Seventy-five years ago, the great British Empire abdicated its responsibility for protecting its colonial subjects in Malaya (which included the island of Singapore). At the age of 13, my boyhood ended. For almost 4 years, my family and I lived in semi-starvation, and some fear, under a Japanese military occupation.
The stress contributed to the premature death of my father (at 47); my 3 uncles also experienced early death. For most of that Occupation, I lived a lonely unhappy life, away from my family.
Our colonial masters took a hiding from ”short, squinty barbarians” (words allegedly uttered by the English). For weeks, 11 children aged 13 to 2, and their young mothers, watched from a rubber estate as British military trucks rolled south in an unending stream. The little ones used to wave to the troops – who naturally waved back.
I was old enough to wonder why the British were rushing to Singapore. All that the Japanese had to do, I thought, was to cut off the water supply from the mainland. I did not know that the intention of the fast withdrawal was to escape by sea. Some did. Most reportedly did not.
The Japanese were clever. Just as they had landed on the north-east coast of Malaya without significant challenge, by moving through mangrove swamps, they had invaded Singapore by bypassing the causeway. As well, while they chased the British (and Australian?) troops down the highway on the west coast of Malaya, the latter would reportedly arrive at some road junctions only to find a few Japanese waiting for them. Presumably, these Japanese had cycled their way through the rubber estates adjoining the trunk road.
When 2 large British warships were sunk off the east coast, we knew that the British were finished. We were then not to know that Japan would, single-handedly, effectively end the colonial rule of most of Asia by the French, Dutch, and British. When the Europeans reluctantly left during the post-war period, they presumably expressed regret that they had not had the time to teach the ‘natives’ how to govern themselves. Quaintly, the last Governor of Hong Kong has been quoted as actually saying something to that effect – after 99 years of control.
Read ‘Singapore Burning’ by Colin Smith for an interesting portrayal of the way the mighty fell; and some strange behaviour by the rubber barons.
My own experiences and observations are set out in depth in my memoir ‘The Dance of Destiny’. Extracts will be published as posts on this site, to be copied to Facebook and to my book pages on amazon.com.