The Return of the British
While the Allied countries in Europe celebrated Germany's surrender, World War II was still raging in the East. The Japanese had yet to be defeated. After the Japanese had conquered South-east Asia in early 1942, they began to move towards the Pacific Islands near Australia.
The Japanese had their first setback at the Battle
of the Coral Sea. This was the first sea battle that was fought in
the air. Only American and Japanese fighter planes fought and
attacked each other. Their ships were never near enough to
exchange fire. These planes took off from aircraft carriers and
attacked enemy ships. Both the Americans and the Japanese suffered
heavy losses but the Americans managed to stop the Japanese from
taking more islands.
However, the Japanese were still very sure that
they could win the war. They decided to attack the island of
Midway in June 1942. But the Americans knew that the Japanese were
coming and were ready when the Japanese attacked. They had
previously worked out the secret radio messages that the Japanese
sent to each other. As a result, the Americans destroyed more
Japanese aircraft carriers, planes and ships than they lost. This
greatly weakened Japan which now had neither the time nor the
money to build more war machines.
Though weakened, the Japanese were not ready to
give up. By August 1942, half of the island of New Guinea had been
occupied by the Japanese who were pushing fast towards Port
Moresby in the south. The Japanese hoped to use Port Moresby as a
base to attack Australia, the main American base in the South
Pacific. The Japanese were only 42 km from Port Moresby when the
combined American and Australian troops managed to push them back
to the north of the island. New Guinea was so important to both
sides that they fought for more than a year over it.
By 1944, the Japanese were no longer attacking.
They had begun to guard their occupied lands. When the Americans
were dirven out of the Philippines by the Japanese two years
earlier, General Douglas MacArthur, the American commander in the
Philippines, made this promise, "I shall return." He did when he
led the Americans in a great sea battle against the Japanese in
1944. Some months later, the Japanese were driven out of the
To get even closer to Japan, the Americans decided
to capture two Japanese islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Large air,
sea and land forces were used by the Americans in their attacks on
both islands but the Japanese believed in fighting to the death.
Japanese suicide pilots (Kamikazes) crashed bomb-laden planes into
enemy targets. These pilots promised to die for Japan and left
their last wishes with their families before they boarded the
planes. Such attacks damaged and sunk many Allied ships but they
were not able to stop the American forces from taking over the two
islands in mid-1945.
By early 1945, the Americans had begun to bomb Japanese cities, shipyards and factories. When Japan refused to surrender, America decided to use a weapon that had just been invented - the atomic bomb. This bomb was more deadly than any other weapon ever used by man up to that time. The first bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. When Japan did not surrender, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki three days later. Finally, Japan surrendered.
The war had finally ended. Japan's sudden surrender surprised many people in Singapore. On 5 September 1945, British soldiers and officers set foot on Singapore again. As the British marched in, many people came out to cheer.
One week after the return of the British, a grand victory parade was held on the Padang to mark the surrender of the Japanese. Soldiers, sailors and airmen who had fought against Japan took part in the parade. Amongst them were men from the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (M.P.A.J.A.) who had hidden in the jungles to fight against the Japanese. The British were represented by the Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Lord Mountbatten inspected the parade and then entered City Hall where the Japanese were waiting. After the Japanese signed the surrender document, Mountbatten signed it to show that he accepted the surrender.
Although there was peace, the people of Singapore were still not free from hardship. They faced a lot of shortages after the war.
The most urgent problem was the shortage of food. The rice-producing countries did not have extra food to sell, and the war had destroyed a large number of ships that were used for transporting food. Furthermore, the harbour was blocked by ships that had been sunk during the war and there were very few warehouses left for use. This created a shortage of food and food prices rose to about ten times the pre-war prices.
To fight the food shortage, the British had first to clear the harbour so that ships bringing foodstuffs could enter the port. They removed the sunken ships and the explosives that had been laid in the sea by the Japanese. Wharves were repaired and new warehouses were built to store goods that were brought into the port. Next, the British introduced food rationing. Each person was allowed only a small amount of food, and People's Restaurants were set up to provide meals at affordable prices. Food supplies slowly increased as more food was produced in other countries and when trade between Singapore and other countries restarted.
There were also shortages of water and electricity, and telephone services had been disrupted. Streets were dirty, dark and unsafe especially at night. The British made use of the Japanese prisoners-of-war to help repair the water mains and the machinery in the power stations.
The war had also destroyed many houses. The shortage of houses resulted in rapidly rising rents. People who could not afford the high rents had to squeeze into small overcrowded buildings. Living conditions were very unhealthy.
As the British tried to bring life back to normal, they were faced with an even more serious threat, the commmunists.
The Communists in Malaya and Singapore
The Malayan Communist Party was set up in 1930 with its headquarters in Singapore. Most of its leaders were teachers and students in the Chinese schools and its members were mainly workers who felt that the British government had not done enough to help them have a better livelihood. During the war, an agreement was made between the British and the Malayan Communist Party. The British gave arms and trained the communist-controlled army which was known as the M.P.A.J.A., to fight against the Japanese. Besides fighting against the Japanese, the M.P.A.J.A. had a second aim, which was to bring Malaya and Singapore under communist rule after the Japanese were driven out. However, the sudden surrender of the Japanese surprised them. They did not have enough time to organise themselves to take over the government before the British returned.
When the British returned, they asked the M.C.P. to disband their army and to surrender the arms given to them during the war. The communists agreed to this but secretly kept some of the arms for themselves. Meanwhile, the M.C.P. was allowed to be a lawful party that could organise its activities openly. During this time, the communists decided that one way to drive the British out was to stir up the people's feelings against them.
Peaceful Struggle by the Communists from 1945 to 1948
At first, the communists used peaceful methods to win over the people. They appeared to co-operate with the British government but secretly stirred up people's feelings against the British through the trade unions. They could do this easily by blaming the British for all the post-war problems. They encouraged the workers to join communist-controlled trade unions to fight for better working condtions and higher pay. The workers were ready to listen to them because of the poor working conditions they faced immediately after the war.
The first major strike was by port workers demanding higher pay. It was followed by a series of strikes in 1946 and 1947. Strikes took place so often in 1947 that it was remembered by many people as "The Year of Strikes". More than 300 strikes by almost 70,000 workers were held in that year alone. Sometimes the British response made the workers more angry. For example, the British sometimes made the Japanese prisoners-of-war take over the work of the strikers.
When the British government realised that the strikes were being organised by the communists to create disorder, they passed several laws to prevent the trade unions from being controlled by the communists. Workers also gradually became tired of the disorder caused during the strikes and the loss of their pay, since they were not paid when they went on strike. Those who had earlier gone on strike had already received better pay and working conditions and did not want to go on strike again. The people also slowly realised that the communist-controlled trade unions were also more interested in causing disorder than in fighting for the workers' rights.
Armed Struggle by the Communists - The Emergency (1948-1960)
When the communists realised that their peaceful ways of stirring up anti-British feeling were not successful, they decided to use violent methods to drive the British out. Many left the towns and went into the jungles of Malaya. From their hideouts, they attacked rubber plantations and tin mines in Malaya. The communists hoped that when the plantations and mines closed down, the unemployed workers would join them.
The increasing communist attacks on rubber plantations, tin mines, police stations, trains and lorries carrying soldiers and policemen forced the British government to declare a state of Emergency over Malaya and Singapore in 1948. An Emergency is a state of sudden great danger to a country that must be dealt with quickly. The Emergency was the government's way of telling the people that they were at war with the communists and that the country was in great danger. During this period, the government introduced several measures to prevent the communist from getting the peoples's support and to ban the M.C.P.. The government also increased the number of policemen, soldiers and guards to fight the communists.
When the communists found that their war in the jungles of Malaya was becoming less and less successful, they began to look to Singapore again for support. Once again, the communists got into the trade unions and encouraged workers who were members of these unions to go on strike. They also got a large number of Chinese school students to support the strikes.
The Chinese school students were an easy target because they were already unhappy with the British government. Unlike the students from the English schools, they could not get well-paid jobs or study at the University of Singapore or the Teachers' Training College. Some teachers in the Chinese schools were also M.C.P. members. Through these teachers, the communists promised the Chinese school students that their future would be brighter if the British government in Singapore was overthrown.
As a result of communist influence, many Chinese students started a riot in October 1956. The government had earlier closed down the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students' Union because of its communists activities. Several thousand students protested against the government's action by occupying two schools.
On the same day, the communist organised a workers' meeting a short distance away from one of the schools. When the meeting ended, some of the workers then joined the student protesters. Riots by students and workers broke out in many parts of the city. All bus and taxi services stopped. The riots stopped only when the police had arrested almost all the union leaders.
The communist once again had failed to win widespread support from all groups of people. By 1960, the communists were no longer a violent threat. In that year, the Emergency came to an end.
Though the danger of violent attacks from the communists had been reduced, the communists continued to be a threat to Singapore's leaders in the years that followed.