Vengeful Attacks on Singapore Civilians, 1942

Singapore city was placed under the Kempeitai, the military police, who moved into a Japanese hotel, the Toyo on Queen Street, and set up road blocks. These checkpoints were volatile places. The soldiers manning them reacted violently to the confusion and resistance that ensued when people began to move around again in search of family and food. But people had learned from tales of the China campaign that a sentry was a ‘mighty lord’, and that to bow to him was to show the respect due to the Emperor himself. This offended the Muslims: to them, it was ‘as if we pray’.

Malaya had been bombarded with the crude racial stereotypes of Japanese in British propaganda and in the cartoon art of the [overseas Chinese] National Salvation movement. People were unprepared for the tough, bearded men they encountered in the first wave of the occupation; they were noxious too from two months in the field. They were not prepared either, despite the grim predictions, for the full savagery of their arrival. The hospitals were the first target. At Alexandra Hospital in Singapore, after the bitter fighting nearby on the western outskirts of the city, a terrible retribution was taken. The doctors who met the Japanese at the hospital entrance were slaughtered and many patients were bayoneted in their beds. Around 400 others were crowded into an outhouse overnight, later to be killed. The Asian doctors on duty were aghast as they watched the soldiers smashing the X-ray machinery. ‘Why were they like lunatics, their eyes, just like lunatics?’

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 208-209

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