Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II by Colin Smith - review by Tom Pocock

Tom Pocock

A City Surprised

Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II


Viking 628pp £25

The fall of Singapore – like those of Rome, Constantinople and Berlin – has long been familiar as an epic, pivotal point in history. In its familiarity lies the power of this 600-page narrative, in which we meet the participants, first as they drink gin slings, dance to ‘Ain't She Sweet’ and watch The Wizard of Oz, thinking of the distant Japanese, if at all, as funny little men wearing granny-glasses. We know what is going to happen to them, which they do not. But we cannot be quite sure. They might, they just might, be among the few that got away.

Even before the storm broke, the Special Operations Executive was preparing for the worst in the Malayan jungle. The commander of the British force, General Percival, also knew what was afoot, and had abilities that belied his chinless-wonder appearance. The problem was that South-East Asia was regarded as only a

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