James Devine Scotland Singapore

Biography of James Devine

James Devine was a Graduate in Arts from the University of Glasgow and later the Universities of Oxford and St. Andrews. During the Second World War, James served with the 2nd Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders and died in captivity on Singapore Island in 1942.

James Devine, known as ‘Hamish’, was born in Elgin in 1913. He moved with his family to Brisbane Street in Greenock and graduated MA (Arts) from the University of Glasgow in 1936, taking honours exams in Logic and Moral Philosophy. He achieved further qualifications from both Oxford and St Andrews, the latter being a Bachelor of Divinity.

Devine was conscripted into the Army in August 1940. After basic training, he was posted to 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders, which had been in Singapore since 1937. He disembarked on 15 May 1941 and found himself assigned to ‘D’ Company.

On 7 December 1941, war broke out in the Far East. Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, bombed Hong Kong and Singapore, and invaded Malaya. The 2nd Gordons were committed to battle on mainland Malaya on 26 January 1942. Devine had by now been promoted to Lance Corporal. He and the rest of the Battalion dug in on either side of a highway in rubber plantations, with swampland to their front. Over the course of the day, the Gordons repulsed numerous fierce Japanese attacks, sustaining 7 killed, 13 wounded and 38 missing. The Battalion was then ordered to withdraw to new positions.

Two days later, 2nd Gordons successfully fought off further determined Japanese efforts to break through the Allied front line, before retiring to new positions. By the morning of 31 January 1942, only 2nd Gordons and 2nd Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders remained on mainland Malaya. Both battalions were piped across the causeway linking the mainland to Singapore Island before the steel road and railway bridge was blown up by Engineers.

On 8 February, Japanese forces invaded Singapore Island in a multi-pronged seaborne assault. 2nd Gordons was kept in reserve until 12 February, when the Battalion was ordered forward and quickly became involved in heavy fighting against enemy infantry and tanks. However, their efforts were in vain as at 8:30pm on 15 February 1942, Singapore surrendered.

The shock waves of the fall of Singapore reverberated around the world. Winston Churchill described its loss at the time as ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history’. Estimates of the number of men who went into Japanese captivity range from 60,000 to double that number.

Devine and the survivors of 2nd Gordons were force-marched 14 miles to the Changi area in the east of Singapore Island, where they were set up in a hutted camp by a beach. Tens of thousands more prisoners surrounded them.Overcrowding, terrible sanitation, insufficient medical supplies and the uncaring attitude of the Japanese meant that diseases such as dysentery and diphtheria spread rapidly. At one point, the water supply was limited to only one water tap for 20,000 men.

no.2888242 Lance Corporal James Devine of2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders, was one of those who succumbed to the atrocious conditions. He died of the effects of dysentery and malaria in a makeshift hospital attached to Roberts Barracks, Changi, on 20 May 1942. He was 29 years old. Devine is buried at Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore.


James Devine
Died 20 May 1942.
GU Degree: MA, 1936;
University Link: Graduate
Father's Details: James Devine; Teacher
War Service: Lance-Corporal, Gordon Highlanders
Grave / Memorial: Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
Additional Information: Written and researched by Assistant Curator Jesper Ericsson of the Hunterian Museum Sources Used: University of Glasgow Archives Archives of The Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen The Life of a Regiment, Volume V, 1919 – 1945, Wilfred Miles, Frederick Warne Ltd, London, 1980 Scattered Under the Rising Sun: The Gordon Highlanders in the Far East 1941 – 1945, Stewart Mitchell, Pen & Sword Military, 2012
Record last updated: 21st Jun 2017

Country Associations

Scotland Scotland
Place of Birth

Singapore Singapore, No Region
Place of Death

University Connections

University Roles

  • Graduate

WWII Roll of Honour