Eric Harrison Germann from Buffalo N.Y. American brewer, Malayan Breweries from 11.41. Sent to Singapore to step up beer production for the troops. He was aboard the Vyner Brooke and later bayoneted through the chest on Radji Beach, but survived the massacre. He was interned at Muntok and Palembang. His description of the massacre is given below.
After the war, Eric returned to the US aboard the SS General M. M. Patrick which left Calcutta, India, on 21st October, 1945, and arrived in New York on 16th November, 1945. He gave as his address at the time: 1324 Dela Vina Street, Santa Barbara, California which may well have been his mother’s addresss. The arrival record also states that he left the US on 25th September 1941.
Eric was born on 7th October 1913 at Winnipeg, Canada. His father was Eugene J. Germann and his mother was Maria A. Gall.
On 1st May, 1923, Eric entered the United States from Canada, with just his mother, to take up permanent residence in Buffalo, New York, and he was naturalized there in 1934. The earliest notice we have of Eric appears in a Boy Scouts’ magazine where he poses a question:
From the 1925 census (below) it would appear that Eric’s father must have either died or been divorced and his mother (called Mabel on the census) had re-married a man named Franklin Wittman who lists his occupation as a “House Painter”. He may have been married and widowed as he has a daughter aged 13 who appears as Mildred on the census.
In 1931 Eric is shown with his Buffalo East High School Swim Team in the middle row far right next to the man in a suit:
On the 13th May, 1938, Eric arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, aboard the Cameronia, and he lists his address as the YMCA and his occupation as a Brewer. He returned to the US sailing from Cherbourg, France, on the SS Bremen on 28th January 1939 and he arrived in New York on 2nd February giving his address as: 266 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
ERIC GERMANN IN SINGAPORE
When Singapore was bombed and invaded by the Japanese in the middle of February, Germann boarded one of the last small boats to leave – the Vyner Brooke whose fate along with its passengers is described by Michael Pether in his essay on the ship that can be found elsewhere on this website HERE.
Pether quotes from “The Saga of Eric German” in the book ‘By Eastern Windows’ by William McDougall where German is described as a “… 31 year old brew master … he was a big, well built fellow in fantastically patched shorts and shirt which did not conceal his powerful neck, broad shoulders and slim hips. Below the shorts was a pair of well–muscled legs. …I was looking into a pair of harsh, blue–grey eyes. A scraggly, sandy coloured beard covered his face but not enough to hide a prominent jaw and a wide, but thin lipped mouth. My first impression was that I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley … the wide mouth grinned and his whole face transformed into the rugged features of a good guy…”
Pether goes on to quote from By Eastern Windows where it states that Eric boarded the Vyner Brooke on February 12th 1942 wearing “… a pair of high leather boots and a fireman’s helmet, donned while helping Singapore’s bomb-set conflagrations …”. Eric gave William McDougall a very detailed account of the voyage and events at Radji Beach whilst they were both POWs in Palembang.
The following is excerpted from the chapter in William McDougall’s By Eastern Windows titled “The Saga of Eric German”.
After the Vyner Brooke was bombed on February 14th it began filling rapidly and listing. Life belts had been issued the night before and passengers instructed that, in case of sinking, they were to descend into the water via ropes or Jacob’s ladders and wait to be picked up by lifeboats and liferafts. Germann helped lower the lifeboats and then entered the sea trying to help women struggling towards the lifeboats and rafts. There was little talking and no panic as the order was given to abandon ship, only a general uncertainty what to do.
Looking over the side Eric saw that the last boat he had helped lower had lodged directly beneath a water condenser outlet and was rapidly filling. He hopped over the rail, slithered down a Jacob’s ladder and into the boat. He loosened the drag line, allowing the boat to drift farther back and out of the outlet’s path. Then he discovered the real reason it was filled with water. Bomb fragments had holed it, as well as three other starboard lifeboats. Only their sealed, empty air tanks kept them afloat.
Women were coming over the tilting sides of the Vyner- Brooke in a steady file, lowering themselves into the sea and bobbing helplessly away with the current. Eric realized that they would be swept away from any possible assistance before the liferafts would float free. He determined to get back on deck and, despite contrary instructions, to shove off the liferafts.
He had to swim from the lifeboat to the ladder and, even with his life belt, his heavy boots dragged him under, but he made it. Eric was an expert swimmer and once ha been a lifeguard at a New York boys’ camp. Hooking one leg over the ladder’s lowest rung and with his face under-water he shucked off his life belt as being too cumbersome for movement, then unlaced and removed his boots. Descending women, still wearing their high heels, used his head as a stepping stone into the sea.
Each time he removed his face from the water to gulp air he berated the women for their inconsiderateness, “I should have saved my breath though,” he told me, “for as I began creeping up the ladder they cursed me, and just as fluently as any man. But they had a peculiar reason for swearing at me. They shrieked that I was crawling up the ladder as they came down just so I could look up their legs! “Such modesty stunned me. I wheezed myself to the rail without being able to think of a reply.”
When he reached the deck a three year old boy ‘Mischa’ Warman was thrust into his arms. “Don’t be afraid,” Eric told the child. “We’re just going to jump into the water for a nice, cool swim.” Eric held his hands over the child’s mouth and nose and jumped “… Mischa was quiet and smiling when they bobbed to the surface and they both laughed …” . He took Mischa to the nearby submerged lifeboat and handed the child to a “fat civil engineer” – a man who was later to die at the hands of the Japanese on Radji Beach. With three rafts attached to the submerged lifeboat they rowed the whole contraption to the coast near Radji Beach by about 2030 hrs that same night. About thirty survivors (First Officer Sedgeman, some soldiers, sailors nurses, civilian women and children) had reached Radji Beach earlier and lit a bonfire.
Eric sat hunched on the sand, his knees drawn up and his head between them. Despite the fire he shivered. He resolved to walk higher up the beach, find dryer sand and dig into it to escape the wind.
As he gathered his strength to move three nurses walked out of the darkness. They said a companion was lying wounded on the beach about a mile away. Would some men go and carry her in? No one responded.
“She can’t walk,” said one nurse. “Somebody must get her.”
Pretending not to hear, the watchers only stared into the fire. They were tired themselves. Eric’s head was clearing Of its dizziness. He stood up.
“Come on,” he said harshly, “who’ll go with me?”
Only one man replied, an English boy who had rowed on the same seat with Eric in the lifeboat.
“I’ll go,” he said, and left the fire.
Using two borrowed shirts and two oars, they improvised a stretcher. The English lad made a final plea.
“Won’t somebody else come and take turns carrying her?”
“To hell with you then,” he said and with Eric set off down the beach.
They found the nurse, her left breast nearly ripped off by a bomb fragment, and carried her back. Eric was so tired he nearly vomited from fatigue. He staggered higher up the beach, near the jungle edge, where lay the bones of an old fishing hut. Finding a section of woven palm leaf roofing he stuck it into the sand for a windbreak, scooped out a hollow for his body and lay down. Sleep came instantly.
The next day, Sunday, more shipwreck survivors joined the group. They spent the day foraging on the jungle edge for coconuts and pineapples and for material to make stretchers to transport the severely wounded. Malay fishermen appeared late that afternoon with bad news. Bangka was entirely in Japanese hands. The nearest food or habitation was the occupied port of Muntok. The fishermen led them along the beach to where a path emerged from the jungle. They said it was a short cut to Muntok. Sedgeman volunteered to hike into Muntok and request a Japanese military escort to give the refugees safe conduct past any hostile patrols into internment. It was agreed he should leave early next day. By nightfall there were gathered on the beach approximately 70 men, women and children, many in need of medical attention.
Sedgeman left for Muntok Monday at daybreak. Shortly after he had gone a metal lifeboat drifted ashore bearing six soldiers. One was mortally wounded, died within an hour and was buried beside the Malay. Another, named Kingsley, became the sixth stretcher case. The other five stretcher cases were Mr. Buridge, a South African, who had a bomb fragment in his kidneys; an elderly retired magistrate from Malaya named Watson, the nurse with the ripped breast and two civilian women with shrapnel wounds. [Buridge was most likely Betteridge]
About nine o’clock it was decided that the civilian women and children, led by an elderly Australian miner and two soldiers whose arm wounds prevented them from being stretcher bearers, should start along the trail. Able-bodied men and twenty-one Australian nurses would follow with the stretchers. The nurses had fashioned a Red Cross flag to carry at the head of their own procession and each of them had an identifying arm band.
Hardly had the first group disappeared when out of the same trail came Sedgeman leading ten [others say twenty] Japanese soldiers and a tiny officer wearing a long sword. [These were the troops from the two companies of the 229th Infantry division who had landed on Bangka Island the previous day. They were under the command of Captain Orita Masaru].
The officer ordered the men and women to form two lines, then barked at his men. Four soldiers took up sentry posts on the flanks of the lines. The officer surveyed the group in silence for so long that, one by one, all but eight men broke rank and resumed work on the stretchers. The officer conferred with one of his soldiers and finally, by gesturing, ordered the eight men who were still standing in line to walk down the beach. He followed with six soldiers, two of whom carried a machine gun. The four sentries remained, bayoneted rifles at ready.
The soldiers and their eight prisoners climbed over a small promontory of rocks and driftwood about two hundred feet away and disappeared. Three shots, exploding in quick succession, sounded from beyond the promontory. After a long silence another shot was heard, but muffled, as though the gun muzzle had been pressed against something soft. Then another silence. [Stoker Lloyd was the only one among this group to survive].
The stretcher workers looked apprehensively at each other but, except for a murmured “afraid they’re gone,” no one spoke.
Soon the officer and two soldiers reappeared, climbing over the rocks. They returned to the stretchers and ordered the remaining ten men to march. Chief Mate Sedgeman, the First Officer and another man, pointing to their epaulettes, protested they were officers and expected treatment appropriate to their rank. The Japanese officer shouted them down.
Germann and Sedgeman were ordered to lift the old magistrate, who had been sitting up in his stretcher, and carry him between them. Slowly the doomed prisoners walked toward the promontory. Eric suddenly grasped at a desperate straw. He stopped and called to the officer. The procession halted. From his shorts pocket Eric pulled a swollen, water soaked wallet containing his passport and $900 in twenty-dollar bills.
“I hoped the [U.S.] passport with its gold seal would impress him and he might change his mind,”
The officer studied it intently but ended by throwing it on the sand. In drawing out the passport some of the twenty-dollar bills also had come with it. Sight of them in Eric’s hand caused the officer to burst into a furious tirade. Obviously he thought Eric had tried to bribe him.
Picking up a piece of driftwood he swung it at Eric’s face. Eric warded off the blow with an upraised hand and threw the wallet and its contents after the passport.
“I won’t need the money any more,” he thought.
He and Sedgeman then picked up Magistrate Watson and labored down the beach. They had difficulty getting him over the pile of rocks and driftwood and the officer motioned them to leave the magistrate. They placed him so he was sitting leaning against a log and shook hands with the old man.
“Goodbye,” they told Watson, and climbed down the rocks onto the beach.
They were in a small cove. At the water’s edge, lying face down, sprawled the bodies of those who had gone before them. Eric saw only seven bodies. He wondered about the eighth. Remembering the first quick shots he presumed the eighth man had made a dash for the sea and been cut down by rifle fire. The last muffled shot must have been the coup de grace for some one who did not die quickly enough. The others had not been killed by bullets. That was obvious from the wound in the back of the body nearest him, the young Englishman who had helped him carry the nurse to the fire. There was a short red wound under his left shoulder blade. The instrument that had made it, and similar wounds on the other bodies, was a bayonet.
Three soldiers stood near the bodies, wiping their bayonets with rags; polishing them carefully as though anxious to have naught but the cleanest steel for the next job.
A machine gun was ready to sweep the little strip of beach should anyone attempt to run.
Eric and his companions were ordered to stand in line facing the sea. He noticed two men blindfold themselves with their handkerchiefs. He was impressed by the quietness of the entire tableau. No one spoke. He looked out over the water. The hazy sky and sea seemed especially beautiful this morning.
“What a stupid way to die,” he thought. “And what a strange ending— here in the morning sun on a strange island, far from anything familiar or any friend.”
He recalled the assortment of unusual places he had visited during a wandering life, but none more strange than this. He thought of his family— his brother and his brother’s wife and his mother. They would never know how or where he died.
Then he began to pray …
At that moment the First Officer Sedgeman, standing on the other end of the line, dashed for the sea. The machine gun chattered. He fell to one knee, rose, stumbled again as the firing continued and slumped to a halt on his right shoulder directly in front of Eric. He was dead, bleeding from a multitude of holes.
The next thing German knew he was face down in the sea and in pain — his mind was clear. It told him to lie relaxed and still as death and to let the waves bob his head. It told him that with each incoming wave his head could bob naturally and turn sideways just a fraction of a hair. On the incoming rise he could inhale slightly and quickly, like a swimmer; and, as the wave receded, exhale slightly and slowly . . . but so minutely the Japanese could detect no movement. They were shooting men who moved.
He heard noises of a man vomiting and thrashing as though his body were flopping up and down on the sand. A shot cracked. Silence.
He heard a moan almost in his own ear and felt a body writhe against him. BANG! The body lay still.
His own guts crawled and the back of his neck felt as though a rifle muzzle were breathing down it. What wind he had inside him he held, waiting for the bullet to crash into his skull. But it did not come. And did not come. AND DID NOT COME!
By playing dead successfully he might avert it altogether. He knew he might be dying from a bayonet thrust but he was unaware of pain. Metal struck against metal. Feet scuffled. Probably they were dismounting the machine gun. After that the only sounds were lapping water. However, he did not move, except for an almost imperceptible twist of his head with each wave so he could look, eventually, along the beach. He got his head around so that he could peek between his eyelids and see a southward section of the beach. No Japanese. But he could not risk their being just out of range, sitting at the jungle edge watching. Slowly, he let the waves turn his head until, after an interminable time, he could look north toward the promontory. No Japanese. But he waited. And it was well he did. Two soldiers appeared on the rocks and surveyed the cove. One of them waved a small flag, as though signaling by semaphore to where the other soldiers must be with the nurses. The Japanese disappeared.
Still Eric lay there, straining his senses to detect the slightest sound behind him. How long he waited was impossible to know. He wished he could estimate the time so as to guess whether all the soldiers reasonably could be presumed to have gone.
Finally he decided to act. He tested his legs, his hips, his arms for life and found them responsive. The moment of preparing to spring up was the tensest of his life. He suffered agonies of doubt in the time it took to gather his muscles. What if they were still there, waiting to cut him down? He took his hands away from his ribs, turned them over to press against the sand and push him upward. He counted.
‘‘One . . . two . . . three!”
And, flexing his knees beneath him, he sprang, hurling his body sideways and whirling to scan the beach. It was empty but for the dead. In the instant that his eyes flicked over there still forms one body especially stamped itself on Eric’s consciousness. The corpse of one of them was sitting upright, his sightless eyes looking out over the Straits. Eric ran up the slope into the jungle.
Thorny undergrowth cut his bare feet. He ducked back to the beach and ran south, skipping in and out of the trees and looking back to see if he had been spotted. For about a mile he ran like that until he came to a stream flowing into the sea. Turning up the stream he scrambled along until he was invisible from the beach. Then he lay on his back and rested.
After a while the pain came and he examined his wounds. The pain filled his back and chest with a dull throb. Blood oozed from a wound on his lower right chest where his hands had been clutched when he found himself lying on the beach. Reaching around he felt another wound on his back, opposite the one in front. The bayonet had gone into his back and out his chest.
He wondered why he was still alive and how long it would take to die if he were bleeding to death inside. He figured the bleeding must be mostly inside because there was surprisingly little outside. Still, if he was bleeding to death internally he would be weaker and have difficulty breathing. And he felt all right, except for the pain and fatigue. He could only wait and see what developed. He waited, lying there all day and all night, fighting mosquitoes and ants. Next morning he ventured to the jungle edge and peered out. Nothing. Crossing the stream he headed south, hoping to find a kampong—as a Malay village is called— where he could get food. He met three disconsolate survivors of another ship walking north. They said the lighthouse further south had been bombed and gutted. Eric led them north, back across the stream, to the fatal cove.
There were the bodies of his executed companions. Sedgeman it was who had moaned and writhed against him and been silenced by a bullet. The sitting corpse was still there, one leg doubled beneath him, his wide open eyes staring at the water. On the pile of rocks and driftwood, still leaning against the log where he had been placed, was the old magistrate. His skull had been bashed in. Flies buzzed around the mess that had been his head.
Eric found the nurses too. However, they had been shot, not bayoneted. The bodies he examined had single bullet holes at the base of the skulls. Rifle shots. He wondered at no evidence of machine-gunning. He presumed, from the way they were widely scattered along the water’s edge, that some bodies had floated away when the tide went out. Four bodies lay huddled in one group and three in another.
A red-haired nurse was lying higher on the beach than the others. Her skull had been crushed but the sea had washed it clean. Flies were everywhere.
The stretchers also were where they had been left and in them the patients lay staring sightlessly at the sky. Two stretchers were empty. One had been the old magistrate’s and the other the wounded soldier Stoker Kingsley’s. What had become of Kingsley? Buridge, the South African, and the three women had been bayoneted in the chest as they lay on their stretchers.
Thinking perhaps Kingsley had survived bayoneting and crawled into the jungle they searched the immediate area and called his name. No answer.
Still scattered on the beach were some of Eric’s twenty-dollar bills. He did not bother to pick them up. Of what use was money? What he needed was food.
Abandoning the search they continued north, ultimately met some Malay fishermen who gave them water but had no food to spare. Muntok was the nearest food. It was that or starve.
In Muntok Japanese soldiers received him casually and directed him to a cinema where he found the women, children and old men who had walked away from the beach Monday morning. They had met the same patrol, guided by Sedgeman, which had executed Eric’s companions.
Why had the first group been ignored and the second slaughtered? Inexplicable Japanese.
Not only did the fate of a prisoner vary according to the individual Japanese who found him/her but also according to the particular moment the Japanese found him/her. The Japanese soldier seemed to possess the personality of a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. He could be gentleman or beast with equal naturalness and facility.
Soon after Eric’s arrival refugees in the cinema were moved into Muntok Prison. There Mischa Warmen’s mother died of pneumonia, leaving her little son an orphan.
There, also, Eric learned why he had seen only seven bodies in the cove when his group arrived for execution. The eighth man, a Vyner-Brooke crew member named Lloyd, had run into the sea before the Japanese set up their machine gun. Three rifle bullets clipped him superficially but he dove, swam under water and made good his escape.
The most fantastic climax occurred when one of the Australian nurses. Miss Vivian Bullwinkle, staggered into Muntok Prison with Kingsley, the missing stretcher case.
Miss Bullwinkle was a tall, slender girl in her twenties with light brown hair and grey eyes.
Testifying at a War Crimes trial in Tokyo in 1946 she said that after slaying Eric’s group the Japanese soldiers returned from the cove polishing their bayonets. Standing in front of the nurses they unhurriedly continued the job until rifles and bayonets were scrupulously clean. Then they ordered the nurses and a civilian woman (Mrs. Buridge) to line up at the water’s edge and walk into the sea. Shots sounded.
“I saw the girls fall one after the other,” said Nurse Bullwinkle, “then I was hit.”
On 1st October 1948, Eric married Concha Milián Villatoro at a Civil Registry ceremony in the US consular office in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She was born at San Miguel, El Salvador.
Below, Eric and Concha’s Marriage Certificate:
They do not appear to have had children. Eric continued his career as a brewer in breweries in New York then outside the USA – in Ecuador in 1947 (where he married) then in Costa Rica, Puerto Rica, Spain, Rotterdam, and Nigeria. In 1974 he retired to Florida with his wife Connie – later in 1989 he was noted as ‘retired ‘ and playing badminton in Boca Raton.
Eric Germann died on 9 November 2000 at 33435, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
On 9th October, 1954, Concha Germann applied for US Naturalization shown below:
Eric’s wife had had one child prior to their marriage: Lucille (Lucy) Margaret Cohen who was born on 9 May 1936 at San Jose, Costa Rica, and who was living at the time that her mother applied for US Naturalization at 911 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington DC
We learn from various public notices too that Lucy’s father was a Dutch Jew who immigrated to the United States and worked for the State Department. He and his Salvadorian wife (Concha) were stationed for decades in San José, Costa Rica, where Lucy was born.
Below, Eric’s WW2 draft card.
Below, the daughter of Eric’s wife – Lucille Margarita Cohen:
Lucy died in 2021 and an obituary notice appeared on the Society for Applied Anthropology’s website HERE.