Frederick Arnold (Freddy) SIMPSON

SIMPSON, Frederick Arnold

Service Number: VX23896
Enlisted: 7 June 1940, Caulfield, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/22nd Infantry Battalion
Born: London, England, 23 August 1905
Home Town: Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Presumed (Died of Wounds), Rabaul, Rabaul, New Britain, Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea, 23 January 1942, aged 36 years
Cemetery: Rabaul (Bita Paka) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
No known grave. Listed on panel 27 of the Memorial at Bita Paka, Rabaul Memorial, Rabaul, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Rabaul Memorial
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World War 2 Service

7 Jun 1940: Involvement Private, VX23896, 2nd/22nd Infantry Battalion
7 Jun 1940: Enlisted Caulfield, Victoria
7 Jun 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, VX23896, 2nd/22nd Infantry Battalion

The Story of an Australian Soldier

The views expressed in the story below belong to the stated author of the article. The publication of the article should not be interpreted as support for the sentiments expressed or in any way reflecting the views, opinions or the position of the RSL.

This is the story of a incompetent and morally corrupt Australian Government who displayed a total inability to acknowledge that they had a responsibility to the men and women who had enlisted in its Armed Forces. They did not support them and then left over 3000 Australian Soldiers to die on a lonely outposts north of Australia. It also has a element of horror with an Japanese Army who belonged to the time in pre-history when murder of innocent people was normal military policy and which had more in common with the Asian hordes of “Attila the Hun” than a modern nation. It was lead by an evil and immoral Emperor who escaped justice for the crimes he approved and directed his soldiers to perpetrate. The primary starring role is a middle aged Australian soldier who together with 1500 of his comrades was left to die on an obscure Island in the South Pacific in early 1942.

It is the story of Frederick (Freddy) Arnold Simpson.

Freddy Simpson had enlisted in the Australian Army in 1941 at the old drill hall in Victoria Street, Melbourne as this was the closest point to his News agency business in Swanston Street. He was an Englishman who had migrated to Australia in 1924 leaving behind an extended family in London where his father had been a successful hotelier in Highgate. The family had moved to London from the Midlothian area in Scotland in the 1880’s. The area is still a hot bed of Simpsons as we found when we visited the district in 2008.

He was born at 27 Whitehall Park Rd, Hounslow London UK. Freddy’s grandfather was a distiller of whisky and he became leasee of various pubs in the London area. His eldest son Isaac had inherited the business after buying out his two younger brothers. Your family is of Jewish origins and both of Freddy’s paternal ancestors had the name of Isaac. The Simpson’s are Septs of Clan Fraser. Freddy had trained and obtained an agriculture diploma and felt that the antipodes’ offered better opportunities for a bright young man and he immigrated to Australia settling in Victoria and farmed in the Gippsland district.

We are unable to ascertain why he immigrated to Australia but my cousin Karle Simpson has suggested in his memoirs that his father had also went out to the “Colonies” in this case Assam in 1926 and perhaps Freddy was influenced by his older brother. He had met Sylvia in the early 1930’s and fell in love and they were married at the Northcote Congregational Church in March 1939. When a substantial legacy was left to him after the death of his parents he purchased a News agency in Swanston Street just north of Victoria Street. As was the normal time table in those far off days Sylvia became pregnant on her honeymoon and their eldest Son Frederick Charles was born in December 1939. The advents of the Second World War with the bombing of London had become I believe the catalyst which almost forced him to enlist. He was 34 years of age which in my opinion was far too old for Army Service especially as he had his business and a young family but powerful patriotic motives made it almost impossible for him to sit back and not be involved. The emotive images of his beloved city of London under the onslaught of the German bombing campaign would have driven his decision.

He was posted to the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion of the 23rd Brigade which formed part of the ill-fated 8th Australian Division. He served in 14th Pl of C Company. The 2/22nd Battalion was like most units of the 2nd AIF comprised of about 1000 volunteers. It was unique in that the majority of its members were drawn from the northern suburbs of Melbourne especially the Brunswick, Coburg, and Northcote areas. From its raising in 1940 it was commanded by Lt Col Howard Carr who also volunteered after serving in the CMF(Citizen Military Forces). He was employed in the PMG and rumour had it that his ambitious wife had more to do with his promotion through the CMF than any real ability on his part. Carr was a spit and polish type who loved the stomping of feet and quivering salutes. Carr was a avid gambler who spent a great deal of time playing poker. The Second in command was Major Bill Leggett an experienced military veteran who had served with distinction in France in WW1. The developing world crisis’s with the fall of France and the dispatch of 3 Divisions of the 2nd AIF to the Middle East had left Australia very vulnerable and with a false sense of security that the so called Singapore base with its powerful British Fleet stationed there had given us. The growing belligerency of Japan was an unwelcome cloud on the Horizon. The Singapore myth had lead to a attitude that Japan was incapable of threatening our security. In October 1940 delegates from Britain, New Zealand, India and Australia had meet for a conference in Singapore of the far Eastern Defence Group.

Plans and resources were discussed and with the looming threat from Japan Australia offered troops to the UK government to garrison Malaya. This was haughtily rejected by the British. The Australian War cabinet also had to consider the defence of the mandated Islands to its North such as PNG and New Britain. Australia was responsible for defending these Islands but as usual had done
virtually nothing to prepare for possible eventualities. In November 1940 the Cabinet made a commitment to install two six Inch Coastal Artillery guns for the Defence of the Main harbor at Rabaul the seat of the PNG government. The 8th Division of the 2nd AIF was also dispatched to Malaya less the 23rd Brigade which was to be deployed to the Islands north of Australia as a so called shield to protect the Australian mainland. The 2/40th Battalion Group code named Sparrow Force was sent to Timor, while the 2/21st Battalion Group code named Gull Force went to Ambon and the 2/22nd Battalion Group coded Lark Force went to Rabaul. Rabaul was the main township on the Island of New Britain. Just what
the war Cabinet expected to achieve with these forces is just impossible to understand as they lacked supporting arms and services and the Air Force support was supplied with outdated aircraft and failed to achieve success apart from some worthwhile reconnaissance of the approaching Japanese armada.

The Force would not be able to defend themselves and the Air Force was wiped out almost immediately as its Planes were outdated and no match for the battle hardened Japanese forces. The attitude of the War Cabinet was absolutely disgraceful. The Forces were told that you will just have to put up a token
defence and we will not help you in any way. The Quality of the Commanders in New Guinea with emphasis on Major General Basil Morris at Port Moresby and Col John Scanlon Area commander at Rabaul was very poor. These gentlemen together with Carr were a perfect example of men promoted one level above their competency. Morris had been returned from the Middle East after a very poor record ( he was the classic “SNARLER” of legend, SNLR , Services no Longer Required) and was posted to a back water at Port Moresby as area Commander and did absolutely nothing to prepare his command to defend the Area. To give you an example when the Japs invaded New Guinea he ordered that a road be constructed from Port Moresby to Kokoda when he had never ever had a reconnaissance made of the feasibility of completing such a project. Legend had it that he walked around with a large cane making all sorts of noises about never surrendering and that Port Moresby would be the Tobruk of the Pacific without ever making any effort to prepare his forces to make any worthwhile stand against a possible invasion. Scanlon at Rabaul seems to have spent a great deal of time in religious retreats with the Local Catholic mission for up to 5 days at a time instead of exercising his role as Area Commander and developing plans and strategies to meet possible contingencies.

The Involvement of the Japanese Army

History has left a legacy of unbelievable hypocrisy and bankrupt morality when you consider the position of the Japanese Army in the 2nd World War. It was commanded by Emperor Hirohito who should have faced trial as a major war criminal but escaped justice due a quirk of mental retardation from General Douglas MacArthur. The policy of attempted world domination envisaged by the Japanese Government was always an impossibility but in its attempt it caused horrific destruction to both human lives and property. Under the guise of the Greater Asian Cooperation Area and the freeing of the Asian nations from Colonial rule it’s planned “Strike South” was an attempt to obtain raw materials such as oil, ores and rubber in which Japan was deficient. After the destruction of part of the American Fleet in Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and the invasion of the Philippines and Malaya the next step was obtain a base from it could threaten the Lines of Communication between the American West Coast and Australia. Rabaul in the Australian Mandated territory of New Britain was the logical choice. It included a large harbor named Simpson Harbor. The Japanese Army and Navy were tasked to destroy the very small Australian garrison and timings required the invasion to be complete by Mid January 1942. The Army raised in 1940 the South Seas Detachment mainly from the 55th Infantry Group and which was
commanded by Major-General Tomitara Horii. The main combat elements were the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 144th Infantry Regiment. The record of this regiment was disgraceful and any attempt by the Japanese to give recognition as a honorable Military unit to these men is laughable. Its record included cannibalism, rape, torture and murder of innocent serviceman and civilians. It was destroyed by the Australian Army mainly in New Guinea including the Kokoda Trail and many Australian soldiers
felt that these Japanese soldiers were not human but acted as animals. (Grandmother Margaret's father, Fred Story, won a Military Medal on the Kokoda Trail, and he spoke of these Japanese Soldiers in a most scathing manner equating them to sub-Humans).

Horii was killed at Buna in 1943 and the world was well rid of this person. The South Seas Detachment included as well as the 144th Regiment support elements of Cavalry, Artillery and Engineers. It also included a naval element of several hundred members of the “Maizuru 2nd Special Landing Force” who excelled at Amphibious Assault Tactics. Just as was expected the Japanese Invasion forces sailed from Guam and after preliminary air attacks and the destruction of the RAAF elements of the 24th Squadron on the 22nd January 1941 Rabaul was invaded and the Australian forces destroyed. Freddy’s was a member of C Company of the 2/22nd Battalion which was commanded by Capt “Pip” Appels and was tasked with the defence of the Airfield at Vunakanua and after an attack by planes of the Japanese Carrier forces on the 21st the Airfield was destroyed. Capt Appels was a fine Officer who commanded his Company in a very professional manner.
The only casualty in the bombing was Freddy Simpson who was wounded in the shoulder by Shrapnel.

He was evacuated to the Military Hospital in Rabaul and from that point on he just disappears. We know that the patients were evacuated to an alternative hospital close to the Catholic Mission prior to the Jap invasion. After the Australian surrender the Japs took ever fifth person from the sick and injured at the hospital and they were never seen again. You can draw your own conclusion as to what actually happened to those men. The complete chaos that the invasion occasioned resulted in the death of 57 Australians Killed in action, over 200 who were murdered by the Japs including 150 Soldiers who were massacred at Tol Plantation by elements of the 3rd Battalion of the 144th Regiment and over 1500 Soldiers and Civilians who died when the Japanese Ship Montevideo Maru which was carrying these POWs to Japan was torpedoed by a USA Submarine .The USS Sturgeon found and sunk a Japanese freighter on the high Seas. The ship was not marked in any way to indicate that POWS were aboard and was a legitimate military target. This was the worst maritime disaster in Australia’s history and has been an embarrassment to the Australian Government ever since.

The Japanese record, as we know, did also include the sinking of hospital ships which were clearly marked so why they would bother following Geneva Conventions which required POW ship to be clearly marked. The Officers who were sent on a separate ship to Japan survived and were repatriated to Australia at the end of the war. The Australian
forces on Ambon and Timor were also destroyed as they also were not supported in any manner and many were massacred by Japanese Forces or died from disease and mistreatment. The War Cemetery at Pine Creek in the Northern Territory south of Darwin has many of the graves of the boys from the 2/40th Battalion who died fighting the Japs and the age of so many of them is a sobering reminder of the price they paid to defend our country. They were boys of 18 -22 years and were left to die by an Australian Government without any chance of achieving any worthwhile outcome.

We do not know just what happened to the sick and wounded soldiers at Rabaul after their capture by the Japs. Some were clearly murdered by Jap Marines and members of the 144th Regiment and anecdotal stories suggest that many were loaded onto a Jap barge and dumped out to sea and from the behavior of the Japs in similar situations this is a major possibility. No records of any kind exist as to the fate of these men and not one of the sick or wounded who were captured by the Japanese survived.

The fate of the Rabaul Garrison will be for all time a blot on the honor of the Australian and Japanese Governments and their Military advisors. The War Cabinet’s advice from the Chiefs of Staff headed by General Vernon Sturdee was that the Rabaul Garrison was not to be reinforced as they did not consider that it is possible to relieve the garrison or reinforce them from the mainland due to transport limitations and that the men would be used to provide a advanced observation line and just left to themselves.
The action of the senior Officers at Rabaul was deplorable. Scanlon issued many orders some of which should have resulted in a Courts Martial. After refusing advice from junior Officers to prepare contingency plans for possible evacuation he just washed his hands of any possible action to assist his men and he then stated that’s its “It’s ever man for himself” well knowing that he would survive and why should he worry about the men. Carr was useless and did not command his Battalion as it was beyond his experience or training to know what was required of him. Many of the Junior Officers were fine men who believed that an officer has a responsibility to the men placed under their command and they deserved better from their senior commanders.

The attitude of the Chiefs of Staff and the Government is impossible to believe that at this time in history that you could just wash your hands of a body of men and women and highlights again for me the fact that never ever trust Senior Military Commanders or any Government.
The Japanese losses in the invasion were minimal with 16 killed in action and 48 wounded but the Japs did pay a heavy price in the coming years. The 144th Regiment was destroyed during the Kokoda battles
in 1943.

Just one lonely, wounded and frightened Australian Soldier who together with many of his comrades was abandoned to die and of whom we never ever learnt where and when he died. This was your Grandfather and great Grandfather and who with his comrades deserved better from his adopted homeland. If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Bita Paka war Cemetery at Rabaul you will find Freddy’s name on panel No 27 together with the names of over 2000 of his comrades who have no know grave. The these unsung heroes were sacrificed for no reason or result and we still morn so many of our young Australians who died for a political decisions over so many years. It has been suggested that I am just a bitter old man who should not keep these matters alive but I will remind you that I served in the Australian Armed Forces for over 30 years and believe that you have a responsibility as an officer to support the men under you command and history has clearly demonstrated that the men of the 23rd Brigade of the 8th Division were not well served by many senior Officers at a critical time in their battle to survive. Freddy Simpson has now faded from living memory but I am reminded that when we forget the lessons of the past then we will perpetuate these mistakes occurring again. I grew up in a dysfunctional family as did so many other Australian families due in part to the fathers being missing
with wives and mothers never ever knowing just what had happened to their men folk. All this should not have happened if our Government had acted with integrity and empathy and the Armed Forces leadership had exercised command and made provision for these contingencies.

Sources: Darkest Hour. “The True story of Lark Force at Rabaul”. Bruce Gamble. Zenith Press 2006
“We who are about to die”. Lex. Macaulay. Banner Books 2007
F C Simpson Rowville April 2011 AWM Archives

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