The Fall of Singapore that took place in February, 1942 was a great triumph for the Imperial Japanese Army and almost certainly one of the biggest defeat for Britain in WWII. The invasion was led by General Yamashita after years of spying on the British colony. General Yamashita decided to use a strategy that the British had never thought of, which was to invade via the Malaya jungle. At the time, most of the canons were faced toward the ocean and there was almost no defense at the line of attack by the Imperial Japanese Army.
There were more than 80,000 allied captives who were captured by the Japanese in the mass surrender that was ordered by General Percival. This shocked even Sir Winston Churchill greatly as they described this kind of disgrace as the "foulest disaster and the greatest capitulation in the British History." Most POWs had never ever told their families of the atrocities that they went through during the three years in captivity as they felt ashamed of the fact that they ended up being prisoners of the feeble Japanese army that had captured and tortured them.
The order to surrender by General Percival came as a complete surprise to the soldiers. Two days after the surrender, almost 15000 Australians and 35,000 British prisoners were ordered to start marching to Changi which was located on the eastern end of the Singapore Island. Given that the prisoners had no idea what would be provided by their captors, they decided to carry clothing, beddings and some food to keep them going. However, as the journey continued, most people ended up dropping things along the way and by the time they arrived at Changi, some of them ended up arriving with very little. As much as the journey to Changi proved to be very difficult, they were able to pull through with the help of the Chinese who sneaked them some drinks at least to keep them hydrated, as they wouldn’t have survived if it was not for them.
For the POWs, there was a very tight ration when it came to food. They were eating just one biscuit with bully beef pasted all over for lunch. In the evening, they had some tinned veggies smeared over a biscuit. Under this tight ration, things were quite difficult in the beginning. The prisoners then complained about their meals. The general in charge suggested that there was rice and if they were willing to eat it then it would be prepared. The rice, however, was not in the best of qualities as it was moldy, full of rats and weevils, sulfur, and unpolished, but they had to survive. Rice were often very watered down with lots of water. Regardless, the next four weeks had been an issue for them as the cooks did not know what to do with it as they were subjected to very bad food. As much as it was unpleasant and tasteless, they still ate it.
As the days went on, the cooks found ways to better prepare the rice as the Australians got to get accustomed to it. They were grateful that at least they had something to eat. The POWs started losing a ton of weight. Many started developing beri beri, malaria, or dysentery. The POWs learned to divide themselves up in group of 3-5. In the event that one of them had malaria or dysentery and could not eat his rice, the rest would share it instead and the favor would be returned when they were stricken.
Humor became a very essential part of survival. Given that the Japanese revered their emperor very much, the POWs took the opportunity to toast to the emperors’ birthday in order to have a drink. This was the only time the prison guards allowed them to have a drink during the internment time.
Some prisoners were shipped out on prisoner transports that were nicknamed hell ships to work on the Siam-Burma Railway, which was also known as the Death Railway and the Sandakan Airfield in Northern Borneo. Most of them did not survive the journey, but the ones that did end up suffering from various diseases and maltreatment before they were liberated in 1945.
The lost of Singapore to Japan during this time contributed to the lost of confidence of the British empire. Even though British ended up reoccupying Singapore following the Japanese surrender in September, the colony will soon claim its independence under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. Yamashita was tried by a US military commission for war crimes, but not against the ones committed by his troops in Singapore and Malaya. He was convicted and hanged in the Philippines in 1946.
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