Churchill 'lied' over Singapore

An author claims he has seen proof that the wartime leader needlessly sent thousands to their deaths.
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The Independent Online
"WHAT I've found will change the way historians look at what Churchill did in Singapore. He sacrificed thousands of men's lives needlessly, and I want people to know why."

It is a bold statement, but Alan Matthews, a taxi driver from Wrexham, North Wales, claims he has discovered evidence which proves that the wartime Prime Minister - far from believing he could defend Singapore, as historians generally agree to be the case - knew from a secret report that this was impossible.

The report, by the Governor of Singapore, Shenton Thomas, said it was impossible for Britain to defend Singapore at the same time as it fought Germany in Europe. As a result of Churchill's action, claims Mr Matthews, thousands of lives were needlessly lost when two battleships were sunk by the Japanese.

Mr Matthews, 40, made his discovery as he researched a book about one of the battlecruisers, HMS Repulse, which, together with the Prince of Wales, was sunk by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941 with the loss of 840 men. Mr Matthews's father, Ted, was one of the survivors from Repulse.

"I knew nothing about what my dad did in the war until a couple of years ago," explains Mr Matthews. "When I realised what he'd been through when he was 19, and what the loss of Repulse and Prince of Wales meant, I was fascinated and I wanted to find out more."

A desire to simply tell the story of his father and five shipmates in Sailors Tales was overtaken after he discovered the scale of Churchill's duplicity. It was only when he discovered that the report was in the US National Archive that Mr Matthews knew the proof of Churchill's alleged duplicity had survived, and he is now waiting for a copy. "Once I've got that, nobody can dispute what I'm saying," he states, emphatically.

His father, Ted, now 77, is pleased that his son is trying to find what lay behind Churchill's decisions in the Far East. "I was surprised at the amount of intrigue that surrounds the sinking of Repulse and Prince of Wales, and these documents look like they will be able to answer some of the questions we've been asking for years. A lot of us in the Prince of Wales and Repulse Survivors Group felt that we sailed to Singapore in strange circumstances, and it's time the truth came out."

Mr Matthews's argument hinges on three factors: a pledge from President Roosevelt to Churchill that America would declare war on the Japanese if they invaded a British colony; Churchill's decision to keep the report on the future of Singapore from the President as well as his Australian and New Zealand allies; and - crucially - the existence of that document in the US national archive.

The report fell into Japanese hands after the boat taking it to the Commander- in-Chief in the Far East, Robert Brookes Popham, was intercepted.

"The knowledge that Churchill had been bluffing allowed the Japanese to concentrate on Pearl Harbour," said Mr Matthews. "Churchill wanted the Japanese to attack Singapore so America would come in on our side, as Roosevelt had promised. Pearl Harbour changed that. The Americans were in, so he could have stopped sending troops, and the two battleships, to Singapore."

Academics also acknowledge the importance of the Singapore governor's report. Professor John Charmley, author of Churchill: The End of Glory - was dismissive until he was told that the report, which he had not heard of before, is held in the US archive. "If it is authentic, and it proves that Churchill knew Singapore was lost, it would be the most amazing indictment of him. It smacks of a totally cavalier attitude to the lives of other people.

"When Alan started writing his book, I was pleased because everyone on Repulse loved the ship," says Mr Matthews's father.

"I thought that it would make a nice tribute to everyone who died, but the truth would be a better memorial.

"I hope that's what we'll get now after all this time."

A black day for the Royal Navy

IN 1941, the Repulse and the Prince of Wales represented one of the oldest, and the most modern ships, the Royal Navy had at its disposal. Repulse, a battlecruiser, was launched in 1916, the year of Jutland, though it had been modernised. Prince of Wales, a battleship, was virtually new. On 10 December, the two ships, along with their four escort destroyers, were stationed 70 miles off the coast of Malaya, where they were to intercept Japanese ships supplying invasion forces. Repulse and Prince of Wales had no air cover, and, when attacked by 80 bombers, proved easy targets. Survivors were landed at Singapore, but faced further peril when Japanese forces captured the colony.

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