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The Fall of Singapore: The Battle for Malaya, 1841-1842

JUSTIN CORFIELD taught history and international relations in Geelong for 21 years.

Talisman Publishing (First Published, 2019)
156 pages including Index


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In spite of countless books on the Malayan Campaign and the Fall of Singapore, The Fall of Singapore: The Battle for Malaya, 1841-1842 is the first to cover the fighting day-by-day, detailing the casualties each day and mentioning by name every Allied soldier who died. This book also seeks to show the effect of the fighting each day and include more information on the campaign on the civilian population which suffered horribly from Japanese bombings, dislocation, and subsequent Japanese reprisals and mass murder.

Several books on the Malayan Campaign and the Fall of Singapore were published during the war. After the end of World War II and the release of the surviving soldiers from a Japanese prisoner of war camps, and civilians from internment camps, some were keen to describe their experiences, while others were equally keen to try to move on and did not wish to discuss the topic, except with other survivors.

As soon as they could, the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission started to collect the remains of those who died in the war. It was decided that the remains of service personnel should be located in a small number of cemeteries. The main place for the commemoration was at Kranji, in the north of Singapore island. As well as the bodies of those who died in Singapore, the Singapore Memorial there commemorates by name those who died in Singapore and Malaya but who have no known grave. For those who died on the Malay Peninsula and whose remains were recovered, these were buried at Jalan Cheras Cemetery, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

In Borneo, a decision was made to move those who died in Borneo to Labuan where the Labuan Memorial commemorates those who died in Borneo and who have no known grave. Many of the Allied service personnel taken prisoner in Malaya or at the Fall of Singapore went to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway and those who died there are buried in the Kanchanaburi and Chungkai Cemertreries at Kanchanaburi, and in the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in Myanmar (Burma). Initially, those who died in the Netherlands East Indies were buried at Muntok (Bangka island), Palembang (Sumatra), and Jakarta. In the early 1960s, the Indonesian government asked the British government to consolidate the war cemeteries and the graves of service personnel buried at Muntok and Palembang were moved to the Menteng Poeloe Cemetery in Jakarta, with those of British civilians left in Muntok.

The painstaking work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission resulted in every serviceman and woman who died in World War II being commemorated cither on a named gravestone, or by name on a memorial, For the civilian dead of the Malayan Campaign and the Fall of Singapore, and the Japanese Occupation which followed, it has not been possible to list them all by name. The Civilian War Memorial, officially the Memorial to the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation, was unveiled on 15 February 1967 and contains 606 urns of the remains of thousands who died during the Japanese Occupation.

Around the region, there are many smaller individual memorials, and an increasing number of museums, some well-funded and well-curated, others having collections put together by a range of local historians. In Singapore alone, Changi Museum, Fort Siloso, Old Ford Motor Factory, Reflections at Bukit Chandu, and The Battlebox are all dedicated to different aspects of the war, with other exhibits at the National Museum of Singapore and the waxworks at Sentosa. In Malaysia, a large number of regional museums have exhibits connected with the war, and in Thailand, the JEATH War Museum at Kanchanaburi preserves artifacts connected with the Burma-Thailand Railway. Any list of museums is not complete without mention of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The sheer number of books on the Malayan Campaign and the Fal of Singapore is massive. There is the British official history by Woodburo Kirby, and the Australian official history by Lionel Wigmore. Masanobu Tsuji’s Singapore: The Japanese Version (1960) provided a fascinating account from the point of view of the victors. The other books range from those which aim to tell the entire story in more or less detail, to the account of individual incidents in the war, autobiographies and biographies, unit histories, and institutional histories, Each adds to the story of the fighting. The war-affected so many families from around the world — with an obvious focus in Malaysia, Singapore, Britain, Australia, India/Pakistan, and Japan. Unlike so many other conflicts in World War II where the battlelines changed and the same places were fought over and captured a number of times such as at Tobruk and Kharkiv, the Malayan Campaign started in the north, moving inexorably south making it easy for people to follow, and for historians and military strategists to study.

It was a war that affected a generation. For the British soldiers, the cartoonist Ronald Searle and the cricket writer E. W. Swanton were two who were to excel in their respective fields after the war. In Australia, politics in the 1960s and 1970s were dominated by war veterans such as John Gorton, Prime Minister, 1968-71; and Sir Alexander Downer; with Tom Uren, Deputy Leader of the Australian Labour Party, 1975-77, serving in Timor and also ending up on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

In Malaysia and Singapore, the events of the war raised the political consciousness of a new generation. Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister, 1970-76, was a student at Raffles College when war broke out. Mahathir Mohamad was living in Alor Setar when the Japanese swept through northern Malaysia. The surrender of the British and the Japanese Occupation remained a formative experience for Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore. And from the opposite side of politics, the weakness of the British, and the brutality of the Chinese, led many to support Chin Peng and the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency.

In British Borneo, the damage to the economy during the war led inexorably to both British North Borneo and Sarawak coming under British rule, although many in the latter opposed cession. The Straits Settlements were also a victim of the British surrender in 1942. Although the British planners came up with the Malayan Union, the Federation of Malaya, and, more so, the Federation of Malaysia were very much products of the war.


Chapter One – Singapore Before the Invasion

Chapter Two – Invasion

Chapter Three – The Malayan Campaign

Chapter Four – The Fighting in Johore

Chapter Five – The Defence of Singapore

Chapter Six – The Surrender



Weight0.425 kg
Dimensions23.7 × 16.7 × 1.5 cm





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