TRUE HORROR OF THE SINGAPORE MASSACRE
Auctioned diaries tell the story of cold-blooded murder by the Japanese during the Second World War
ASN ACCOUNT of one of the most notorious massacres of the Second World War has appeared more than 65 years after it happened, shedding fresh light upon the horrors that were witnessed during the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942.
Completely contrary to all the laws of war, Japanese troops bayoneted to death sick and wounded British soldiers who were recuperating in the Alexandra military hospital, including one soldier who was lying on an operating table.
The emotional record of these terrible events was sold at auction this week by the daughter of its author, Arthur Haines, who had been a patient in the hospital when it fell to the enemy but somehow survived the slaughter.
It is an important historical document, underlining in detail the brutality of the Japanese Empire as it rampaged through the Far East in the immediate aftermath of its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Private Haines, from Alderbury in Wiltshire, was a 24-year-old grocery assistant when he was called up to join the Wiltshire Regiment in 1940. He was later transferred to the Royal Norfolk Regiment and was sent to defend Malaya, arriving at the great British naval base of Singapore on January 13, 1942.
All reinforcements were desperately needed because for seven weeks Japanese forces had been cutting their way through the jungles of Malaya, moving inexorably southwards. By the time Haines arrived they had made startling progress and were almost at the outskirts of Singapore Island itself. The British authorities had convinced themselves that the great fortress was impregnable but they were gravely mistaken. OON after landing, Private Haines caught malaria and was confined to the military hospital in Singapore city, named after King Edward VII’s wife Queen Alexandra, where the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and Queen Alexandra Nursing Sisters were treating about 800 patients.
Haines was convalescing there on February 14 – ironically enough, St Valentine’s Day – when the building fell to the Japanese. What happened next was in gross violation of the principles of the Geneva Convention, not to mention the most basic laws of humanity.
The hospital had red crosses on its roof, lawns and hanging out of its windows but the blood-lust of General Renya Mutaguchi’s notorious 18th Infantry Division was up and the weak, wounded and captured were not thought deserving of the right to life.
“Private Weston went with a white flag in order to indicate the descriptions of the fall of Singapore written by distinguished historians such as Brian P Farrell, Alan Warren and Colin Smith, while adding important details to the terrible story.
Patients and medical personnel were roped together in groups of four or five and taken to the servants’ quarters behind the hospital. There, the systematic massacre by machete and bayonet continued for 24 hours, leaving 320 men and one woman – the wife of an RAMC officer – dead.
About 90 RAMC doctors and orderlies died heroically trying in vain to protect their patients. One orthopaedic surgeon, who tried to push aside plunging bayonets, somehow survived with wounds to his hands and leg when a bayonet thrust to his heart was deflected by his cigarette case.
Among those who did not survive the atrocity were a corporal in the Loyals (a North Country battalion) who was impaled while on the operating table; a Hurricane pilot; the commander of the 6th Norfolk Regiment who was recovering from malaria, and a Japanese prisoner who had probably been mistaken for a Gurkha.
Even when the killing frenzy was over after the first 24 hours, the survivors were liable to abuse and worse; Lieutenant Walter Salmon of the surrender of the hospital,” noted Haines in his account. “The Japs took no notice and he was bayoneted to death by the first Japs that entered. Jap troops then entered the hospital and ran amok on the ground floor.”
The Britons present tried to show that the building was not a military installation but Haines notes that “neither pointing to the Red Cross or showing ‘Hospital’ had any effect”. The Japanese rampaged through the hospital bayoneting the ill and wounded patients in their beds.
Many of those who did manage to surrender met an identical fate: “The Japs motioned to the staff to proceed down the corridor and then for no apparent reason bayoneted Sergeant Rogers twice through the back. Captain Parkinson was bayoneted through the throat and died immediately.
“Captain Heevers and Private Lewis were also killed. Captain Smiley was bayoneted in the back, he was struck again and wounded in the groin. He fell over pretending to be dead, collapsing with Private Sutton, informing him to remain still.”
The Japanese then rounded up 200 patients, whom they forced into three small, fetid rooms only 10ft by 9ft. Just like the Black Hole of Calcutta two centuries earlier, dehydration, asphyxiation and thirst accounted for many deaths. “They were forced to urinate against each other and all suffered from thirst and suffocating atmosphere,” records Haines.
The Japanese taunted them the
next day by eating tins of fruit in front of them. Only when one of the cell doors burst open under mortar fire at 2.30pm could some of the emaciated and exhausted men make their escape, but some of those who did so were cut down by Japanese machine-gun fire.
“Just prior to this,” recalled Haines, “the Japs had been leading away small groups out of sight of the others and the ensuing yells and screams and the Japs returning wiping their blades left little doubt as to their fate.”
Haines’s testimony fully conforms with other accounts contained in Leicestershire Regiment saw a lone Japanese enter his ward armed with a long-bladed knife hanging from a string around his neck. He watched the man beat a British officer with an empty boot for his wrist-watch and then “he walked around the room taking watches, cigarette cases and anything else that took his fancy”. Salmon escaped injury by giving him his silver identity disc.
There were plenty of other monstrous atrocities carried out by General Mutaguchi’s 18th Division during the conquest of Singapore, which was surrendered by the British a week later, but the massacre of the medical staff and patients of the Alexandra military hospital is generally considered the worst.
Yet it was insignificant compared to the crimes perpetrated by Japanese forces against the Philippines and other populations that fell under its so-called Greater East Asia Co - P r o s p e r i t y Sphere between 1941 and 1945.
Nonetheless, the sheer defencelessness of the patients lying sick in their beds as they were bayoneted makes the Alexandra Hospital massacre particularly foul.
Arthur Haines himself was fortunate to be taken prisoner, and he also somehow survived five further bouts of malaria during the threeand-a-half years he spent in a Japanese PoW camp in Thailand, dying in 1996 aged 79.
His testimony, finally coming to light two-thirds of a century after the events it describes, is another reminder of the depths which humanity can plumb in wartime.