Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Singapore 1942: End of Empire

Last week the BBC screened the first Episode of a new series called 'Singapore 1942: End of Empire'.  The second episode will be shown tonight at 9:00 pm on BBC Two Scotland.  If you live in the UK and missed the first episode you can watch it on BBC iPlayer until 21 February 2012.

The first episode  looks at how Japan's lightning invasion of Malaya threatened the key British port of Singapore, igniting ethnic and political tensions, and tells how Scottish soldiers were at the heart of the city's defence.  The soldiers were from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and, if you ever get the chance to visit, there is a small related display in their Regimental Museum at Stirling Castle.  What has this to do with 'Merdeka'? 

As the BBC programme states, Communist agitators had been imprisoned in many British Imperial Territories.  Once Britain allied with the Soviet Union, Communists became tolerated and many were released from gaol.  As it became clear that the Japanese advance through Malaya was not going to be halted, small groups of Chinese communists were trained as 'stay-behind' parties by a hastily set up special training school (101 STS) in Singapore.  Several of the communist characters in 'Merdeka' went through this school........watch Episode One of the BBC programme to see reference to this.

I have always felt that the War in the Far East has never been given enough coverage in the UK.  Returning British veterans did not get the same recognition when they got home, as their Australian comrades received.  This is partly due to the fact that after VE (Victory in Europe) day, people in the UK felt that the War was over and wanted to forget it and get back on with their normal lives.  Many people who had been imprisoned by the Japanese did not get home until well over a year after this date.....  In Europe we had been victorious, while in the Far East we had been defeated (Hong Kong fell, as well as Malaya and Singapore). 

That's how things appeared in Britain.  For the people of Malaya and Singapore the picture was very different.  The aftermath of the War ushered in an era of vibrancy and excitement which ultimately led to independence, known as 'Merdeka' in Malaya.  While they had been let down by the British Imperial forces during the War, in 1948 Britain rose to properly support them in countering the emerging threat from their former Communist allies against the Japanese.  This support ensured that independence from colonial rule meant democratic freedom.

I'm not sure that I agree that the fall of Singapore heralded the end of Empire; my view is that this process was already well underway before the War started, due to events in India. But I agree that the Japanese wartime successes shattered the myth of White supremacy, thereby ensuring that changes which were already underway, became unstoppable.

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