The 70th Anniversary of Fred Marsh’s Famous World Tour

The term “world tour” had different overtones in my grandparents’ day. Fred Marsh was best man at their wedding before he embarked on his. Arguably, a highlight was the celebrated Operation Jaywick, during which a specialised team of Allied forces known as Z Special Unit stole up on the Japanese fleet in Singapore using collapsible canoes, and sunk seven ships. It was a uniquely successful operation – from the Australian point of view – and it happened seventy years ago today.

Last week my father passed me a request from my Grandma and Grandad, who are too old-fashioned to use international direct dialling, let alone Skype. They’d heard about a small commemoration to mark the seventieth anniversary of Jaywick, to be held on the evening of the 26th of September at the Kranji War Cemetery, and they asked me to attend on their behalf in honour of their old friend, Fred Marsh. I said yes without realising I’d have to flag down a taxi in the rain during peak hour, and trek across to the other side of the island through heavy traffic.

“Aiyah!” sighed my taxi driver, tsking and shaking his head. “Singapore got too many cars, lor. You want go somewhere, take soooo long, one.” He struck his hand against the steering wheel in frustration.
It took twenty-two days for Fred’s ship, MV Krait, to reach Singaporean waters; eight more until the mission was complete and his six team mates could be picked up and ferried home. They lived that time under constant threat, as enemy forces swept the oceans, picking off any Allied vessels that hadn’t fallen victim to naval mines. As we trundled forward steadily in our air-conditioned toyota, I stared out the window and wondered how different the scenery would look if things had gone another way.
View over Kranji War Cemetery.
When I finally arrived, everyone was milling around eating food. The Rifle Corps of Butterworth, from the 2nd/30th Training Company, had popped down for the occasion, complete with their slouch hats. The Singaporean Armed Forces were also represented – plenty of uniforms. A decorated gentleman called me over as I walked up.
“Come, take picture with me, granddaughter,” he insisted cheerfully. “Centre, centre, old men should stand aside.” We smiled and the camera clicked. “Now go eat some food!” he ordered, shooing me away. “Don’t waste!” It was like having Grandad there in person.
War Veterans at Kranji War Cemetery.
For a while, people talked, ate, and posed for pictures. I chatted to a young woman from the Changi Museum, and picked up a Heritage Trail brochure. Then all at once, the Australian Forces moved off in a group, marching without structure past the gardens and over the lawn.

Australian forces departing Kranji War Cemetery.

In 1944, a year after Jaywick, they sent Z Force back to Singapore for Operation Rimau. Everyone involved was either killed or captured, and by the end of the war they were all dead.
I went up the hill to see where they lay, guided by paper poppies, which had been left on the top of each grave.
Poppies on the headstones of Z Force at Kranji War Cemetery.
Carey was there, and so was Falls. Fred’s name doesn’t appear on a headstone – not one that I could find. Some say he was lost in action. Some say he died in a prison camp of “illness and mistreatment”. In either case, I couldn’t see him marked.
Perhaps he is here:
Fred Marsh: Solider of the 1939-1945 war.
And today, so was I.
Operations Jaywick and Rimau, and the Z Special Unit, are remembered in several books, including Lynette Ramsay Silver’s book ‘The Heroes of Rimau‘, Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin’s ‘Kill the Tiger: The truth about Operation Rimau’, and John Hoehn’s ‘Commando Kayak: The Australian Folboat in the Pacific Campaign’.
If you’re in Singapore, you can learn more by following the Singapore in World War II Heritage Trail, presented by the National Heritage Board.

Updates:

Read more about Thursday’s ceremony at Kranji War Ceremony.

You can also read a transcript of HE Antony Phillipson’s speech from the ceremony.

A team of expats reenacted the journey by canoe this month in order to raise funds for charity.

Lastly, many thanks to Lena Loo, who contacted me after finding this post to let me know that Able Seaman Frederick Marsh, member aboard the vessel MV Krait during Operation Jaywick, is commemorated at the Plymouth Naval Memorial in the UK. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission keeps a searchable online database if you’re looking for someone.

The 70th Anniversary of Fred Marsh’s Famous World Tour appeared first at Journeys of the Fabulist.

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