Letter, from Peg to Vennie, dated December 27, 1941, postmarked Singapore, Federated Malay States.

Dear Peg:

As you can see from the postmark, Little Tommy and I are safe in Singapore, and staying with Ada Dawlish’s older brother Arthur Nicholl, who keeps a very comfortable home in a pleasant garden suburb of Singapore. All British women and children in Penang and Perak were evacuated at mid-month, by order of the L.D.C., because of the threat from the invading Japanese.  Ada and I traveled together by car to K.L. – a hideously uncomfortable journey. When we parted, at a bare twenty-minutes notice, he gave me all the money that he had left after paying all the estate and household workers as well as his bank book so that I could draw on his account when we reached safety in KL or Singapore. Both Tommy and Ada’s husband Reg had commanded that we should go to Singapore as soon as we could, for safety sake, which is what we did – a journey almost as nerve-wracking as the drive to there from the estate. The train was very slow, often interrupted for no reason that anyone could tell us, other that troop trains had the priority right of way. The war front is somewhere around Jitra, where there is supposed to be a great battle being fought by Indian and Gurkha troops. I have had no word of my husband since his Volunteer company was called to active duty, and he kissed me and our son, said ‘goodbye’ and sent us off with Ada in her husband’s car. He went in the other direction with his fellows in the Company, including Chandeep Singh, who is an old soldier, a veteran of quite a good many big and little wars. I hope that if anything, Chandeep Singh’s good sense and advice will keep my husband safe. There is nothing but rumors – and yet the radio and the Straits Times maintain an air of cheerful assurance about it all. There is said to have been intense fighting up-country. Singapore is full to bursting, with evacuees like myself, and military troops from India, Britain and Australia. There have been air raid alarms most nights, although with very little result that we can see. A range of shops along Raffles Place was hit by Jap bombs overnight. And it’s awful to see, in person, after seeing years of this in newsreels. A place that I knew, where Ada and I had been, the very day before … and the next morning, all blown up, burnt and wrecked. We were both more deeply shocked than we confessed to upon our return to Arthur’s house.

My dear Vennie – it all seems quite surreal. On the surface, everything seems most desperately normal. The tenor of our days, a leisurely breakfast on the shady verandah of Arthurs’s house, looking into the shady garden, a round of shopping, playing with little Tommy, a rest in the afternoon and the usual social round – all very much the life that I have enjoyed since coming to Malaya. Arthur has been the most considerate host. He was employed for many years by the Shell Oil company. He is very much older than Ada, and his house is almost a museum of Oriental objects d’ arte. He is quite the collector in his semi-retirement, so his house is full of beautiful things, as well as having been constructed on the most pleasing and comfortable lines. Quite honestly, I wish that our house on the plantation had been so sensibly designed, instead of built out in every hap-hazard direction as necessity commanded. Ada and I occupy ourselves with much of the same amusements as we did, formerly … but there is a desperate shadow hanging over us, more marked because no one admits it. There is almost a feverish intensity in the air, a wish to behave as if everything were absolutely normal. Ada meets with old friends and goes dancing at the Raffles and playing tennis at the Tanglin. (She says that everyone went out dancing during evenings in the London Blitz in defiance of Mr. Hitler’s bombs and who am I to argue about that?) Arthur has old friends for tiffin in the late afternoon, and I join them, and then rest, and try and pretend for little Tommy that this is all either an exciting adventure – when the air raid siren sounds and the guns go ‘boom’ – or otherwise a perfectly normal visit to friends in Singapore. The amah, Miss Hui, is wonderful in this, behaving as if all is perfectly normal. It reassures little Tommy, but I wonder for how much longer. Little Tommy is such a willful little boy, I don’t know quite how I would manage him, if it were not for Miss Hui.

One of Arthur’s young Shell Oil employee friends is American – and from Houston! Peter Gregory. He says that he spent summers now and again with friends in Galveston. I wonder if you and he ever met there. I do assure you that I am not flirting with him – but oh, Vinnie – how comforting to hear an American accent again, and to speak with someone dearly familiar with Texas, while I wait word from Tommy!

Dearest Vennie, how are you getting along, now that war has begun and we both are a part of it, willy-nilly? Your nurse friend Helen who joined the Army Nurse Corps and was sent to Manila – is there any word of her? I hope for your sake that she is safe – although from the news reports, I fear not; Manila is as much under siege from the beastly Japs as Malaya is. I saw a bevy of Australian Army nurses today and was reminded of you and your friend, who must go where you are needed the most, no matter what the danger.

Singapore is packed full of soldiers, anti-aircraft guns, naval ships and simply awesome land artillery. Everyone says that we can endure a siege, if the worst comes to worst. I wish I could be assured of my husband’s safety – then I could sleep peacefully at night. I have had no word from him since departing from Ipoh. If it were not my own determination to remain close to where he might be, I would be on the next boat to return to Texas and the Becker ranch.

Please write to me soon.

Love, Peg (and Little Tommy.)    

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    don’t know if you’ve “talked” w/ Ms Bookworm, but IIRC her mother was held by the Japanese during WWII

  2. Celia

    I haven’t “talked” with Book, but I do know about her mother being an internee. As I have plotted this out, Peg and Ada will escape at the last minute and reach Australia safely, but they won’t know about their husbands until after the war is over.

  3. Avatar

    arrgh! spoilers!