The fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 was perhaps the biggest and most terrible defeat that British forces have ever suffered.
Singapore, described as ‘the Gibraltar of the East’, had been identified as a crucial point in the British Empire that was vulnerable to Japanese attack as early as the 1930’s. But in the style of France’s Maginot line, the only defences built were some formidable gun emplacements built facing out to sea, to protect the Dockyard. It was thought impossible that the Japanese would come overland.
But come overland they did. The Japanese invaded further up the Malay peninsula on 8 December 1941, almost simultaneously with their attack on Pearl Harbour. Their 30,000 troops were easily outnumbered by the 50,000 British defenders, however the Japanese troops took well to fighting in the Jungle environment, and could call on strong air and naval support, particularly after HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had been sunk off the coast. The few British aircraft in Singapore were obsolete.
Given these handicaps the British commander, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, could not have done much better. By 15 February 1942 the Japanese had broken through the last line of defence and the British forces were running out of food and ammunition. Percival opted to surrender.
2,000 men were killed in the fighting. From Portsmouth, Gunner Gordon Drew (20, Cosham), Sergeant Ernest Bacon (30, Portsmouth), Sergeant Victor Cole (27, Milton), Private Henry Aldridge (36, Landport), Private Frank Cockles (31, Southsea) and Lance Corporal Harold Bravington (23, Southsea) were killed. They have no known graves, and are remembered on the Singapore Memorial.
Almost 50,000 British servicemen were captured at Singapore. Their fight for survivial was only just beginning. The Japanese kept Prisoners of war in barbaric conditions, and many were used for slave labour.Gunner Arthur Denmead (22, Fratton) died in June 1943, and is buried in Thailand. He had been working on the infamous Burma Railway. Lieutenant Cecil Edwards (41, Southsea) died on 24 September 1943, in Singapore. Gunner Walter Cottrell (19, Southsea) died 22 October 1943, also in Thailand. As did Lance-Corporal Derek Foster (29, Southsea) who died on 27 November 1943). Gunner Stanley Bannier (31, Southsea), Gunner Eric Donachie (25, Southsea) and Corporal John Karmy (23, Southsea) died in Singapore in September 1944.
We cannot even begin to imagine the kind of suffering and brutality that these brave young men endured in their years of captivity.