Remembering Bob ‘Flash’ Clayton

Former Ramara Township resident and veteran ‘Flash’ Clayton passed away in February of 2015. Prior to his death, he shared stories about his wartime experiences with The Memory Project. The following is a transcript of that interview:

My name is Bob ‘Flash’ Clayton. Flash was a nickname given to me when I went into the Army. I joined the Queen’s York Rangers in 1937, the militia. I was 15 years old.

When I got my first pay, and it was 20 dollars a month, and I thought, “Boy, oh, boy, what am I gonna do with this?” And then I discovered girls and beer.

They said we could join the RCRs, Royal Canadian Regiment, and they were going to go overseas right away, so I joined the RCRs. And I went to Valcartier [Quebec] camp the summer of 1939, and while I was there my mother wrote a letter and told the Colonel how old I was. I was sent to London, Ontario, to what we called Boystown. All the young fellows were sent there until they got old enough to go overseas.

In September of 1940, I was transferred to the Royal Rifles of Canada. I was made a Sergeant. In October of 1941, we were on our way to Hong Kong. We picked up a 132 men in Toronto and some of them had only been in the Army three weeks. Our regiment was split up – they were all over the island. We weren’t together to fight as a regiment. It was companies here and platoons here and so on and so forth.

I still happened to be in the barracks on that morning, one of the recruits come running in and said, “Hey, Sarge, come out and look at all the airplanes.” And the next thing I know we were being bombed in the barracks and we got out of there. But that’s a terrible thing – still training recruits.

Where we were on the island was Lai Moon [Lei Yue Mun] Fort, and the British figured out that the Japanese were going to come in from the sea. The British had what they called the gin-drinkers’ line and it was on the Kowloon [north] side, up at the border, and it was supposed to last for weeks and weeks: it fell in one night. The Japanese landed. On our left flank, only about 300 yards away, were a thousand Raj Patani [British Indian] soldiers. And that’s where the brunt of the Japanese hit. And they ceased to exist in three hours. Then they turned and came our way and we had a hell of a time that night holding them. But our Major Bishop was something else. He was a soldier from the First World War. He kept walking up and down the road and he’d say, “Now don’t fire. They don’t know where you are.”

Then the strangest thing happened: he said, “Quiet, quiet.” All of a sudden we hear, from the side of the hill, and this voice: “Come to us and surrender. Come to us, we will treat you well.” I’ll never forget it.

Major Bishop says, “Now, look. Just figure out where that voice is coming from.” There was 120 of us laying there at the side of the road. “Figure out where he’s coming from, and when I fire, you fire at that son of a bitch.” Well, I don’t know if we killed him or not, but he never spoke again. Japanese tried to dislodge us and Major Bishop called in artillery fire. And they just covered the whole side of that hill and, I guess, if it hadn’t a been for him that night, I think we would’ve been wiped out.

I got wounded on the 16th of December in mortar fire from the mainland. The Japanese hadn’t landed yet. And that night, early in the fighting, I got wounded with a bullet. And then later on with a hand grenade. And I was picked up and taken to a pillbox and put in there. While I was in there, the orderly cut my pants off up to the thigh and I was hit in both legs. He put bandages on and everything, and then they started to get cold and I was swaying and I said, “Take my pants down and see if I’m hit anyplace else.”

He said, “If you are, Sarge, I can’t help you.” He said, “I’m not going to take your pants down.” But I was going into shock and I didn’t realize that. Things started to get real bad outside. Things got really bad. I thought they were going to get inside anytime. The bullets were just raining off the side of this thick. Major Bishop called in to the Colonel and said, “We have to get out of here, Colonel. They have all the high ground. We counter-attacked and we can’t do anything. We’re holding them, but when it comes daybreak we’ll be finished.”

The next thing I know, they’re all going up the road. So I thought, “Holy Jesus, I’m in a bad spot here.” And I done something wrong, I took the hand grenade, and I pulled the pin out of it, and I threw the pin away and I was going to put it on my chest and just let the lever go. And I thought, well, this is a cowardly thing to do, so thought I’ll wait ’til some of these bastards come in and I’ll take some with me.

And I waited, and I must have waited fifteen or twenty minutes and the next thing, the door opened and Lieutenant Scott came in. And he said, “Christ, Sergeant, I was away up the road.” And this is black at night, Japs all around. And he said, “I got up and they said, ‘Has anybody bring Clayton out?'” And nobody knew anything about it and he came down that road himself and put me on his back and we’re going out the door, and I said, “Sir, I’ll never forget this.” And of course, he never noticed the grenade, and he said, “Sarge, we’ll have a drink on it someday.” And I said, “I’ll look forward to that.”

And… and it didn’t happen. He was captured and he was bayoneted.

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