Harold Speed was born on 25th December 1918 in Radcliffe on Trent, the youngest son of Herbert Speed, who had served in the RAF during WW1, and Ciss Buxton. He had 3 sisters, Lily born 1898, Mary E born 1900, Ethel born 1909, and 3 brothers Henry David born 1901, George Herbert born 1903 and Francis Walter born 1905.
Harold was a keen member of the Nottingham Sphere Cyclists Club. In 1939 he lived with his parents on Palin Row, Radcliffe on Trent and was employed as a joiners labourer, his father was a Millers Drayman.
He enlisted as a Bombardier, Royal Artillery 155 Field Regiment (Lanarkshire Yeomanry), Service no 948483
The 155th (Lanarkshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment R.A. arrived in Malaya in October 1941 and soon found themselves in the north west of the country in the middle of dense rubber plantations.
For some time the Japanese had adopted a threatening approach to their neighbours in the Far East and had set their eyes on Malaya with its rich natural resources. Despite this, little meaningful attention had been given by the British in recent years to provide military protection for the country and with Britain fully stretched in the Middle East, Malaya was not top of its priorities. This merely served to give the Japanese more encouragement and in December 1941, they landed at Kota Bharu on the north cast of Malaya and at the same time made a strike through supposedly neutral Thailand. This was not wholly unexpected as the British had developed a plan – ‘Matador’ – to meet just such an eventuality and the 11th Indian Division – of which the 155th was part – was central to it.
The intention was to make a pre-emptive strike into Thailand in the event of a Japanese invasion but as a result of the ineptitude of the British High Command, the 11th Indian Division were not deployed in the attack but were left in a state of uncertainty as to their role. As a result, few defensive measures had been taken by the British other than stretching barbed wire across roads.
Thereafter, the conclusion arrived at by senior military planners was that the Japanese would have to keep to the roads as the surrounding jungle was impassable. Sadly, the Imperial Japanese Army, highly experienced after years of bitter fighting in China did not oblige and as well as driving their tanks down the main road to Jitra, irrespective of barbed wire, they also encircled the Allied defence by coming through the dense undergrowth and paddy fields.
Defending Jitra were various units of the 11th Indian Division including the Punjabis, the East Surreys and the Leicesters, supported by the artillery of the 155th Field Regiment. The Punjabis were first to meet the expected onslaught and were overwhelmed by the presence of Japanese tanks. The Allied troops also had little or no protection from the Japanese dive bombers as the outdated planes of the RAF, including lumbering Brewster Buffaloes which were nicknamed the ‘flying cigars’, were quickly shot from the skies by the powerful Zero fighter planes of the Japanese. And, whereas the Japanese arrived with hundreds of tanks, the Allied forces had not one single tank. There was to be little respite for the men of the 155th. Their next defensive position was at Slim River and again the Japanese used their powerful tank advantage to great effect.
However, as the historian Stanley Falk recounts in his book; ‘Seventy Days to Singapore’, they had not counted on the stubbornness and tenacity of the 155th.
“Finally, two miles below the bridge, at about 9.30 am, they met their match: a regiment of field artillery (the 155th) moving forward to support the Gurkhas of the 28th Brigade. The Japanese overran part of the surprised artillery column; but then a Howitzer detachment got its 4.5″ piece into action. At a range of only thirty yards, it knocked out the leading tank and impressed upon the others the wisdom of withdrawal.”
Thereafter there were to be several other encounters involving the 155th but by February they were on Singapore Island holding a defensive position on the Woodlands Estate, east of the causeway from the mainland. And despite an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the causeway and so disrupt the Japanese advance, the enemy were soon to be on the Island itself. By this time, the Military position for the Allied forces was impossible and, on 15th February, they were ordered by their command to surrender.
And so the men of the 155th, and many thousands of other British and Commonwealth troops, were handed over to the enemy.For the next three and a half years as POWs they would suffer, and die, in horrendous conditions.
After the initial move to Changi, most of the men from the 155th were deployed to various camps in Singapore and worked on a variety of projects including clearing the ‘go-downs’ at the docks and building a road at Bukit Timah for the Memorial to the Japanese dead.
Thereafter, beginning October 1942, the men were moved further afield. One group was moved to work on the Burma – Thailand Railway to work on the bridge at Tamarkan. Another group of around 250 was taken to Taiwan on the hell ship the ‘England Mam’ where they worked in the infamous Kinkaseki Copper Mine. In November yet another group was sent to work on the Railway, on laying the line.
In early 1943, of those men of the 155th remaining in Changi, smaller groups formed part of ‘F Force’, sent to work on the Railway. Another small group was sent to Japan to work in a coal mine in Kyushu. Those who were too ill or had been seriously wounded, remained in Changi for the duration of the War. As time wore on, many men from the Regiment were moved from their particular area of captivity to Japan to work in the factories and mines there for the duration of the war.
More men died as POWs than fell in action.
Information courtesy of Lanarkshire Yeomanry 155th Field Regiment
We do not know to which camp Harold was sent though some records suggest Taiwan.
He died on 11th May 1944 and is buried in Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery, North Hong Kong