15th February 1942 will forever be remembered as the day that Singapore fell to the Imperial Japanese Army, condemning tens of thousands of Allied troops to horrific years of privations and cruelty at the hands of their captors.
For members of the RAMC attached the captured battalions as Regimental Medical Officers, three-and-a-half years of Japanese captivity would see their medical ingenuity stretched to the limit.
Captain Forde Cayley had been attached to the 5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, assigned to defend Pongol Point on the north-west coast of the Malay peninsula.
Captain Forde Cayley RAMC
Despite his non-combatant medical status as the Japanese moved ever closer, ‘I was issued with a service revolver and ten rounds and felt now I am really for it.’
Cayley had a dugout to shelter in and, when he considered it safe to do so, visited the
various companies on bike. On his return, he found the dugout had been bombed, leaving many dead and wounded. Withdrawn to the outskirts of the city of Singapore, Cayley’s battalion HQ was established at Raffles College, situated by the riverside quay, and he set up a Regimental Aid Post in the middle of one wing.
The post soon became filled with wounded men. Cayley recalled:
The mortar platoon were under a tree and the mortar hit a
branch above them and blew off an officer’s leg. Another
was hit in the arm and I had to take it off. The Indians from
the units on each side of us sent their wounded in with
bullets penetrating their bowels so the night was made
terrible by their cries for water. A Malay civilian came in
with his sternum ripped away by a shell so that you could
see his heart beating.
By this stage, the Japanese were just 100 yards away so, during a lull in the fighting, Cayley sent an ambulance with the most wounded to a hospital further down the line. Shortly afterwards, he witnessed Japanese tanks in control of the streets, then General Percival being driven along the road to sign the terms of the British surrender. For
Cayley, the war was over, but his nightmare was to last a further three
and a half years.
The moving story of how RAMC doctors like Captain Cayley helped to save the lives of thousands of their fellow prisoners is told in my new book Faithful in Adversity: The Royal Army Medical Corps in the Second World War