Chapter XXIII – DAWN

OUR Day of Deliverance came on Sunday, 19 August, 1945, several days after the end of the war in the Far East. Till then we knew nothing of the atom bomb, or that Russia had invaded Manchuria, or that the war had finished. But we guessed that something big was on foot, for we had seen many Japanese aero¬planes flying southwards, and there had been constant air alarms, and a move to an unknown destination, for which all preparations had been made, had been suddenly cancelled. On Saturday the eighteenth we were told that an American officer and N.C.O. were expected at our camp at Seian, 200 miles north of Mukden. They arrived early on the nineteenth and gave us the glad news. They belonged to a small party sent by General Wedermeyer, the Commanding-General of the U.S.A. forces in China, and dropped by parachute near Mukden to contact the prisoner-of-war camps. So prompt was his action that they arrived there before the Japanese had heard of the end of the war, and they very nearly paid for their audacity with their lives. There was no aerodrome near Seian, so in the evening the American officer left again for Mukden to arrange for transport. Then the fog of war, or rather of peace, again descended upon us. All telegraph and telephone communication ceased and all trains stopped running. It was due to the advance of the Russian armies into Manchuria. For the next four days we remained completely cut off from the world, but on Friday the twenty-fourth things began to move again with the arrival of a Russian mechanized detachment. We hired some buses and lorries and set off with the Russians for Mukden. August is the month of tropical storms and heavy rainfall in Manchuria, and little did we know of the state of the roads. For the next two days we struggled along washed-out roads, over broken bridges and through swollen rivers. Finally we stuck fast in a river-bed, but fortunately there was a light railway near at hand, and we reached the Harbin-Mukden railway in a train driven by one of our own orderlies. And so to Mukden. Through¬out the journey the endurance of the Russian and Manchurian drivers alike was quite remarkable. They went on driving and digging out their vehicles by day and by night with no rest and, as far as one could see, with little or no food. We were told, too, that the Russians had been doing this for several days and nights before we joined them. They certainly were very tough.

On arrival at Mukden we met our American friend again who brought us the welcome news that two transport aeroplanes were waiting for us on the Mukden airfield, and that General Wain- wright of the United States Army and I had been personally invited by General MacArthur to attend the ceremony, to be held in Tokyo Bay shortly, at which Japan would formally surrender. At that time there was no direct air route to Japan so it was arranged that we should travel via Chungking and Manila. We set off the following morning and, after crossing the Gulf of Liau-tung west of Port Arthur and some awe-inspiring mountain ranges south of Peking we landed at Sian in the Yellow River Valley late in the afternoon. Here we were most hospitably entertained by the Americans and by the British Mission, and here we tasted again for the first time the delights of civilization—a good meal, a comfortable bed and, I say it without apology, a long whisky and soda. Our next stop was at Chungking where again we were shown the greatest kindness both by the Embassy staff and by all ranks of the British Military Headquarters. There I left the rest of the British party and, with Wainwright, headed south in a plane placed at our disposal by General Stratemeyer, Commander of the American Air Force in China. I was able to take with me also my orderly, Sergt. C. W. Crockett of the Royal Army Service Corps, who had been with me for the whole of the captivity. A former Welsh schoolboy Rugby football international, he was the finest type of young regular soldier. Always most meticulous in his appearance and correct in his conduct as a prisoner-of-war, he had throughout those long years set a most wonderful example of courage and fortitude and had won for himself universal admiration and esteem. I was glad that he was now able to be in at the death.

Before reaching Manila we had a good opportunity of studying the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor, the island fortress which guards the entrance to Manila Bay. Corregidor had been cap-tured by the Japanese by direct assault in 1942, and had been recaptured by the Americans by joint sea and air attack in 1945.

Little remained of the fortress except a mass of ruins. Manila was a sad sight. During the recapture of the Philippines very heavy fighting had taken place in the town itself which the Japanese had defended stubbornly. As they were driven out they had set fire to the principal buildings as a result of which much of this well-built and attractive town had been reduced to ruins.

At Manila we joined several of the Allied representatives who were to sign the instrument of surrender—the French General Leclerc, the Dutch Admiral Helfrich, and General Sir Thomas Blarney, the Australian Commander-in-Chief. We left very early on the morning of the thirty-first for Japan, stopping for lunch and refuelling at the island of Okinawa which the Americans had captured at such great cost and which they were using at the end of the war as the base for their offensive against Japan. Every bay and inlet was full of American ships and craft of all descriptions, and on the island itself there were miles of newly constructed roads and numerous camps and aerodromes. It certainly is very remarkable what the Americans can do in the way of construction when they once get busy.

We reached Japan that evening and landed at the Atsugi air-field some miles from Yokohama. By agreement with the Japanese the Americans had taken over a bridgehead at Yokohama and had landed an air-borne division there. Those were the only Allied troops in Japan at the time though the American 1st Dismounted Cavalry Division, composed of some of the finest-looking troops I have ever seen, began to arrive the next day.

Yokohama, where we stayed, was an interesting and rather awe-inspiring sight. The bombings and the fires which followed had caused terrible havoc, especially to the wooden structures, of which the town was largely built. There were large areas where there was literally nothing left standing. There was not even any rubble. There were just acres and acres of waste land. I have seen a good many bombed and shelled towns, but never have I seen such complete desolation. This did not apply, however, to the district where the more modern buildings were situated, some of which, including the hotel in which we stayed, had remained more or less intact.

It has often been said that the war would have gone on for a long time had it not been for the atom bombs. I doubt it. From what I was able to see myself and from what I was told, I formed the definite opinion that the Japanese were down and out before the atom bombs ever fell. There was little food, petrol, clothing or transport in the home islands, and their industrial capacity had been enormously reduced by bombing. Their navy was crippled and their maritime marine reduced to about twenty-five per cent of its pre-war capacity. Most of their aeroplanes were grounded. They were, in fact, beaten at the centre, though it is true that their overseas armies could have gone on fighting a guerrilla war for a very long time.
The Japanese defeat was in my opinion brought about chiefly by the cutting of their sea communications followed by the destruction of their industrial establishments by air bombardment.

At the hotel I met General MacArthur for the first time. It was a very kindly and thoughtful act on his part to invite Wain- wright and myself to attend this final ceremony. He greeted us most cordially and made us immediately feel at home. I was to see a good deal of him during the next few days, and was greatly impressed by his personality, ability, and breadth of vision. Older than he looks—he was sixty-five at the time—he was full of life and energy. He quite obviously knew what he wanted and meant to have it. His success both as a commander in the field and as an administrator in occupied Japan have surely proved him to be one of the very big men of the war.

Sunday, 2 September, was the day fixed for the formal surrender of Japan. It took place on board the United States battleship Missouri which was anchored in Tokyo Bay. There is not much spare space on the decks of a modern battleship after all its war equipment has been fitted in, but the stage had been set on what open space there was—the table in the middle with a single chair on each side of it, the Allied officers who were to sign for their respective countries behind one chair and an empty space behind the other in which the Japanese delegation was later to take its place. Opposite one end of the table facing seaward were the Allied officer spectators, and opposite the other end on a specially built platform the Allied press and cinematograph operators. Among the spectators, who consisted mostly of senior American officers, were only very few British officers. These comprised a few senior officers of the British Pacific Fleet, the Dominion representatives and Lt.-Gen. Charles Gairdner, the Prime Minister’s representative with the American Supreme Commander, who was the only British Service Army officer besides myself to be present at this historic ceremony.

A few minutes before the appointed hour, 9 a.m., General MacArthur arrived and took up his position. From that moment to the end of the ceremony he very definitely dominated the proceedings. He was attended by General Sutherland, his Chief- of-Staff, who carried the Instrument of Surrender which had been sent out by special messenger from Washington.

A minute or two later the Japanese delegation arrived escorted by an American officer. It was headed by Mr. Shigemitsu, neatly dressed in morning coat, top hat and white waistcoat, and walking with the aid of a stick, for he had lost one of his legs. He was the Japanese Foreign Minister, and one could not help feeling some sympathy for this man, for he represented a class which had, one felt, been forced into the war against their will by the military leaders. Behind him came the Chief of the Japanese General Staff, a short thick-set man, typical of the Japanese military clique. He aroused no feelings of sympathy whatever, for one felt it was his class which, more than any other, had been responsible for the war and all its suffering in the Far East. He was followed by the remainder of the delegation representative of other interests who, except for the interpreter, took no part in the proceedings.

After a short speech by General MacArthur the two leading Japanese delegates were called upon to sign the document. The Foreign Minister signed “By command and in behalf of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese Government”, and the Chief- of-Staff “By command and in behalf of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters”. The last paragraph of the document is of particular interest. It reads as follows:

The authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the State shall be subject to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers who will take such steps as he deems proper to effectuate these terms of surrender.

The significance of this paragraph, of course, is that it made the Emperor, who for centuries had been a demi-God to the Japanese people, subordinate to an ordinary human being—a change which cannot fail to have a far-reaching effect on the future of the Japanese race.

At 9-8 a.m. on 2 September, 1945, General MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, accepted the surrender “for the United States, Republic of China, United Kingdom, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and in the interests of the other United Nations at war with Japan”. Before doing so he invited Wainwright and myself to stand immediately behind him as a token to the world that the might of the United States and of the British Empire cannot be challenged with impunity even when they are fully occupied in other parts of the world. He also, with kindly thought, presented each of us with one of the five pens with which he wrote his signature. Subsequently the representatives of the Allied Nations appended their signatures to the document. With General MacArthur’s signature the war with Japan officially terminated. It was a great and impressive moment which will never be forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to be present. The proceedings terminated with a great fly-past of the United States Air Force in which hundreds of planes of all types took part.

At the reception after the ceremony I met many of the leading American sailors and soldiers. Among them were Admiral Nimitz, a quiet and cultured man with a great charm of manner, and Admiral Halsey, a fighting sailor of the bulldog breed, small and determined. It is not for me to talk of the magnificent war records of these two men. They are known throughout the world.

Immediately after the ceremony Wainwright and I left for Manila to attend the surrender of the Japanese forces in the Philippines which was due to take place the following day. MacArthur was very anxious that we should go to this—Wain-wright because he had been the American commander in the Philippines at the time of their surrender to Japan in 1942, and I to meet again my old opponent General Yamashita, now commander-in-chief of the surviving Japanese forces in those islands. A typhoon forced our plane to take a circuitous route, and it was after midnight before we reached Manila. Then we had another plane journey and a long motor drive up to the hill station of Baguio where the ceremony was to take place. It was midday on the third before we reached our destination. As Yamashita entered the room I saw one eyebrow lifted and a look of surprise cross his face—but only for a moment. His face quickly resumed that sphinx-like mask common to all Japanese, and he showed no further interest. He was much thinner and more worn-looking than when I had last seen him, and his clothes bore testimony to the rough conditions in which he had been living. For after the loss of Manila the remaining Japanese forces had taken refuge in the mountains in Northern Luzon where, with no supply services and little to live upon, they had been hunted for weeks by the American troops. Whatever Yamashita’s transgressions of the laws and usages of war may have been—he was subsequently executed for the crimes against humanity committed by his troops—there can be no doubt that he was a most able and determined commander, and a very tough fighter, as his record both in Malaya and in the Philippines will prove. It is a great pity that the Japanese commanders allowed, and sometimes even ordered, the atrocities which were committed by their officers and men, but that again may be due in some measure to lack of time, since their country emerged from its isolation, in which to absorb fully the accepted doctrines of civilization.

On 5 September I said good-bye to my American friends. Nobody could have been kinder and more hospitable than they were during the time I had been under their care, and that was true of all ranks from top to bottom. The feeling that one was again among friends enabled one to face the inevitable camera and autograph book with goodwill and a smile.

After two days at Headquarters of South-East Asia Command in Ceylon, a forty-eight hours’ flight in a York brought me to an aerodrome near Swindon on the morning of 10 September, rather more than four years and four months after I had set out from England. There a great thrill was in store for me, for waiting on the aerodrome I found that brave woman who had, with such courage and fortitude, endured so much during those long years of waiting—my wife. The War Office had with great consideration arranged that she should be there to meet me. So the joys of home-coming were complete.

The next few weeks were busy ones. Letters and telegrams poured in from friends and well-wishers. They came from all over the world, but especially from the United States of America where the significance of what happened in the Far East has always been, and still is, more fully understood than it ever has been in our own country.

But it was some months later before the crowning event took place. It was at an Investiture at Buckingham Palace which I had attended to receive a decoration which had been awarded to me early in the war. After I had passed the Royal presence and joined the throng in the room outside, an equerry came to me and said, “The King wishes to see you after the ceremony.” For a quarter of an hour he talked to me with the greatest sympathy and understanding. So the King understood. It made me feel very happy.



IT is not my purpose to attempt to recount all the untold hard-ships and sufferings endured by the troops who went into captivity after the fall of Singapore. The horrors of the Burma- Siam railway, of some of the camps in Borneo and elsewhere, and of the journeys between various places in the Far East can only be told by those who experienced them. All I can do is to attempt to give a general picture of the conditions in the camps as I saw them myself, to present some of the problems with which we were faced, and to show how we attempted to overcome them.

The first step of the Japanese was to impose a colour bar. All the Asiatic prisoners, officers and men, were segregated and taken off to separate camps. Of them I shall have nothing to say for, except on rare occasions, we never saw them again. The Indian troops especially were subjected to terrible ordeals in an endeavour to force them to join the Indian National Army, raised in Singapore under the leadership of Chandra Boase to assist the Japanese in the invasion of India. The maintenance of loyalty to the King- Emperor in those terrible conditions, cut off from their friends and with the full force of Japanese “persuasion” directed against them, demanded high moral courage and cost many of them dear. Yet a high proportion held out. The Gurkhas, I have been told, who were subjected to a similar ordeal, resisted to a man.

On 17 February the British and Australian troops were marched to Changi Camp at the eastern extremity of the island. It was obvious from the start that the area allotted was inadequate for our numbers and I protested to the Japanese staff but without success. At first the congestion was tremendous and no doubt increased the number of deaths which took place. Later, as working parties were sent away, things became rather easier and health improved.

The Changi Camp differed from most of the others in so far as administration was concerned for, subject to general directives from the Japanese, this was left largely in the hands of the British and Australian commanders. At first this was done no doubt because the Japanese had little or no organization ready to deal with prisoner-of-war camps, but at Changi it persisted in varying degree till the end of the war. We accepted the situation, for we felt that in this way we might be able to make things easier for the troops. The Japanese in fact went so far as to make senior officers personally responsible for everything which the men did, including attempts to escape. They announced that any men caught trying to escape would be executed. Their trump card, of course, was always food. From the first this was terribly short and there was always the possibility, or even the probability, that the sins of the transgressors would be visited upon the community as a whole by a reduction of the ration. In these circumstances, I thought it necessary to issue an instruction as to escapes. It was to the effect that, while it was the duty of every officer and man to attempt to escape if he could, he should only do so after making proper plans and provided his chances were reasonably good. To escape from Singapore was extremely difficult. On the one side there was the sea and on the other the jungles of Malaya where the chances for a white man of avoiding detection were not great. Some attempts at escape were made, but I have never heard of anybody getting clean away. I regret to say that the Japanese on more than one occasion carried out their threat of execution, though this was not always the case. When they did so they usually found the firing squad from Sikhs who had gone over to their side. These Sikhs, it should be said, were not all soldiers. Some were ex-policemen while others were just civilians who had enlisted in the Japanese Army to earn a living.

The doctors were the busiest people at Changi and a wonderful job they did. A hospital was improvised from ordinary barrack blocks and it was soon full to overflowing. The Deputy Director of Medical Services, Brigadier Stringer, was ordered by the Japanese to clear all sick and wounded immediately from the hospitals in Singapore, however ill they might be, and take them to Changi. Soon the various diseases common to such conditions became rampant—dysentery in its various forms, beri-beri, and so on. For weeks the number of patients in the hospital never fell below the 2,000 mark. At the time it was probably one of the largest hospitals in the world. And there was very little equipment and practically no drugs except what the doctors had been able to bring with them. It was pitiable. It Was not to be wondered at that the death-rate was heavy. Over five hundred had been buried in the British and Australian cemeteries before the autumn, but after that the numbers fell rapidly as the situation was got under control. It seems invidious to mention any names from that devoted band of doctors but some of the temporary repairs to limbs carried out by Colonel Julian Taylor, the London surgeon, with improvised materials, were almost beyond belief.

The camp was organized into areas which were allotted to formations. For this we retained the same formations as we had had in the fighting on Singapore Island. At the outset morale was naturally pretty low. It took some time to recover from the shock of what we had gone through. But after a time things began to get better. I attribute this in no small measure to the excellent example of the area commanders. Among the first to recover were the Australians, now under the command of Maj.-Gen. C. A. Callaghan, whom I had promoted to that rank to take Gordon Bennett’s place. A more loyal and courageous man I never met. Later he was to win universal admiration by the way he bore uncomplainingly his own personal sufferings; but he never gave in and emerged at the end with flying colours. He set about his task by insisting on smart turn-out and punctilious saluting, and very soon the A.I.F. challenged comparison with any other formation in the camp. In his work he had the able assistance of a devoted staff, in which stood out Jim Thyer, the G.S.O.I., a fine soldier and most able staff officer whose views were always worth listening to. Another area commander who did great work was Beckwith Smith, the commander of the 18th British Division. He quickly set about organizing courses of instruction for his men and kept the esprit de corps of his division going in a wonderful way. Although he himself died before the end of that year, his work remained and the division, or what was left of it, emerged at the end of the war with its colours flying and its morale still high.

Another body of men who had a great opportunity were the padres, for it is a fact that in adversity men turn to religion for moral support. Very soon churches began to appear. In some cases the ruined remains of existing buildings were adapted for this purpose; in others new buildings were erected with such material as could be found. In the grossly overcrowded camps building material was scarce and many of the churches seemed, as it were, to grow out of nothing. Under the direction of the padres they were built by the willing hands of voluntary workers —and there was never any lack of volunteers. Services were held on Sundays and on other days too. Many a man who had never entered a church in his own homeland attended those services.

In our military textbooks certain instructions are given as a guide to the conduct of prisoners-of-war. One of our biggest problems was how to apply those instructions, for we found ourselves in a situation which had certainly not been contemplated when they were written. There are two Conventions which govern the treatment of prisoners-of-war, i.e. the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929. Japan was a signatory of the former but, though her representative had signed the latter, she had never ratified it. The Japanese therefore always professed to follow the provisions of the Hague Convention but would not admit any liability to follow the Geneva Convention, which is much more far-reaching, though they always said that they would adhere to its provisions as far as they could, i.e. as far as suited them. So we were dealing with a fanatical and temperamental people who, for all practical purposes, only played to the rules when it suited them to do so. We had to adjust our actions accordingly. There is nothing to be gained in such circumstances in being obstinate when matters of no real importance are at issue. For instance, everything possible was done at Changi to humiliate the officers. Badges of rank had to be removed; Japanese private soldiers had to be saluted; and so on. It was unpleasant, but didn’t really do anybody any harm. In point of fact, it probably annoyed our own other ranks more than anybody else. But when questions of principle or matters which may react adversely on our own conduct of the war are concerned it is a different matter. Then a firm stand must be taken and the situation must be faced whatever the consequences. As an example of this I will relate an experience which I myself had at Changi. The Japanese had instructed me to provide some technical experts to repair some anti-aircraft guns which we had ourselves destroyed. Of course we had the men available, but I pointed out, as politely as I could, that this was not a fair demand and asked for it to be reconsidered. For some time no more was heard of it and I thought the matter had been dropped, but one Monday evening, just as we were sitting down to supper, I was sent for to the camp office. I saw by the face of the Japanese officer that things were not going too well. He asked me if I would supply the men and I said “No.” He said, “Then you refuse to obey the orders of the Imperial Nipponese Army.” I replied, “Your orders are illegal but, if you persist in giving them, then I do.” With that he flew into a rage, tore up the papers, threw them on to the floor, and I quite expected him to draw his sword and finish the matter there and then. Luckily the crisis passed, but before long I found myself being taken in a car to the Changi jail (the place of internment of all the civilians) where I was pushed into a bare empty room and the door locked. That door was not opened again for two and a half days nor was any food passed through it. I had nothing but the clothes I stood up in, but fortunately there was a basin with running water in one corner of the room. By Wednesday night I was feeling a little “peckish”, so I told a sentry who occasionally looked through the bars of the door, that I wanted to see the officer. Before dawn the next morning there was a clanging of keys and the door opened. I speculated whether I was to be taken out and shot or released. Either was quite possible. The officer said, “You wish to see me,” to which I replied, “Yes, I have been here long enough.” He said, “Can you tell us where those anti-aircraft guns were last seen?” That was too easy, for I knew quite well that the Japanese must know their location as well as we did. So “face” was saved and out we went. A bottle of whisky was produced to consummate the deal. But it still wasn’t finished, for I spent the next fourteen days in solitary confinement, though with proper food and with reasonable comfort. That story, I think, illustrates so well the Japanese characteristics—uncontrollable temper which leads them to a dead end and then a face-saving operation to extricate themselves.

In July it was announced that all senior officers of the rank of full colonel and upwards were to be moved to Japan (or Nippon as it had to be called at that time), where a special camp was being prepared “with all proper amenities”. There was much speculation as to what sort of ship we should go in. Some, the super- optimists, held that the Japanese had now decided to treat senior officers properly and that we should travel in a luxury liner. Others said that we should go on a naval ship. I doubt if anybody got the right answer, which was the hold of a very small and dirty cargo ship. Into that hold were packed over four hundred souls including all senior officers, their orderlies, a party of engineers, the Governor, and four other senior civilians. Before embarking we were tested for dysentery and disinfected. The Japanese are great people for tests and inoculations. They talk a lot of hygiene but seem to miss its substance. They will insist on finger-nails being clean, but a fly-covered refuse dump adjoining a kitchen means nothing to them. They seem to have absorbed western ideas but not to have learnt how to apply them.

We left Singapore on 16 August 1942, or rather it would be more correct to say that we embarked on that day, for we lay alongside for the next two or three days and everybody who knows Singapore will know what that means. The conditions were appalling. We were all packed into one hold where there was barely room to lie down. Perspiration just poured from the naked bodies. At night the rats came out and swarmed over the recumbent forms. By day we were allowed on deck by parties for limited periods. Food, of a sort, was passed round twice a day. There was no proper lavatory accommodation—only just some wooden latrines built on the stern of the ship. We were on the ship altogether for a fortnight. Perhaps I was lucky, for after a few days I developed slight internal trouble and was allowed to travel in the first officer’s cabin. Although it was difficult to talk to the ship’s officers, as none of them talked English, they seemed to me to be a very much pleasanter type than the military officers. They were just simple, seafaring folk much the same as one meets the world over. They were very abstemious on the voyage, but my companion became very drunk as soon as we reached port, and I was not sorry to leave.

As always happened, our destination was kept a profound secret, and it was only during the voyage that I discovered from one of the ship’s officers that it was to be Karenko, a small seaside town on the east coast of Formosa (or Taiwan as it was then called). We landed at Takao, a fine natural harbour at the southern extremity of the island, and our first move was to a staging camp at Heito not far from there. That involved a march of two or three miles to the railway station, carrying our baggage, and then a short railway journey. At that time the Japanese were on the crest of the wave and our arrival was made the occasion to impress the local population. Large crowds were turned out for the show, but it was obvious, even then, that the sympathy of most of them were with us. For the Formosans are mostly of Chinese origin, and few of them had any affection for the Japanese. As one of the Formosan sentries once said to me, “Me Chiang- Kai-Shek man. When the Americans come, I throw away my rifle and go join them.”

Heito as a camp had no redeeming feature. It had been built for coolie workers at a neighbouring quarry. It was on a bare, desolate bit of land with a swamp adjoining where mosquitoes bred in their thousands. Our arrival was marked by an incident which is of interest because it was typical of what occurred in every camp. The Japanese Army Headquarters at Tokyo had decided that every prisoner must sign a declaration to the effect that he would obey all the rules and regulations of the camp and that he would not try to escape. Of course, such a declaration was quite irregular. I have always thought that the Japanese only wanted it so that they could justify themselves in executing men who were caught trying to escape. On arrival at Heito Camp we were presented with this and asked to sign it while we were still on parade. As senior officer I had to give the lead. I pointed out that they had no right to ask for such a declaration and refused to sign it. I soon found myself in a cell in the guard-room but later was let out. The discussions continued for some three hours. It began to get dark and rain came on. We had a number of very sick men as a result of the voyage who had been kept standing on parade all that time. Finally, I asked to be allowed to discuss the matter with other senior officers and civilians, and we decided that a signature given under compulsion in those conditions need not be considered as binding on the individual. I believe that was the view taken at most camps. At Changi the struggle went on for two or three days with the troops all cooped up in one barracks and was only terminated to save human lives.

The next move was to Karenko where we found the American senior officers from the Philippines already in residence. Later we were joined there by British and Dutch senior officers and civilians from the Netherlands East Indies and by Sir Mark Young, the Governor of Hong Kong. Our numbers were about four hundred all told and we were housed in a Japanese barracks designed to accommodate one company or a little more. The congestion was considerable. Colonels and brigadiers were usually five in a tiny room. Governors and generals were not much better. We were divided into squads, each squad having its own leader nominated by the Japanese. I had the doubtful honour of being appointed squad leader at first but very soon got the sack, for I did not see eye to eye with the Japanese. Our treatment at this time sank to the lowest possible level. The Japanese announced that they regarded us as equal to coolies and they more or less fitted their treatment to those views. Any private soldier of the guard was allowed to slap any prisoner of whatever rank in the face on any pretext, real or imaginary. Protests were ignored. All officers were made to work in greater or less degree. Admittedly the work wasn’t hard—it usually consisted of gardening which on fine days was welcome as a change from barrack routine—but the compulsion was there all the same. The food ration sank to a very low level—so low in fact that it was pitiable to see big healthy men wasting away to mere skeletons. It consisted of three meals a day of small quantities of watery soup and rice. The camp commander seldom appeared, a remark which applies also to the commandant of the group of camps. In fact, the whole Japanese prisoner-of-war camps system seemed to be centralized in a group commandant who seldom visited his camps and who was quite unapproachable.

We had several visits from journalists while we were at Karenko. They were all very confident at that time that Japan would win the war even if she had to go on fighting for a hundred years. I always made a point of telling them that they were very ignorant of the resources of the British Commonwealth and of the United States and that in the end they were bound to be beaten. On one occasion a group of the most senior of us were collected and told that the mayor of Karenko had invited us to tea. We were taken to his house where we were hospitably received and tea was provided. But then the trick was exposed. Cameras were produced and photographs were taken of the Allied prisoners “enjoying tea and a smoke in their comfortable quarters”. That was typical of the Japanese methods.

Early in 1943 things took a turn for the better. It seemed that the Japanese had begun to realize that their treatment of us was far from being up to the accepted standard, or it may have been that even then they had begun to see the red light. The first sign was a cessation of the slapping, but even that was not obtained without a struggle. As a quid pro quo they tried to get us to write to our respective governments urging an improvement in the treatment of Japanese prisoners and internees in their hands. We told them that we were certain there was no room for improvement and that in any case it was no business of ours. That did not go down too well but before long the slapping practically stopped. The next thing was a thinning out, a hundred odd of the most senior of us being sent to another camp some way down the coast. Our short stay there was marked by two events of importance. The first was the arrival of the first consignment of Red Cross stores, and the second was a visit from the representative of the International Red Cross in Japan. The Red Cross stores, which came from South Africa, worked wonders. Hats, boots, and foodstuffs were included. It was the first good food we had had for over a year, and I definitely believe that it saved several lives, for the vitality of some had reached a very low ebb. The visit of the Red Cross representative, Dr. Paravicini, was as usual carefully staged. He was not allowed to talk to us indi¬vidually, but we were able to tell him at a conference what we chiefly needed. But the difficulty in getting Red Cross stores to us was chiefly one of transportation aggravated by the reluctance of the Japanese to distribute them. When the war finished large quantities of undistributed Red Cross parcels were found in Japan.

In June a small party of governors and lieutenant-generals of the three nationalities, with one or two major-generals to fill up, moved to a specially built camp at Moksak near Taihoku, the capital of Formosa. Here we spent the rest of our time on the island. The treatment was the best we had. Each officer had a small room to himself. There was a library of English and American books, which had been the property of an Englishman living in Formosa, table-tennis and a gramophone with a good supply of records which we were able to buy locally. For a time also the food was better. In October I received my first letter from home, just twenty months from the beginning of the captivity, but it was not until the end of January 1944 that I received the first letter from my wife. That was over two years since I had last heard from her, a very long and trying time. After that letters came more regularly for a time, but later they slowed down again. Of all the letters sent to me less than half ever arrived and, of those that did arrive, the average time taken was over seventeen months. That was probably better than most other people, for there were some who hardly ever got a letter at all. The main trouble again lay in the distribution at the Japanese end. I believe they insisted on every letter being translated and censored before delivery and, as they employed only very few translators, they of course never had a chance of keeping up with the job.

At Moksak we had another example of Japanese deceit. They were very anxious for some reason to get a “talkie” film showing the supposed conditions under which we were living and our general satisfaction with them. It was probably required for propaganda purposes. They started by saying that the Red Cross required the film, but soon it became obvious that it could be nothing whatever to do with the Red Cross, for they produced a list of subjects about which people were to talk. I refused to have anything to do with it, protesting that it was against my instructions. Great pressure was brought to bear as it was obvious that they were very anxious that I should appear in the film. Finally a message was brought from the camp commandant to the effect that, if I refused to take part in the film, I should not be sent home when the time came for repatriation. I replied that I would be quite happy to receive that decision as the Japanese would not be in control when that happy moment arrived. The movie men duly arrived and the film was taken. The next day there was an invitation from the camp commander to go to a neighbouring river to fish. It was the first time anybody had been outside the narrow confines of the camp for six months and some accepted the invitation. When they arrived, the movie men were lined up on the bank. But there was a danger that there might be no fish, or, if there were, that they would not be caught. To provide against that eventuality a live fish had been brought out in a can and was duly affixed to one of the rods before the photograph was taken!

News of the outside world was one of the most important items in our lives. At Changi we had got the BBC news daily through the medium of illicit wireless sets worked by some brave men at great personal risk, but after leaving there we neither had the sets nor the experts to work them. In Formosa, however, we had been allowed to have one and sometimes two daily papers, which were printed in Japan in English throughout the war. They were the Nippon Times and the Mainichi. When I say daily, I do not mean that we received them daily. Actually they arrived in batches anything from one to three months after date of publication. Naturally their news was very biased and a great deal was withheld, but still it was possible, with the aid of some good maps which we had, to get a pretty good idea of what was going on. In point of fact, the Japanese press was never quite as muzzled as was the German press. At times quite candid leading articles and statements by public men were published. I well remember one article—I think it was in the summer of 1943—in which the writer said, “If we don’t win the war this year we shall regret it for a hundred years.” It looks as if he was not very far wrong.

The delivery of these papers continued until the day before the Allied landing in Normandy, and then it ceased. From then till the end of the war we got no papers, but we got the news of the invasion of Europe in rather an interesting way. For some reason, I think probably for propaganda purposes, the Japanese had issued to us a wireless receiving set. It was a controlled set with which you could only get the Japanese broadcasts—in Japanese. Simultaneously with the issue of this set there was a strange disappearance of all dictionaries which became quite unprocurable. So for some time the set languished in the library unused. One day I thought I would listen to the news and found I could pick up a few names. I then quietly removed the set to my own room, and set to work, assisted by Mr. C. R. Smith, the Governor of British North Borneo. We neither of us knew any Japanese but after a time found that we could begin to make a little sense of the military communiques. We listened in four times a day and spent hours in sorting out what we had jotted down. In the end we were able to issue a daily communique and were right up to date until we left Moksak in October 1944. Then we had to leave the set behind. The Japanese obviously did not like our listening in, but I don’t think they ever had any idea how much we were able to get out of it.

In October 1944, when there was a danger of the Americans capturing Formosa, we were hurriedly moved by air to Japan and thence, to our complete surprise, by sea to Korea and train to Manchuria. The journey, as we did it, was quite comfortable.

In fact we received better treatment during that journey than at any other time during our captivity. At the airport where we landed in Kyushu Island we were even waited on by trim Japanese waitresses and the aerodrome commander came to ask if we had all we wanted. On arrival in Korea we had a good meal at a large modern hotel. Things were really looking up and we thought that at last we were going to receive the treatment due to our rank. But that hope was short-lived. In Manchuria we were soon back in the bad old ways again, though it is fair to say that the food, which now consisted of soya beans, bread and vegetables, was more filling and sustaining than the rice diet. Also we found quite a large consignment of Red Cross stores waiting for us which lasted us, more or less, until our release.

Of our stay in Manchuria there is not much to be said. We were completely without news so it was just very dull and boring. There weren’t many letters either, and our own outward letters were so heavily censored that they ceased to be of much value. We were allowed to write one a month, and I confined mine to the words, “I am well. Best love.” The weather was intensely cold in the winter with temperatures round about minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit, but generally fine and sunny. It would be quite a good climate in normal conditions. We were given good warm clothing, and the barracks in which we lived were centrally heated, so it was not too bad. We made continued efforts to communicate with the representative of Switzerland, our Protector Power, but, as far as I know, without result. In fact we had practically no contact with the outside world.

Every Christmas our comrades, the Americans and Dutch, received official messages of greetings from their countrymen at home. We British received none. We wondered whether we were entirely forgotten. It came as a great thrill to me therefore to receive a letter, shortly before the end of the captivity, from my friend Sir John Dill. It was three years old, but in it he said, “I constantly think of you. Do not think that you are forgotten.” A few days later I heard to my great sorrow of his death.

Here are some impressions of the Japanese. In giving them, let me make it clear that my contacts were almost exclusively with officers and men of the Japanese Army, and that my qualifications to express views on the Japanese race in general were limited. As soldiers the Japanese officers and men had many good qualities. They were determined and stubborn fighters but not highly skilled in the arts of modern war. They were extremely tough and their obedience to orders was invariably immediate and unquestioning. Their loyalty to their Emperor was profound. By our standards their army was financially very poor. The standard of its equipment was low and the emoluments of officers and men a mere pittance. But they are a practical people in a rough and ready way and able to make do with much less than we should. Secrecy seemed to be bred in them. It was almost im¬possible ever to get any Japanese soldier, officer or man, to give away information or even to discuss the war. But they carried secrecy to an extreme, and it made one wonder how they ever got their operations successfully carried out. When it comes to a question of human suffering the thin veneer of their recently acquired civilization is all too apparent and primitive instincts tend to predominate. They are almost all of them subject to fits of uncontrollable temper. But I would say that the most outstanding characteristics are ignorance of world affairs and narrow-mindedness. Perhaps this is not surprising when one remembers that it is little more than eighty years since Japan emerged from isolation. I believe there were few people in Japan who had any conception of the resources of the Western Powers. The populace in their ignorance were led by their leaders to believe that Japan was all- powerful. In the end it was their inability to keep pace with the industrial and scientific expansion of their opponents which brought about their undoing.

And here are some reflections on the life of a prisoner-of-war. The reactions of individuals are surprising. Very often those who have been looked upon as the weakest turn up trumps, while others tend to take the line of least resistance. The key to the conduct of each individual is his store of moral courage, for in no circumstances that I have ever encountered is moral courage of such paramount importance. In my view moral courage is a more priceless gift than physical courage, for it is one thing to lead your men gallantly in the heat of battle, but it is quite another to stand up for your principles in cold blood far from any help. Other qualities required are patience and tolerance. In the unnatural atmosphere of a prisoner-of-war camp when tempers are strained and nerves are on edge it is only too easy to quarrel with your neighbour. Those who have learnt the art of free discussion without loss of temper have acquired something worth having. But greater than all other qualities in those conditions is the possession of Faith—faith in the ultimate triumph of Right over Might and faith that, be it sooner or be it later, the day of deliverance will inevitably arrive.

Finally, let me pay tribute to the British soldier. Throughout those long years he bore his trials with courage and dignity. Though compelled to live almost like an animal, he never lost his self-respect or his sense of humour. At the end he emerged weakened in body but with his spirit unimpaired. It was an outstanding performance.


THE fall of Singapore came as a great shock to the British public and, as usual, there was a hunt for scapegoats. Press and public charged the military commanders and the civil administration of Malaya with gross incompetence. Such has always been the British custom. In all wars many of those who have risen early to positions of responsibility have fallen by the wayside while those who later have had the advantage of fighting with the fully developed resources of the Commonwealth behind them have emerged as conquering heroes. Other nations are sometimes more generous, realizing that lessons learnt in the hard school of adversity are often more valuable than those learnt when things are easier. Thus we saw Rommel, driven out of Africa with the loss of his entire army, given another even more important command in the European theatre.

Before Japan entered the war the British public generally, like a large part of the American public, was profoundly ignorant about things in the Far East. It knew that there was a place called Singapore and that there was a great Naval Base there, but it knew little about its geographical importance or about the wider problems, political, strategical, and commercial, of the Far East. This ignorance was reflected in the outlook of the troops who came to defend Singapore. Few of them had any clear idea of the importance of the task which was being entrusted to them except that it was to defend the Naval Base. I once asked an intelligent young soldier why it was that our men had such a hazy knowledge of the Far East. He replied, “Because we are never taught in our schools”, adding that in his view a great deal more time might be given up to teaching the problems of Empire. I entirely agreed with him. I am delighted to know that “Current Affairs” has now been introduced as one of the subjects in the Army education curriculum. I hope it is equally being taught in the schools.

Coupled with this general ignorance of the problems of the Far East was a failure to appreciate the aggressive intentions of Japan and the rapid increase in the strength and power of her fighting forces. For that the public cannot be blamed, for the true state of affairs was never put before them by our national leaders. The first act of militant aggression by the Japanese was in June 1928 when the old Manchurian war lord, Marshal Chang Tso-Lin, was murdered by a bomb exploded under his train as it entered Mukden Station. That was followed by the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in September 1931 when Japan successfully flouted the League of Nations of which she was at that time a member. For a time Japan’s designs were directed against Russia with the idea of securing herself from a blow from behind before she embarked on her drive to the south. The object of her attack on China in 1937 was primarily to secure for herself an adequate supply of raw materials. In the meantime, on 25 November 1936, she had concluded the anti-Comintern Pact with Germany, and it was under German influence that she eventually decided to change her plans and to drive southwards instead of attacking Russia. That decision was not made until after the Tripartite Pact was signed in September 1940. It was made as a result of pressure from Germany to attack Singapore. Thereafter a group of German and Italian specialists was established in Tokyo to study the best methods of reducing Singapore while General Yamashita, who had been selected to lead the Japanese Army of Malaya, was sent to Berlin where he spent several months studying the most modern German methods of warfare. The Japanese themselves have attributed their success in Malaya, among other things, to their pre-war preparations, to the fact that this campaign was the centre of interest throughout their whole army, to the fact that their commanders, senior staff officers, and troops were specially selected, and to the fact that their land operations were closely supported by powerful naval and air forces. This fact is important because it has often been asked why Singapore did not hold out longer when the Chinese had frustrated all the Japanese efforts to subdue them for several years and when the combined American and Filipino forces were able to hold the Japanese at bay for another two or three months. I do not in any way wish to belittle the efforts of our gallant Allies, but in passing judgment on Malaya it must be realized that Singapore was the place above all others which the Japanese wanted to capture and that against it they threw the pick of their armed forces.

Of what did those forces consist? Here again many misleading statements have been made. I have seen it stated that 100,000 British surrendered to 30,000 Japanese. That, of course, is sheer nonsense. Does anybody seriously think that the Japanese, advised by their German friends, would have been so foolish as to try to win the prize they wanted so badly with 30,000 men? The Japanese may have been inexperienced in the higher direction of a modern war, but they are certainly not fools where the military arts are concerned. But they are a secretive race, and it is never easy to get accurate information on military subjects. There is now no doubt, however, that we under-estimated their strength, but even their own statements vary widely. It is safe to say that they employed a minimum of 150,000 men in the Malayan campaign, though some Japanese reports suggest much higher figures than this. They also employed two tank regiments which probably contained somewhere between 200 and 300 tanks. For the attack on Singapore Island the Japanese say they employed some 68,000 combat troops in addition to their administrative units. They also had reserves and L. of C. troops on the main¬land. There can be little doubt therefore that at the end of the campaign there were over 100,000 Japanese troops on Singapore Island and in South Malaya.

It appears that the Japanese found it impossible to deploy all their divisions on the limited operational fronts and that they therefore adopted the expedient for much of the campaign of keeping the same divisions in front line and feeding them from behind. In this way they had fresh troops in action every thirty-six hours or so while our troops were fighting for weeks on end without rest.

On the British side the total number of officers and men who took part in the campaign (excluding the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force) was a little over 125,000, though the strength in Malaya at any one time was considerably less than this. This number included a large proportion of command, base and lines of communication troops, many of whom belonged to non- combatant units or were unarmed owing to shortage of personal weapons. At the time of the capitulation the total of British forces in the Singapore fortress area was in the neighbourhood of 85,000, but this again included a large number of administrative troops, some of them non-combatant and all inadequately trained for a fighting role, and also the very poorly trained reinforcements which had recently arrived. We never at any time had more than one squadron of obsolescent light tanks.

It was in the air and on the sea, however, that there was the greatest disparity of strength. The Japanese say that their Third Air Division which took part in the Malayan campaign was com-posed of three army air brigades and two additional air regiments, and that its strength at the outset was 670 aircraft, which included 100 heavy bombers. Later 270 replacement aircraft with their pilots were received from Japan. That would give a total strength of 940 aircraft. Our air force had all told, including reinforcements, little more than a quarter of this number. Many of them were obsolescent types and there were no reserves. The Japanese fighters and medium bombers had ranges of 1,500 to 1,600 miles, which enabled them to operate from bases outside the range of our own aircraft. On the sea the Japanese had complete superiority after the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse.

The immediate object of the Japanese at the outset of the operations appears to have been, firstly, to cripple our air force and, secondly, to cut off and destroy the whole of our forces in Kedah by a rapid thrust from Patani via Kroh to cut the west coast communications west of the River Perak, which they hoped to reach in two days. Thereafter their strategy consisted of a continuous land and air offensive pressed with the utmost vigour with the object of advancing into South Malaya and capturing Singapore before our reinforcements could arrive. Their offensive was supported by their navy on the east coast and, as soon as they could transport their landing-craft across the peninsula, on the west coast also. These sea-borne operations had good and continual air cover. Had there been available at Singapore some flotillas of fast armoured and properly equipped coastal craft, it is certain that the enemy would not have been able to exercise the constant threat to our communications with sea-borne forces which they did in fact succeed in doing.

British pre-war strategy in Malaya was based, as has been shown, on the thesis that there would always be a British fleet available to go to the Far East when required and that, on arrival, it would control sea communications in the waters off Malaya. The failure to modify that strategy in conformity with the changed conditions when the German menace developed in Europe and when Japan and Germany came together in 1936 was the first cause of the weakness of our defences in Malaya. The army dispositions, moreover, were dictated primarily by the necessity for protecting aerodromes from which large air forces, when available, would operate. Looked at from the army point of view alone, these dispositions were faulty because the comparatively small force available had to be widely dispersed. They were doubly faulty when the large air forces did not materialize and when the aerodromes fell like ripe plums into the enemy’s hands. Surely the lesson of this is that the siting of aerodromes should always be done jointly by Air Force and Army and that they should never be sited in places where they cannot be properly defended.

It is of interest to speculate as to what might have happened if MATADOR had been put into effect. Looked at from the air point of view it would undoubtedly have had great advantages if it could have been successfully accomplished, for not only would it have enabled our air force to use the important aerodrome at Singora, but it would also have denied to the Japanese the use of both that and the Patani aerodrome. On the other hand, it was never intended, owing to lack of adequate resources, to occupy Patani itself and, if the Japanese had succeeded in landing there and we had failed to hold them on the Patani-Kroh road, there might well have been an early and irreparable disaster, MATADOR suffered from the dangers always inherent in such projects, namely the difficulty of deciding when the time has come to enter neutral territory. It would have been folly to attempt to reach Singora on the night of 7-8 December when the Japanese were already close to that port. Had we done so we should probably have become involved in an encounter battle with our forces still dispersed and with the Japanese having the advantage of a tank force against which we should have had no proper counter. The latest time at which MATADOR could have been ordered with any possible prospect of success was when the Japanese convoys were first sighted on 6 December. But at that time international considerations predominated.

Our later strategy was influenced by the necessity for ensuring, as far as lay in our power, the safe arrival of our land and air reinforcements, for it was only with their help that we could hope to turn the tables on the Japanese. The strategy adopted, therefore, aimed at a gradual fighting withdrawal with a view to an eventual concentration in South Malaya where it was hoped that the main battle would be fought. That this strategy was not successful was due primarily to a lack of strength in all three Services, but particularly in the navy and air force. In fact, the army after the first few days had to bear practically the whole weight of the Japanese attack with little air or naval support. This was the main cause of defeat, for the enemy’s sea-borne thrusts continually forced us to make detachments to meet them which, combined with the lack of reserves, left our forces on the main central front far too weak for the task in hand. Once again it was proved that a balanced force of all three fighting services is necessary for success in modern war and that an army alone, however well equipped, is no match for an enemy enjoying the advantages of sea-power and air-power. But the army of Malaya was further handicapped by the complete absence of an armoured component. That, apart from the moral effect which will be discussed later, had a decisive influence on our tactics, for we had to move from obstacle to obstacle giving up, very often, more ground than we otherwise need have done. This lack of an armoured component was due, not to any weakness in our army organization, but to inability, owing presumably to lack of resources and commitments elsewhere, to send an armoured component to Malaya when it was asked for.

Successful fighting in jungle country is largely a question of the confidence and self-reliance of the individual. That cannot be acquired without a reasonable period of training in such conditions. It probably requires a minimum of six months’ continuous training before ordinary troops become good jungle fighters. That, as has been shown, was only possible in Malaya for those troops which had been longest in the country, and most of those were well trained. Criticisms of the training in Malaya of the later arrivals fail to take into account the demands on military man-power imposed by the necessity for putting into a state of defence a whole country the size of England and the frequent orders for varying degrees of readiness which resulted from the state of political tension prior to the outbreak of war. In this connection, it must be remembered that it was only late in 1940 that the policy of holding the whole of Malaya received official sanction, so that little more than a year was available for the construction of defence works. Those who had any responsibility for the defence of the coasts of Britain in 1940, when much more man-power was available, will, I feel sure, understand what that means.

A most important aspect of training to fight in jungle is the ability to live on the country and, if necessary, to exist on short rations and with little water. In that the Japanese held a distinct advantage. Their columns were frequently dispatched into the jungle carrying a week’s rations. They made great use of local resources and for long periods were able to dispense with the normal system of supply. They were, of course, more ruthless in their methods vis-a-vis the local inhabitants than is our custom and they had the advantage that their basic foodstuffs were almost everywhere obtainable. But our troubles were partly of our own making. In the years preceding the war, great stress had been laid on the welfare of the troops. That is excellent so long as it is not allowed to obscure essentials, such as the ability of the soldier to endure hardships when conditions demand it. When I was a prisoner-of-war I had the opportunity of very intimate talks with men of all ranks. One of the most intelligent of them, a regular soldier with a few years’ service, once said to me, “We soldiers, sir, don’t want to be pampered. All we want is to be treated fairly and to be given a man’s job to do.” Those are simple words and I cannot help thinking that there is a great deal of truth in them. Certainly there was a tendency to pamper the soldier before the war and even during the early part of the war. In the Far East it required the experience of war and later of the prisoner-of-war camps to prove that Europeans are capable of enduring hardships under Eastern conditions and of living on Asiatic food to a far greater extent than was ever before thought possible. That is a lesson which must never be forgotten.

I now come to the all-important question of morale. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities confidence had been steadily growing among the forces in Malaya due in a great measure to the steady flow of arms and equipment, but few realized the magnitude of the task of defence, made more difficult from week to week by the increases in commitments. I have said that the great majority of the troops were young and inexperienced and in this connection Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery has written as follows:

New and untried troops must be introduced to battle carefully and gradually with no failures in the initial ventures. A start should be made with small raids, then big-scale raids, leading up gradually to unit and brigade operations. Great and lasting harm can be done to morale by launching new units into operations for which they are not ready or trained and which are therefore likely to end in failure. When new units and formations are introduced to battle there must be no failure.

Those are very true words as all who fought in Malaya will testify, but they are not always applicable when the enemy is calling the tune. That was our problem. The very first impact of the Japanese attack, which was heavier than had been anticipated and which, to some extent, caught our troops on the wrong foot, had an unsettling effect, from which there was never a real opportunity to recover completely. Rather was the effect increased when it became apparent that the Japanese, that distant Eastern race about which the ordinary man knew so little, held complete supremacy both in the air and in armoured fighting vehicles, the two essentials of modern warfare. The effect of that cannot be over-estimated even though we were fighting in a country whose woods and forests provide some natural protection against these two weapons. I must confess that at the outset I myself hoped that, helped by this protection with which nature had provided us, we should not suffer too much from the advantage which the enemy held in these two arms, but I was very soon disillusioned. It is the psychological rather than the material effect which is so damaging and it becomes more so as troops suffer increasingly from physical and mental exhaustion. When that state arrives, human reactions tend to become slower and disaster may at any time result. Another thing which had a bad psychological effect on the troops concerned the aerodromes. When our own air force evacuated them it was found impracticable to deny them to the enemy by demolitions for more than a very few days. We were therefore faced with the problem, not of holding them for the use of our own air force, but of holding them to deny their use to the enemy air force. The effect on the troops needs no stressing.

In these circumstances leadership was of paramount importance, and it was there that most of our units were not strong. It was nobody’s fault. It was just that there were not enough trained leaders to meet the demands of the expansion which had taken place in the armed forces. In this matter the Indian units were harder hit than the others because the young Indian soldiers needed leadership above all else—and they needed British leadership. In each Indian unit there was only the bare minimum of experienced British officers and casualties among these were soon heavy—partly because, true to their traditions, they readily accepted personal risks in leading their men, and partly because the Japanese no doubt made special efforts to eliminate them, well knowing how badly they were needed. They could not be adequately replaced, for such officer reinforcements as we could make available, excellent fellows as they were, had not the necessary knowledge of the Indian soldier or of his language. In the A.I.F. also the officers were of a splendid type, but the nucleus of officers properly trained in the art of war, and especially of modern war, was very small. In jungle warfare it is more than ever the junior leader that matters, for small bodies so often get detached from the rest and have to act on their own initiative.

When there is any weakness in leadership, esprit de corps and regimental tradition become of even greater importance than in normal circumstances. Before the war there was a body of opinion, both inside and outside the army, which held that there was little or no value in regimental tradition. If any practical demonstration is needed to disprove that theory, it is to be found in the Malayan campaign. It would be invidious to mention any special regiments, but time and again units with a strong regimental tradition behind them gave of their best in circumstances which might well have dismayed even the bravest.

The trials of the campaign were very great, and it was hardly to be expected that the inexperienced troops would withstand them as steadfastly as would regular seasoned troops. Nevertheless, it stands to their eternal credit that, although they became more and more exhausted and were bewildered and often disheartened, their morale was never broken. Throughout the campaign and right up to the end there was a great deal of heavy fighting, much of it at short range and even hand-to-hand, in which our troops fought courageously and well. Had they not done so, we should never have been able to extricate ourselves from the many perilous positions in which we found ourselves.

I am of opinion that we did not make proper use of the local forces. We tried to train them more or less on the lines of regular troops. That, I think, is a mistake, for it is not possible in a country like Malaya for volunteers to give up sufficient time to reach a proper standard of proficiency. On the other hand, reinforcing units arriving in Malaya from overseas are badly in need of men with local knowledge to act as their guides and helpers. That is one job for the volunteers. Others could form specialist units, i.e. engineers, signals, railway units, armoured car units, docks units, etc., according to their special calling. Others again could be trained for coast defence or as garrisons of vulnerable points, but there should be no attempt to train them in mobile operations. In saying this, I do not, of course, include regular units such as the Malay Regiment which have shown themselves worthy to take their place with troops from any other part of the Commonwealth.

In modern total war, labour plays a prominent part both in the areas of operations and on the home front. Its organization and control demand very careful consideration. I have shown that during the campaign in Malaya there was a breakdown in civil labour. For this there were several reasons. In the first place, labour in Malaya presents a very complicated problem—less complicated perhaps on the mainland, where much of it is provided by Tamils, than on Singapore Island, where the bulk of the labour is Chinese. The Tamils mostly come from the estates where they are already organized with their own overseers and they have a common language. On Singapore Island, on the other hand, most of the labour is controlled by contractors. The Chinese labourers are divided into clans, or “Bangsar”, as they are called in Malaya, each of which has its own language, and these clans are not always in harmony among themselves. There are few Europeans who can speak even two of the languages, which greatly complicates the problem of control. The second main reason for the breakdown was that before the war the labour problem had not been tackled with sufficient energy or foresight. I think that its importance was perhaps not fully realized, and in any case everybody was working “all out” at that time and it was not easy to find anybody with the time to tackle such an intricate problem. When war came we had to fall back, as far as Singapore was concerned, on the contractor system, and that proved most unsuitable for war needs. As soon as this became apparent, efforts were made to replace it by controlling labour direct and later by a measure of compulsion. But all these came too late. There was no time to give them a proper trial and no deductions can there¬fore be drawn as to what might be best. One thing seems certain and that is that labour must be carefully organized and properly administered. In my opinion, as much labour as possible should in war be brought under military control.

A great deal of criticism has been levelled at the civil administration of Malaya. Much of it is unjust. It had been told that the primary duty of the people of Malaya was to produce as much rubber and tin as possible for war purposes. It had to keep this object in mind while making at the same time preparations against eventual attack. It had also to watch over the interests of a mixed population of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Europeans. In the circumstances, it was inevitable that clashes of interests should occur. It was further handicapped by a constitution totally unsuited to war requirements. Even at home it required the impulse of national danger to bring about that complete harmony and co-operation between the ministries which is so essential in modern war. Perhaps it was not surprising that in Malaya with all its complications we never quite arrived at that perfect state. But, as war is now all-embracing, the integration of military and civil control is a matter which in the future must be properly planned. The first essential is that all the most senior officers and civil officials should, before assuming their appointments, be trained in matters of Imperial defence at a common school.

What was so difficult to attain in Malaya was a determined and united effort on the part of all, both military and civil, to repel the common foe. Nevertheless when war came many men and women of all races, both official and unofficial, played a creditable and often a heroic part in the defence of the country. Many of them lost their lives and many of them suffered long periods of imprisonment or internment at the hands of the Japanese. Most of them suffered heavy losses of property. Let us remember and appreciate the self-sacrifice and suffering of these people, and above all let us pay tribute to the three hundred brave women who spent three and a half long years in internment, most of it in a common jail.

So far I have dealt chiefly with the handicaps which beset us in the Malayan campaign and with the lessons which should be drawn from it. Let me conclude by summarizing some of the achievements. We know now that the Japanese, instigated by their German friends, set out to capture Singapore as part of the general strategy of the World War and that they meant to capture it quickly. They hoped to reach the Perak River in two days and in so doing to cut off, and subsequently destroy, all our forces in North Malaya. Then, presumably, they would have marched triumphantly on Singapore, unopposed at any rate until they reached Johore. This danger was averted, as were others when Japanese forces landed on the west coast of Perak and later at Muar. Thus, with great difficulty and with narrow margins, we extricated our forces from three successive pincer thrusts. Had we failed to do so on any of these occasions, there would have been complete and irreparable disaster. For that the chief credit must go to the fighting troops, for without great fighting at critical moments it could not have been done. Let us not forget either the less spectacular operations of administration, of communication and of command which were going on steadily day and night. Then there were the losses inflicted on the enemy. What their total casualties were will perhaps never be known accurately, but undoubtedly they were heavy. Many of their armoured fighting vehicles were destroyed even though, until the last few days, we had none with which to oppose them. It is estimated that over three hundred enemy aircraft were destroyed by our land and air forces. Several enemy ships were sunk and others were damaged.

The retreat from Mons and the retreat to Dunkirk have been hailed as epics. In the former our army was able, with the help of a powerful ally, to turn the tables on the enemy. In the latter our army was evacuated by the navy with the loss of all heavy equipment. Each of these retreats lasted approximately three weeks. The retreat in Malaya lasted ten weeks in far more trying conditions. There was no strong ally to help us and no navy to evacuate the force even if it had been desirable to do so. Those ten weeks may well have been of far greater importance to the war as a whole than was realized at the time. They enabled Australian divisions to be taken back from the Middle East to defend their homeland, and they enabled the deplorably weak defiences of India to be developed. Had there been no war in Malaya the Japanese tentacles might well have stretched much farther than was in fact the case. Perhaps, therefore, the judgment of history will be that all the effort and money expended on the defence of Malaya and the sacrifice and subsequent suffering of many of those who fought in the Malayan campaign were not in vain.

A great many of the causes which contributed to our defeat in Malaya had a common origin, namely the lack of readiness of the British Commonwealth for war. Our shortage in fighting ships and in modern aircraft, our lack of tanks, the inexperience of many of our leaders and the lack of training of most of our troops can all be attributed to a failure to prepare for war at the proper time. This unpreparedness is no new experience. It is traditional in the British Commonwealth. But it is becoming more and more expensive and, as the tempo of war increases, more and more dangerous. It is the duty of governments in time of peace to put the issues fairly and squarely before the people, however unpalatable they may be. If that is done, I do not believe that we shall again have to take the risks that we took in Malaya.

In 1941, when the crisis came in the Far East, it was too late to put things right. Then we were engaged in a life and death struggle in the West, and war material which might have saved Singapore was sent to Russia and to the Middle East. The choice was made and Singapore had to suffer. In my opinion this decision, however painful and regrettable, was inevitable and right.


THURSDAY, 12 February, opened with a strong Japanese attack with tanks down the Bukit Timah road. I went up to see what was happening and came to the conclusion that there was a very real danger that the enemy would break through on that front into Singapore Town, for we had very little behind the front with which to stop him if he once effected penetration. It was terribly difficult at this time, as indeed it had been throughout the campaign, to know just how strong our defences were. Units would report their strength as being down to an odd hundred or two, but a little later a company perhaps, which had been detached and lost in the thick country, would turn up again and up would go the fighting strength.

I went to see Heath. We agreed that it was no good leaving troops guarding the northern and eastern shores of the island when there was such imminent danger of losing Singapore Town itself and that the time had come to take up a perimeter defence round the town. Such a perimeter defence must of course include the water supply. So I instructed Heath to withdraw his troops from the northern beaches and to select and occupy a position covering the water supply and linking up on the right with Southern Area which would be holding the Kallang aerodrome. I also instructed Keith Simmons to make arrangements to with-draw from the Changi area and from the beaches east of Kallang as soon as he received orders to do so.

Then I went on to see the Governor. He was still at Government House which was being shelled intermittently. I told him of the situation on the Bukit Timah road and of possible developments. Several important decisions had to be taken. One concerned the Malayan Broadcasting Station which was now less than a mile from the front line. We decided that the time had come to destroy it. Another concerned the stocks of currency notes held by the Treasury. I had always imagined before that you could get rid of them at the last moment by a good bonfire, but it was not as easy as all that. They had to be conveyed to a place where they could be destroyed and lorries were required for that. So, if we were to ensure their destruction, it must be done in good time. On the other hand, we hoped to go on fighting and, if we did so, we should want money. A tricky problem. We decided to destroy some of the notes and to keep the rest—a good old English compromise.

The application of the scorched earth policy in Singapore was undoubtedly detrimental to morale. There is a vast difference between the application of such a policy in defence of a nation’s homeland and its application in a distant land inhabited by Asiatic peoples where the property to be destroyed has been built up laboriously over the years by Government or by private enterprise and where, in many cases, those responsible for the implementation of the policy have themselves in the past been the leaders of progress in their respective spheres. Few people can see their castles knocked down without pangs of remorse.

Heavy fighting developed along the whole front. On the right a determined enemy attempt to capture Nee Soon village was repulsed by units of the 8th and 28th Indian Brigades. This attack was made by the Japanese Imperial Guards supported by tanks. In the Pandan area south of Bukit Timah village the 22nd Australian Brigade Group was still holding its advanced position in spite of repeated attempts by the enemy to dislodge it. It held this position for over forty-eight hours, but it was getting so exhausted and was so isolated that Gordon Bennett withdrew it to the Tanglin area after dark. Farther south the Japanese concentrated their attacks against the 44th Indian Brigade and the 1 st Malaya Brigade. Here the young soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Malay Regiment showed great steadiness in circumstances which might well have affected experienced veterans. On this front the Japanese artillery was assisted by an observation balloon which was moved on to the island. It was maddening to see it sitting up there looking at us when an odd fighter or two could have knocked it down in a few minutes.

At 8.30 p.m. I ordered the demolition of all the Changi defences and the withdrawal during the night of all troops from the Changi area and from the south-east coast to the Singapore defences. That was a hard decision to make. As staff officer and as commander I had seen those defences growing and being brought to their high state of efficiency. I had myself worked on many problems relating to them. I knew well what they meant to the officers and men who manned them. And yet, what was the good of keeping them? If Singapore fell, they would have been exposed to the whole weight of the Japanese attack, both from the air and by land, and could hardly have held out for long. The only hope was to concentrate everything on the defence of Singapore.

The administrative situation now began to cause great anxiety. The military food reserves under our control were sufficient for only about seven days’ consumption, though in addition to this units held reserves of varying quantity and there were also the civil food reserves. We only had one small dump of petrol on the island in addition to what was in vehicle tanks. But the water situation caused most concern. In the Singapore Town area breaks in the mains from bombing and shelling began to gain steadily over repairs with the result that from 12 February pressure failed seriously. Royal Engineer personnel and military transport were called in by the Director-General of Civil Defence to assist the civil staff, and special water-carrying parties were organized. But the high-level reservoir at Pearl’s Hill near the General Hospital was already empty and the Fort Canning reservoir was losing water rapidly.

The superstitious would no doubt look upon Friday, 13 February, as a day of ill-omen, and so it proved to be. It opened with a scare of a Japanese landing on the island of Blakang Mati. Communications were broken and for some time it was difficult to get news but eventually it turned out that it was the landing of some of our own troops who had escaped by sea from the west part of Singapore Island which had given rise to the report. There were so many rumours flying about that it was difficult to know which to believe and which to ignore. In addition to Biakang Mati, there were still also garrisons on Tekong Island and at Pengerang in southern Johore, neither of which places were being attacked. So I made plans to bring the Dogra battalion from Tekong over to Singapore the following night—plans which, as will be seen, had to be abandoned later from lack of any means of transport. So this unfortunate battalion for the third time found itself in an area which was not attacked and in the end never came into action.

The main Japanese offensive during the thirteenth developed along the Pasir Panjang Ridge to the west of Singapore Town. It was a key position on that part of the front, for it not only over-looked the country to the north but also gave direct access to the vitally important Alexandra area where our main ammunition magazine, the main ordnance depot, the military hospital, and other installations were grouped. The attack was made by the Japanese 18th Division and was preceded by a two hours’ artillery, air, and mortar bombardment. The attack fell chiefly on the Malay Regiment which was holding this feature and which fought magnificently. On this and the following day the regiment fully justified the confidence which had been placed in it and showed what esprit de corps and discipline can achieve. Garrisons of posts held their ground and many of them were wiped out almost to a man. It was only when it was weakened by heavy losses that the regiment was forced to give ground. Those who have described the resistance on Singapore Island as half-hearted do scant justice to resistance such as this.

In the Tyersall-Tanglin area, Gordon Bennett had organized an all-round perimeter defence into which most of the units of the A.I.F. had been drawn. I have been surprised to read in his book Why Singapore Fell that he sent a telegram to the Prime Minister of Australia telling him that, in the event of other formations falling back and allowing the enemy to enter the city behind him, it was his intention to surrender to avoid any further needless loss of life. That seems to me a most extraordinary procedure. No doubt he was perfectly entitled to communicate with his own Prime Minister but surely not to inform him of an intention to surrender in certain circumstances when he had not even communicated that intention to his own superior officer.

Farther to the east the 3rd Indian Corps was reorganizing its defences. On the left it had the 18th British Division, in touch with the A.I.F. south of the Bukit Timah road. By the evening of the thirteenth this division was fighting for the first time as a complete division with the 53rd Brigade on the right, the 55th in the centre and the 54th on the left, but there had been much mixing of units as a result of the piecemeal way in which they had been withdrawn from the beach defences. That could not be avoided and it was impossible at that time to sort them out. On the right of the 18th British Division was the nth Indian Division astride the Serangoon road and south of Paya Lebar village. On its right the latter was in touch with the eastern defences of Southern Area which included the Kallang aerodrome.

There were still a number of small ships and sea-going craft lying in Singapore Harbour including some naval patrol vessels. On the morning of the thirteenth Rear-Admiral Spooner decided that it was no longer safe to keep these at Singapore and that they would be of more use for the general prosecution of the war at Java. Accordingly he decided to sail them all for Java that night and to go with them himself. There were in all about fifty of these little ships with accommodation for about 3,000 persons in addition to the crews. It was the last opportunity that could be foreseen for any organized parties to leave Singapore and vacancies were allotted to the Services and to the civil government at a conference held by the rear-admiral. The army was allotted 1,800 vacancies. This was no evacuation comparable to our evacuations from Dunkirk, Greece, Crete, or elsewhere. It was an attempt to get out from Singapore a number of highly trained men and women (staff officers now surplus to our requirements, technicians, business men, etc.), whose knowledge would be of value to the Allies for the further prosecution of the war. There was also the danger that the Japanese might forcibly exploit this knowledge if these people fell into their hands—a danger which subsequent events proved to be well founded. It was more than once suggested to me that arrangements should be made for the evacuation in the last resort of important personages and of as many others as the available transport could take. This I refused to countenance. Our job was to hold Singapore for as long as we could and not to evacuate it, and any suggestion that arrangements for evacuation were being made would have had a most disastrous effect. Moreover, nobody could say what the future held in store for us, and in my view the right place for an officer, and especially a senior officer, is with his men, unless of course he is ordered away, until it is quite certain that he can be of no further service to them. That may mean the ruin of a career and the end of personal ambitions, but one of the corner-stones in our military system is that an officer stands by his men, and that in the end will bring greater happiness.

I have previously referred to Pulau Bukum, the island which lies south-west of Blakang Mati and on which were held large oil fuel reserves by the Asiatic Petroleum Company. These reserves were the responsibility of the navy. Spooner was naturally anxious to dispose of them as our navy could no longer use them and they would be a valuable prize for the Japanese. On the other hand, all Singapore knew of their existence and took not a little pride in them. I feared that the sound of explosions and the sight of billowing black smoke rising from this island would have a most adverse moral effect both on troops and civilians and for that reason I had for some time opposed the destruction of these stocks. But now they were very exposed and the small garrison which was all that I could spare was inadequate to resist a Japanese attack. So I agreed with reluctance to the demolition which took place that afternoon. It was partially, but not entirely, successful.

At 2 p.m. I held a conference at Fort Canning. It was attended by senior commanders down to divisional commanders and by some of my principal staff officers. We discussed the future conduct of the operations and particularly the possibility of staging a counter-attack to relieve the pressure on the defences. All formation commanders were agreed that, owing to the exhaustion of the troops, a counter-attack would have no chance of success at that time. They stressed the fact that the continual day and night operations without possibility of relief were beginning to have their effect on the troops. We also felt that we could not disregard entirely the interests of the vast civil population. We knew too well the Japanese characteristics and what might happen if they broke through into the town. As a result of the views put forward I formed the opinion that the situation was undoubtedly grave but was not hopeless. I felt, however, that, as the situation might develop rapidly at any moment, I ought to have a freer hand to take such action as I thought right than had been given me up to that time. I therefore sent a telegram to the Supreme Commander giving him a picture of the situation as I saw it and asking if he would consider giving me wider discretionary powers. In his reply, while appreciating our situation, he stressed that continued action was essential in the wider interest of the war in the Far East and instructed me to continue to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy for as long as possible.

At the conference we also discussed the allotment of vacancies to formations for evacuation the following night. I decided firstly that all female members of the Military Nursing Service should be sent. This decision was made as a result of a report received from G.H.Q. on the treatment of nurses by the Japanese after the capitulation of Hong Kong. Then I decided that trained staff officers and technicians no longer required could be sent at the discretion of formation commanders. The reason for sending staff officers was that at that time there was a great shortage both in India and in Java where G.H.Q. was forming. Block allotments were made to formations, but it was not incumbent upon them to fill them if they did not wish to do so.

After the conference I went up to Government House to dis-cuss things with the Governor. I found a sentry on the door but the house empty. The sentry told me that a shell had penetrated into one of the shelters under the house and had killed ten or a dozen men; also that the Governor and Lady Thomas had moved to the Singapore Club. Lady Thomas, who later showed remark-able bravery and powers of endurance during the long period of captivity, was unfortunately at this time unwell and had had to take to her bed. As I looked over the town from the grounds of Government House I could hear shooting everywhere, and as I drove back to Fort Canning some shots were fired close to the car. Whether these shots were fired by Japanese infiltrators, or by fifth columnists, or whether they were only looters being shot I do not know. It was all a bit weird and uncanny.

Later in the evening I said good-bye to Pulford. I shall never forget that parting. We had become firm friends since we had been together. He offered to stay with me if I wished it, but I told him he ought to go as there was no more he could do at Singapore. I little knew that I was sending him to his death. He had been very keen on his job and was terribly disappointed at the way things had gone in Malaya. “I suppose you and I will be held responsible for this,” were his last words to me, “but God knows we did our best with what little we had been given.” He left Singapore with Spooner in a fast patrol boat but from the very first things went wrong. The intention had been to move by night and hide in creeks by day, but soon after leaving Singapore the boat ran aground and in getting her off one of the crew damaged his arm. There was no doctor on board so Spooner decided to go straight ahead. North of the Banka Straits they were chased by a Japanese destroyer and had to run their craft aground on a deserted island. The Japanese dismantled the patrol boat’s engines and left them there. Efforts to get the news to Java and efforts made by G.H.Q. in Java to find them all failed. There was little food on the island and one by one the party sickened and died. After three months the survivors of the party, some twenty odd, out of an original muster of over forty, were found and taken off by the Japanese. Among those who died on the island were both Spooner and Pulford—the latter, I think, from a broken heart as much as from anything else. And so passed a very gallant officer.

The experience of this party was typical of what befell the remainder of the flotilla of little ships. During the embarkation at Singapore there was much confusion as a result of enemy bombing and some of those detailed to leave never got on board. There were also some “gate-crashers”, as I suppose is to be expected in such circumstances. On the fourteenth the flotilla encountered the Japanese naval and air forces which were then assembling for the attack on Pelambang in southern Sumatra the following day. Many ships were sunk and some were run aground. Few reached their destination. The loss of life was appalling— and that among some of the best who had stood by Singapore to the last. It took months and years to trace the missing. Some of them probably never will be traced. It was a great tragedy.

The effect of the collapse of civil labour now began to make itself more and more felt. At the docks all civil labour had long since disappeared. In the town area debris from the bombing and shelling remained untouched, the dead remained unburied and water ran to waste from the mains from lack of labour to clear the demolished buildings. Practically all offices, business houses and shops were closed. There were few people on the streets and public services were practically at a standstill. One would see groups of Indians moving from area to area to avoid the shelling. The Chinese for the most part seemed to remain indoors or disperse to the outskirts of the town. All hospitals were working to capacity as there were a large number of casualties every day. They did a wonderful job of work. In the afternoon Japanese troops entered the great military hospital at Alexandra and there another tragedy took place. They claimed that Indian troops had fired from the hospital. Whether they did so or not I cannot say, As a reprisal the Japanese bayonetted some members of the staff and some of the patients, including one poor fellow as he lay on the operating table. Then about 150 of the staff and patients were marched out and incarcerated in a bungalow. There was only room to stand and there they spent the night. The next morning they were taken out and executed. There have been many horrors in this war but for cold-blooded barbarity that surely will rank very high.

It was early on 14 February that the water situation really became serious when the municipal water engineer reported to the Director-General of Civil Defence that he considered a complete failure of the water supply was imminent. At about 10 a.m. I held a conference at the municipal offices at which the chairman of the municipality was present in addition to the above two officials. I was informed that, owing to breaks in the water mains and pipes caused by bombing and shelling, a heavy loss of water was going on, though the two pumping stations at Woodleigh and Mackenzie Road were still working. The municipal water engineer estimated that the water supply would last for forty- eight hours at the outside and that it might only last for twenty- four hours. I promised additional Royal Engineer assistance, but that could not be provided till the afternoon as all available Royal Engineer personnel were at that time fighting as combatant troops.

From there I went to the Singapore Club where I met the Governor. He also was worried about the water situation and stressed the dangers which would result if Singapore with its large population was suddenly deprived of its water supply.

I felt that the water situation was undoubtedly serious but that it had not yet rendered the further defence of Singapore impossible. I still hoped that we could get the situation under control. A curious thing was that by the evening of that day the Japanese were really in a position to turn off the whole supply from the reservoirs if they had wished, and known how, to do so. Why they did not do so I do not know.

I reported the situation to the Supreme Commander who in his reply urged that resistance should be continued and added, “Your gallant stand is serving purpose and must be continued to limit of endurance.” A few words of encouragement in the situation in which we found Ourselves have a wonderful effect. Much more than exhortations to remember the deeds of one’s forefathers, which leave one a little cold.

During the day there had been much fighting along the whole front. The main Japanese thrusts were made in the Alexandra area on our left front and south of the MacRitchie Reservoir. In the former area heavy fighting went on throughout the day, in which the Malay Regiment and the Loyal Regiment specially distinguished themselves. The latter eventually found them-selves defending their own barracks. By the end of the day our troops had been driven back by the weight of the attack to the line Alexandra-Gillman Barracks-Keppel golf-course. The Alexandra ammunition magazine was temporarily out of action owing to fires started by enemy shelling. On the front of the 18th British Division the 1st Cambridgeshires continued to distinguish themselves by holding on to a position west of Adam Road where they had been for three days, but farther north a strong enemy attack supported by tanks late in the afternoon made a deep dent in our position almost as far as Mount Pleasant Road, one of the main residential areas of Singapore. Along the Braddell Road the enemy gained some ground, but on the Serangoon Road front a strong attack was stopped by the nth Indian Division when within a few hundred yards of the vital Woodleigh pumping station. The staff of this station stuck to its work manfully under close range small arms fire and continued pumping to the end. On the eastern front of Southern Area there were some local engagements between the xst Manchester Regiment, a machine-gun battalion withdrawn from the beaches, and enemy detachments. Our light anti-aircraft guns had some wonderful targets on this day as the Japanese aircraft, with no fighters to oppose them, were flying about at low altitudes. Several were brought down, but our reserves of Bofors ammunition were now getting short.

I spent the afternoon visiting the 18th and nth Divisions and then went back again to the municipal offices and on to see the Governor. At the municipal offices I conferred with the same officials as in the morning. The water engineer reported that the situation was very slightly better and I instructed the Director- General of Civil Defence to send me at 7 a.m. the following morning an accurate statement of the situation as it appeared at that time.

I went home feeling rather more hopeful. I thought that with any luck we might be able to master the water difficulty, while at the front, in spite of one or two danger spots, the enemy’s rate of advance was on the whole being slowed down.

At Fort Canning we had taken over one of the adjoining houses and here an improvised mess had been established. The Chinese servants as usual rose to the occasion and ran a wonderful show considering the difficulties and the numbers they had to cater for.

Sunday, 15 February—Black Sunday. The first event of the day was a Communion Service at Fort Canning, but then the bad news started to come in. The water report from the D.G.C.D. showed a serious deterioration. He summed up the situation by saying that he anticipated that the water supply would not last for more than another twenty-four hours. I told him to verify this and to come to a commanders’ conference which had been summoned for 9.30 a.m. Then I received a disturbing report on the administrative situation generally. The military food reserves under our control had been reduced to a few days, though there were still fairly large civil reserves. Deprived of the Alexandra ammunition magazine, where fires were still burning, the 25- pounder field-gun ammunition reserves were getting very short and the reserves of Bofors ammunition were almost exhausted. We had practically no petrol except what was in vehicle tanks.

That was the situation which I had to report when the conference assembled. The D.G.C.D. was asked to report on the water situation in more detail. He confirmed what he had said before and added that, if total failure took place, it would be some days before piped water could be obtained again. Ways and means of overcoming our various difficulties were discussed. None of them were really vital except the water problem. Heath stressed the danger of the water shortage as it affected the Indian troops, while the danger to the civil population was also taken into account. I felt that there was no use in remaining passively on the defensive as we were. There seemed to be only two possible alternatives, i.e. either to counter-attack to regain control of the reservoirs and of the military food depots and to drive back the enemy’s artillery with a view to reducing the damage to the water supply system, or to capitulate. I put these alternatives to the commanders. They were unanimously of the opinion that in the existing circumstances a counter-attack was impracticable. Some of them also doubted our ability to resist another determined attack and pointed out the consequences that might result to the crowded population in the town. It was in these circumstances that I decided to capitulate.

While this conference was taking place, Beckwith Smith, all communications having broken down, had arrived at head-quarters 3rd Indian Corps to report widespread infiltration on his front during the night and that he thought the situation very critical, as he no longer had any reserves with which to eject the enemy. On the left of our front also the Japanese had renewed their attacks and, in spite of some bitter fighting by the Loyals, had driven our troops back to the east end of the Alexandra depots area and of the Keppel golf-course area.
The only thing to cheer our gloom was a telegram received from the Supreme Commander that morning, from which the following is an extract:

So long as you are in a position to inflict losses and damage to enemy and your troops are physically capable of doing so you must fight on. Time gained and damage to enemy are of vital importance at this juncture. When you are fully satisfied that this is no longer possible I give you discretion to cease resistance. . . . Inform me of intentions. Whatever happens I thank you and all your troops for your gallant efforts of last few days.

I feel sure that my readers will not wish me to recount in any detail the painful events which took place during the remainder of that day. The meeting with the Japanese commander, Lt.- Gen. Yamashita, took place in the Ford factory near Bukit Timah village in the evening. There was not much chance of bargaining, but I did what I could to ensure the safety of both troops and civilians. In this connection it should be recorded that General Yamashita never allowed the main body of his troops to enter Singapore Town. He received more placidly than I had expected my statement that there were no ships or aeroplanes in the Singapore area and that the heavier types of weapons and some of the military equipment and all secret documents had already been destroyed under my orders.

Little did I think at that time that later in the war I should myself be present at General Yamashita’s capitulation—but so it was to be.

Hostilities finally ceased at 8.30 p.m. on 15 February 1942, British time.

The general line of our foremost positions then ran from right to left approximately as under:

The Kallang aerodrome (civil airport)—the junction of the Serangoon and Braddell roads—the junction of Braddell and Thomson roads—the Broadcasting Station—Adam road— Raffles College area—Tyersall area—Tanglin area—Mount Echo—the biscuit factory—the Alexandra ammunition magazine—Mount Washington—the eastern end of the Keppel golf links.

We also held Blakang Mati, Pulau Brani, Tekong, and the Pengerang area.

Japanese troops entered Singapore Town on the morning of 16 February; 175 medium and light tanks took part in a military demonstration.

After the cessation of hostilities it was five and a half days, with engineers and water parties working at full pressure, before water again reached the lower levels of Singapore Town which had been deprived of it. It was ten days before water again reached the General Hospital and many other buildings on the higher levels.

And so after seventy days of great and continuous effort, fighting and marching day and night with little or no rest, the army of Malaya passed into captivity.


THE Western Area held by the A.I.F. was a particularly difficult one. Much of the coast-line is covered with mangrove swamps which had been partially drained and did not therefore provide any very formidable obstacle. In the extreme west there are a number of short, but very steep, valleys. In the north the broad, but also very short, Kranji River provides a natural boundary between defensive sectors. Gordon Bennett had naturally selected this as an inter-brigade boundary, allotting the sector to the right of it to his own 27th Brigade and that to the left of it as far as the Sungei Berih to his 22nd Brigade, the one which had been engaged on the east coast of Johore and which, except for the battalion which had taken part in the Muar fighting, was probably the freshest of all the formations which had fought on the mainland. The south-western part of the island was held by the 44th Indian Brigade.

At first sight it might appear that the 27th Brigade had an easy task compared to the others, but it was responsible for the defence of the all-important Causeway and one of its battalions was under Headquarters A.I.F. in area reserve. The break in the Causeway itself had not proved quite so effective as we had hoped. It was all right at high tide, but at low water it was fordable for men on foot though not for vehicles. The Japanese made great efforts to repair it and provided some good targets for our artillery. Later, after they had got a footing on the island, they did manage to effect some temporary repairs.

It is with the front held by the 22nd Australian Brigade that we will now deal, for it was against that front that the main weight of the Japanese attack was directed. The defence problem was not an easy one. Between the headwaters of the Rivers Kranji and Berih is a comparatively narrow neck of land in which lies Ama Keng village. That in many ways would have been the easiest line to hold, but to do this would have sacrificed the great advantage which the defender of a coast-line always has of being able to hit the enemy when he is most vulnerable, i.e. when he is landing from his boats. That is why I had laid down a forward policy for the defence with a view to stopping the enemy landing or, if he did land, to throwing him out again quickly. In the sector we are discussing this involved, owing to the convex shape of the coast-line, a front of 15,000 yards for the brigade—or an average of nearly three miles for each of the three battalions. Before the war we used to reckon on a battalion holding four or five hundred yards of front. Of course, those ideas soon went by the board, but still three miles for a battalion, even with a water obstacle in front of it, is a pretty formidable proposition. I have never seen the orders issued by the commander of this brigade, but it seems that he felt anxious about the extent of his front, as I know Gordon Bennett did too, for I understand that an order was issued later on to the effect that the forward troops, if overrun, were to fight their way back successively to company and battalion perimeter positions.

The 2/20 Battalion A.I.F. with a company of Dalforce attached was on the right on a very wide front, the 2/18 Battalion in the centre, and the 2/19 Battalion on the left. Both these last two had rather narrower frontages than the first. The 2/19 Battalion, it will be remembered, was the battalion which had suffered so heavily at Muar. It had since absorbed a large number of reinforcements but had had little time really to settle down again. There was a machine-gun company distributed along the front and the brigade was supported by Australian artillery.

As had happened all the way down the peninsula, military operations were complicated by the presence everywhere of large numbers of civilians. The Government had already evacuated civilians from parts of the south coast and now we had to clear a strip along the north and west coasts, so all the rest of the Island was becoming very congested. Besides creating complications when actual fighting was going on, this made the work of fifth columnists comparatively simple. It is even reported that a Japanese captain did a complete reconnaissance of our positions before the attack took place.

Shelling started on the front of the A.I.F. at about 10 a.m. on 8 February, headquarters and communications receiving special attention, but for some reason the reaction to this and to the patrol reports which had been received that morning does not seem to have been very quick. It may have been that the restrictions which had been placed on harassing fire had a crippling effect, though these had not been intended to cover a special case of this sort. Whatever the reason, full advantage was not taken of the opportunity to strafe the enemy’s concentrations.

In the afternoon the bombardment increased and it reached its height after dark. The roar of the guns and the crash of bursting shells reminded one forcibly of the bombardments of the First World War. It was obvious that the Japanese had brought up a lot more guns for this attack and that they had plenty of ammunition. Many of the forward defences were flattened and most of the telephone lines were cut. The first attack on the front of the 2/20 Battalion came in at about 10.45 P-m- and very soon the whole front from the right of that battalion to the right of the 2/19 Battalion was engaged, while other craft attempted to enter the mouth of the River Berih but were driven off. The first flights were brought across the Straits in special armoured landing-craft. Successive flights came in more vulnerable types of craft. There seemed to be large numbers of the special landing-craft, as many as forty to fifty appearing on the front of one of the forward companies. Each landing-craft carried forty men. They were engaged by our defences and a furious battle raged on the beaches, our machine-guns firing incessantly until they had no ammunition left. Many of the leading landing-craft were sunk or driven off, but others came on, and the Japanese got a footing ashore at many points. I believe that was solely due to the weakness of our defences which resulted from the extended fronts, aggravated by the fact that, again for reasons unknown, our artillery defensive fire was slow in coming down. That may have been due to the cutting of the telephone lines by bombardment or to the fact that it is not easy to see light signals in that wooded country. On the other hand, it seems that there was a strange and unfortunate reluctance to use the wireless. It appears also that our beach searchlights were never exposed. Some of them may have been destroyed by bombardment. In any case, this failure was not too serious for in one area at least a burning Japanese barge loaded with crackers supplied the necessary illumination. No, the chief reason why the Japanese got ashore was because we were too thin on the ground.

The strongest enemy attack was directed from the west up the banks of the River Murai with Ama Keng village as its objective.

In this area a wedge was driven between the 2/18 and 2/19 Battalions.

At about midnight the commanders of the three battalions, in accordance with the orders outlined above, ordered their forward troops to withdraw into battalion perimeters. The 2/20 Battalion on the right concentrated in the Namazie Estate, but the 2/18 Battalion was too closely engaged by the enemy and only a small proportion of them reached their perimeter at Ama Keng village. A similar fate befell the 2/19 Battalion on the left. Finally, when the commander of the 2/20 Battalion ordered a withdrawal to Ama Keng village, where he hoped to join up with the 2/18 Battalion, he found it occupied by the enemy.

These tactical movements at night in thick country and in the middle of a battle which in many places was being fought at close quarters were undoubtedly too difficult. In such circumstances the only way to fight the battle is for the advanced posts to hold on and for reserves to counter-attack up to them if the opportunity arises. The result in this case was much confusion and disorganization, groups of men becoming detached and lost in the close country. Those are conditions which produce stragglers and that there were stragglers in this case cannot be denied. In fact, a great deal has already been written about the stragglers in Singapore Town—some of it true, some much exaggerated. Let us see what the true picture was. These men were not long- service soldiers and discipline was not deep-rooted. They had volunteered for service and had been sent to Malaya to defend the Naval Base. They knew that the Naval Base was no longer of any use and they knew also that Australia, their homeland, was being threatened. Some of them belonged to units which, after heavy casualties on the mainland, had had no time to regain their full fighting efficiency. They had fought well throughout a long night against heavy odds and were exhausted. Later in the week the 22nd Australian Brigade again distinguished itself by its dogged fighting. That is the true picture. Let it be judged on its merits. And let it not be supposed that there are no stragglers in other battles. Not all men are heroes, though the readers of military histories who have no practical experience may get that impression. I remember on one occasion in the retreat of March 1918 being sent with a party of men to clear stragglers out of a village. In that village we found men of twenty-one different units. Even our military regulations admit that there will be battle stragglers in the instructions they contain for the organization of stragglers’ posts.

I have said that the 22nd Australian Brigade fought against heavy odds in this battle. That may surprise some of my readers who have read reports of an almost unopposed landing by a handful of Japanese. Fortunately we have now got evidence of the strength of the Japanese attack and of the methods they employed. It appears that the initial attack was carried out by two divisions—the 18th (transferred from the east coast) on the right and the 5th on the left. During the night 8-9 February, 13,000 troops were landed on the island and another 10,000 landed shortly after dawn. Later the Guards Division joined in the attack. In reserve in the Kluang area of Johore were two divisions and it is probable, though not certain, that there was yet another division in reserve. So altogether the Japanese appear to have had five, or probably six, divisions available for this attack on the island.

For some time we were at a loss to know how the Japanese had conveyed their landing-craft to the Johore Straits, as it did not seem possible that they could have been brought round by sea without our knowledge. We now know that they were brought overland by road from Pontian Kechil on the west coast of Johore.

It must be admitted that the Japanese feat in mounting this attack in the space of about a week was a very fine military performance. No doubt many of the plans were thought out and laid in advance, but even so their completion and implementation in that short time would have done credit to the staff of any first- class military power. The fighting of their troops also was of a very high order. The landing operations were conducted with the greatest determination in spite of what must have been very heavy losses. Some of the Japanese soldiers, I have been told, swam the Straits carrying their rifles and ammunition with them. Each man was equipped with a wrist compass and, as soon as they had landed, they went straight off without any delay to their objective. In an operation of this sort the Japanese soldier is at his best— quite fearless and filled with determination, come what may, to reach the point to which he has been ordered to go. I cannot help thinking of a discussion which took place shortly before the war as to whether the art of swimming should be included in the training of the British soldier. The war surely must have dispelled any doubts which existed on that point. I wonder how many valuable lives we lost during the war because men could not swim. The numbers must have run into many thousands.

It was some time before the full significance of what was happening reached the headquarters in rear. Owing to the destruction of communications reports were slow in coming in and, as so often happens, the first reports were optimistic. At my headquarters, which were still at Sime Road where I now slept in my office, it was not until the early hours of the morning that we could be certain that this was in fact the main attack and that it was not going to be followed by another attack elsewhere. I had learnt in exercises we had held in England not to commit your reserve until you are quite certain you are dealing with the real thing. That was why it was not till 8.30 a.m. that I ordered the 12th Indian Brigade, the only Command Reserve, to move forward to the Bukit Panjang—Keat Hong village area, where it was to come under Gordon Bennett’s command. It had already been given a warning order shortly after midnight to prepare for this move. The so-called 12th Brigade at this time consisted only of two very weak battalions—the Argylls, 400 strong, of whom 150 were marines, and the 4/19 Hyderabads, 440 strong, of which a large number were newly arrived reinforcements. That was typical of the state of many of our battalions.

Before this Gordon Bennett had moved forward his own reserve—and he had done all he could to create reserves from his reinforcement depot and elsewhere—and plans had been made to launch a counter-attack to recapture Ama Keng village. But the Japanese had anticipated this move and by 8 a.m. were already attacking Tengah aerodrome, held by troops of the Jind Infantry, one of the best of the Indian State Forces units. By the time the 12th Brigade arrived the problem was to stabilize the front and it was put into position in the right section of the Kranji-Jurong line.

At 11 a.m., with a view to creating a new reserve which I could call upon if necessary, I ordered Heath to put his own reserve, the 6th/15th Brigade, at one hour’s notice and not to commit it without reference to me.

About midday there was a lull in the fighting and I went forward to see Gordon Bennett. His headquarters were just west of Bukit Timah village in some estate buildings, where they came in for a good deal of shelling and bombing. Accommodation was cramped and altogether it was not a very healthy spot. We discussed the conduct of the battle. We decided that his 27th Brigade should continue to hold the Causeway sector and that with his 22nd Brigade and the reinforcements which had been sent up he should try to stabilize the front on the Kranji-Jurong position. Then there was the question of what orders should be given to the 44th Indian Brigade. Ballantine was still holding his extended positions round the coast but had sent some of his reserves to look after his right flank. His only line of communication along the Jurong road was now directly threatened and obviously it was no use the brigade staying where it was. I thought at first that it might be used to counter-attack the enemy’s right flank, but it was extended over such a wide area that it would have taken a long time to concentrate it for such an attack. So eventually we decided that it should be ordered to fall back on to the left of the Kranji-Jurong position. Finally, I said I would move up the 6th/i5th Indian Brigade immediately to a rendezvous on the Bukit Timah road with its head near the race-course and place it under Gordon Bennett’s orders. In making this decision I was influenced by the paramount necessity of preventing the enemy reaching the important food and petrol dumps east of Bukit Timah village, the loss of which would seriously weaken our ability to resist.

Upon return to my headquarters, I and my staff worked upon a plan to meet the eventuality that the enemy’s advance down the Bukit Timah road might force us to withdraw our troops from the other parts of Singapore Island. The plan in outline was to hold a perimeter which would include the Kallang aerodrome, the MacRitchie and Peirce reservoirs and the Bukit Timah depots area. Heath and Keith Simmons came to my headquarters and were given this plan verbally on the evening of 9 February. It was issued in writing as a secret and personal instruction to senior commanders and staff officers shortly after midnight, so that responsible senior officers might know my intentions in case the situation developed too rapidly for further orders to be issued.

During the evening of 9 February, the Japanese artillery concentrated on the front held by the 27th Australian Brigade. At about 7.30 p.m. the enemy attacked on a front between the 10
Causeway and the River Kranji. Again a large number of his landing-craft were knocked out by artillery and machine-gun fire, but again he succeeded in getting a footing.

On this same night a naval force of three fast armed patrol vessels was sent into the western channel of the Johore Straits with the object of sinking the enemy’s landing-craft and disrupting his communications. It was a bold move as they were exposed to small arms fire from both sides as they went up the Straits. They penetrated nearly to the Causeway and sank a few landing-craft, but could not stay for long in such an exposed and perilous position.

At midnight our line stretched from the Causeway, which we still held, to the Kranji-Jurong switch line and thence along the Jurong River, where the Malay Regiment, except for detachments which had fought up-country, came into action for the first time. But there was a gap between the 27th Australian Brigade and the Kranji-Jurong line, and a further withdrawal carried out after midnight left the important hill features overlooking the Cause¬way undefended. This was the key to the northern defences and should have been held at all costs until evacuation was ordered in accordance with the general plan. To protect its own flank the nth Indian Division had to recapture this position later in the day.

In confused fighting like this, unit and formation commanders must be well forward with their troops if they are to have any hope of controlling the battle. It is an art which is taught and practised in peace training, but many war-time commanders are undoubtedly handicapped from lack of experience when it comes to controlling a quickly moving battle. It happened in Malaya and I have no doubt it happened in other theatres.

The 6th/i5th Brigade, as soon as it had reached its rendezvous on the Bukit Timah road, was moved forward to occupy a position in the Kranji-Jurong line just north of the Jurong road. It had a tedious march against the stream of traffic and did not reach its new positions until 4.30 a.m. Meanwhile, the 22nd Australian Brigade, which was still in the Bulim area a little in front of the Kranji-Jurong line, was ordered to fall back at 6 a.m. to a position on the right of the 6th/i5th Brigade. Again something went wrong; there seems to have been loss of contact and a mistaken order. At any rate the brigade concentrated too far back leaving a gap in the Kranji-Jurong line of which the enemy were quick to take advantage. A strong attack drove our troops back on both flanks and penetrated into the gap.

That morning Wavell visited Singapore for the last time, having come by air from Java. We went straight up to see Gordon Bennett and found him at a new headquarters off the Holland road south-east of Bukit Timah village. The Japanese also had apparently found him there, for no sooner had we arrived than a bombing attack developed and the unedifying spectacle was seen of three general officers going to ground under tables or any other cover that was available. There was a good deal of debris and a few casualties outside, but the party of V.I.P.s escaped untouched though I lost both my car and my field glasses.

Gordon Bennett was not quite so confident as he had been up-country. He had always been very certain that his Australians would never let the Japanese through and the penetration of his defences had upset him. As always, we were fighting this battle in the dark, and I do not think any of us realized at that time the strength of the enemy’s attack. The information at A.I.F. head¬quarters as to what was happening in the Causeway sector was very meagre. It was not till we reached the headquarters of the nth Indian Division later on that we found out the true state of affairs. The fact of the matter was that the communications of the 27th Australian Brigade now ran back through the nth Indian Division’s area and not through the A.I.F. area. I later had to put that brigade temporarily under nth Indian Division.

As a result of this visit I ordered Heath to withdraw three more battalions from the 18th British Division and to send them to the Bukit Timah road to come under Gordon Bennett’s orders. Regrettable as it was, these battalions had to be drawn from different brigades. There was no other alternative as there was no time for reliefs to take place. The force was commanded by Lt.-Col. Thomas and was known as Tomforce.

After we left A.I.F. headquarters we passed an undisciplined- looking mob of Indians moving along the road. They were carrying rifles and moving in no sort of formation. Their clothing was almost black. I must confess I felt more than a bit ashamed of them and it was quite obvious what the Supreme Commander thought. Only recently have I learnt the truth. This was the administrative staff of a reinforcement camp on the move. The quartermaster had some rifles in store and, good quartermaster as he was, had determined that they must be taken. So, having no transport, he had given one to each man to carry. The blackened clothing came from burning oil. That is another point— and a big one. Burning oil sends up billowing smoke full of black particles. These particles, when they come down, cover the ground and blacken everything with which they come into contact. Many of our troops looked more like miners emerging from a shift in the pits than fighting soldiers. It is difficult to keep one’s self-respect in these conditions, especially when things are not going too well. Another example of the difficulties of combining scorched earth and battle fighting.

After a brief visit to headquarters 3rd Indian Corps we went on to headquarters nth Indian Division, north of Nee Soon village. Key was well forward with his troops and in close touch with the situation, but a bit anxious about his left flank. The junction of the Mandai and Bukit Timah roads was clearly the key to the situation here, and I sent a personal instruction to the 27th Australian Brigade to try to push forward and get control of it again.

Then back again to the headquarters A.I.F., which we reached at about 2.30 p.m. There we heard of the unsatisfactory situation in front of Bukit Timah village, though there was no very clear picture of the positions occupied by our own troops. In fact, some of them were far from where they were thought to be, as will be seen later. Bukit Timah was vital to the defence—partly because it is an important road junction, partly because there is direct observation from the hills north-west of the village as far as Singapore Town itself, and partly because of the important dumps and depots which lay to the east of it. So I told Gordon Bennett to stage a counter-attack to re-establish the Kranji- Jurong line. Orders for this were issued without delay. The counter-attack was to be made in three stages. The first was to secure by 6 p.m. the same evening the Bukit Panjang and Bukit Gombok features. These two hills lie a little west of the main road north of Bukit Timah village and parts of them were already held, so very little advance was necessary. The second and third stages, which were to take place on the morning and afternoon of the following day respectively, aimed at re-establishing the Kranji-Jurong line. As events turned out, this counter-attack was still-born for the enemy attacked first and during the night penetrated deep into our position.

We got back to Command Headquarters at about 4 p.m. There I was given two very disturbing reports. The first was that the enemy were approaching Bukit Timah village. My B.G.S. told me that it had come from a brigade major and that he had every reason to think it was true. The significance of this was that the large reserve petrol depot was only 500 yards east of the village and must not at any price be allowed to fall into the enemy’s hands. The responsibility for ordering its destruction rested with me and now I gave orders for destruction to take place. It was set on fire at 6 p.m. and burnt furiously for two or three days.

The other piece of news was even more disconcerting. It came from Keith Simmons who said that the 44th Indian Brigade had passed through his front and was now at Pasir Panjang village on the south coast four miles from where it was supposed to be. I could hardly believe this, so I went forward again to head-quarters A.I.F. to find out what was happening. Later I went to the Reformatory Road, where at dusk I met the brigade marching back to its position. It had been collected by its officers and was now marching in good order, though of course everyone was pretty tired. I later learnt that one of the battalion commanders had asked for and been given by the brigade commander per¬mission to move his battalion a short distance for tactical reasons. That was quite a normal procedure but, while moving, the battalion had been attacked from the ground and from the air and the movement had continued. It had become infectious and other battalions had joined in and it was not till they reached the sea that their officers had been able to regain control. It was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. It was not fear. It was just the result of putting raw and semi-trained troops, lacking in experienced junior leaders, into a modern battle. It is not fair either to the troops themselves or to the commanders deputed to lead them.

On the way back I experienced some of the difficulties of sorting out traffic blocks at night when the drivers speak many different languages. Our military police were pretty efficient, but I did not envy them their job. It was 9 p.m. before I got back to my house. There I said good-bye to General Wavell. He left at midnight by flying-boat but in the black-out fell down some steps when embarking and sustained injuries which forced him to lie up for some days on his return to Java. Before leaving he issued orders to the effect that Singapore must be held to the last. I have felt since that he took away with him a false idea of the weight of attack which had been thrown against us, for the simple reason that, fighting blind as we were, none of us at that time had fully appreciated it ourselves.

Our last fighters left Singapore on this day. Kallang aerodrome was now so full of bomb craters that it was seldom usable. This gallant squadron had done great work, battling all the time against tremendous odds.

Shortly after 8 p.m. the Japanese launched a strong attack from the west against Bukit Panjang village and now for the first time tanks made their appearance on the island. Astride the Bukit Timah road south of Bukit Panjang village the 12th Indian Brigade, or what remained of it, was in position. Members of the brigade staff, going forward to find out what was happening, found themselves face to face with Japanese tanks. There was great confusion as friend and foe became inextricably mixed and the tanks were only stopped a short distance in front of Bukit Timah village. The 12th Brigade, decimated after its gallant efforts, ceased to exist as a formation, though parties of Argylls formed themselves into guerrilla bands and went on fighting.

At 6 a.m. on the eleventh, after a few hours’ sleep at Sime Road, I woke up to the sounds of machine-gun fire. Thinking it was probably only some anti-aircraft fire, I sent my A.D.C., Stonor of the Argylls, who had been untiring in his efforts to help me the whole campaign, out to investigate. He soon came back saying there appeared to be a battle going on beyond the end of the golf-course about a mile from where we were. I thought it was time to move. We had prepared an alternative headquarters on Thomson Road but there was no point in going there now, so I decided to join rear headquarters at Fort Canning. Accommodation there was very congested as Headquarters Southern Area and Anti-Aircraft Defences were also there. The General Staff went into the bomb-proof shelter which had been constructed before the war. It was never meant to hold as many bodies as this and the ventilating arrangements were inadequate. In consequence the general staff room became terribly hot and the staff worked under most unpleasant conditions. Air headquarters also moved to a new site in Singapore Town.

The enemy’s successful attack during the previous night had created several danger points. In the first place, a wide gap had developed between the MacRitchie Reservoir and the troops on the Bukit Timah road. To fill this I sent up a composite force from the reinforcement camps. It was reminiscent of March 1918 in France when every last man had to be put into the line. Secondly, a strong attack was launched shortly after dawn against the rear of the 6th/15th Indian Brigade from the direction of Bukit Timah village, forcing it to fall back south-eastwards except for one battalion, the Jats, which had never received the order cancelling the counter-attack planned the previous day. Then, Bukit Timah village itself had fallen into the enemy’s hands and a counter-attack by Tomforce, launched with the object of recapturing the village, was held up on the line of the railway. Later in the morning a strong enemy attack developed against the 22nd Australian Brigade, now reduced to a few hundred men only, which was in position a mile south of Bukit Timah village near the junction of the Reformatory and Ulu Pandan roads. Fierce fighting went on in this area throughout the day during which the brigade, which had incorporated the 2 /4 Machine-gun Battalion now fighting as infantry, held its ground most gallantly in face of infantry attacks supported by aerial bombing, artillery, mortar, and small arms fire.

Farther south the enemy reached the Buona Vista 15-inch battery which was destroyed as they swarmed round the guns.

During the morning I went up the Bukit Timah road to see Tomforce. It was a strange sensation. This great road, usually so full of traffic, was almost deserted. Japanese aircraft were floating about, unopposed except for our anti-aircraft fire, looking for targets. One felt terribly naked driving up that wide road in a lone motor-car. Why, I asked myself, does Britain, our improvident Britain, with all her great resources allow her sons to fight without any air support?

The three battalions of Tomforce were spread out on a wide front astride the Bukit Timah road. Commanders were finding the problem of control in this close country extremely difficult. The usual infiltration by enemy snipers was taking place and the tree snipers were there too. It was all very strange for these troops fresh from the English countryside. In the evening Thomas withdrew his force to a more concentrated position in the race-course area.

On the front of the nth Indian Division the Japanese penetrated between the 8th and 28th Brigades towards Nee Soon village. Here also the forward troops fell back to form a more concentrated defence of that vital area.

At midnight on 11-12 February the 3rd Indian Corps (northern area) took over command of all troops as far left as the Bukit Timah road inclusive. To fill the gap in the golf-course area and to protect the reservoirs a new composite force had been formed from the 18th British Division. It consisted of three infantry battalions, a battery of artillery, a weak squadron of light tanks and a detachment of mechanized cavalry. It was under command of Brigadier Massy Beresford, an able and energetic officer who quickly got a grip of the situation and produced order out of growing chaos. Once again I was impressed with the advantages which trained and experienced commanders enjoy when faced with problems in mobile warfare. Massy Beresford took Tom- force under his command and so became responsible for all the front from the Thomson Road to the Bukit Timah Road.

A painful incident on the eleventh was the destruction by fire of the Indian Base Hospital at Tyersall as a result of enemy action. The hospital was in a hutted camp which burnt so fiercely that few of the patients could be got out. There was a large number of casualties.

We had now lost all the food and petrol depots and dumps in the Bukit Timah area, in spite of our efforts to hold them. That was a serious blow, for we now had only about fourteen days’ military food supplies in the depots which remained under our control. As regards petrol, so little now remained that I had to issue an order that no further supplies, either army, air force, or civil, must be destroyed without my permission.


THE Island of Singapore is oblong in shape with a maximum length from east to west of 27 miles and a maximum width from north to south of 13 miles. It is separated from the mainland of Malaya by the Straits of Johore across which the only permanent communication is the Causeway with a length of 1,100 yards. The Straits west of the Causeway, which are the narrower, vary in width from 600 to 2,000 yards. They are navigable at high water for small medium-draught vessels though the channel is narrow and tortuous. East of the Causeway the Straits are wider, varying in width from 1,100 to about 5,000 yards, and are navigable for the biggest vessels afloat as far as the Naval Base. In the middle of these Straits at their widest point lies Pulau Ubin, with a length of 4J miles and a width of ij miles. To the east of that island is the mouth of the River Johore, which gives access at Kota Tingghi to the main Johore Bahru-Mersing road. Cover¬ing the mouth of this river is the island of Tekong. A few miles east of Tekong lies Pengerang Hill at the southern tip of the Johore mainland. Immediately south of Singapore Island and separated from it by the waters of Keppel harbour lie the islands of Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani. The former was a military reserve. Three miles farther south-west lies Pulau Bukum, where was situated the Asiatic Petroleum Company’s main reserves of naval fuel, petrol, and lubricating oils.

The town of Singapore is situated in the south of the island and extends for some six miles along the water front with a depth of about one and a half miles. Immediately north of it is an extensive residential area covering several square miles of country. The docks area is situated in the western part of the town. The population of Singapore Town in peace-time was in the neighbourhood of 550,000, but by the end of January 1942 it was probably nearer a million.

Main roads radiate from Singapore Town in all directions. The principal is that known as the Bukit Timah road which, crossing to the mainland by the Causeway, becomes the main road to the north. The only hill features of importance lie in the western part of the island. The principal are the Bukit Timah group of hills which lie just north of the village of that name, Bukit Mandai, some three miles north of Bukit Timah, and the Pasir Panjang Ridge, four miles in length, which runs from Pasir Panjang village on the south coast to the western outskirts of Singapore Town.

Apart from the built-up areas, Singapore Island like the rest of Malaya is thickly covered by rubber and other plantations while on the northern and western coasts there are extensive mangrove swamps. These swamps had of recent years, owing to extensive irrigation works, lost much of their value as a military obstacle.

In the centre of the island lie the important MacRitchie, Peirce, and Seletar reservoirs, and the municipal catchment area, a large jungle area traversed only by a few tracks. To the north the Naval Base reservation covers a large tract of country.

Visibility is everywhere restricted. Even from the hill features referred to above, little detail can be seen of ground objects.

The general organization of the defences of Singapore Island before the outbreak of war with Japan has already been outlined in Chapter VII. Naturally these defences had been laid out primarily to repel an attack from seaward, for which purpose they were reasonably strong, even allowing for the fact that the infantry defences were weak, that there were few mobile troops, and that there were no tanks. But as the Japanese advanced southwards down the peninsula, it became evident that the anti-ship guns must be prepared to engage targets on the land front of Singapore. That was not such an easy matter to arrange. Firstly, only a proportion of the guns could be made available for this task as some were ruled out either from lack of range or from limited arcs of fire. Secondly, the heavy guns had only very little high explosive ammunition. They could of course, and in fact did, fire their ordinary armour-piercing shells, but the effect of these against land targets is limited because they bury themselves deep in the ground before exploding. Thirdly, observation of fire was difficult as the topography was highly unfavourable to ground observation while air observation was out of the question in view of the local superiority of the Japanese Air Force. Nevertheless, an improvised but workable counter-bombardment organization was built up and fields of fire were cleared. A large proportion of the officers and men of the fixed defences were regular soldiers, many of whom had been for some years at Singapore. They looked with great pride and even affection on these defences in the building up of which they had taken great personal interest. It was a bitter blow to them that they were never to be tested against enemy ships, but they set to work with a will to prepare for their new role.

The construction of permanent beach defences had been started in 1936 when I was on the staff of Malaya Command. We had not at that time had very much experience of this sort of thing and we gave up a great deal of time to the consideration of the problem and to testing out different theories. The defences were only constructed to cover part of the southern coastline of the island of Singapore, including Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani, but even so they extended for about twenty miles and there were at that time only about half a dozen battalions available to man them. As time went on they were developed and additions made in the form of timber tank obstacles, land mines, barbed wire, and finally timber scaffolding. This latter obstacle was only constructed late in 1941 to the design of the tubular scaffolding which had been erected off many parts of the coasts of Great Britain when invasion threatened. It could only be erected at low tide and much of the work, therefore, had to be done at night. It was put up entirely by military labour.

A word should be said here about land mines in Malaya. As corrosion sets in very quickly in that humid climate nobody quite knew for how long they would remain “live” after being put out. On the other hand, once you have put them out you cannot safely take them up again because they may at any moment explode. The result of this is that, if you lay your minefields and nothing happens, the mines may be “dead” by the time you want to use them. In fact, you have to judge your time very carefully if you want to get full value from them.

In the western part of the island the Rivers Kranji and Jurong both rise in the central group of hills and flow respectively north and south. Between the sources of these two rivers is only a comparatively narrow neck of land, which was the natural place for a switch line to oppose a landing on the western shores of the island. Here the ground had been cleared though no actual defences were constructed until after the outbreak of the war with Japan.

The fact that no defences had been constructed on the north and west coasts of the island in pre-war days, and only limited defences even after the war started, has been the subject of much critical comment even in the highest quarters. It has been imputed to a lack of foresight on the part of successive general officers commanding. Such criticism is most unjust. In the first place, general officers commanding had no authority to construct defences when or where they liked. The defences of Singapore were built up in accordance with a War Office plan, though of course recommendations of the local commander always received consideration. Then there was the question of the object of the defences. It was quite definitely the protection of the Naval Base —not the defence of Singapore Island. Now a very ordinary principle of warfare is that you site your defence in advance of the object to be protected; the distance in advance depends upon the range of the enemy’s weapons and increases as that range becomes greater. The Naval Base itself lies on the north shore of Singapore Island, and it would have been sheer folly to have sited the defences also on the shores of that island allowing the enemy to bomb, shell, and machine-gun the Naval Base at will. It would have been very nice no doubt to have had defences there in addition to those up-country, but finance prohibited that. As has already been stated, the expenditure on the defences in Malaya was always strictly controlled from home, and such money as was made available, apart from the defences on the south coast of the fortress, was of course spent, and quite rightly so, on defence works on the mainland. Even for these works there was never sufficient money available.

When the Japanese started their advance down the Peninsula it soon became apparent that we might be driven back to Johore or even to Singapore. As early as 23 December the question of the defence of the north shore of Singapore Island received my attention and on that day I instructed Keith Simmons, the commander of the Singapore fortress, to start making reconnaissances for defensive positions. That was work which necessarily took a few days as there was a great deal to be done besides the actual siting of the defended localities. Gun positions, O.P.s, assembly positions for reserves and sites for headquarters had to be selected and arcs of fire laid out. As the fortress staff already had its hands pretty full, some special officers were made available for this work. It was intended to start the actual construction of the defences about the beginning of January, but then labour difficulties intervened. There were no troops available and from the beginning of January onwards civil labour failed to an increasing extent as the bombing became heavier. Even the air force, which had priority for this labour for work on the aerodromes and new air strips, seldom got enough and there was none available for our defence works. Sometimes even I had to make available men from our reinforcement camps for work on the aerodromes.
Air Vice-Marshal Maltby in his official report has written:
I wish to pay tribute to the help which the R.A.F. received from the army in Malaya. Despite its own acute needs and great shortages it gave ungrudging help—in defence of aerodromes at cost to its vulnerable points, in working parties and native labour to repair aerodromes at cost to the construction of military defences, in maintaining signals communications and in many other ways.

That is a fine and generous tribute which reflects vividly the spirit of co-operation which existed at the time between our two Services. And it explains why there were not more material defences on the shores of Singapore Island when our weary troops fell back there. But that is not to say that no work had been done. In fact, a very great deal had been done. Sites for forward defended localities and for reserves had been selected. Artillery observation posts and gun positions had been reconnoitred and selected. Locations of formation headquarters had been fixed and communications arranged. Machine-gun positions had been constructed. Oil obstacles and depth charges had been placed in creeks which appeared to be likely landing-places. Spare searchlights had been collected and made available. Anti-tank obstacles had been constructed. The lay-out of the defences was very much complicated by the fact that the northern and western shores of the island are heavily intersected with creeks and mangrove swamps. The general plan of defence was to cover the approaches with defended localities and to hold mobile reserves ready for counter-attack.

I wish to pay tribute to the help which the R.A.F. received from the army in Malaya. Despite its own acute needs and great shortages it gave ungrudging help—in defence of aerodromes at cost to its vulnerable points, in working parties and native labour to repair aerodromes at cost to the construction of military defences, in maintaining signals communications and in many other ways.That is a fine and generous tribute which reflects vividly the spirit of co-operation which existed at the time between our two Services. And it explains why there were not more material defences on the shores of Singapore Island when our weary troops fell back there. But that is not to say that no work had been done. In fact, a very great deal had been done. Sites for forward defended localities and for reserves had been selected. Artillery observation posts and gun positions had been reconnoitred and selected. Locations of formation headquarters had been fixed and communications arranged. Machine-gun positions had been constructed. Oil obstacles and depth charges had been placed in creeks which appeared to be likely landing-places. Spare search¬lights had been collected and made available. Anti-tank obstacles had been constructed. The lay-out of the defences was very much complicated by the fact that the northern and western shores of the island are heavily intersected with creeks and mangrove swamps. The general plan of defence was to cover the approaches with defended localities and to hold mobile reserves ready for counter-attack.

The anti-aircraft defences had been sited in accordance with a plan which was designed eventually to cover the Naval Base, Keppel harbour, and Seletar and Tengah aerodromes, but the lay-out was not scheduled to be completed earlier than the middle of 1942. Some of the guns and searchlights had been sited in Johore, but these had all been withdrawn on to Singapore Island towards the end of January. Some units had been sent to Sumatra for the defence of the aerodromes there. There remained for the defence of the Singapore fortress area four heavy anti-aircraft regiments less one battery, two light anti-aircraft regiments less one battery, and one searchlight regiment.

As regards air defence, a decision had been made to withdraw all aircraft from Malaya before the end of January, but at my urgent request one squadron of fighters was left on Singapore Island. I made this request as much for reasons of morale as for anything else. We had already had experience of the effect on morale of the complete absence of any air support and I felt that, if this situation continued during the fighting for the island, there might be a complete break in morale among the civil population and possibly also among some of the troops. There was only one aerodrome now which was not under observed artillery fire and that was the civil airport at Kallang, so it was on this aerodrome that the fighter squadron was based. It consisted chiefly of Hurricanes which formed part of a reinforcement of forty-eight machines which had just been flown off an aircraft carrier west of Java. These Hurricanes were of the latest type and did some splendid work before those which were left were forced to leave Singapore on 10 February. The aircraft which had gone to Sumatra had their own troubles and we did not see any of them again, but that is another story.

On 29 January the main body of the 18th British Division arrived. It excluded, of course, the 53rd Brigade Group which had already been in action in Malaya and some other units which were coming in a later convoy due to arrive the following week. The division was commanded by Maj.-Gen. M. Beckwith-Smith, a Guards officer who had commanded the 1st Guards Brigade at the beginning of the war. An excellent officer beloved by all ranks in his division. His death from diphtheria in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp was a great shock to all his friends. In order to give this division, if possible, a chance of getting acclimatized I decided to hold it initially in Command Reserve. Some people hold the view that this division should never have been sent to Malaya at that late hour—that it was just a waste of valuable man-power and material. I do not agree with that view.

It was certainly very bad luck on the men of the division that they should be thrown into the melting-pot to spend so many years in captivity and to suffer such grievous losses, but, when the decision was made to send the division to Malaya, the intention was still to hold Singapore for as long as possible and it was right that every effort should be made to strengthen its defences. It was just the luck of war.

In the same convoy as this division arrived a light tank squadron from India. They were the only tanks ever to reach Malaya on our side. The tanks themselves, I fancy, had been collected from various training establishments and the squadron hastily formed. When they reached Singapore, some of them had to be put straight into ordnance workshops before they were fit to take the road. Some never did take the road.

An armoured brigade was due to arrive in the Far East early in March. When asked for my views on the destination of this brigade I recommended that the destination of one Cruiser regiment at least should be left in abeyance until nearer the time of arrival, as I felt that it might prove extremely valuable but that it was too early as yet to say whether it would be possible to bring it to Singapore.

The administrative situation when we fell back to the island did not, as a whole, give cause for any great anxiety, though there were shortages in one or two important commodities such as field-gun and light anti-aircraft ammunition. The military dumps and depots had been widely dispersed in accordance with the prewar policy to avoid excessive loss from air attack. The weakness now was that many of them, and especially the main ones, were in the centre of the island, where they were more exposed to capture by the enemy than if they had been in the town area. For instance, the main military food supply depot was just east of Bukit Timah village while a large dump of food back-loaded from the mainland was on the race-course. This was not an ideal arrangement, but the fact of the matter was that the Singapore Town area had become so congested with the influx of refugees from the mainland that there was little spare room in it. Similarly there were two large petrol depots near the race-course, so that the Bukit Timah area had become of very great tactical importance. On the other hand, most of the civil government’s food reserves, both for Europeans and Asiatics, were in the Singapore Town area.

As regards water, we were now dependent on the three reservoirs. The level in these was rather lower than usual owing to the abnormally dry season, but there was, with care, an adequate supply even for the greatly increased population of Singapore Island. The two pumping stations were working at full pressure, and up to the end of January breaks in the mains due to air bombardment had been successfully dealt with.

Hospital accommodation in this congested area was very short. The Alexandra Military Hospital, situated just west of Singapore Town, remained the main hospital for British troops, as did the Tyersall Park Hospital to the north of the town for Indian troops. But many more than these were now required and temporary hospitals were established in military and government buildings, in the large Cathay building, in schools and in clubs. On the civil side there was the large General Hospital and there were many other smaller hospitals. These hospitals were often handling over a thousand casualties a day amid shells, bombs, the firing of our own guns, and the general turmoil of battle. I cannot speak too highly of the work of the medical staffs, both military and civil.

On withdrawal to Singapore Island I naturally took over the duties of martial law administrator from the fortress commander, and the question arose as to what extent, if at all, I should take over responsibility for civil administration. In the old days, when fortresses were besieged, it was customary for the military commander to take complete control, but this was a very different problem, the like of which we have seldom before experienced in our history. Let me make it clear that the Governor was still in office as the King’s representative and responsible direct to the Colonial Office and that the various government departments were still functioning. It was suggested to me that I should take over control of some at least of these departments. That in my view would have been quite wrong. It might have been possible for a Supreme Commander Malaya, had there been one, to do so, but there were two reasons why I, as Army Commander, should not do so. The first was that the higher direction of these departments involved a knowledge of their organization and of personalities. Without this a change-over at this stage was likely to lead to at least temporary confusion rather than to any improvement. The second, and the most cogent one, was that both I and my staff were far too fully occupied with the direction of operations to take on this additional responsibility.

The fact of the matter was that Singapore was not a fortress in the accepted meaning of the word. The dictionary defines a fortress as a “fortified place” or “stronghold”. The so-called Singapore fortress was not a place. It was a large area of land and water with strong anti-ship defences, reasonably strong anti-aircraft defences, but weak land defences. It included a civil population of a million or more with its own administration. Before and during the war many exaggerated statements were made in public about the strength of the Singapore defences. I have little doubt that these statements misled both the public and many of the troops who came to defend Singapore. As a result, the shock of the loss of that place was all the greater.

It should be appreciated also that many of the troops who fell back on to Singapore Island had never before seen that place and equally had a false idea of its impregnability. They were disappointed not to find strong permanent defences ready to occupy —and they were very tired. The withdrawal of the air force and the evacuation of the Naval Base also had a bad moral effect, both on some of the troops and on certain sections of the civil population. The former knew that they had been sent to Singapore to defend the Naval Base and they began to wonder what they were now fighting for. The psychological effect of the evacuation of that base is no doubt difficult to realize except by those who experienced it, but it was great. The “Singapore Naval Base” had in fact come to be one of the corner-stones in the whole set-up of the British Commonwealth. Rumours were circulated that Singapore was not to be defended. It was to counter these that I made the following public announcement in the Press:

The battle of Malaya has come to an end and the battle of Singapore has started. For nearly two months our troops have fought an enemy on the mainland who has held the advantage of great air superiority and considerable freedom of movement by sea.
Our task has been both to impose losses on the enemy and to gain time to enable the forces of the Allies to be concentrated for this struggle in the Far East. To-day we stand beleaguered in our island fortress.
Our task is to hold this fortress until help can come—as assuredly it will come. This we are determined to do.
In carrying out this task we want the help of every man and woman in the fortress. There is work for all to do. Any enemy who sets foot in the fortress must be dealt with immediately. The enemy within our gates must be ruthlessly weeded out. There must be no more loose talk and rumour-mongering. Our duty is clear. With firm resolve and fixed determination we shall win through.

On Singapore Island there was, of course, a vast amount of war material and there were enormous stocks of all sorts, both military and civil. The implementation of the scorched earth policy became an operation of major importance. Some time towards the end of January, the War Office had asked me to give a personal assurance that, if the worst came to the worst, nothing of military value would be left intact for the enemy on Singapore Island. That was a big problem, and after careful consideration I came to the conclusion that no guarantee could be given. Some of the equipment, such as coast defence guns, could in any case only be destroyed at the last minute and there would always be an element of uncertainty about that. Some installations were near hospitals and could not be demolished. The fact is that you cannot fight and destroy simultaneously with 100 per cent efficiency in both. So I replied to the effect that I would make all possible arrangements to ensure that, in case of necessity, the destruction of everything of military value should be carried out, but that I could not guarantee that this would in fact be done. Very careful plans were made. As far as the fighting services were concerned, the policy briefly was that the authority responsible for the dump, depot, or establishment concerned would be responsible for the preparation and execution of denial schemes. As regards the orders to put the schemes into effect, I reserved to myself the responsibility for giving the order if time permitted but, to provide against the contingency of this not being possible, I laid down that there must always be on the spot day and night sufficient personnel with a reliable commander who would in the last resort and failing any orders act on his own initiative to ensure that the policy of His Majesty’s Government was carried out.

The implementation of the policy as regards civil installations became the responsibility of the Director-General of Civil Defence. He was assisted by a small select staff drawn mostly from the Public Works Department. He had to deal with government departments and with private owners, both European and Asiatic. The complications of his task need no stressing. To avoid damage to morale much of the preparatory work had to be done in secret. The task in any case is an uncongenial one, for nobody likes having their property destroyed, especially when the prospects of compensation are still uncertain. It says much for the energy and loyalty of the Director-General of Civil Defence and his devoted band of helpers that so much scorched earth work was eventually done at Singapore. This included the destruction of very large quantities of liquor, to which there was naturally some opposition. The order for its destruction was delayed as long as possible and was only given in the interests of the civil population having in view the disastrous consequences which might have resulted had it fallen into the hands of the Japanese.

As speed was the essence of the Japanese plan it seemed certain that they would launch an attack against Singapore Island as early as possible in order to free troops and aircraft for operations elsewhere and in order to open sea communications to the Indian Ocean. It seemed equally certain that the main attack would come from the mainland as it had done at Hong Kong, but they were in a position to launch simultaneously with this a sea-borne and/or an air-borne attack. So we could not with safety neglect the defence of any part of Singapore. As regards the attack from the mainland, everything pointed to this developing from the west as the main communications down which the Japanese were advancing led to that part of the front. I thought it very likely that, combined with this, the Japanese would make a sea-borne attack via the Straits of Malacca, as they now clearly had plenty of their special landing-craft on that coast. There was also a possibility that the force which was advancing from Mersing would come down the Johore River to attack either Tekong Island or the Changi area.

The length of the coast-line of Singapore Island, Blakang Mati, and Pulau Brani is seventy-two miles. In addition to this there was the island of Tekong and the Pengerang defended area. The total strength of the garrison at the beginning of February was, as far as I can estimate, somewhere in the region of 85,000 men. That is not to say that there were 85,000 fighting men, for this number included the non-combatant corps, i.e. the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Pioneer and Labour Units, etc. It also included a large number of Base and administrative personnel, who had had little training in the use of weapons, and a number of men for whom no arms were available. It would probably not be far wrong to say that about 70,000 of the total number were armed and equipped, i.e. the equivalent of about four weak divisions with Command and Base troops. When all the “over-heads” are deducted, that is not a large number to defend a coast¬line of about eighty miles.

I organized the defences into five Commands, each coming directly under me. They were:

(i) The Northern Area, which extended from Changi exclusive on the right to the Causeway exclusive on the left. The 3rd Indian Corps (Lt.-Gen. Sir L. M. Heath) was responsible for this. I had originally intended that it would have its own two divisions only plus the 12th Indian Brigade but, as a result of the loss of the 22nd Indian Brigade on the mainland, it was found necessary to incorporate the remains of the 9th Indian Division in the nth Indian Division. I was forced therefore at the last minute to place the newly arrived 18th British Division under 3rd Indian Corps and to keep the 12th Indian Brigade as Command Reserve,
(ii) The Southern Area, which extended from Changi inclusive along the south coast to the River Jurong inclusive. It also included Pengerang, the islands of Tekong and Blakang Mati, Pulau Brani, and Pulau Bukum. It was commanded by Maj.-Gen. F. Keith Simmons. It comprised most of the original Singapore defences, including practically all the fixed defences. Under command were the 1st and 2nd Malaya Infantry Brigades and the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force,
(iii) The Western Area, which extended from the River Jurong round the west coast to the Causeway inclusive. This was the danger area and I had specially selected for it the Australian Imperial Force under command of Maj.-Gen. Gordon Bennett because I thought that, of the troops which had had experience of fighting on the main¬land, it was the freshest and the most likely to give a good account of itself. Under command I placed the recently arrived 44th Indian Infantry Brigade which, it will be recollected, was already in the south-western part of the island.
(iv)    The Anti-Aircraft Defences (Brigadier A. W. G. Wildey), which had been reorganized to meet the new situation, special attention being given to the docks area.
(v)    The Command Reserve, which now consisted only of the very weak 12th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Paris). It was my intention, as soon as the direction of the attack was known and this reserve was committed, to create a new reserve by withdrawing troops from parts of the front which were not threatened.

Pulau Ubin presented a difficult problem in this new orientation. I would like to have held it in strength, both on account of the observation which it afforded and to prevent the enemy concentrating for an attack behind it. But it would have taken a lot of troops and we could not afford to hold it and the Changi area behind it. So I decided to occupy Pulau Ubin with fighting patrols only and to use the observation from it for as long as we could.

To make use of all possible resources I took two other steps. Firstly, I organized the personnel of all combatant administrative units to defend their own establishments. Secondly, I arranged to expand rapidly a force of Chinese Irregulars which had been operating on the mainland under the command of Lt.-Col. J. D. Dalley of the Federated Malay States Police Force. This force was recruited from all classes of Chinese—college boys and rick¬shaw pullers, loyalists and communists, old and young. Later it became the centre of the resistance movement in Malaya and did much to help British troops marooned in that country. The members of Dalforce, as it was called, were exceedingly tough, and in spite of their lack of training would, I have no doubt, have made excellent fighters had we been able to arm and equip them properly. As it was, the effort, though most praiseworthy, came too late to have any real effect on the course of events.

The basis of the defence was that the enemy must be prevented from landing or, if he succeeded in landing, that he must be stopped near the beaches and destroyed or driven out by counterattack. I laid special emphasis on the offensive spirit as will be seen from the following extract from an instruction issued to all formation commanders on 3 February:

All ranks must be imbued with the spirit of the attack. It is no good waiting for the Japanese to attack first. The endeavour of every soldier must be to locate the enemy and, having located him, to close with him.

On the morning of 5 February we suffered a serious blow when the transport Empress of Asia, well known to many travellers in Far Eastern waters, was sunk by Japanese aircraft off the south-west coast of Singapore Island. She was one of a small convoy of four ships—the last to reach Singapore—which was bringing the remaining units of the 18th British Division and some other troops and transport. As usual, the final approach to Singapore had been made under cover of darkness, but the Empress of Asia, whose speed was less than that of the other ships, had dropped behind and was attacked by aircraft when passing the Sembilan Islands, only a few miles from Keppel harbour. She received several direct hits from dive-bombers, fire broke out, and she soon began to sink. All troops had to take to the water. Some acts of great gallantry were performed, especially by members of the hospital staff. Rescues were quickly effected by the Royal Navy. The loss of life fortunately was small, but nearly all weapons and equipment on board were lost and the ship became a total wreck. I met the survivors on the quay. Splendid men but no weapons. What a tragedy! But it was the only ship that was sunk of those bringing reinforcements, so we were really very lucky.

The first week of February was very tense. There was so much to be done and so little time to do it in. Most of the work on the defences had to be done at night as all the northern and western coast-lines were under direct enemy observation. It was a curious sensation looking across the Straits at the Japanese occupied coast-line of Johore and it reminded me forcibly of the First World War. The artillery on both sides was active though, owing to shortage of 25-pounder ammunition, I had to put restrictions on ordinary harassing fire programmes. The Japanese produced one battery with a specially long range of about 24,000 yards, which shelled the Government House area from about Johore Bahru. That surprised everybody. The Japanese Air Force directed its attacks mainly against the Singapore docks and the Kallang aerodrome. As usual, most of the civil labour at the docks disappeared and we had to do most of our own loading and unloading. Our own fighter squadron was almost continuously in the air during this week and did some splendid work, both material and moral.

I had laid great stress on the necessity for active patrolling across the Straits to find out what the enemy was doing. Early on the morning of 8 February two of the A.I.F. patrols returned after being in enemy territory for over twenty-four hours and reported that on the seventh large enemy reinforcements had arrived in the rubber plantations opposite the western shores of Singapore Island.


WE were now back on a ninety-mile front on the general line of the one and only lateral road which runs from Mersing on the east coast via Jemaluang, Kluang, and Ayer Hitam to Batu Pahat on the west coast. Behind us there was no prepared position upon which to fall back, for the pre-war project to construct defences from Kota Tingghi to the west coast had, as we have seen, made little progress, largely for financial reasons. Nor was the country generally very suitable for anything in the nature of a protracted defence. The main body of the 18th British Division had not yet arrived and it would be at least another fortnight before it could be deployed on the mainland. But some other reinforcements had arrived. These included the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Ballantine), a sister brigade to the 45th which had fought at Muar. It was equally raw and only semi-trained. I dared not send it into action at once on the mainland, so I decided to retain it on Singapore Island in the hope that it would get a chance of some training and also be able to work on the defences. We found it accommodation in the south-western part of the island. The reinforcements also included 7,000 Indian troops. They also were extremely raw and untrained. To make matters worse there were very few non-commissioned officers among them and that was what we most needed now in the Indian units. After discussing the matter with Heath, I decided that it would be unwise and even dangerous to draft more than a proportion of these men to the units. The balance were retained in the reinforcement camps. From Australia came a machine-gun battalion and 2,000 reinforcements. Many of the latter had only been in the army for a few weeks. Excellent material they were but not soldiers as yet. I have no wish to blame the authorities either in India or in Australia for sending these untrained men. After all they had no better to send at that time. But I make these factual statements so that the public may understand from this concrete case what in fact are some of the fruits of our failure to prepare for war. Let it not be forgotten also that these untrained men were included in all estimates of the strength of the garrison of Singapore Island.

From the middle of January, i.e. as soon as they could escort their bombers with fighters, the Japanese Air Force carried out daylight attacks on targets in the Singapore area on a scale of two or three attacks daily by formations of twenty-seven or more bombers. They were mostly directed against our aerodromes, but some against the Naval Base and later the docks area. The air defences of Singapore, both active and passive, were now thoroughly tested and within their limits worked satisfactorily. They were, of course, seriously handicapped by the contraction, and eventually by the total loss of, the warning system. They were handicapped also by the fact that the Japanese aircraft usually flew at heights of over 20,000 feet which rendered our 3-inch A.A. guns quite ineffective. But the co-ordination of the guns and the fighters under a senior air force officer worked smoothly, though the appointment of an air defence commander, having under him all the means of air defence, would probably have been better. For a few days there were some great aerial battles as our Hurricanes went into action but these died down as the Japanese Air Force again asserted its superiority. Matters were made very much worse than they otherwise would have been, both on the aerodromes, at the Naval Base, and later at the docks, by the disappearance of civil labour as soon as the bombing started.

The air directive issued from the headquarters of the South- West Pacific Command is of interest. It laid down that the protection of convoys should take precedence over all other tasks, but that all available air effort should be directed against expeditions threatening the east coast of Malaya or endeavouring to pass south of Singapore. Further, it stressed the importance of slowing up the Japanese advance on land by attacking Singora and by intervening in the land battle, and of reducing the scale of the Japanese air attack. That directive, in view of the extreme weakness of our air force at that time, suggests a failure to appreciate the realities of the situation. For instance, the attacks on Singora were seldom made by more than half a dozen machines and it is idle to suppose that this could have any material effect on the rate of the Japanese advance.

It was still my intention to deploy the 18th British Division on the mainland if I could, as this was the only way of achieving our object of protecting the Naval Base. We were up against much the same problem as had arisen in Central Malaya, i.e. the defence of the string of aerodromes and landing-grounds at Kahang, Kluang, and Batu Pahat, with a view to preventing the Japanese doubling the scale of their air attacks on the Singapore area and on the reinforcement convoys as they came in. The one lateral road which connects these places was an important factor in the problem.

The orders for the further conduct of the operations were given out at conferences held at Yong Peng on 21 January and at Rengam on 23 January. Briefly, they were to the effect that, after the withdrawal from Yong Peng, all troops in Johore, except those in the extreme south which formed part of the defences of Singapore, would come under the 3rd Indian Corps. These troops were to be grouped into three separate commands. Firstly, there were those on the east coast, to be known as Eastforce, whose role was to hold Jemaluang and Kahang with detachments forward in the Mersing area. These came under Brigadier Taylor, the commander of the 22nd Australian Brigade which was already in this area. Secondly, there was Westforce under Gordon Bennett which consisted of the remainder of the A.I.F. and the 9th Indian Division and which was responsible for the defence of Kluang and Ayer Hitam. In fact, it became responsible for the defence of the two lines of advance via the railway and the main trunk road which passed through these two places respectively. Thirdly, there was the nth Indian Division under Key, whose role was to hold the Batu Pahat area and operate on the west coast road. The 53rd British Brigade Group, as soon as it could be released by Westforce, was to join this division.

It will be seen that the defences were in fact concentrated round four areas, i.e. the Jemaluang-Mersing area, the Kluang area, the Ayer Hitam area and the Batu Pahat area. These areas were to a large extent inter-dependent because, if the enemy succeeded in capturing any of them, he would be in a position to move against the flanks of the adjoining ones. The weakness lay in the fact that in some areas, especially between Ayer Hitam and Batu Pahat, there were secondary lines of advance along which Japanese mobile troops (and they were all pretty mobile) could move against our communications.

It was for reasons indicated above that I laid down that the general line Jemaluang-KIuang-Ayer Hitam-Batu Pahat would be held and that there would be no withdrawal from this line without my personal permission. I am doubtful even now whether this decision to keep the final authority in my own hands was a wise one, though it was made after talking the matter over with Heath. In favour of it was the fact that there were many considerations involved which could not be known to the local commander in Johore. Against it it could be argued that things were moving so rapidly that only those in close touch with the situation could be in a position to make the necessary quick decisions.

As Batu Pahat proved to be the decisive area in our long line of defence it will be best to take the operations in that area first. Batu Pahat itself was a district centre and small coastal port of the same type as Muar. The town lies some seven miles from the coast on the south bank of an estuary which was crossed by a power-driven road ferry. Roads radiate from the town north-westwards to Muar, northwards to Bukit Payong, and thence to Yong Peng, eastwards to Ayer Hitam, twenty miles away, and south-eastwards along the coast to Pontian Kechil and thence to Johore Bahru, passing on the way through the fishing villages of Senggarang, Rengit, and Benut. Batu Pahat itself is dominated by the jungle-covered Bukit Banang, which lies to the south of the town. Before the war, many rubber estates and iron ore mines in this district were owned by the Japanese who had spread their influence far and wide. When their forces arrived here, therefore, they were on well-known and prepared ground. In fact, one of the former residents returned as a colonel commanding troops.

Batu Pahat had first been garrisoned on 15 January by troops of the 1 xth Indian Division and it was, as we have seen, on the following day that the leading Japanese troops landed near the lighthouse. After a skirmish they disappeared on to the jungle- covered slopes of Bukit Banang. Here they remained, defying the attempts of our rather inexperienced troops to expel them, raiding our gun positions and communications, and being supplied by air when they ran short of food and ammunition.

The strategical importance of the Batu Pahat area was obvious, and immediate steps had to be taken to strengthen the garrison. The headquarters of the 6th/i5th Indian Brigade (Brigadier Challen) was moved there and by the evening of the nineteenth the garrison consisted of two British battalions, a company of the Malay Regiment, a weak field battery of four guns only, a heavy anti-aircraft battery and some administrative units. The landing- ground, which lies a few miles south of Batu Pahat, had already been denied. The task allotted to the force commander was to hold the town and to keep open the road to Ayer Hitam, being assisted in this latter task by troops from Ayer Hitam itself.

Contact was first made with Japanese troops on the Batu Pahat- Ayer Hitam road on the evening of the twenty-first at the same time, it will be remembered, as the Muar force was making its final stand at Parit Sulong. In point of fact, the enemy narrowly missed making a good bag, for the corps and divisional commanders, after a visit to the Batu Pahat garrison, had passed along this road only a short time before. In fact, the operations had now become so fluid that there was always a chance of meeting enemy troops on the road anywhere near the front line. During the next thirty-six hours there was a series of encounters on this road until it was finally closed by the Japanese on the morning of the twenty-third. It afterwards transpired that the Japanese during this time were passing strong forces across this road to strike against the communications of our Batu Pahat force.

Challen realized the danger, and on the evening of the twenty- third, being unable to communicate with higher authority owing to a breakdown in W.T. communications, began to withdraw to Senggarang but later, communications having been restored, he was instructed to make a further effort to hold Batu Pahat with the aid of a fresh battalion which was due to arrive the following morning. It is quite likely that Challen’s decision was the right one—at least as far as his own force was concerned, though he was not in a position to appreciate the full effect of a withdrawal on the general strategy. It was a case where personal contact would have been invaluable but ground communications were so precarious that that was hardly possible. The very uncertain W.T. was inadequate to give commanders behind the true picture of the situation.

Throughout the twenty-fourth fighting continued in the town, where the British battalion and the 2nd Cambridgeshires fought stubbornly, but most of these troops had now been on the move for several days without sleep. On the morning of the twenty- fifth the enemy attacked again with fresh troops, released no doubt from the Muar front, and at midday Challen reported that he doubted his ability to hold the town much longer. The situation was reported to me by telephone and I arranged to attend a conference which Heath was summoning at rear head-quarters Westforce at 3 p.m. that day. As other portions of the front were involved and as our ability to continue fighting much longer in Johore was at stake, I felt that a full discussion with my subordinate commanders was desirable before definitely authorizing a withdrawal from any part of the front.

On the east coast we still held Mersing though our forward detachments had been in contact with enemy troops moving down the coast from Kuantan and had had to withdraw from Endau. On the twenty-first also our air reconnaissance had reported an enemy convoy of warships and transports off the coast of Trengganu moving south. In the Kluang area the 5/1 x Sikhs had fought a highly successful action in the course of which they killed some hundreds of the enemy. This was an example of what could be done by a well-trained battalion splendidly led by its commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Parkin. The vital Kluang area, including the aerodrome, was in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy, and the 5/11 Sikhs were ordered to make a flanking march and attack the enemy from the west as part of a general brigade counter-attack. The counter-attack did not come off and the battalion, after establishing contact with the enemy, was ordered to withdraw. Parkin decided that the only way to disengage without heavy losses was to attack the enemy first, which he did with such success that the Japanese fled in confusion before the Sikh bayonets. In thirty hours the battalion marched over thirty miles and fought this successful action.

Rear headquarters Westforce was situated in a rubber plantation at the twenty-first milestone on the main trunk road. It was here that the commanders’ conference took place at 3.15 p.m.— a little late as I .had been held up by congestion on the road. Key told us of the critical situation at Batu Pahat and of the efforts he was making to relieve the force there by pushing forward the 53rd Brigade. He strongly advocated an immediate withdrawal from Batu Pahat. We all agreed that there was no other possible course and he went off at once to his headquarters to send the necessary orders. We had to face the fact that this would involve the loss of the area Ayer Hitam-Kluang with the advantages which it would confer on the enemy. These would include a good aerodrome within sixty miles of Singapore, the control of the lateral road to the east coast, and the loss to us of the chain of observer stations which were already at the minimum distance to give warning to Singapore and for which no possible alternative existed. It was with a heavy heart, therefore, that I ordered the withdrawal of Westforce from Kluang and Ayer Hitam that night, instructing Heath who, it will be recollected, was responsible for all operations in Johore, to continue the withdrawal on subsequent nights in accordance with the development of the situation and to co-ordinate the movements of the columns on the east and west coasts with those of Westforce. The real danger, of course, now was on the west coast flank as I no longer had any reserves with which to meet a break-through either by land or from the sea.

The 53rd Brigade occupied Benut and Rengit without opposition and its forward detachment reached Senggarang, a village thirteen miles from Batu Pahat, but the rear of this detachment was attacked as it approached the village. In fact, the Japanese detachments, which had been moving south across the Batu Pahat-Ayer Hitam road, were now beginning to close in on the coast road which from now on was never free of road blocks. We have had full accounts of the march of these Japanese columns from prisoners who were forced to accompany them. As typical of any similar movements they are of interest. The Japanese moved chiefly by tracks, their only transport being bicycles. They carried with them on the man several days’ supply of rice and commandeered other food from villages. They drank water from the streams and ditches. Their ammunition and other necessary stores were carried by impressed civilians. Medical stores were almost non-existent. The wounded and sick were just left—to die or to recover. They marched long distances each day. When resting their protective precautions were very sketchy. The road blocks seem to have consisted generally of about a company equipped with mortars, light automatics, and rifles.

The Batu Pahat force withdrew during the night 25-26 January and reached Senggarang at dawn. I had hoped that this brigade would have been able to brush aside opposition and continue its fight down the coast. But it was not to be. Finding its passage blocked south of Senggarang it deployed its leading battalion and attacked but made no headway. Other attacks were put in later in the day, some of them led in person by Lt.-Col. Thome, the gallant commanding officer of the 2nd Cambridgeshire, but without success. This was just another case of the troops being too tired for effective action. In the meantime, the divisional commander had organized a column of armoured cars and Bren gun carriers at Benut to go forward and relieve the Batu Pahat force. But the Japanese were already in control of the road. The column was ambushed and only one officer got through. He reported the situation to Challen who in the evening decided that there was no possibility of reaching Benut with his guns and vehicles by the following morning, as he had been ordered to do. He gave orders for units to make their way to Benut by foot after destroying all wheeled vehicles. The wounded were left behind in charge of R.A.M.C. personnel and of Padre Duck¬worth, better known as the cox of the Cambridge boat, all of whom subsequently worked untiringly and with great devotion. The Japanese did not molest the wounded.

Benut is thirty-one miles from Batu Pahat and the task of reaching it thirty-six hours after leaving that place was, if viewed in the light of the existing conditions, clearly beyond the powers of a force which had already been fighting for several days. The better course would have been to order it to move to Senggarang as a first step and then to have seen how the situation developed.

One part of the Batu Pahat force moved east of the road and reached Benut. The remainder, totalling some 2,000 officers and men, were evacuated by sea by the Royal Navy during the four succeeding nights—an operation of great difficulty on account of the shallowness of the water inshore. Its successful accomplishment reflected the greatest credit on those responsible for it.

North of Ayer Hitam the enemy had made contact again on the twenty-fifth but were well held by the 2nd Loyals. On the night 25-26 January, Westforce fell back south of the line Kluang-Ayer Hitam, and this important area passed to the enemy. The 2nd Gordons, sent forward from garrison duty at Singapore, relieved the 2nd Loyals and had their baptism of fire.

About this time the east coast of Johore came at last into the limelight. The original defence plan here had been based on the assumption that the Mersing area would be attacked from the sea, and both the 12th Indian Brigade, which originally had the responsibility for its defence, and subsequently the 22nd Australian Brigade, one of the best-trained formations in jungle fighting in Malaya, had put in an immense amount of work in the construction of the defences. These, when war broke out, were among the strongest of any part of Malaya. But, like those at Kuantan, fate decreed that they should never be tested, for the attack again developed by land from the north, where contact was first made in the State of Pahang on 14 January. The following day our air photographic reconnaissance, which the two pilots, Flight-Lieut. Phillips and Sergeant Wareham, kept up day after day with what seemed to be charmed lives, reported the arrival of a large convoy at Singora, and it seemed that our expectation of a seaborne attack on the coast of Johore was about to be fulfilled. That this expectation was justified is now apparent, for we have learnt from Japanese sources that this convoy brought two fresh divisions to Singora which it had been the intention of their high command to launch against the east coast of Johore. For some reason, however, the plan was changed and they were eventually sent by land to the Kluang area.

The land threat from the north and the withdrawal of a battalion from the 22nd Australian Brigade to help in the Muar operations necessitated a reorientation of the Mersing defence plan—to the great disappointment of the Australians who were prepared to fight to the last there. The new defence centred round Jemaluang with Mersing held only as an outpost. Moreover, we had had to withdraw our advanced troops from Endau, a likely landing-place twenty miles north of Mersing.

Between the eighteenth and the twenty-third, there were several small encounters north of the Mersing River which ended in our favour. The next two days passed uneventfully. The reason for this became apparent early on the twenty-sixth, when our air reconnaissance reported two transports and many small craft, escorted by two cruisers and twelve destroyers, closing the shore at Endau. Our lack of air striking strength was again pitifully evident and cost us dear. Air headquarters put all that they could muster into two attacks on this convoy, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, delivered mostly by the ancient Vildebeestes escorted in the morning by Buffaloes and in the afternoon by Hurricanes. The enemy kept a constant screen of scores of navy “O” fighters, operating from Kuantan, over the convoy and some desperate fighting took place. Only about half a dozen of the Vildebeestes survived the two raids, but the most tragic aspect of the loss was the throwing away of highly trained torpedo-bomber crews condemned to fight in aircraft which should long ago have been on the scrap-heap. On the credit side a minimum of thirteen fighters were destroyed and both transports were hit—but the landing was not prevented; in fact, it was probably well under way before the attacks took place. Our air striking force in Malaya, even such as it was, had now vanished for good.

The enemy convoy was also attacked the following night by two of our destroyers, one of which after a gallant action was itself sunk.

The new enemy troops lost no time, for no sooner had they landed at Endau than they started marching south and in the evening crossed the river west of Mersing. A little farther south the Australians had laid an ambush for them. Two companies of their 2/18 Battalion were in position astride the road with a company forward on either flank ready to attack the enemy column as soon as it entered the box. The supporting artillery was also in position ready to fire on the road. Into this trap the leading Japanese battalion marched at midnight. The result was not quite so devastating as it had been at Gemas, partly owing to the confusion which generally attends night fighting, but still the enemy were dealt a severe blow which slowed up their advance and enabled Eastforce to fall back in accordance with the general plan. Over 300 Japanese graves have since been counted in this area while our losses were less than 100.

It was now the morning of 27 January and the full significance of the dispersal of the Batu Pahat force and the opening of the west coast road to the enemy was apparent. Although provisional arrangements had been made for a withdrawal to the island and an outline plan issued, I still hoped even up to this late hour that it might be possible to avoid putting it into effect, especially as the 18th British Division was on the point of arriving. I had been given discretion by the Supreme Commander South-West Pacific to withdraw to the island if I considered it advisable, and I now decided that I could no longer risk the loss of the whole of our forces on the mainland by delaying further. I therefore approved a plan which was being worked out by 3rd Indian Corps for the withdrawal.

Many people have wondered why we did not hold a bridgehead in South Johore covering the Causeway. The possibility of doing this had been made the subject of a special study, but I had decided against it for what seemed to me very cogent reasons. Firstly, there had not been sufficient time to prepare defences and, without proper defences, the position was too extensive for the forces we had available. Secondly, it would have been extremely risky to have occupied a position in South Johore with only a single channel of communication behind us and that the very vulnerable one of the Causeway. Lastly—and this was the determining factor—our flanks would have been in the air, especially as we no longer controlled the sea approaches, and it would have been possible for the enemy to have landed a force behind us direct on to the shores of Singapore Island. For these reasons it seemed to me far better to concentrate on the defence of the island itself, making use of the water obstacle provided by the Straits of Johore.

The plan envisaged a coordinated withdrawal by night on all four routes with a final withdrawal to the island on the night 30-31 January. To avoid congestion at the bridgehead, this final withdrawal through the Johore Bahru area was to be carried out rapidly in M.T. For the immediate ground defence of the Causeway an outer and inner bridgehead were organized. The passage of so large a force over the Causeway in the course of a single night naturally gave us cause for some anxiety, for if the enemy had succeeded in blocking the Causeway by air attack there would almost certainly have been great confusion. To reduce this danger as far as we could, careful plans were made for the anti-aircraft defence of the Causeway and for the conveyance of troops, but not vehicles, by water craft as an alternative to the Causeway.

Apart from some skirmishes near Benut on the west coast road and later in the neighbourhood of the Gunong Pulai reservoirs, one of the main sources of Singapore’s water supply, most of the fighting during the four days’ withdrawal developed on the front of Westforce, where the Japanese followed up quickly and aggressively. The problem here was complicated by the fact that on the railway front, along which the 9th Indian Division was retiring, there was a gap of twenty miles between Rengam and Kulai in which no through road followed the railway line, though there were many estate roads east of the railway extending as far south as the village of Layang Layang. That meant that no wheels could accompany the column over this stretch of the railway; they all had to proceed south by the main road.

On the main road front the Japanese pressure was continuous, strongly supported by their air force which, as always, had undisputed control. That is not a good tonic for tired and harassed troops. Where were the Hurricanes, they asked, which were going to sweep the air, and what were the chances, as they had been told, that even though we had been driven off our northern airfields we had only to hold on for a few weeks before our air force would stage a come-back from aerodromes in Sumatra? To say that intelligent troops were becoming despondent as to the answer is far from implying that they were less determined to fight on. In fact, during this retreat some of the fighting on the main road by both Australian and British troops was of a very high standard. Enemy attacks were met by counter-attack which many times ended in a bayonet charge, while their tree-top snipers were hunted out and shot down. Our troops were getting used to this strange type of warfare. But, as always, it was the threat to the communications which dominated the situation.

On the railway front disaster overtook the 9th Indian Division on 28 January. For some reason a wide gap developed between the 22nd Indian Brigade, which was forward, and the 8th Indian Brigade, which was supporting it. Into this gap enemy troops penetrated, moving round the eastern flank by estate roads, and they occupied Layang Layang. Barstow, unhappy about this gap and not knowing that the enemy was already between his two brigades, went forward by the railway with two staff officers to confer with Painter, the commander of the forward brigade. A little south of Layang Layang the party was fired on by Japanese at close range. Barstow threw himself down one side of the embankment, his staff officers down the other side. That is the last that was seen of Barstow. There can be little doubt that he was killed. The loss of this gallant and gifted officer was a severe blow and had its effect in a much wider circle than that of his own division.

The 22nd Indian Brigade, in an endeavour to rejoin its division, started to move through the jungle west of the railway aiming for Sedenak. Only one battalion of this brigade, the 5/11 Sikhs, was at anything approaching its proper strength. The others were mere skeletons after their heavy losses up-country. To start with things went well, the 5/11 Sikhs again distinguishing themselves in a brush with the Japanese, but soon the density of the jungle began to tell its tale. Moreover, there were with the column a number of stretcher cases which had to be carried by the troops. The average rate of advance did not exceed half a mile per hour, but the march was continued by day and by night. It is on such occasions as this, when a force is really up against it, that the value of true leadership comes out, especially among the regimental officers and N.C.O.s. Parkin, the C.O. of the Sikhs and a strong disciplinarian, was at his best. The value of British leadership, backed up by experienced Indian officers and N.C.O.s, was well demonstrated, as also was the weakness which results from the lack of experienced and trained junior leaders. On the twenty- ninth a member of an Indian medical detachment, which had been captured by the Japanese, joined the column. He was the bearer of a general invitation in writing from the Japanese to all Indian troops to abandon their British officers and be welcomed by their loving Asiatic brethren. As an earnest of the fraternal sentiments of the Japanese he had been warned that, if he failed to deliver the message, he would be beheaded. That was typical of the ruthless methods of those who preached “Asia for the Asiatics”. Needless to say, the invitation was refused.

Desperate efforts were made to locate this brigade both by ground and air reconnaissance. In particular Flight-Lieut. Dane, a resident of Malaya and member of the Malayan Volunteer Air Force, was untiring and quite fearless in the efforts he made. In fact, the whole of this Volunteer Air Force, flying a miscellaneous collection of light flying club aircraft, was at this time doing most gallant work. Operating from a temporary landing- ground on Singapore Island, these frail and defenceless aircraft were carrying out daily reconnaissance patrols and generally managing to get back.

Unfortunately we entirely failed to ascertain the brigade’s whereabouts though we postponed the final withdrawal as long as could safely be done. The best we could do was to arrange for survivors to be ferried across to the island by the Royal Navy. Ultimately about one hundred officers and men were saved in this way. Most of the rest became prisoners of the Japanese. It is of interest to record that for many of the Indian troops the turning-point in this grim struggle came when the wounded had to be left behind in the Tamil lines of a rubber plantation owing to the extreme exhaustion of the bearers. This action, which may often be necessary in modern war but is contrary to the teaching of the Indian frontier, seemed to undermine the determination of these men to continue the unequal struggle.

The final withdrawal across the Causeway on the night 30-31 January was carried out without incident and with little interference from the enemy’s air force. By about 6 a.m. on 31 January all troops, except those in the bridgeheads and those still missing, were back on Singapore Island. All were weary. Many had been fighting, and withdrawing to fight again, in an exhausting climate and cruel country for seven weeks on end in the face of a powerful enemy equipped with every advantage. The most remarkable thing perhaps is that so many of them were still full of fight after such an ordeal.

By 7 a.m. the last battalion of the outer bridgehead, the Gordons, was crossing the Causeway. Behind it came the inner bridgehead, the Argylls, headed by their pipes. At 8 a.m., Lt.-Col. Stewart stepped out of Johore on to the Causeway—the last to do so. The Causeway, which was solidly built, was seventy feet wide at the water line and wider below it. Its demolition presented certain technical difficulties. Nevertheless, a demolition charge had been successfully inserted in it by the Royal Navy and at 8.15 a.m. it was exploded. A moment later the water was racing through a seventy-foot gap. The operations on the mainland were at an end and the battle of Singapore had begun.