(Written 20 Jul 2011)
Dear All,
Having visited the Changi chapel in Singapore and read up here and there on the fall of the island to the Japanese in February 1942, it soon became clear that there was something wrong with the number of soldiers that Winston Churchill had reported to the British Parliament as having been captured when Percival “capitulated”.
Churchill implied that some 120,000 men were captured – and it certainly looks as if this was how he wanted the report to be interpreted – while the actual number must have been less than 80,000. In that fine book Tales of Old Singapore by Iain Manley (Earnshaw, 2010, pg. 122), the number of British and Commonwealth soldiers captured is given as 50,000.
So why would the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence (he was both) of his Majesty’s government wish to inflate the loss?
According to Michael Arnold in The Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill’s biggest blunder (Cavendish, 2011), Churchill inflated the numbers in order to deflect the criticism that he had consistently neglected the defences of Singapore by dismissing high-level reports on the precarious state of the Malaysian defences and by ignoring requests for men and equipment. By all accounts he had decided that the “Wops of the East” wouldn’t dare attack a “white power” and anyone who did not agree with him was replaced.
Churchill fancied himself to be something of a military genius – holding himself out to be an expert on a range of military matters – and so he would reject expert advice and meddle in detail he did not understand. But being a skilled politician, at a secret session of the House of Commons in April 1942, Churchill managed to get the house to agree to postpone the inquiry into the Singapore debacle until “the war had been won”… No inquiry ever took place.