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SINGAPORE BATTLE W.W. 2: DEATH of an AUSTRALIAN BANDSMAN

An undelivered letter during wartime is often due to cessation of delivery to the place on account of hostilities, the recipient has moved to an unknown address, the recipient has been taken a prisoner, or the recipient is dead. This Air Mail cover was cancelled with a boxed SYDNEY/ 1 -PM/ 1 2 FEB 1/ 1942/ N.S.W/ AUST. and the grey 9d ‘Platypus’ stamp was cancelled with a boxed AIR MAIL/ SECTION / G.P.O. There are 2 additional hand stamps, a purple boxed ARMY POSTAL SERVICE/ DELIVERY IMPRACTICABLE/ RETURN TO SENDER, as well as a red double circle DEAD LETTER OFFICE/ EXAMINER / 8/ SYDNEY, N.S.W. The cover was addressed to Bandsman R. Currey, 2/20 Battn, B.H.Q., A.I.F. MALAYA, Abroad. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

 

By the time that the cover would have been delivered during normal times, the war was going badly for the Allies, and the Australian army in Malaya had been divided into several fronts, one on the Malayan mainland, a second on an adjacent western front on Singapore island, as well as a third eastern front on the Singapore island. "During the first week of February (1942) there was artillery activity on both sides, and there were Japanese air attacks, mostly on the docks and the civil aerodrome. On the early morning of the 8th, Australian patrols returned from the mainland to report that large Japanese reinforcements were now opposite the western shores of Singapore island.....before midnight the first Japanese landings took place, and soon the whole of the Australian 22nd Brigade front was engaged...... The weight of the attack was not at first realised, two Japanese divisions were engaged in the assault, 13,000 troops being landed during the night and a further 10,000 soon after dawn...... Later a third division joined in the attack, and the total (Japanese) force numbered some 70,000 infantry supported by 150 tanks, 168 guns and more than 500 aircraft" The areas where the Australians fought, in particular the green dot areas (1, 2 and 3) are seen in Figure 2.

On 15 February, 1942 Singapore fell and over 15,000 Australian troops became prisoners of war. Bandsman Private R. Currey was not among them for he died on 10 February 1942, the actual site of his death in Malaya was not recorded. The details of his career in the Australian Army is tabulated and shown in Figure 3.

A group photograph of the 2/20th Battalion Band, has been focused on NX59141 Private Ross Curry who was killed in action in Malaya on 10 February 1942. He is shown in the back row identified by the arrow, and it is shown as Figure 4.

Since the first colonisation of Australia in 1788 there have been bands associated with the military. The first bands were those of the Royal Marine units and later the regimental bands of the British Army regiments that were based in Australia. These bands provided musical support for regimental and state ceremonial occasions as well as performances for the public.
From Federation onwards, Australian military units have formed bands (often unofficial and part time) consisting of musicians drawn from the ranks. These bands were of varying standards and other duties such as stretcher bearing, working on gun crews, shell bearers, and working as first aiders took up much of their time in war years. There was no central policy on equipment, manning, performance standards or training of bands. In large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne there was a continuity in at least one band which served the musical and ceremonial needs of the time. Active military band service was first recorded in 1899, when the Band of the Victorian Naval Brigade sailed to China as part of the Naval Contingent to suppress the Boxer Rebellion.

 

 
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