2/19th Battalion, 22nd Brigade, 8th Division
CHARLES GROVES WRIGHT ANDERSON was born at Cape Town, South Africa, on 12 February 1897. Little is known of his early childhood or life before the First World War.
On 13 October 1916 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles and fought with its 3rd Battalion in German East Africa against the German-led Askari native troops. For his gallantry in this campaign he was awarded the Military Cross.
Further, he gained valuable jungle warfare experience which was of considerable value to him and with the knowledge he gained post-war as a big-game hunter enhanced his ability and capacity to train 2/19 Battalion in jungle warfare in Malaya as he prepared it for operations in 1941-42 during the Second World War.
Anderson married Edith M. Tout on 21 February 1931 and in 1934 he purchased a grazing property near Crowther, New South Wales, and moved with his wife from Africa to Australia. On 3 March 1939 he joined the Citizen Military Forces and was appointed a Captain in the 56th Battalion (Riverina Regiment). He was promoted to Major on 26 October and on 1 July 1940 was seconded to the AIF as Second-in-Command of 2/19th Battalion when the unit was formed at Wallgrove, New South Wales, in late July. After unit training at Wallgrove, Ingleburn and Bathurst, 2/19th Battalion, 22 Australian Infantry Brigade, of the ill-fated 8th Australian Division embarked for Malaya on board the Queen Mary in February 1941 On 1 August 1941 Major Anderson was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed to command 2/19th Battalion.
Lieutenant Colonel CGW Anderson MC was awarded a Victoria Cross for his gallantry and personal bravery during operations against the Japanese in Malaya during the period 18-22 January 1942. In mid-January in the Muar River area the left flank of Westforce began to crumble when the Japanese Guards Division, which had joined the Japanese 5th Division in western Malaya, attacked the inexperienced 45th Indian Brigade. The Japanese Guards crossed the Muar River and pressed on towards Bakri, situated at a junction on the road to Yong Peng. There it encountered the 2/29th Battalion, which had reinforced the 45th Indian Brigade.
Anderson’s 2/19th Battalion, sent from Eastforce, arrived at Bakri on the morning of 18 January to further reinforce the Indian 45th Brigade. 2/19th Battalion soon became engaged with the Japanese who had come in at the rear of 2/29th Battalion. At about 10:00am on 19 January, the Headquarters of the 45th Indian Brigade was bombed, incapacitating Brigadier HC Duncan, the Brigade Commander, who with his Brigade Major were the only survivors of the Brigade Headquarters staff.
Anderson then took command of the 45th Indian Brigade which had one Indian Battalion isolated and two other Indian Battalions in disorder at Bakri all of which had suffered heavy casualties. He waited until the afternoon before withdrawing 2/29th Battalion into the Bakri perimeter, by which time 200 men of the isolated Battalion had reached Australian lines. During this period, both the 2/19th Battalion and the remnants of 2/29th Battalion were heavily engaged with the Japanese units which moved behind Bakri and blocked the road back to Yong Peng.
On the morning of 20 January Anderson began a fighting withdrawal to a vital bridge across the Simpang Kiri River at the village of Parit Sulong on the road to Yong Peng. The leading Company broke through a Japanese blocking force, but the main body of the Australian and Indian force was still hemmed in and vulnerable to air attack. Another Company went into the attack singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with Anderson himself leading the final attack. He personally put two machine-gun posts out of action with grenades and shot two Japanese with his pistol.
Further on Anderson’s force encountered another roadblock and the Japanese, following close behind the Australian and Indian column, pressed the rearguard until a counter-attack was launched in which Brigadier Duncan was killed. Meanwhile Anderson, with the advance guard, organized a three-company attack which put the enemy to flight. That night Anderson learnt that the Japanese were occupying Parit Sulong and his force was isolated.
On 21 January Anderson’s Force closed up to the strong Japanese defences forward of and around Parit Sulong. They attacked, but had gained only a few hundred metres by nightfall. Anderson’s force now had many wounded and its artillery and mortar ammunition was almost exhausted.
A Battalion of the Loyals was ordered to launch a relieving attack but this was delayed and eventually abandoned on 22 January. Early that morning Japanese tanks broke into the perimeter of Anderson’s force from its rear, but were stopped by gunfire. The isolated force was bombed from the air and shelled by artillery, as it had been throughout its withdrawal. At 9:00am Anderson ordered that his vehicles and guns were to be destroyed and the men to withdraw eastward in small parties.
Anderson’s force had done all that could reasonably have been expected, but their losses were heavy. The 45th Indian Brigade had been decimated, and the two Australian battalions had suffered heavily. Of the 2/19th Battalion only 271 men reached Yong Peng, of the 2/29th Battalion only 130.
The Citation for Lieutenant Colonel Anderson’s award of a Victoria Cross reads:
THE KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Groves Wright ANDERSON MC, Australian Military Forces.
CITATION OF AWARD
During the operations in Malaya from the 18th to 22nd January 1942, Lieutenant Colonel ANDERSON, in command of a small Force, was sent to restore a vital position and to assist a Brigade. His Force destroyed ten enemy tanks. When later cut off, he defeated persistent attacks on his position from air and ground forces and forced his way through enemy lines to a depth of fifteen miles. He was again surrounded and subjected to very heavy and frequent attacks resulting in severe casualties to his Force. He personally led an attack with great gallantry on the enemy who were holding a bridge, and succeeded in destroying four guns. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson throughout all this fighting, protected his wounded and refused to leave them.
He obtained news by wireless of the enemy position and attempted to fight his way back through the eight miles of enemy occupied country. This proved to be impossible and the enemy were holding too strong a position for any attempt to be made to relieve him.
On the 19th January, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson was ordered to destroy his equipment and make his way back as best he could round the enemy position.
Throughout the fighting, which lasted for four days, he set a magnificent example of brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage. He not only showed fighting qualities of a very high order but throughout exposed himself to danger without any regard to his own personal safety.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Groves Wright Anderson was the highest ranked Australian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross. On 15 February 1942 Anderson was taken into captivity when British forces in Malaya were ordered to surrender. Not knowing he had been awarded the Victoria Cross, Anderson spent the remainder of the Second World War as a prisoner of the Japanese. He was released in August 1945 and repatriated to Australia where his AIF appointment was terminated on 21 December 1945.
He was invested with the Victoria Cross by the Governor-General of Australia, the Duke of Gloucester, at Sydney on 8 January 1947.
Anderson returned to his property after the war, and in the general election of 1949 he was elected to the House of Representatives as Country Party member for Hume, New South Wales. He was defeated in 1951, regained the seat in the 1955 elections, retained it in 1958, but was again defeated in December 1961. From 10 April 1957 until his defeat he served as a member of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. During his closing years Anderson lived in Red Hill, Australian Capital Territory.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Grove Wright Anderson VC, MC died on 11 November, 1988 and was survived by his two daughters and twin sons.
His Victoria Cross is displayed in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT.