In early 1942, Britain's salad days of empire in Southeast Asia came to an abrupt end. It was only the beginning, however, of years of suffering for thousands of soldiers suddenly made prisoners. Six decades later, a group of these men came back to Singapore to remember their experiences.
The plans for the attack were months in the making. By December 1941, Colonel Masanobu Tsuji and his Taiwan Army Research Section boldly forecast a campaign of 100 days to speed through the jungles of Malaya and seize the island-bound city of Singapore, Britain's jewel of Southeast Asia. General Tomoyuki Yamashita and the three divisions of his 25th Army were given the honor of carrying out this task in the name of the Japanese emperor, to capture what one English writer called "a bulging, glittering purse, carelessly dangled from the belt of Asia." 1
Two years earlier, Winston Churchill had summed up the hopes of a nation (and the hopes hardly had changed by 1941) when he stated firmly that Singapore was so far removed from Japan that "the operation of moving a Japanese army with all its troopships and maintaining it with men and munitions during a siege would be forlorn," and that such a siege "should last at least four or five months." In the intervening time, he believed, the fleet would arrive from home waters to rescue the embattled fortress. "It is not considered possible," Churchill wrote confidently, "that the Japanese . . . would embark upon such a mad enterprise." 2