1941, Monday 13 January;
It was the seventh weekly meeting of the General War Council, they’d met the Monday between Christmas and New Year, for a short meeting, but were back to the full morning, the Monday afterwards. It was the same format, an executive first then the full council later in the morning. Caldecott had settled back into Singapore life, almost as if he’d never been away, he had such an easy manner with everyone, but still managed to get things done. Layton was the old hand now, five months into it, while Gort, Park and Percival were still trying to get use to the climate. Nevertheless, this format of governance seemed to work well. The Executive meeting just between the five of them and the Secretary, meeting earlier, helped smooth over conflicts of interest within the services and with civil government.
Today, after quite a few minor items of mundane business earlier on the agenda, the War Council had moved to the main item of business, discussing the FMSR (Federated Malay States Railways), and agreeing some changes to be put in place. This was due to it becoming a prominent concern, following the closure of the main line for two days in December, south of Ipoh, caused by a landslide brought on by heavy rains. It had help focus their minds on the vulnerability of the railway as both Gort and Park had been on a train stuck for several hours waiting for the FMSR to back the trains into stations, allowing them to get off, and journey on by car. A previous council had been discussing this, and a couple of sub committees, one headed by the General Manager of the FMSR, and a second by a Colonel of Royal Engineers, had been formed to discuss requirements and capabilities, they had reported back, and there were a number of points that they had agreed could be improved.
Chairman Andrew Caldecott sat in middle of the table, Grimwood to his left. “So, to summarise, One, I will work on providing laws allowing the militarisation of the FMSR to happen quickly in time of war. Two, provide additional funding for the FMSR, partly by directing more monies into their Railways Renewal Fund and Capital account, and secondly directly paying for FMSR rail related imports from Canada from the main Malaya War Fund Account, this will effectively more than double the annual budget. Three, through this council the Food Controller, Director of Public Works Dept and the Director of the Harbours Board Council will provide details of what expansions and improvements they would most desire.
Caldecott looked down the table at the FMSR GM, Leslie Smart, who took a great swallow and continued the summary in a somewhat hesitant voice. “Firstly, the err, FMSR will work with both the military and civilian authorities on planning and implementing the upgrading and developing some parts of the network for things like passing loops, extra sidings, expansion of the rail yards, and increased storage both in warehousing and open yards. This will include sites identified for significant military expansion, or key strategic sites”. He stopped and sipped from a glass of water, before carrying on.
“Secondly, the current rail track maintenance company will be expanded into three, based at Sentul (Kuala Lumpur), Prai (Province Wellesley), and Gemas (Negeri Sembilan), equipped to make major improvements and repair to rail lines, bridges and other rail infrastructure.
Thirdly, at the Sentul Railway Works, to construct new rail stock for military use, especially more flatbed wagons for vehicles, some extra-long flatbed wagons for aircraft. Also more carriages with be adapted for troop transportation, and the conversation of two steam engines into armored trains for specific military use.”
And lastly, all orders placed from Canada for rails, wheels and axles, rail cranes, and numerous other steel items required for new rail stock, will be done via the Governor’s Office”. Smart stopped talking, relief that his part was over, excited about what was being agreed for his FMSR, but still somewhat in awe of some of his fellow councilors.
Lord Gort cleared his voice, and began “I will ensure a coordinated military command to manage rail transportation and upkeep of rail network, in time of war, for all three services is formed. In addition, I will provide funds for the raising of a Volunteer Railway Regt RE, from the rail workers in Malaya”.
Eyes now turned to Vice Admiral Layton. “My office will detail what improvements we would desire to the rail network in relation to the Naval Base at Singapore, as well as other stations at Port Swettenham and Penang. I will also provide appropriate guns to be fitted to rolling stock attached to armoured trains”.
Air Vice Marshal Keith Park was next “My command will provide details on wanted expansion of railways to service both current and planned airfields, we will also provide advice and guidance on transportation of aircraft by rail”.
The eyes now turned-on Lt Gen Arthur Percival, “My command will firstly, provide detachments of troops to work with the armoured trains when they are converted. And secondly, provide troops to guard strategic points of the rail network in times of war, we also will provide details of wanted railway expansion to service enlarged or new army camps”.
Andrew looked around at the rest of the council, and satisfied that all were in agreement, said “That’s agreed then, my secretary will have copies typed up and sent out to each of you by close of play today. OK there are no other items left on the agenda, and I’ve had no notice of any other business, so I shall call a closure to the meeting, apologies we have run over, but I’m sure you all agreed the business had to be concluded. Now gentlemen, as I promised at the start of the meeting, and partly in anticipation that we would run over, I have a luncheon laid on for everybody, if you just follow my steward through the main doors, he’ll lead you all to the dining room. Ah Leslie, might I have a moment of your time please”
The GM of the FMSR stood by his chair, concern on his face, and nodded worryingly to Caldicott, as the others filed out of the room. Caldicott put an arm round his shoulder, “Well done Leslie old boy, piece of cake wasn’t it, just like I said it would be. Now let me give you a piece of advice. When we are talking about the FMSR, its capability, network, workshops, engines or whatever, don’t be afraid to say what you think, you are the expert here, and if you disagree with some staff officer from so and so’s command say so. Don’t allow yourself to be, excuse the pun, railroaded into an agreement that you can’t fulfill. And if asked a question, and you don’t know, don’t bullshit these people, be honest and say so, but make sure you know next time, and in good detail. I think in the coming months and indeed the next couple of years, you and your railway are going to be a vital piece in the jigsaw of Malaya’s defence”.
I have a question, are you also including on the war between France and Thailand at this time? If you didn't know here is a link where you can learn more about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Thai_War?wprov=sfla1
The reason is because here in the real timeline the British started to see that they have problems up North.