Kota Tinggi Mawai – Audeline Trail
You have now had an opportunity to see the existence of the World War II bunker emplacements located nearby the Mawai Eco-Camp. It is an interesting study in history to take a look at the events that occurred in this area during the war and to see how those bunkers and even the camp itself were highly involved. A series of events which saw the Japanese eventually seize control of this entire area.
Our ‘walk’ through the fresh-water jungle swamp plays a critical role in the history of the fighting to overcome these defenses as you will see.
The Allied forces (British, Australian, Indian, Malaya) realized that they were quite vulnerable to attack by the Japanese and utilized the Sedili Besar River as a natural geographical barrier to invading forces – the southern side of the river would form their natural position of defense – the enemy would have to come across the river to attack and the fresh-water jungle swamp lands located on the north side of the river would present a natural barrier to any planned assault. The installation of this line of concrete bunkers looking north across the shores of the Sedili formed the heart of the defensive system. They were intended to prevent the enemy from ever being able to clear this water obstacle without sustaining major losses. If you were to follow the river upstream you would find more of these bunkers and there may be some among you that have traveled the Kota Tinggi to Mersing Highway and have seen those along the side of that highway – they are also a part of this same line of defensive bunkers.
First let us set the scene during the latter part of 1941 and January of 1942 in this area along the banks of the river.
The first fact you should know is that at that time there was a thriving ‘kampong’ located across the river from our camp and at that time there were a lot more locals living along the river – it was not until much later – during the time of the communist insurgencies that the population of this area was actually forcefully ‘resettled’ by the British. The locals had long lived along the river and thrived with the Sedili Besar forming the main route of travel and the lifeblood of their economy. The communists utilized the jungles and particularly the fresh-water swamp areas on along the river to ‘hide’ from the British.
They would then force the locals to provide them with necessary food for them to survive in their hide-outs. As a result of this problem – as the British saw it the locals were supporting the communists – the British moved all the locals living along the river into one area – what is now the kampong of Mawai Lama. But that is another story for another time.
So during January of 1942 there would have been many locals living scattered along the banks of the river where these bunkers were then installed who were witness to these events and still tell the tales of those days.
Also during this time it is important to remember that this entire area would have been jungle – the development of oil palm plantations came much later in the history of this area. So picture this area as a much more ‘wild’ place with the jungle for the most part in its original state.
Now let’s look at how the events unfolded in the latter part of January 1942 that led to the fighting here around the Mawai Eco-camp.
Early January 1942 had seen the Japanese make an assault from the sea in the area of Malacca and Negiri Sembilan in Northern Malaya and they were quickly making great gains southward. The Allies had concentrated the majority of their defensive forces in northwest Johor State anticipating a major Japanese offensive in that area.
However on Jan. 26th the Japanese made a successful landing at Endau and immediately took Mersing and moved southwards. The defense of Mersing was in the hands of fresh troops of the 2nd and 18th Australian Infantry Battalions as they acted as rearguard for retreating Allied forces in the face of Japanese advances throughout Malaya. Fortunately the Japanese progress was ambushed 16 kilometres south of Mersing – in the area of Nithsdale estate – by the forces of the 2nd and 18th Australian Infantry Battalions. The leading battalion of Japanese forces was annihilated in this ambush and the main Japanese forces retreated and regrouped in Mersing before once again moving south.
Most Allied forces were retreating rapidly towards Singapore – the island being a natural fortress of defense.
The Australian 22nd Infantry Brigade had been assigned the defensive duties in the area of Kota Tinggi and this included the bunkers along the Sedili Besar River. These soldiers had no battle experience as they had been south of the action to date and many of them were recently arrived from Australia – raw recruits fresh from their boot camps with no jungle experience whatsoever.
Now let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these soldiers that found themselves quickly assigned to these bunkers. Soldiers with no battle experience – recently arrived in a strange country and moved into these jungle bunkers. All the while facing the prospect that attack was imminent as the Allied Forces were in complete retreat all over Malaya in the face of Japanese assault. To put this in prospective the entire withdrawal to Singapore of all Allied forces had been completed by the night of Jan.30/31st. Remember that the Japanese had landed in Endau and taken Mersing on Jan. 26th. As one of these soldiers you would have been terrified at this prospect – a strange environment and an unknown future.
The defense line along the Sedili Besar River was deemed to be quite effective due to its natural geographic advantage HOWEVER during these last few days and nights of January the Japanese forces did something that had NEVER been considered. They made their way through the fresh-water jungle swamps located on the north side of the river. Let’s remember that this would have been during the monsoon season and the ground that they trudged through would have been at its wettest point all year – meaning mud that would have been easily knee deep – heavy going for the Japanese troops moving through the area where our camp is now located.