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LAST STAND SINGAPORE

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Last Stand in Singapore

The Story of 488 Squadron RNZAF

By Graham Clayton
Published by RANDOM HOUSE
284 pages with illustrations, appendix, notes and bibliography, paperback
RRP NZ$36.99 at all good book stores

Reviewed by Bill Hopper

'Scrounging and stealing as only Kiwis' can'

Singapore, 10 October 1941, and a month out of Wellington the SS TASMAN docks in Keppel Harbour with 96 officers and airmen of the newly formed No. 488 (NZ) Squadron RAF. This very short lived squadron (disbanded 2 March 1942) comprised of mainly young New Zealanders must have been the worst equipped and treated of any squadron of the then British Empire. In Last Stand in Singapore, Graham Clayton delves deeply into his father Bert’s mostly bitter memories of the tragic, but inevitable fall of Singapore to the invading Japanese. To flesh out the story further he has been able to talk with several other survivors of the shambolic air defence of the ‘cross roads of the East’. This book is mainly the story of the often forgotten ground crew and how they worked miracles on the airfield at Kallang in keeping the squadron’s few aircraft operational. They arrived to find no allotted aircraft, but then inherited from the RAF’s departed No.67 Squadron, 21 Brewster Buffaloes – ‘the most unlikely fighter combat aircraft of all time’. There were no tools, no spare parts and much time was spent, ‘scrounging and stealing gear as only Kiwis can’. Damaged aircraft were cannibalised for essential parts and when eventually airworthy the Buffaloes were no match for the superior Japanese bombers and fighters. Parts were even salvaged from downed enemy aircraft and reused if compatible or modified to fit where possible. ‘There was nothing to touch the ingenuity of the 488 Squadron ground crew’. At times they even had to beg, borrow or steal food as they toiled to keep their few charges in the air. Daily they were subjected bombing, scrambling into foxholes until the danger was over and it was back to servicing an ever deceasing fleet of fighters. Late in January 1942, the squadron was replenished with nine Hurricanes – just in time as there were only 3 Buffaloes left. As the Japanese advanced down Malaya and across into Singapore the few serviceable aircraft were flown out to Palembang in Sumatra to avoid capture. The 488 ground crew were left to almost fend for themselves and eventually embarked on one of the last ships to escape to Java. On its voyage to Tanjong Priok, Batavia the Empire Star loaded with some 3500 passengers survived many air attacks. Ten days later the squadron was evacuated by sea to Fremantle where, on the day of arrival, 488 was officially disbanded. Last Stand in Singapore is a most absorbing story recounting the hard grind, courage and heroism of an almost forgotten fighter squadron.

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