaching, married and had two children. He was a very keen golfer throughout his life and whilst serving in Singapore, won the Governor’s Cup (1940).
I append four letters (edited to remove family chat) which he wrote on Christmas Island and sent to his sister Nan (married to Harry) living in Gourock, on the south bank of the River Clyde near Greenock. They were discovered by Nan & Harry’s son, Donald, in February 2021.
Letter 1 – 15/4/41 Christmas Island
… We arrived here exactly two weeks ago and have been busy ever since trying to cart our big gun & its mounting, each over 7 tons to our fort which is situated in the jungle overlooking the sea – the Indian Ocean, I should say. Don’t I get around?
We had five days sailing with one stop − at Pladgoe in Java to pump in some oil for use on the island here.
We have now settled down in our huts and are getting most of the undergrowth burnt and consequently the “mossies” are not so very prevalent now but the flies are still very bad.
Happily the mossies are not malaria-carriers, in fact although it is difficult to believe this, the island is quite a healthy spot, but I can’t get used to the heat & general stickiness − yet.
There are no shops in this island so that I must get all my provisions etc from the Singapore Cold Storage Company once a month & believe me it costs me some thought to work out quantities etc & what to buy. However the first month should be the worst. One good point about it is that I cannot spend much money here so I can start saving again just in case we can spend it when this war is over. Actually there is an open-air cinema run by the Phosphate Co. who own the island − leased for 99 years from the government.
In addition we have their tennis-court, badminton court, football field, swimming pool if we wish to use them − and I do!
The Europeans who are here are very decent indeed & I am invited out to supper quite a lot. There are quite a number of Scotsmen here and one who shared my cabin on the way from Singapore is called Pettigrew & his folks left Greenock to go to Dumbarton where he comes from …
The Island is practically all jungle with tremendously rich deposits all over it & very deep down of phosphates mixed with the limestone rock. The Company Chief Engineer took me to some of the quarries to-day to show me what I have been sent to defend & I must say that I was impressed. I have quite a responsibility as it is feared that the German raider who has been within 200 miles may attempt to destroy the industry as has happened in other places. [After the war, GK wrote that the prompt for his mission was the German attack on the Pacific island of Nauru in Dec 1940, when Komet destroyed the phosphate mining areas and oil depot, however it seems more likely to have been the Atlantis.]
I am starting a volunteer force to defend the pier & beach against landing parties & hope that all 17 eligible will join.
So this is where I am now, seeing about 3 ships per month one of which brings my food & mail, seeing not even a lighthouse in that expanse of Indian Ocean. C’est la guerre, madame! Give my love to mother and the others. I shall write to her next ship. Love George.
Letter 2 – R.A. Detachment, Christmas Is., 27/7/41
I wrote a letter to Margaret [his other sister] yesterday or the day before & this time I am writing one to you which I hope you will show Mother as I cannot possibly write 3 letters home in one trip without having something to write about, and believe me, nothing exciting ever seems to happen here or be liable to happen. Even should things blow up with Nippon as they seem to be ready to do any minute now, I shall still be unable to tell you anything about it, so I shall be no better off. [All letters had to pass military censors]
All this combined with the fact that I am up to the eyes in work this week as my returns must be completed by tomorrow to catch the Islander’s return trip and also that I received 6 or 7 letters on Tuesday and they must all be answered before tonight – Sunday – makes it more and more difficult to write as many letters or such long ones as I did when I was in Singapore and winning golf & going to the famous Raffles Hotel & such-like places…
I knew of course that Clydebank and Dalmuir had got a rough time of it [in the blitz] and heard the correction in the wireless long after that 1,100 people not 500 had been killed & as many more injured….
As you will know by now the Air Mail is no longer existent, nor, in my opinion, has there been any for a long time so that I am sending these letters now by sea. Your letter was written on 26-3-41 and reached me on Tuesday 22-7-41. I am so glad that you are cheerful and bright despite the danger you live in. I think that our turn is coming shortly, but as we are trained to defend ourselves we should be able to “took” it…. Love to all at home. Your loving brother, George.
Letter 3 – R.A. Detachment, Christmas Island, 10/9/41
Your letter of 2/6/41 arrived this time with the Islander & brought with it a peck of bother in the shape of 3 officers & 60 men who are being sent from the Cocos (or Keeling) Islands back to Ceylon. I had to put them up for 4 days so that I have had little spare time. They leave again on the Islander at 6 this evening.
I got quite a lot of Greenock Telegraphs this trip describing the raids and I was aghast at the casualties. I counted 7 casualties under one insertion. The winter will be in before you receive this & no doubt it will bring many more raids and much destruction but I feel that we are slowly getting the upper hand thanks to Russia.
I was greeted at 6 this morning by the wireless room orderly who handed me a greetings telegram from Margaret. It is 14 days too soon [ie for his 35th birthday] but this helps to spin out the festival doesn’t it? …
I am getting along now fairly well and am into my sixth month on Christmas Island. There is no sign yet of my getting back to Singapore and I should not be surprised if I remain here until about Christmas. There is no saying of course what will happen these days. The latest is that another captain and I may have to take turn about in this hole which will mean probably 8 months per year for me and 4 for him as he is a married man & his wife cannot come here as there is no accommodation.
We have been getting seasonally cool weather for the past month or two which reminds me slightly of a good warm summer’s day at home. I am playing an occasional game of tennis instead of badminton nowadays as a tennis tournament called the Hay Shield has started and I of course entered. My handicap is -15-15 which I thought flattered me but as I have reached the semi-final I must stick in. I meet the favourite in the semi, his handicap is -55-55 so that I shall have to travel some if I want to put a tennis cup beside the golf and badminton trophies….
Letter 4 – R.A. Detachment, XI, [Christmas Island] 17-10-41
I have not received a letter from you since I wrote my last but as this is the Xmas mail I thought that I should drop you a short note. I wrote to Mother yesterday and I shall write to Margaret tomorrow so that my Xmas wishes will reach the whole family.
I expected to go up to Singapore this time Nan but my relief did not materialise so that any chance of sending Xmas presents has evaporated. I sent you money last time but of course clothes are not “up for sale” these days so I am going to enquire in Singapore when I return about sending you a Xmas basket (a bit late it will be but none the less welcome I think). I have been told that it contains 13$ of groceries so it should be quite substantial.
I have been getting Mother’s papers regularly and I do enjoy reading the Telegraph.
I noticed in the Telegraph one day there that Capt. John Devine won the D.S.O. at Dunkirk. Wasn’t he one of your beaux at one time or was it the other good-looking fellow? I noticed in one of this month’s Teles that an old pupil of mine, Sgt. Pilot Robert Neale had been killed in action. …
Have you been playing any golf this summer? I think I remember you saying that you were both members of Gourock. Has it got any holes in it, or rather bunkers, made in Germany? I believe in some parts of the country that the Germans have been trying their hands at reconstructing golf courses.
One reason for my looking forward to returning to Singapore is that I should manage at least one game of golf per week. It must be very nice just swinging a wooden club round one’s shoulders again.
I have been doing fairly well recently in the sports line. I was beaten 6-5, 4-6, 6-5 in the semi-final of the tennis tournament and it took 3 days to decide. We started each set at 5pm and as the light has gone by 6 we managed only one set each evening. By way of compensation I have reached the final of the billiards (consolation) tournament and also the final of the snooker doubles so that life is not too dull just now.
The Japanese Cabinet has gone all military and naval again & the danger of war breaking out soon here is increasing daily. However we must fight these blighters some time and I bet we do too, whether they feel like it or not. But we are not in a position at the moment to take the initiative. However if the European war were ended you can bet your boots that we won’t return home without having a showdown with the Japs. All of which makes me realise how much I do want to be back in old rainy Greenock. I have just had a letter from Command Paymasters telling me that my Income Tax Assessment of £120 was a mistake, it should have been £130. And the Europeans, civilians, out here pay only 2% tax.
Well Nan. I must just wish Harry & you and of course all at Caledonia Crescent a Xmas and New Year free from Air Raids. Have a sherry on your absent brother when the decanter comes your length, Love George
As you have read, Captain Kinloch survived the war. Whilst again teaching at Greenock Academy in 1948, he wrote an article about Booby birds that Barbara has also kindly supplied. He wrote that booby birds don’t dive; a small error, as they do. But its nice to know that even during those uncertain times, he probably had peaceful moments just by watching the booby and frigate birds of Flying Fish Cove. Moments perhaps when worrying thoughts could briefly fly away on their wings. Select an image to enlarge.