Sketch by Jack Chalker

Into Action

Into Action

On January 23rd 1942 our new convoy, ‘BM12’, left Bombay for Singapore there were 3,800 men from the 9th & 11th Northumberland Fusiliers and our supplies. This convoy was made up of the ‘Empress of Asia’, ‘Felix Roussel’ and the Dutch vessel ‘Plancius’. We were protected by a strong naval presence, including the ‘HMS Exeter’, ‘Devonshire’ and the ‘City of Canterbury’. The HMS Exeter was sunk in battle, weeks later on the 1st March 1942, in the Second Battle of the Java Sea.

We were well on our way now and two days out of Singapore enemy aircraft were sighted but there was no action. So preparations were made with all our machine guns being mounted and strapped to the ships rails, 48 guns in total. When going through the Banka Straits on February 4th we came under attack from about 18 Japanese planes. All their bombs missed us but many of the ships were hit with water and bomb splinters. In return all the ships opened fire on the planes, though without success.

The next day, 5th, as the convoy entered the approaches to Singapore, the Japanese planes attacked again, badly damaging the ‘Empress of Asia’ she sank near the island of Sultan about 5 miles south of the western tip of Singapore Island. Efforts were made to salvage the ship but all the military equipment and other supplies were lost. Then they attacked us and we took several hits, a bomb struck the top deck close by the bridge, another hit a gun position near a funnel, killing two Bren Gunners. The rudder was also damaged, the fires were quickly put out and the next wave of attack came in and met the full force of our guns. Two planes went down and they didn't bother us again.

Ours was the last convoy to reach Singapore, we arrived in daylight, with only token air cover and under an increasingly deteriorating situation as the Japanese escalated their attacks on the area. The Felix Roussel left almost immediately carrying at least 1,100 evacuated women and children and RAF personnel. She remained for the rest of the War extensively as a troop ship and resumed civil service in 1946 in the Far East, she was converted into a floating hotel in 1960 and finally scrapped in Bilbao, Spain in 1974.

We arrived in Singapore to be met with a mess. Everything seemed to be damaged or on fire. Where was our RAF? They were nowhere to be seen. Unknown to us, we had arrived during the Fall of Singapore. Singapore was a major British military base in South-East Asia, nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the East". The fighting lasted from the 8th to 15th February 1942.

We took up our positions on the East Coast Road near to the causeway, which was eventually partially blown up. We were in this position for two days then ordered to withdraw to a new position at the side of the Bukit Timah Road, the last defensive stand against the Japanese army and the main road in and out of Singapore Island to Malay.

A day later, the 15th February, we spotted some Japanese soldiers some 400 yards away we were waiting for orders to fire but no order was received. As we waited we watched a car pass us with officers carrying a White flag and a Union Jack. This could only mean one thing, Surrender, which was accepted by the Japanese and we were now Prisoners of War and wondered what was in store?

By the morning of the 15th, the Japanese had broken the last line of defence and food and ammunition were running low. The anti-aircraft guns were also out of ammunition and unable to repel any further Japanese air attacks. Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, with staff officers set off to the Ford Motor Factory, where Lt Gen. Yamashita would lay down the terms of surrender.

The terms of Lt Gen. Yamashita’s surrender included:

    The unconditional surrender of all military forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) in Singapore.

    Hostilities to cease at 20:30 that evening.

    All troops to remain in position until further orders.

    All weapons, military equipment, ships, planes and secret documents to be handed over intact.

    To prevent looting, etc., during the temporary withdrawal of all armed forces in Singapore, a force of 1,000 British armed men to take over until relieved by the Japanese.

Tomoyuki Yamashita, born November 8th, 1885, was an Imperial Japanese Army general during World War II, known for taking the British positions in Malaya and the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942. Yamashita's 30,000 soldiers captured 130,000 allied troops, the largest surrender of British-led personnel in history for this he became known as the "Tiger of Malaya". Following the end of the War General Yamashita was tried by an American military tribunal in Manila, between 29th October and 7th December 1945, for war crimes relating to the Manila Massacre and many atrocities in the Philippines and Singapore against civilians and prisoners of war, such as the Sook Ching massacre. He was sentenced him to death and on 23rd February 1946, at Los Baños, Laguna Prison Camp, Manila, Yamashita was hanged.

The Japanese capture of Singapore led to the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. Approximately 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became Prisoners of War. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the fall of Singapore the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British military history.

The Officer in charge at the time of the Fall of Singapore was Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival, born on 26th December 1887, a World War I veteran he built a successful military career in-between the Wars. During World War II he commanded the forces of the British Commonwealth during the Battle of Malaya and is noted for his involvement in surrender to the invading Imperial Japanese Army at the Battle of Singapore. After the surrender Percival was held prisoner in Changi Prison for six months before he was moved from Singapore in August 1942. First to Formosa and then to Manchuria, he was held with other VIP captives, including the American general Jonathan Wainwright, in a prisoner-of-war camp near Hsian.

As the war drew to an end, he was removed the prison in Hsian and taken, with Wainwright, to stand immediately behind General Douglas MacArthur as he accepted the Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2nd September 1945.

Lieutenant-General Percival retired from the army in 1946 and served as life President of the Far East Prisoners of War Association (FEPOW), he was instrumental in gaining compensation for his fellow captives, eventually obtaining a token £5 million of frozen Japanese assets for the cause. He led protests against the film The Bridge on the River Kwai when it was released in 1957, obtaining the addition of an on-screen statement that the movie was a work of fiction. He was also President of the Hertfordshire British Red Cross and in 1964 became an Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John. Percival died at the age of 78 on 31st January 1966, in King Edward VII's Hospital for Officers, Beaumont Street in Westminster, and was buried in Hertfordshire.


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Life as a Japanese Prisoner of War



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