On the 12th September 2019, my brother Peter Cripps and I had the honour of representing the Cripps family at the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. It was 75 years to the day since Dad’s cousin, David Charles Cripps lost his life with the sinking of the Japanese Prisoner of Warship, the Rakuyo Maru.
We applied back in January 2019 to have the service held for David, (Davey) however, we were advised that there was a two-year waiting list to have a Last Post Ceremony to honour the war dead, so we put the idea behind us and never thought any more about it until the 7th August, when Peter received a phone call from the AWM to tell him that Davey could be honoured at the service on the 12th September, as it was a significant event in Australia’s history with the sinking of the Rakuyo Maru and the loss of over 1500 Prisoners of War who were in the hull of the Japanese ship. We were elated and pulled out all stops to get there. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bob and I were already heading to New South Wales for a holiday in our caravan, so after a few phone calls and cancelling some engagements, we were able to leave earlier than planned to arrive in Canberra in time for the service and Peter booked his flights and arrived in plenty of time for a very moving service.
Other family members were invited to attend should they wish and it was pleasing to have many of the Cripps family represented, including family who lived close by in Canberra, Margaret Bekema, Phyllis Whiting nee Cripps daughter and family, Ted and Kathy Statton, whose great grandfather George Cripps is the brother of great grandfather Charles Cripps. Making Kathy our third cousin. We were fortunate also to have Navy Commander Jane Proctor granddaughter of Phyllis Whiting and Wing Commander Murray Johnson grandson of Margaret Johnson nee Cripps, present at the service. Both are family members representing the Navy and Air Force. Murray did the honours of reading out the service.
Below is the reading that the Australian War Memorial put together and the gallery photos were taken by the photographer at the AWM and a family member, Jenny Gregory, to whom we give our most heartfelt thanks.
Today we remember and pay tribute to Private David Charles Cripps.
David Cripps was born in Geraldton, Western Australia, on the 15th of December 1921, the son of David and Mary Cripps.
His father was a farmer who had enlisted for service in the First World War, but was given a medical discharge after suffering from chronic dermatitis. The elder David Cripps died when David was just three years old. His mother later remarried but had no more children.
Young David Cripps grew up in Northampton, where he attended school at Bowes.
On the 13th of August 1941, at the age of 19, David Cripps enlisted for service in the Second Australian Imperial Force. Soon after joining his training unit, he developed laryngitis. After a week of recovery, he was back in training.
In early October he was allotted to reinforcements to the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion. Largely consisting of men from Western Australia, the battalion had been established to provide direct fire support to infantry brigades of the 8th Division.
After taking the journey to Darwin, where his battalion was undertaking garrison duties following the Japanese landings in Malaya, Private Cripps embarked for overseas service on the 30th of December 1941.
Following a Japanese attack on Rabaul, the convoy carrying Cripps and his battalion turned and sailed to Sydney, and then Fremantle, finally reaching Singapore at the end of January 1942. Here it was hastily deployed in support of the 22nd and 27th Brigades in the north-west of Singapore Island. Heavily engaged and outnumbered around the landing beaches, over the course of the week it was pushed back towards the city.
After days of air raids, the Japanese attacked Singapore on the 8th of February, crossing the Johore Strait and attacking along the 22nd Brigade’s front, and the 27th Brigade near the Causeway.
The machine-gunners suffered heavily. In early February, 137 men were listed as killed or missing, 106 wounded, and 24 described as having “shell shock”. These casualties constituted almost one-third of the battalion.
Despite this, the battalion kept fighting, sending out patrols until receiving the order to surrender. Despite orders to surrender weapons and ammunition, the men destroyed the majority of their equipment before being marched to Changi gaol.
Cripps was one of the 3,000 men who were part of A Force, the first Australian group to leave Singapore for Burma. After sailing in the Celebes Maru on the 15th of May, a third of A Force disembarked at Victoria Point in the far south of Burma. Another third were sent to Mergui and the remainder to Tavoy, all tasked with building airfields.
At first the conditions for prisoners were adequate, if basic, Japanese control was fairly lax and a relatively good working relationship with the Japanese was established. Despite this, prisoners who attempted to escape were executed without trial.
In September 1942 the Australian prisoners were consolidated at Thanbyuzayat [pron. Tan – buy -you -zat] to begin work on the Burmese end of the Burma-Thailand Railway. As work went on, conditions for the prisoners became worse. Without adequate food
And medical supplies many were falling ill.
Their condition worsened in 1943 as cholera, smallpox, dysentery and malaria broke out and malnutrition became endemic.
Relentless labour on inadequate rations in a deadly tropical environment caused huge losses. By the time the railway was completed in October 1943, at least 2,815 Australians, over 11,000 other Allied prisoners, and perhaps 75,000 other forced labourers were dead.
After the railway was finally completed in October 1943, Cripps and the other surviving prisoners were gradually returned to Singapore.
While the suffering and deprivations of the Burma-Thailand Railway are well known, the most dangerous period in a prisoner’s life was travelling in captivity. Over-crowding, sickness, disease, and the dangers posed by allied submarines caused stress and anxiety.
Conditions on board ships were severe: over 1000 prisoners might be crammed into spaces suitable for a few hundred and given little food, fresh water, or adequate sanitation facilities.
The prisoners of war called these transports “hellships”.
On the 6th of September, David Cripps was among the 1,318 Australian and British prisoners of war assembled on the hellship Rakuyo Maru which was part of a convoy bound for Japan.
On the morning of the 12th of September the convoy was attacked by American submarines in the South China Sea. Rakuy6 Maru was sunk by USS Sea/ion II. Kachidoki Maru, carrying British prisoners of war, was hit by USS Pampanito.
Prisoners able to evacuate the ships spent the following days in life rafts or clinging to wreckage in open water. About 150 Australian and British survivors were rescued by American submarines. A further 500 were picked up by Japanese destroyers and continued the journey to Japan.
David Cripps was one of 1559 Australian and British prisoners of war killed in the incident.
He was 22 years old.
With no grave but the sea, today his name appears on the Labuan Memorial, which commemorates over 2,000 men who died whilst prisoners of war and who have no known grave.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War. His Photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private David Charles Cripps, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
The video of the Ceremony can be viewed on the Australian War Memorials You Tube Channel HERE starting at about 5 minutes in.
I wrote a story about Private David Charles Cripps on my blog in September 2014 for the 70th Anniversary.