Introduction

VX 55057 Private Hector Charles Stephens, Australian 2/29th Battalion, survived the bloody Battle of Muar River in Johore (Johor), Malaya, January 1942. Cut off behind the Japanese lines, Hec and a few companions hid in the jungle for many months, trying to make contact with sympathetic Chinese guerrillas.

By May 1943, only Hec and four others were still alive. Then the group met guerrillas sent out from their camp at Kampung Tengkil, near Kota Tinggi. By this stage, Hec was so ill from beri-beri and other illnesses that he could not walk. Four guerrillas carried him on a stretcher along with the cooking pots and pans.

Hec died within a few miles of Kampung Tengkil, where medical help was available. He was buried beside the track in the vicinity of Kuala Sisek. He was 31 years old. Hec's family knew very little about his fate until 50 years later.

This website is a small tribute to Hec and to the people of the Kota Tinggi district who helped him so many years ago.

The photograph on the front page of the website was taken in 1941 and presented to Hec by the citizens of Mount Eccles South, Gippsland, Victoria. Hec taught at Mount Eccles South primary school in 1941, before going off to war.

David Hector Stephens
Hec's nephew
31 May 2010

Donation to Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) (Chinese national type primary school) New Kota, Kota Tinggi, Johor, Malaysia, in memory of Hec and the people who helped him

letter to His Excellency Dato Salman Ahmad, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Australia, proposing donation;

letter to Lion Leow Kuow Yeong, Zone 22 Chairperson, International Association of Lions Clubs, who presented the donation on behalf of the Stephens family;

letter to Ms Chua Cheng Khiang, Headmistress, SJK (C) New Kota, containing the donation;

the presentation certificate accompanying the donation;

photographs of the presentation on 1st October 2010.

Ms Chua, Headmistress of the school, emailed us to thank us for the donation: 'I would like to extend my gratitude to you and your family for the donations of $A1200 to my school on behalf of all my staff and pupils. Rest assured that I will use the donations to buy books and other teaching aids for the pupils. For your information, SJK(C) New Kota is situated in a village of Kota Tinggi, approximately 10 kilometers from Kuala Sisek [where Hec died and is buried]. It's a small school with 625 pupils and 37 teachers.'

In turn, we would like to thank Ms Chua, wish her and her students and the Board of Directors of SJK(C) all the best for a prosperous and peaceful future, and thank also Lion Leow Kuow Yeong and the Lions of Kota Tinggi.

Eulogy by Hec's brother, John Stephens, 1994

This tribute gives more background on Hec's early life, his final letter written on the eve of the Muar battle, reminiscences of Jim Wright, the British soldier who survived the ordeal to tell the story, and a poem by Hec's older brother Bill. The eulogy was available for many years on Carolyn Harris's Talltrees family history website http://members.westnet.com.au/talltrees/Eulogy/Eulogy.htmland is reproduced here with her permission.

Hec's military record

Publicly available in the National Archives collection. Includes Hec's 'mug shots' when he signed up and correspondence relating to the precise date on which Hec died. (No-one knows for sure.)

Commonwealth War Graves advice to Hec's late father, 1968

This postcard was returned from TG Stephens's address at Beeac. TG had died in 1953. Apparently, 25 years after a soldier's death the War Graves Commission sent a formal note to the family that any search for a soldier's grave had been abandoned.

Photographs taken in 2009 by David Stephens

These photographs track what we know of the route taken in March-May 1943 by Hec's party. The landscape is very different now: oil palms have replaced rubber trees and a lot of the jungle has gone.

Painting completed in 2009 by David Stephens

The painting (unframed, acrylic and oil on board 700mm x 900mm) shows Hec, bearded as he was in 1942-43, and a Chinese guerrilla. The background of the painting is a representation of Hec's final journey. The words are from his brother John's poem included in the Eulogy above.

Map

A map showing the approximate route taken by Hec's party in March-May 1943 can be found here.


References

Christie, RW, & Christie, Robert, ed.
A history of the 2/29th Battalion - 8th Australian Division AIF, 2/29th Battalian AIF Association, [Malvern, Vic], 1983

Hamond, Robert
A fearful freedom, Leo Cooper and Secker & Warburg, London, 1984

Lack, John
No lost battalion: An oral history of the 2/29th Battalion AIF, Slouch Hat Publications in association with the 2/29th Battalion AIF Association Inc., McCrae, Vic, 2005

Silver, Lynette
The bridge at Parit Sulong: An investigation of mass murder, Watermark Press, Boorowa, NSW, 2004

Links

Using the material on this website

You are welcome to use any of the material on this website, with acknowledgement.

Contact

Dr David Stephens
104 Jaeger Circuit
Bruce ACT 2617
Australia
clamshred@ozemail.com.au ; 61 2 6251 5842; 0413 867 972

Web design by Christine Chappell http://www.christinechappell.com.au

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