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Book should be called- Singapore. The Pregnable Excuses.
on 22 March 2002
Reviewer: T. Renald from Singapore.
This book is a familiar style of writing. Seductive in approach. It tells those still clutching the myth of British infallibity in the East what they've always wanted to hear.
That Singapore did not fall as a result of a meticulously planned attack by an experienced Japanese force with full control of the air. Nor did Singapore fall because of the refusal of the British Commander to prepare the island for an adequate defence- a decision that is still numbing in it's implications, more than fifty years later.
Rather, according to Peter Elphick, Singapore fell due to a lacklustre performance by the British rank and file. The troops failed their officers. Thus exonerating the British Command. This message is clear in the book. And clearly, wrong.
To make his case the author has to denigrate the troops as much as possible. The author does this with accounts ranging from the credible right through to spurious invective- all eagerly accepted by Elphick and passed on as fact. Regardless of the enormous disrespect this shows to men who died struggling in appalling circumstances during the battle, and in the following years of degradation and slavery. The disrespect Elphick shows towards the fallen is callous, and frankly, disgraceful.
Peter Elphick catalogues other events as contributing factors to the fall of Singapore. All these factors fall away in significance when compared with the more visceral reality of flanked and outmanouvered British troops attempting to hold unfortified positions without air support or adequate communication.
Some responsibilty also lies with those who sent the component of Australian troops, with only two weeks training, into the battle.
The contemporary observer would note that had these events occured in this day and age, the British Commander would have eventually faced charges of negligence.
The surprises for the British Command during this dark period were many and varied. Some impossible to anticipate. Others were more obvious. The world had changed. The British mentality in the Far East had not. The most contentious surprises? These three amongst them:
1. Troops from a conquered, occupied and oppressed nation (India), with aspirations for self-rule, did not make willing cannon fodder for British colonial interests. The reluctance of some Indian troops to die for British interests is not hard to understand and should have been anticipated.
2. The first Australian military action in World War 1 was the famous British-led debacle at Gallipoli resulting in a great loss of Australian lives for no gain. In Singapore, the Australian troops anger at finding themselves involved in another World War 1 style debacle cannot be underestimated. The Australian soldiers outright refusal to take orders from English officers was hardly a surprise. Which citizens of a foreign nation would? Strangely, Elphick wrestles with this simple fact.
3. This was the 20th century, not the 19th. No more excuses please.