On the evening of February 15th 1942, the commander of the British forces in Singapore, Lieut. General Arthur Ernest Percival, surrendered the city to General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army. This was the greatest military disaster in the British history since the Charge of Light Bridge some eighty years before.
Hubris foreshadowed these final days: the British garrison on the island ignored the dangers of a Japanese attack from land. The result: a quick capitulation that shattered the myth of the Western invincibility and the above surrender in a ramshackle Ford Motor factory.*
It was performed with pithy precision: Yamashita asked, “All I wanted to know is, are our terms accpetable or not? Do you or do you not surrender unconditionally? Yes or no?”. The reply was a monosyllabic ‘yes’. (Yamashita noted that he wanted to speak kindly, but was unable to express his sympathy through an interpreter). Within hours, Percival with 120,000 others were in prison camps.
Sir Ernest Percival survived the camps to see the final surrender of Japan on the U.S.S. Missouri. Yamashita was hanged as a war criminal.
* As I blog this, I am just a few minutes away from the site, staying as I am in a hotel in Singapore.