“My mate and I looked sideways at each other,” he recalled. “We were basically Sunday school boys. We had no idea how we were going to learn to kill people.”
However, on September 2, 1943, Berryman, now a fully trained commando, sailed north from Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, in the 70ft Krait, a former Japanese fishing vessel, with seven other British and Australian commandos from the army and the navy, and six crew.
Only once at sea did Lyon tell them that they were off to Singapore, some 3500 miles away, “to blow up a few ships”.
Berryman knew that the Japanese did not have a reputation for treating prisoners well, but, he said, “we were young ones, we thought we were indestructible, just like they do today”. Lyon maintained moral by insisting: “this isn’t dangerous, it’s exciting”.
“Still,” recalled Berryman, “I think if we had known earlier, some of us may not have volunteered. There were definitely times we thought, ‘what the hell are we doing here? We’re getting five bob a day for this?’ ”
The two-week voyage through Japanese-occupied waters was uncomfortable. They flew the Japanese flag and posed as Malay fishermen, wearing sarongs and constantly applying foul-smelling brown dye to their skin. Berryman spent much time at the top of the mast with binoculars looking out for other craft, which would be given a wide berth. When a Japanese float plane flew over, members of Z Force would wave and stand in a circle pretending to unpick fishing lines.
On September 18, Krait arrived off Singapore, which was ablaze with lights and where the Japanese thought themselves safe, and offloaded six commandos in three two-man canoes. Much to their disappointment, Berryman and Marsh were told to stay behind. “Of course, we put on a bit of a turn – ‘we’ve done all the training, sir, why can’t we be in it?’ – and he said, ‘nope, you two are going to be babysitters and look after Krait’ ”.
The canoeists established a base in a cave on a small island, and on the night of September 26, they paddled into the harbour to attached limpet mines to seven vessels, sinking or damaging 37,000 tons of shipping.
However, when Krait reached its rendezvous, the island of Pompong, 50 miles off Singapore, on the night of October 1-2, only one canoe was found. Lyon had told Krait to leave that night no matter what – but “being good old Australians, we decided we’d break the law and go back in two nights later”, when the other two canoes were recovered.
On the return voyage, a few minutes to midnight on October 11, a Japanese patrol boat intercepted Krait in the Lombok Strait. As Berryman crouched low with his Bren gun trained on the warship, Lyon, who had packed Krait’s bows with high explosive, prepared a suicide ramming which would have destroyed both vessels. After the longest 15 minutes of Berryman’s life, the warship drew away without switching on a searchlight or hailing Krait. “It was pure luck,” said Berryman.
Krait entered Exmouth Bay after a 48-day mission. Berryman was mentioned in despatches for gallantry, skill and devotion to duty in a hazardous enterprise.
When, later in 1943, Lyon asked Berryman whether he would care to return to Singapore as part of a larger, repeat mission, he carefully considered the proposal for two seconds before declining. All members of Operation Rimau were killed in action or executed by the Japanese.
Instead, Berryman completed his war service in the destroyer HMAS Vendetta, and was demobbed in February 1946.
Mostyn Berryman was born at Kent Town, South Australia, on November 9, 1923, and was brought up a Methodist. His father had fought as a teenaged signaller in the Australia Imperial Force on the Western Front in World War I.
Postwar, Berryman returned to the stockbrokers S C Ward & Co, where he had been a clerk, and remained there until his retirement 46 years later.
Berryman was aboard Krait when she entered Sydney in 1964 to become a museum ship, and in 1993, on the 50th anniversary of Operation Jaywick, he met Lyon’s son – “the spitting image of his father” – at Kranji War Cemetery. Lyon’s French wife, Gabrielle Bouvier, and their baby son, had spent the war in Japanese internment camps, and together Berryman and the son cried over the fact that the son had never met his heroic father.
For many years, Berryman was owed the five-bob-a-day danger money which he had been promised, and which the government topped up to $5000. The Krait is now moored at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
Operation Jaywick, one of the most successful clandestine raids in Australian history, left a bitter aftermath. Lyon had intended that Jaywick be publicised to rattle the Japanese and boost Allied morale, but senior commanders decided against this as they wished to conduct similar raids in the future.
Not having the slightest idea of how the attack had been mounted, the Japanese inflicted savage reprisals on Singaporeans, whom they suspected of aiding the attack. “Sometimes,” a troubled Berryman mused in later life, “I feel that we shouldn’t have done it because they murdered untold numbers of people trying to find out who did.”
He married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Cant, who predeceased him in 2018, and he is survived by their four daughters.
The Telegraph, London