The Battle in the Muar and Bakri Region
of Johore state, Malaya, January 1942
Although this is the story of only a few days of one battle, it serves as a reminder of and a tribute to all the members of the armed forces who fought for Australia.
The 2/29th Battalion of the 8th Australian Division was formed in 1941 as a completely Victorian unit under Lt.Col. J. C. Robertson, M.C., V.D.. The 2/29th trained at Bonegilla, VIC and Bathurst, NSW. Their first day at sea en route to Malaya was 31st July, 1941 leaving Melbourne on the "Marnix". They disembarked on 15th August, 1941 at Singapore, where they were quartered in St. Patrick's College at Katong.
Vern Burgess was killed on 19th January, 1942 fighting in A Company of the 2/29th Battalion in the MUAR and BAKRI region of Johore state, Malaya (see map). This page concentrates on events from the 1st to the 19th January, and is drawn from the War Diary of the 2/29 Infantry Battalion, December 1941 to February 1942, Australian War Memorial reference number 8/3/29. The text within the inverted commas is a literal transcription: text inside the  brackets is either a comment by the transcriber or a doubtful transcription of the pencil entries.
"Preliminary note to War Diary of 2/29 Bn for period 1Jan/15 Feb 42
This portion of the 2/29 Bn War Diary has been compiled solely from personal recollections of various Offrs and Ors, all written records of the unit's activities having been destroyed owing to the probability of their falling into enemy hands. Dates, times and locations have however been very carefully checked by unit offrs and by means of reference to offrs of other HQ and units engaged in the fighting. It is considered that the events noted down are substantially accurate.
[Signed by] S A F Pond
Comd 2/29 Bn
1 Apr 42.
Hour, Date, Place [all 1942] Summary of Events and Information 1 Jan to 11 Jan, Kluang Moved to Buloh Kasap in afternoon. 12 Jan to 17 Jan, Buloh Kasap
At 0945, 17 Jan CO "... received by G.O.C. G.O.C. advised enemy had landed N of MUAR Thursday afternoon strength roughly 200 and had captured MUAR. He ordered 2/29 Bn, less D Coy move to BAKRI recapture MUAR and destroy enemy."
Battalion arrived BAKRI at 1500, 17 Jan. First enemy fire at 1800.
17 Jan, 2330 hrs, BAKRI "CO ordered A Coy to move back to BAKRI Xrds and protect troops of 2/15 Id Regt." 18 Jan, 0100 "A Coy in position BAKRI Xrds." 18 Jan, 1200 "A Coy Comd visited by 2 i/c 2/29 Bn & later by C.O. - Lt Col Anderson advised 2/29 were moving into area, therefor A Coy ordered rejoin 2/29 Bn. Enemy roadblock approx 300* from Xrds & section ordered to remove it. Attempt unsuccessful but later 2/19 carriers with support 2 sections A Coy succeeded in removing barrier. A Coy moved forward astride road & were forced to ground on right of road slightly fwd of where road block had been. Movement on left stopped by automatic and mortar fire. Caualties 1 killed 10 wounded. 2/19 moved fwd on right and took up position. A Cot then moved fwd & rejoined Bn 1700 hrs." 18 Jan, 1700 "A Coy took up former position right rear." 18 Jan, 2200 "A Coy ordered send patrol 1 NCO 1 ORs [should this have read 10 ORs?] to contact Bde HQ. This patrol did not rejoin Bn but subsequently was learned personnel were fighting [with?] 2/19 Bn." 19 Jan, 0600, BAKRI "Weather fine. Location unchanged." 19 Jan, 0930 "2 scouts sent out to contact 2/19 Bn failed to do so." 19 Jan, 1130 "B.M. arrived Bn HQ & advised Bde HQ heavily bombed. He asked for a section to accompany him in an endeavour [incomplete?] 2 Bn of JATS [Indian troops] who were reported to be on our right flank." 19 Jan, 1330 "JATS commenced to pass through our position to link up with 2/19 Bn. In movement back they encountered heavy enemy fire & considerable numbers returned to our perimeter . Attempts made to organise them." 19 Jan, 1400 "Dive bomber dropped bomb vicinity B.H.Q. No casualties." 19 Jan, 1430 "B [E]ch moved to CORONATION Estate KLUANG. Bombed and machine gunned from air." 19 Jan, 1530 "Enemy Arty shelled A Cor area. JATS suffered heavily and in their attempts to escape shelling crossed road between C & HQ Coy. Arty then shifted to IN. side of road & C Coy sustained some casualties while JATS suffered further heavy losses." 19 Jan, 1630 "Shelling lifted. Under mortar fire. Attack launched on B & C Coy - on B Coy front enemy attack repelled with heavy casualties. On C Coy front - heavy mortar & automatic fire drove 1 PL back 50*. C Coy counter attacked & drove enemy off for a distance 600 - 800*." 19 Jan, 1750 "All enemy accounted for & C Coy Comd reported positions on both fronts to C.O. Enemy shells identified as 5.9 inch." 19 Jan, 1735 "C.O.s conference - information given that 2/19 Bn had been trying to link up with us all day unsuccessfully. The Bn was now ordered to cut its way back to 2/19 Bn travelling east side of road. Order of march. A. BHQ HQ Coy. C & B Coy. Moving at 10 minute intervals. Transport to move 1815." 19 Jan, 1815 "Maj Olliff, CO was killed by enemy automatic fire. A Coy which left at 1800 hrs whilst crossing open ground 300* rear of original position came under heavy M.G. fire. Capt McNAUGHTON and Lt CALVERT were killed and several ORs killed and wounded. O.C. and part of Coy became detached from main body. HQ Coy and BHQ swing further E. to skirt open ground & became entangled in a swamp forcing them further E. still. Lt SHELDON killed. C Coy detached 13 PL under Capt WEST to attempt to [bomb] enemy position & clear road for transport but were unsuccessful. This PL then followed route taken by HQ Coy. B Coy followed main body of HQ Coy & reached 2/19 Bn without further casualties." 19 Jan, 1930 "Capt MORRISON (Adjt) gathered parties which had swung E & formed a body consisting of 7 Offrs & 150 ORs - set off across country in direction of YONG PENG. O.C. B Coy Capt MAHER 2/29 Bn consisting of B Coy (4 Offrs 100 ORs) C Coy (3 Offrs 45 ORs) A Coy (45 ORs). Whilst organising this force at BAKRI Xrds it came under heavy M.G. fire - no casualties. The force moved inside 2/19 Bn perimeter & bedded down for night. 5 carriers & 2 a/2k guns acting as rear guard remained in position until B Coy were clear of area." 19 Jan, 1930 "a/2k guns demobilised. 2 carriers attempted to get past road block, one being successful in getting around it, the other being abandoned. Other 3 carriers demobilised. Crews together with R.M.O., 6 walking wounded & a/2k personnel moved N. & following night linked up with 2/19 Bn."
Lt Col A S F Pond took over the unit on 25 Jan 1942. His "Additions to the War Diary" state that the Battalion at that time
"consisted only of one Coy existing as a formed unit: this was "D" Coy then detached to and under Comd 2/26 Bn. The rest of the Bn consisted only of "B" Echelon with an increasing number of men filtering back from the MUAR engagement in an exhausted state.
(1) Replacement of Casualties
... these amounted to over 500 ...
(a) The whole of Bn HQ was lost at MUAR ... Only one Coy Comd (Capt W B Bowring of "C" Coy) had survived the MUAR action ..."
Lt Col Pond's further comments on the standard of the replacements makes grim reading.
The MUAR and BAKRI battle is described in more detail in "A HISTORY OF THE 2/29 BATTALION, 8th AUSTRALIAN DIVISION A I F", published by the 2/29 BATTALION AIF ASSOCIATION in 1983. A copy is held in the Australian War Memorial Research Section library, reference number R940.541294 H673.
The Australian War Memorial collection includes photographs of the battle scene. Access their website at http://www.awm.gov.au then go to the photographic database and search for MUAR and BAKRI.