Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Battle Box: Fort Canning - Singapore

I have visited many WW2 sites in Singapore and Malaysia, but nothing affected me the way that the Battle Box did.  While well restored, the underground bunker still retains its period characteristics, and the well constructed wax work figures really help to bring the past alive.  The photo shows Brigadier Arthur Curtis sitting in his office-  he was Commander, Fixed Defences of the Singapore Garrison from 6th July 1939 until the surrender of British and Imperial Forces on 15th February 1942.  His office has been put back togther exactly as it was (thanks to an old photo).

The most poignant experience is sitting in the room where the decision to surrender to the Japanese was taken.  Life-size models of all the participants at the conference have been constructed and, when sitting in the room, you can hear a recreation of the dialogue that took place between them on that fateful day.  Not only was it the worst military defeat in the history of the British Empire, it was a surrender by  a large force to a smaller one.  It also represented the beginning of the end of colonialism in South East Asia. 

Sitting in the airless room one can really empathize with Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, the British Commander (illuminated in the photo).  In my humble opinion he was made a scapegoat for the defeat, although his hands were tied by the War Office of the British Government which prevented him from taking decisive action at the beginning of the campaign and also denied him critical equipment and supplies.  Also he had no control over the Royal Navy and cannot be blamed for the catastrophic loss of the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse
A visit to the Battle Box is a moving experience and enables one to briefly connect with a small group of people who found themselves faced with a momentous decision that fateful day in February 1942.

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