Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Roland Smith

Roland Smith : Photograph of Roland from the Oldham Evening Chronicle, 15th January 1944.  Held in Oldham Local Studies and Archives.

Photograph of Roland from the Oldham Evening Chronicle, 15th January 1944. Held in Oldham Local Studies and Archives.

Roland Smith : (L to R) 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

Roland was born on the 6th May 1923. His father was called Charles and his mother was Hilda. We don't know whether he had any brothers or sisters. We believe he grew up living at 31 Manchester Road in Mossley, Lancashire.

Charles worked as a plasterer, but his son didn't follow in his footsteps. Roland joined the Manchester Regiment on the 2nd October 1937. At this time the Army recruited boys from the age of 14 to serve as drummers, buglers and trumpeters. He was given the service number 3529490. He would be classed as a 'Boy' until his 18th birthday.

During this time Roland would have had music lessons and a more general education, as well as military training. He was kept under stricter supervision than adult soldiers. After 3 months of training at the Regimental Depot in Ladysmith Barracks, Ashton-under-Lyne, Roland was sent to join the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. They were based at Moascar in Egypt until the 14th January 1938, and then they went on active service.

A rebellion had broken out amongst several of the Arab tribes living in neighbouring Palestine, and the British needed more soldiers to bring it under control.

The 1st Battalion were moved into Palestine on the 14th January 1938. They were based in the area around the city of Acre. Their roles were to search for gangs of rebels, to patrol the countryside and to guard important areas against attack.

After serving in Palestine the 1st Battalion moved to Singapore on the 23rd September 1938. They began to build defences and train to resist an invasion. The battalion was a mechanised machine gun battalion, which used the Vickers Machine Gun to support infantry units. Their main role was to man pillboxes on the beaches of the island to defend against an enemy landing.

We believe Roland was a member of 16 Platoon. This unit was part of Headquarters Company. We believe he was still a member of the Band.

The Japanese invaded Malaya on the 8th December 1941, and by the 27th January 1942 the British had been forced back onto the island of Singapore. The island was constantly bombed, and as the Japanese closed in their position became hopeless. The British garrison surrendered on the 15th February and Roland became a Prisoner of War (POW).

The 1st Battalion was originally held in Changi Prison in eastern Singapore along with tens of thousands of other Allied POWs.

Throughout the war many thousands of POWs were taken from Changi to Thailand and Burma. They were then put to work building the Burma railway for the Japanese. This did not happen to Roland. He stayed in Changi throughout the war.

Conditions in Changi were far from pleasant. The camp was overcrowded and there were shortages of food and medical supplies. However the POWs held there were able to stay fairly healthy. Roland was not exposed to the tropical diseases, hard work and brutality that killed so many POWs in the Burmese and Thai jungle. POWs who worked on the railway thought of Changi as relatively pleasant in comparison.

Hilda received a letter from Roland on her birthday in around January 1944. This was 'the first time in two years' that she had heard from him. This news was reported in the Oldham Evening Chronicle newspaper on the 15th January 1944. At this time Hilda's surname was Chadwick. She lived at 4 House, 1 Court on Beech Street in Oldham. We don't know when she remarried or what had happened to Charles.

The POWs were freed in early September 1945 when the Allies landed in Singapore and the Japanese surrendered. Most of them were suffering from malnutrition and many had caught diseases.

Roland was returned to the UK at some point over the next few months. He was discharged on the 30th April 1946 and returned to civilian life.

We don't know much about the rest of Roland's life. He married a woman named Joyce, and in later life became involved with the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association. He attended the opening of the new Museum of the Manchester Regiment in Ashton-under-Lyne Town Hall on the 14th April 1987.

Roland died in Oldham in July 1995, aged 72. He was one of more than 15 members of the OCA to die that year, in 'one of the worst known [obituary lists] for some years now'.

Roland's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in June 2000. He was also awarded the General Service Medal 1918-62 with 'Palestine' clasp for his Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council