Archive by Author | colindunkerley

15th February 1942. Fall of Singapore. The Great Humiliation.

Singapore in 1942: ‘Our preparations have been made and tested: our defences are strong and our weapons efficient’ said the order of the day of Sir Robert Brooke-Popham (old Pop-Off as he dozed-off in meetings), C- in- C of Allied Forces in the area.

White Flag of Truce led by Japanese officer. (1)

Singapore was invaded Today on February 15th.

Churchill described it as, ‘a heavy and far reaching military defeat… the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British History’. He also said that, ‘Commanders should die with their troops with honour of the Empire and Army at stake’.

The great naval base hitherto considered impregnable as ‘the Gibraltar of the Far East’, led to the humiliation of Lieutenant-General Percival who surrendered under a ‘white flag of truce’, in the local Ford works. Expecting an invasion from the sea the Japanese had invaded inland.

Japanese inspect British defences aimed at the sea. Tumbir.

There was never an official inquiry into the fall of Singapore, but four days before the Japanese attack, Churchill had authorised the gift of 300 aircraft and 300 tanks to our then ally Russia instead of to Singapore. Eyewitness reports said that much of the ‘materiel’ in crates, marked for Singapore, was still lying months later at Murmansk quayside.

There had been treachery including the part played by one Captain Heenan recruited by the Japanese and who despite doubts about his loyalty was sent to Malaya and became an intelligence staff officer. Later convicted and sentenced to death he was shot by his own side beforehand.

Vernon Kell Head of Security Services advised against prosecution in case the Japanese knew we were intercepting Japanese Embassy mail and Heenan had been allowed to join the Royal Naval Air service in 1939.

Experts with hindsight say it should never have happened, as we had more motor vehicles and artillery though the Japanese had more tanks. The defence force which contained many Indians supported by Australians were driven back by a force of only two Divisions riding stolen bikes and without artillery support, travelling 550 miles in 55 days.

It was a bad time for the British and the US, for back in December after Pearl Harbour, the Japanese had landed in Malaya. Their possession of air bases in French Indo-China now gave then complete air mastery. Torpedo bombers had already sunk the Repulse and Prince of Wales.

Churchill warned the King: ‘Burma, Ceylon, Calcutta and Madras in India and part of Australia may fall into enemy hands’, and the King’s sang-froid deserted him. ’Can we stick together in the face of all this adversity?’

By the end of May the British had been driven from Burma and the King-Emperor no longer ruled the ‘Golden Land’, 57 years after Victoria had informed King Thibaw that Burma during her majesties pleasure was part of Her Majesty’s Dominions.

Invasion of Ceylon was averted by the Canadian, Leonard Birchall, (later Air Commodore), part of no 413 RCAF Squadron who had arrived in Ceylon from the UK only 48 hours before being pressed into action. It was he in a Catalina flying boat, which took off 4th April 1942 who sighted a Japanese force which included five aircraft carriers, 350 miles south-east of Ceylon.

Admiral Sir James Somerville had taken up command as C-in-C East Indies Fleet two days before had been alerted by intelligence to the probability of a Japanese attack on Ceylon on April 1st and fearful of another Pearl Harbour he ordered a dispersal and air patrols.

Birchall’s signal though garbled on its receipt in Ceylon gave the implication an invasion was imminent and defences were alerted and forty-eight ships, including the Carrier Hermes, sailed and suffered severe losses, but the Japanese retreated, though living to fight on until their eventual surrender on August 8th 1945.

At a dinner in Washington in 1947 Churchill, now in opposition declared Birchall’s courage was ‘one of the most important single contributions to Allied victory’ in the far east.

(1) Tacitus mentions the White Flag in 109 CE; before this Roman soldiers held shields over their heads. The Flag was also used in the middle-ages.





14th February 1661. The Coldstreams.

It was back on 14th February in 1661, that the Coldstream Guards, supporters of Charles II  first paraded, however the Grenadiers were not to take their title until defeating the French Grenadiers at Waterloo, whilst the Scots Guards were not given the title until 1870.s.

The Coldstreams, now part of the Guards Division, is the oldest British Army Regiment in continuous service with origins going back to 1650 when Oliver Cromwell gave Colonel George Monck permission to form his own Regiment of Foot in the New Model Army taking 5 Companies of men from each of the Regiments of George Fenwick and Sir Arthur Haselrig. (1) 

Two weeks after being founded Monck’s Regiment was in the Battle of Dunbar where the Roundheads defeated Charles Stuart.

After Oliver’s son Richard abdicated Monck supported the Stuarts and on 1st January 1660 crossed the Tweed into England at the village of Coldstream and marched to London in 5 weeks helping in the Restoration of the monarchy.

When Charles II became king in 1660 he disbanded nearly the whole of the army including Monck’s Regiment. However on January 6th 1661 the 5th Monarchist under Thomas Venner of which the executed Major-General Harrison had been a member, made an abortive attempt to seize London only to be defeated by Monck’s Regiment.

They now laid down their arms but took them up again as the Lord-General’s Regiment of Foot-Guards, part of the Royal Household, later designated the Coldstream Guards.(2)

Monck died in 1670 when the Earl of Craven adopted the Coldstream Regiment of Footguards.

(1) Monck’s Regiment was one of two Regiments of the Household Division traced back to the New Model Army, the other is the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards), 1st Dragoons.

(2) Venner was Hanged Drawn and Quartered for High Treason.


13th February 1788.

One of the turning points in British-Indian rule resulted from the trial of Warren Hastings, India’s first Governor-General who was impeached for high-handedness and corruption.

The trial opened in Westminster Hall Today in 1788 and was set to last seven years after which he was acquitted and retired to private life.

Now no longer would the chief power in India be held by the obscure but by personages in their own right: the Marquis Cornwallis, Marquis Wellesley, Lord Minto, the Marquis of Hastings, Lord William Bentinck and Lord Dalhousie, people intimate with the ruling class, in effect they were Viceroys, not yet in name, but not tempted by financial gain.

‘John Company’ effectively became a form of government in pre-Raj India, as traders transformed themselves from merchants into judges, administrators and revenue collectors. Many adopted the lifestyle of the Mughal predecessors known as ‘going native’.(1)

At the time when India was to become the Jewel in the Crown of Empire and our contacts with the Mughal Empire it saw the importation in Georgian England of native Indian architecture as seen at Daylesford, Gloucestershire remodelled to the design of Samuel Pepys Cockerell for Hastings in a revival of Islamic architecture of north India, a fusion in Persian and Indian style.(2)

Daylesford House.

Cockerell employed in 1806 by the East India Company also designed Sezincote House a 19thc interpretation of the 16/17thc Mughal Empire. (3)

Sezincote House.

In the church of St Peter’s Daylesford there is a memorial to Rev.T.B. Woodman ‘Rector of this parish and vicar of Brackley in the county of Northants’. His remains are interred in the same vault of those of his uncle the Rt. Hon. Warren Hastings, the ex Governor-General. 

(1) Emperor Akbar 1556-1605 mixed Islam and Hindu architecture to integrate his empire.

(2) Hastings died 22nd August 1818. The present owner of Daylesford is the Bamford Family.

(3)  Sezincote was the inspiration for the later Brighton Pavilion of George IV.


12th February 1808. The Manby Mortar.

One of the unsung British heroes is George William Manby, FRS and inventor who Today in 1808 first successfully used his mortar-fired lifeline to rescue sailors from the foundering Plymouth Brig Elizabeth off the coast at Gorleston only a mile from Great Yarmouth.

Manby was prompted to do something when he watched helplessly at Great Yarmouth in 1807 when HMS Snipe foundered just offshore with the loss of many lives.

As a captain in the Cambridgeshire Militia he borrowed a military mortar from the Board of Ordnance which he adapted for his invention which involved firing a light rope over the rigging of the stranded vessel which joined onto a heavier rope could be used to steady the vessel and haul it ashore.

It was method later adopted in many coastal areas by the Coastguard and was to save the lives of at least a thousand sailors by the time of his death.

Manby lived in the Norfolk village of Denver where his father was Lord of the Manor and his mortar is depicted on his tombstone in the churchyard. He was obsessed with Horatio Nelson often saying he went to school with the later hero, but the dates don’t match up. 

The Mortar shot a rope over the rigging.

11th February 1975. Rise and Fall.

In 1952 Margaret Thatcher now studying to become a barrister having studied chemistry at Oxford, wrote under an headline in the now defunct Sunday Graphic: ‘Wake up Women’, exhorting women to have a career stating there were only 17 out of 625 MPs and that, ‘a wife would be a much better companion at home’, and named women such as barrister, Rose Heilbron as role models.

She also quoted the success of Caroline Haslett one of founders of The Women’s Engineering Association  who had a similar background in that her father was also non conformist and keen for her progress.

Twenty three years later Today Thatcher became the first woman leader of the Conservative Party, or indeed of any British Party.

She also scorned, ‘the idea that in having a career the family suffers is I believe quite a mistake’, later amended to, ‘If I had my time again I wouldn’t go into politics…because of the effect on family’. (1)

This was certainly borne out by events as her son Mark was a playboy who went missing on the Paris-Dakar car rally and was involved in a coup de’tat in Central Africa, whilst daughter Carole appeared in TV Reality, ’Get me out of Here’, and was later sacked from appearing on ‘The One Show’ for racist remarks.

Thatcher couldn’t see herself as others saw her as a bossy, interfering woman ever keen to put down people. However many years later she was to be brought down on the 13th November 1990 when the mild-mannered Sir Geoffrey Howe announced in the Commons his reasons for resigning, with a stinging speech against Mrs. Thatcher’s autocratic style and hostility to Europe.

From now on her days were numbered. Defence Secretary Heseltine had previously dramatically walked out from Cabinet and Chancellor Lawson had already resigned. A leadership contest was held, the first ballot being indecisive.

Thatcher said she would fight on, but after consulting shamefaced colleagues and realising she couldn’t win on a second ballot tearfully resigned, later describing her displacement as ‘treachery with a smile on its face’. That’s Politics.

(1)  Quoted in diaries of senior Tory MP now Lord Spicer in 1995 and in Sunday Telegraph 25.3.2012.

10th February 1355. Town and Gown.

‘Havock! Havock! smyte first give goode knock'(sic), the cry of the rioters Today in 1355 which saw the St. Scholastica’s Day Riot in Oxford the beginning of ‘Town and Gown’ troubles down the ages. (1)

It was one of the most notorious events in Oxford when a riot broke out in the Swindlestock Tavern between two students who complained about the drinks and ended in the taverner being assaulted. It resulted in retaliation by the locals with the troubles lasting two days resulting in 63 scholars and 30 locals being killed.

The dispute was settled in favour of the university when a special charter ordered that the Mayor and Bailiffs march bare-headed and pay a 1d for every student killed: the penance ended 470 years later in 1825 when the mayor refused to continue.

Every St. Scholastica’s Day The civic dignitaries had to attend a Mass for the souls of students killed and also swear an oath to observe university privileges. There was also the threat for the colleges to migrate which put more pressure on the civic authorities.

Students in the Middle Ages often held minor clerical status and wore the garb of the clergy with long black gown, hood and cap, useful in draughty and unheated halls. These became social symbols with distinctive hood colours and being impracticable for manual work were associated with privilege which set them apart from the town.(2)

Tensions and fights between Oxford scholars saw a migration to Cambridge where dispute was resolved by the King granting protection and privileges. Another division was that students spoke the lingua franca of Latin which the locals found incomprehensible, but had the protection of the clergy, and could only be tried in church courts under canon law.

In the 12th century universities were merely rented halls and lodgings. But their dependence on the town was limited as the endowment of the university came largely from the Roman Church, so the students became independent of municipal revenues and civil authorities.

By the 15thc the King was putting an end to student power and ordered a legate to reform restrictive behaviour of boycotts and strikes and were now to be ruled under a central authority.

One tradition now missing from Oxford is the nightly trek round the City by the Proctor in academic dress and his bowler-hatted ‘Bulldogs’ or University Police which had kept their eye on the students behaviour within defined limits whilst acting in ‘statu pupilaris’. However as they tended to be high-handed with the locals the ritual ceased in 2003 after being founded in 1835. (3)

(1) On 10th February 1955 in commemoration of the riot the mayor was given an honorary degree.

(2) Ede & Ravenscroft makers and hirers of academic dress was founded in 1689.

(3) The ritual was described in Michael Innes, ‘Death at the President’s Lodgings’.

Ref: J. mordaunt Crooks /Brasenose, Biography of an Oxford College.




Ref: 10.2.2017. Article on Riot.


9th February 1555. Heresy!

It is said heresy (picking), like vinegar, is best administered in small doses and a bit like treason, if it prosper none dare call it treason.

Many modern clergy have felt free to do their own ‘picking’. as the Bishop of Durham in the 1980.s cast doubt on the literal interpretation of the Resurrection calling it a ‘conjuring trick with bones’, but we no longer send people to the stake for heresy!

The Author’s home town of Burton-on-Trent was a centre of Puritanism in the 16th and 17th centuries and three heretics associated with the town suffered the penalty for dissent and heresy at a time when to be on the wrong side of the theological debate often meant a terrible death.

Firstly Rowland Taylor was the third Protestant in [Bloody] Mary’s reign to suffer execution Today in 1555.(1)

His father John, born in Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire, near Burton, was one of triplets who unusually for those days all survived, a phenomenon which came to the notice of Henry VII who had them educated with John ending as Master of the Rolls.

A volunteer association of Protestant gentry was formed in 1585 for the defence of Queen Elizabeth’s life and many paid the price for being on the wrong side including Robert Sutton son of a Burton carpenter and old boy of the Grammar School. Ordained as a Church of England Minister he converted to Catholicism which led to exile. (2)

However on returning illegally he was recognised whilst visiting prisoners in Stafford Gaol, was arrested and convicted of treason, and suffered Hanging Drawing and Quartering at Gallows Flat. Silkmoor near Stafford on 27th July 1587 after a trial by Sir Walter Aston of Tixall. His crime was to be a Catholic convert and returning to England without royal authority.

The early 17thc saw the Church of England faced with opposition from both Catholics and Protestants which wanted a more thoroughgoing reform than offered by the Elizabethan Settlement, dissent spread through Staffordshire, being particularly strong in Burton.

In 1612 the Puritan Anabaptist Edward Wightman, from Burton was burnt at the stake; his crime was for challenging scriptural authority, rejecting the notion of the Trinity, which was regarded as a heresy, as being against the Nicene Creed (325 CE) and the later Athanasius Creed of (381 CE) which had been formalised to counter the serious threat from the Arians (Arianism).  

He attracted the attention of the authorities and was interrogated by the Bishop of Lichfield, Richard Neile and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was sentenced to be burned at the stake on 1st March 1612 but rescued and re-interrogated, only to be secondly burned on Easter Sunday 11th April in Lichfield Market Place. 

(1) There is now has a plaque at Aldham Common, just outside Hadleigh to Taylor where an unhewn stone marks the spot.

(2) He went to Hart Hall (Hertford) Oxford with his brothers, a College then a refuge for recusants especially under Philip Randell, Principal (1548-99).

Ref: historytoday. Richard Cavendish. Wightman. 4.4.2012.Pic.