Nazi Lauck NSDAP/AO

Much as I hate to be a party poop now that the VJ celebrations (and hypocrisy) are over and the litter placed in bins here’s a little something that will perhaps raise a wry smile or two.

You will not find any of this in your palace newspapers or magazines so please don’t add insult to injury by saying we fought ‘for freedom and western values.’


If you thought British ineptitude is a modern phenomenon then events surrounding the fall of this ‘fortress of the east’ will put your mind at rest. The truth is that Singapore was virtually defenceless, despite the fact that Churchill was well aware that American blockades on Japanese trade were intended to goad them into war. Singapore’s defences were already crumbling when the Japanese Army, mostly pedaling their push-bikes cycled into the city’s approaches. They must have thought Christmas had come early.

Despite the fact that the city had been bombed, there was no one on duty to sound the sirens. The streetlights were still blazing because no one could find the key to the master switch. Regulations insisted that telephone calls be limited to three minutes so yes, you guessed it, communications were cut when the three minutes was up.

A last minute attempt to build defences was delayed for ten days while they argued over how much the coolies should be paid. The secretary of the golf club insisted that no guns could be mounted on the links until he had consulted with the committee. Airfields had been set up without a thought to their defence. It never occurred to anyone that the army should be consulted. As a consequence the airfields were abandoned on the run.

British troops retreated from positions that weren’t being attacked, they disobeyed orders to counter-attack, and they failed to follow up advantages when they presented themselves. As morale collapsed the deserters swarmed into Singapore and added to the chaos.

On February 14th 1942, the British Army, buckling at the knees with ample munitions, surrendered to a Japanese force barely one-third of its strength and down to its last 100 rounds per man.

Just three days before the fall of Singapore the White population still refused to believe in their imminent fate. ‘In front of the Raffles Hotel cars are depositing patrons to the daily tea dance," wrote Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press. "Outside the people are queuing to see Joel McCrea and Ellen Drew in the film ‘Reaching for the Sun’. One can only wonder at the irony in the film’s title. It may occur to some that the British head is as firmly fixed in the sand today as it was all those years ago.

When asked later to explain the debacle to the House of Commons the normally eloquent Winston Churchill searched uselessly for an answer. Such was the reprehensible epitaph of the British Empire in the East.


Even after the disgraceful surrender of Singapore, routed by a far inferior force, the British Army’s class-based system remained as inflexible as ever. The British contingent insisted on distinctions of rank. General Arthur Percival and his senior offices actually strutted about calling themselves the ‘Malaya Command’.

Various office blocks were marked ‘Out of Bounds’ or ‘Officers only’. Captain Stanley Pavillard was deeply ashamed of officers’ attitudes: ‘they played bridge, they ran sly rackets for food, and then lit fires to cook little meals, and they cared damn all about the welfare of new men arriving at the camp or of the helpless sick.

British soldiers were dismayed at the small wage paid for their labours by their captors; but enraged when the officers not only got paid for not working but were actually received four times as much. Ordinary soldiers received 25 cents a day; officers a dollar a day.

One officer complained, ‘I shall have to dismiss my batman (who got and prepared his food, cleaned his dishes, washed his clothes and fetched his bath water) as I cannot possibly afford to pay him 1p a day.’

Hardly the stuff of the Movie Bridge on the River Kwai, officers also took advantage of their first claim to clothing. While their men had to make do with a single pair of shorts, the officers were allowed three pairs of shorts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of boots, a pair of shoes, and four pairs of socks.

Private Jack Chalker described an incident when a soldier, almost dead on his feet, was trying to raw water from the river when a newly arrived brigadier arrived and yelled at them to stand to attention in his presence. ""…… this was the kind of lunacy we had to stomach from these idiots and we wanted nothing whatsoever to o with them."

At another camp the men were being fed on broken rice infested with dead maggots and dirt. They took a sample of it to the senior British officer in his ‘private quarters.’ They described how he looked at it without speaking. Then turning away he brought out a tin of pilchards in tomato sauce and said: "I’m not complaining. I’m eating well enough!"

The death toll tells its own story. Along the worst stretches of the Death Railway the death toll among ‘other ranks’ was 37 per cent but among the officers just 6 per cent.


The Empire Star was the largest vessel to flee Singapore before the Japanese arrival. It was packed with wives, children, and some services personnel like airmen and sailors who had no contribution to make to the final battle.

Suddenly 140 Australian deserters stormed up the gangway. When Captain Atkinson, a Royal Navy officer tried to turn them back he was shot dead where he stood.

Military Police arrived but by then the deserters were displaying their rifles and machine guns, with the full intention of using them. Women were milling about, the MPs dare not attack, and the liner sailed on with the deserters still on board.

What happened to them is cloaked in mystery. It was said that one in five were randomly selected and shot as a reprisal. Other stories suggest that the figure was 1/10. A state secret: Nobody will reveal the details.


British eccentricity always seems to compensate for ineptness. Events surrounding Orde Wingate’s Chindits, a special force of 3,000 men were no exception. Like his distant relative, Lawrence of Arabia, the commander had unorthodox views as to how battles should be fought. Early in 1943 he led his men on a guerrilla-type excursion behind Japanese lines. Three months later only 2,187 returned. Their condition was so appalling that only 600 were fit for active soldiering again.

The mission had no strategic objective and it was afterwards decided that ‘the results achieved were incommensurate with the forces’ diverted to it.

Never mind! From a public relations perspective Wingate was manna from heaven. This British at a time of constant retreat and military humiliation had shown some measure of success in combating the Japanese.

Wingate became a British hero overnight, accounts were embellished shamelessly and his exploits were described as ‘the greatest jungle epic of the war.’ The bemused Wingate received the Lawrence of Arabia medal, Churchill had him flown back to Blighty and then sent on to Canada to meet the American President.

Field-Marshall Sir Bill Slim was of the opinion that the press excitement was the only justification for this adventure, which had cost the lives of 813 men and the lifelong health of a further 1587 invalids.


If you thought the American treatment of enemy combatants in Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantanomo Bay was bad just see what the Americans were capable of doing in the war against the Japanese. The bridge builders over the River Kwai and the inmates of Singapore’s Changi Prison might well consider themselves fortunate by comparison.

These double standards of war are best illustrated by Colonel Charles Lindbergh’s observations made whilst serving in the battle zones of the American Japanese war. He questioned the American policy of not taking prisoners. "I felt it was a mistake not to accept surrender whenever it could be obtained; that by doing so, our advance would be more rapid and many American lives would be saved. If the Japanese think they will be killed anyway when they surrender, they, naturally, are going to hold on and fight to the last – and kill American troops they capture whenever they get the chance.


Take the 41st, for example; they just murder prisoners in cold blood and the men boast about it. The officers wanted some prisoners to question but they couldn’t get any until they were offered two weeks leave in Sydney for each one turned in. Then the got more than they could handle. But when they cut out giving leave, the prisoners stopped coming in. The boys just said they couldn’t catch any.

"The Aussies are still worse. You remember the time they had to take these prisoners south by plane? One of the pilots told me they just pushed them out over the mountains and reported that the Japs committed hara-kiri on the way."

He recounted how ‘our troops captured that Japanese hospital? There wasn’t anyone alive in it when they got through."’

Lindbergh also described his concern over ‘our lack of respect for even the admirable characteristics of our enemy – for courage, for suffering, for death, for his willingness to die for his beliefs, for his companies and squadrons which go forth, one after another, to annihilation. What is courage for us is fanaticism for him. We hold his examples of atrocity screaming to the heavens while we cover up our own.


"A Japanese soldier who cuts off an American’s head is an Oriental barbarian. An American, who slits a Japanese throat, ‘did it only because he knew that the Japs had done it to his buddies.’

On another occasion he described his feelings when, "I stand looking at that patch of scorched jungle, in the dark spots in the cliffs where the Japanese troops had taken cover. In that burned area, hidden under the surface of the ground, is the utmost suffering – hunger, despair, men dead and dying of wounds, carrying on for a country they love and for a cause in which they believe, not daring to surrender even if they wished to, because they know only too well that our soldiers will shoot them on sight even if they came out with the hands above their heads.

"But I would have more respect for the character of our people if we would give them a decent burial instead of kicking in the teeth of their corpses, and pushing their bodies into hollows in the ground, scooped out and covered by bulldozers."

"I am shocked by the attitude of our American troops. They have no respect for death, the courage of an enemy soldier, or many of the ordinary decencies of life. They think nothing whatever of robbing the body of a dead Jap and calling him a ‘son of a bitch’ while they do so.


I said during a discussion that regardless of what the Japs did, I did not see how we could gain anything or claim that we represented a civilised stare if we killed them by torture.

"Well, some of our boys do kick their teeth in, but they usually kill them first," one of the officers said in half apology.

"It was freely admitted that some of our soldiers tortured Jap prisoners and were as cruel and barbaric at times as the Japs themselves. Our men think nothing of shooting a Jap prisoner or a soldier attempting to surrender. They treat the Jap with less respect than they would an animal, and these acts are condoned by almost everyone.

We claim to be fighting for civilisation, but the more I see of the war in the Pacific the less right I think we have to claim to be civilised. In fact, I am not sure that our record in this respect stands so very much higher than the Japs."

Lindbergh also described how Japanese bodies were bulldozed over as ‘a number of our Marines went in among them, searching through the pockets and prodding around in their mouths for gold-filled teeth. Some of the Marines had a sack in which they collected teeth with gold fillings.


An officer said he had seen a number of Japanese bodies from which an ear or a nose had been cut off. "Our boys cut them off to show their friends for fun, or to dry to take back to the States. We found one Marine with a Japanese head. He was trying to get the ants to clean the flesh off the skull, but the odour got so bad we had to take it away from him."

Pretty rich behaviour and double standards coming from a nation which, like Britain, made sixty years of propaganda out of the untrue story that Germans had boiled bodies to make soap, and used skin to make light shades. … etc

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