Saturday, June 10, 2017

Battle for Malaya and Fall of Singapore 75th anniversary: Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival remembered


“There is little doubt that when General Percival went to Malaya he was aware that he was going to a difficult, almost hopeless task. Nevertheless he accepted this task and he discharged it with honour. And when Singapore fell – as it inevitably must – and he went, along with the rest of us into captivity, he showed courage and devotion of a high order in safeguarding the interests of his troops and more than once suffered starvation and solitary confinement  for refusing to comply with orders he thought unreasonable. Those experiences were tests of his character and in recent years those of us who were his friends and associates have had reason to appreciate his sterling worth in his devoted work for the Far Eastern Prisoners of War in whose cause he never spared himself. He sought no honour for himself. In earlier days he won well deserved distinctions, but I know that thousands of us are sad that in his later years no honours came his way.”Right Reverend Leonard Wilson, Bishop of Birmingham and previously Bishop of Singapore at the memorial service for General Percival


You may know about Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival’s role in the Battle for Malaya and Fall of Singapore during the Second World War.
But how much do you know about General Percival as a family man and his post-war years?
In an email interview, the son of the late General Percival, Brigadier-General (Retired) James Percival, shares what it was like growing up in the Percival family.
BG James also recounts how his father spent his post-war years writing his account of the Malayan campaign. General Percival’s memoir was published in 1949 in a book titled The War in Malaya.
  
Family Life
The Percival family life was a typical military one, i.e. we usually lived wherever he was stationed, except during the war of course when we lived near the family’s roots in the English county of Hertfordshire while he was away. Being very young at the time (five years old in 1942) I was not really aware of what was going on other than that my father was away fighting in the war. Indeed I did not really start to know my father properly until after he returned from the war in 1945. Then he became someone whom I much admired as someone who had achieved high rank and had clearly had a very successful military career, notably during the 1st World War during which he was highly decorated. He never talked about the Fall of Singapore, nor was it ever a matter for discussion in the family, although I knew he was writing his book about it. My boyhood goal was to emulate him and he actively encouraged me to join the Army. He also taught and encouraged me to play games and partake in hobbies he had enjoyed throughout his life, eg cricket, golf, tennis and shooting.
Post-1945
The family was reunited in the house where we lived in the town of Ware, Hertfordshire, on 10th September 1945. There was much media interest in his return home and I can recall many press reporters trying to get access to him. We soon adjusted to post war life. My father was busy at the War Office initially writing his final despatches and both myself and my sister were kept occupied at our boarding schools. Our mother already had many local interests and responsibilities which she continued with. My father retired from the Army in June 1946 shortly after the completion of the work on his despatches, so his last active appointment was as GOC Malaya. Thereafter he became very active in trying to help those who had fought with him in Malaya/Singapore and particularly those who had been prisoners of war of the Japanese. He became the first President of the Far Eastern Prisoner of War Association (FEPOW) and also played a large part in getting eventual financial reparations paid by the Japanese government. He also had a full time job as President of the Hertfordshire Branch of the British Red Cross Society, a post he held for 16 years.
1966
My father died in King Edward VIIth Hospital in London on 31st January 1966 soon after his 78th birthday. He had been ill for some time with heart problems. His wife, Betty, had pre-deceased him in 1953 so he had lived alone for much of the latter part of his life. He is buried in Widford churchyard in Hertfordshire and a memorial service was held for him at the church of St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London on 20th February 1966. 

A large congregation attended this service at which the address was given by the Right Reverend Leonard Wilson, Bishop of Birmingham and previously Bishop of Singapore at the time of the Malaya/Singapore campaign. 

He said:“There is little doubt that when General Percival went to Malaya he was aware that he was going to a difficult, almost hopeless task. Nevertheless he accepted this task and he discharged it with honour. And when Singapore fell – as it inevitably must – and he went, along with the rest of us into captivity, he showed courage and devotion of a high order in safeguarding the interests of his troops and more than once suffered starvation and solitary confinement  for refusing to comply with orders he thought unreasonable. Those experiences were tests of his character and in recent years those of us who were his friends and associates have had reason to appreciate his sterling worth in his devoted work for the Far Eastern Prisoners of War in whose cause he never spared himself. He sought no honour for himself. In earlier days he won well deserved distinctions, but I know that thousands of us are sad that in his later years no honours came his way.”
Start of the Occupation: Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival (seated, second from left) confers with his officers at the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah on Sunday, 15 February 1942. The Fall of Singapore was sealed with the signing of the surrender at 6:10pm that evening by General Percival. 

Victors: The United States Army's General Jonathan Wainwright (standing, left) and the British Army's Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival (standing, second from left) - both recently released as POWs - join General MacArthur aboard the United States Navy battleship, USS Missouri, on 2 September 1945, to accept Japan's unconditional surrender. The appearance of the former POWs at the surrender ceremony was highly symbolic as the Allies claimed victory in the Pacific War. General Wainwright had surrendered all American forces in the Philippines to Japanese forces on 6 May 1942 while General Percival surrendered Singapore to Japan on 15 February 1942. Now, the tables had turned.

Did General Percival ever return to Singapore or the Far East? 
No. In fact he never left the UK again during the 21 years between his return from the war in 1945 and his death in 1966.
Did he share what went through his mind as he worked on the draft for the War in Malaya?  
No. He was essentially a fairly private person and it would also have been very important to him that the contents and views expressed in his book were entirely his own, and unaffected by others. You may note that there are no acknowledgements in the book.
What were the most common war-related questions posed to him?
I cannot really answer that. Very many questions will have been asked of him by a great variety of people about the campaign and the surrender. I do not have records of them, but I could probably guess at some of the most common queries as no doubt you could too.
How did he weather the history baggage from the signing of Singapore’s surrender? 
Extremely stoically. Because of the circumstances at the time he did not regret deciding to surrender because he was convinced that by doing so he would save the lives of many Singaporeans and others. You could say therefore that it was a humanitarian act, although of course totally contrary to military ethics.
Although he probably thought privately that he was not well treated after the war by Churchill, I think it is significant that he never openly criticised Churchill’s conduct of the war and particularly the lack of resources made available to operations in the Far East, conceding that the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East properly had greater priority.

General Percival's final resting place. 
Source: Percival family.

1 comment:

Asrar Ahmad said...

Good article,never knew that he was the Japanese surrender ceremony.