Little is known about the Unknown Volunteer, a RAAF airman, who lost his life as he assisted Everyman’s founder, Mr Len Buck on the Empress Star, the last ship to leave Singapore as it fell to the Japanese in 1942.
From the diaries of Len Buck, reporting from Malaya, we have some knowledge of the circumstances they found themselves in. It is a far cry from the comforts of the Everyman of today, and yet there are many similarities in the work we do.
Please keep your thoughts with the Unknown Volunteer as you read on…
On February 6th, 1942, Mr Buck reported: ” The Mobile Canteen is fitted up with an oil stove and big cupboards on one side and at the driver’s end. They are 2ft.6in., wide, in fact, wide enough to sleep on. We carry mattresses and a couple of sheets and mosquito nets. The side and back – in canvas – roll up. The tops of the cupboards, which are on the floor, form counters for serving tea. Mostly we make substantial fires and boil three kerosine tins of water and keep it going all day. We make the tea in a bucket, hot, strong, and sweet. “The best tea in Malaya” is the verdict.
I have been away, preceding convoys, feeding them with biscuits and tea; and now I am stationed at a place where I will stay for perhaps a fortnight, with the exception of a day’s run in to Singapore for supplies, mail, etc.
All day since 9am this morning my boys have been serving tea to Aussies and Englishmen, AIF, RAAF, and RAF personnel. They stay about a quarter to half an hour. Tonight, twelve of them are pulling in for the night. I have loaned my mattress and blanket. We will share our rations with them.
This morning I had a talk with a number of RAAF lads – a hard bitten lot – and gave them Scriptures, the Reason Why etc.,
The other night, at a certain place, I served tea for well over 150 and put out piles of tracts, New Testaments, and other literature. It all went. I will probably switch some gramophone music tonight into a hymn, and then an informal talk in the moonlight.
An incident that shows that God is working is clear by the following: I contacted an A.I.F. chap one day about six weeks ago. His wife was dying in Australia, and he was trying to get leave to go home. I told him I would pray for her and gave him a booklet with the Gospel clearly presented in it. Last week, he climbed off an AIF van and reintroduced himself, reminding me of the circumstances of our first meeting. He could not get leave, but told me his wife was up in a chair. He was quietly grateful and gave me from his own transport a bundle of illustrated magazines for the Canteen. This act was an illuminated address and meant more than appears on the surface. A handshake is sometimes as much as a man can “say” but what lies behind the handshake is often a Gibralter of gratitude.”
Following this report a cable was received from Mr Buck indicating that his Canteen had been destroyed, but he now had another one in use.
As the British and Australian Forces retreated down the Malayan Peninsula, Mr Buck moved with them, providing “Welfare work with a Purpose”, ministering to their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. He providentially escaped on the last ship to leave Singapore. It was ‘bombed’, his assistant, our Unknown Volunteer was killed and the Canteen damaged. Finally, he arrived in Perth WA.
He was encouraged by Christian friends, and he spoke at a Public Meeting in the Perth Town Hall. His subject: – “Twilight over Singapore”. He challenged those present with the urgency of the situation and invited Christians to Pray; and support the ministry of Campaigners for Christ through “Everyman’s Welfare Service”.
Similar Meetings were held in the Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney Town Halls to great effect, and Christians supported the work with their prayers and gifts.
We don’t know to what extent the Unknown Volunteer worked alongside Len, but we do know the heart he had to serve the people around him.
It is with the same heart that we serve those who serve Australia today. We operate with so many comforts in comparison: modern Brew Trucks, with comfortable rooftop campers for those who are out on exercise; gas or electric hot water on tap and excellent communication, even in remote areas. We still rely heavily on the prayer of our Christian supporters and the financial donations of servicemen and women, churches, ex-service organisations and individuals who understand the value of the listening ear of the Everyman.
Thank you for your support. We look forward to reconnecting this year.