Gunner Joseph Reynolds, 1426910, 7th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Joseph Reynolds was born in Gawthorpe, Ossett in the Summer of 1920, the son of John J. Reynolds and his wife Lydia (nee Lumb), who had married in 1911 in the Dewsbury Registration District. Joseph had three brothers: Alfred, born in 1921, Walter, born in 1924 and Leslie, born in 1925. There was also an older sister Annie Reynolds, born in 1913.
Joseph Reynolds joined the Royal Artillery as a regular soldier in 1937 and was sent to Singapore in 1938 as part of the defending garrison troops. After the fall of Singapore to the invading Japanese on the 15th February 1942, Gunner Reynolds was taken prisoner of war. In 1943, he was to die at the hands of the Japanese in 1943 in barbaric circumstances on the island of Balalae, in the Shortland Islands Group in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. His parents back home in Ossett clung on to the hope that he was still alive as a Japanese PoW until June 1946, when they finally received the letter from the War Office that they had been dreading.
In October 1942 600 British PoWs in Singapore, with their commander Lieutenant Colonel John Bassett, were loaded on to a ship which they were told would transport them to a prison camp in Japan. Instead they headed south of the equator, stopping in Surabaya in Indonesia and continuing to Rabaul on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. In November 1942, the 517 fittest men were shipped out of Rabaul and taken to Balalae where they arrived in late November and were set to work to build the runway still in use today.
Many of the prisoners died from overwork, exhaustion and tropical diseases, but a great number were killed by allied air raids on the island. A B24 raid on the night of 12-13 March 1943 may have killed as many as 300 of the prisoners of war when three bombs landed on their encampment. In late June 1945 another heavy air raid followed by shelling from US navy ships convinced the Japanese that the island was about to be invaded and they decided to execute all the surviving prisoners. On 30 June 1943 the survivors, perhaps 70 to 100 men, were all bayoneted or beheaded.
After the war ended a mass grave was discovered by Australian investigators and the remains of over 400 men were removed in November-December 1945 and are now buried at the Bomana Commonwealth War Cemetery in Port Moresby. Over 100 Japanese servicemen on the island who were interviewed about events on the island denied any knowledge of the executions. For many years British Ministry of Defence records insisted that the 517 men shipped out of Rabaul had died when their ship was sunk.1
In fact Chinese prisoners and two Koreans working on the island had reported the massacre and in 1946 Norihiko Ozaki, one of the island commanders, made a confession. No war crime convictions for the events on Balalae were ever made.
The "Ossett Observer" had this obituary for Joseph Reynolds:2
"Now Presumed Dead - Gawthorpe Family's Loss - Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Reynolds of 77, Swithenbank Avenue, Gawthorpe were notified by the War Office that their son Gunner Joseph Reynolds was reported "missing, believed prisoner of war" after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds have now been informed that it is believed that their son was amongst a number of PoWs who were aboard a Japanese transport bound for the Solomon Islands. The ship was sunk, and for some time nothing was known of the fate of the men aboard her. Recently, however, an unmarked grave has been found on one of the Solomons containing the bodies of a number of Royal Artillerymen, one of which is believed to have been Joseph Reynolds.
Gunner Reynolds, who was 23 at the time of his capture, was educated at Gawthorpe Council School, and was later employed by Doric Ltd., Gawthorpe. He joined the regular army in 1937 and went to Singapore with his heavy artillery unit in 1938 to take up the role of garrison troops. He never returned to England, and his last letter to his parents was written in November 1941. Three of his brothers are still serving with the Army."
Gunner Reynolds is reported to have died on the 5th March 1943, aged 22 years and he is buried in an unmarked grave on Balalae Island, part of the Solomon Island Group in the Pacific. He is also remembered on Column 28 of the Singapore Memorial.3
Within Kranji War Cemetery stands the Singapore Memorial, bearing the names of over 24,000 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces who have no known grave. Many of these have no known date of death and are accorded within our records the date or period from when they were known to be missing or captured. The land forces commemorated by the memorial died during the campaigns in Malaya and Indonesia or in subsequent captivity, many of them during the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway, or at sea while being transported into imprisonment elsewhere. The memorial also commemorates airmen who died during operations over the whole of southern and eastern Asia and the surrounding seas and oceans.
1. The Sad Story of Balalae Island by Tony Wheeler
2. "Ossett Observer", Saturday, 15th June 1946.