Letter: Left out of the Singapore files

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Sir: The article 'Singapore files reveal bitter power struggle' (26 January) itself reveals an almost equally bitter degree of tendentiousness on the part of its author, Anthony Bevins. He describes the arrival in Singapore of my father, Duff Cooper, in August 1941 as 'a further difficulty inflicted on the colony by Churchill', and goes on to accuse him of being the instigator of 'the most bitter, vicious and debilitating power struggle' with the Governor, Sir Shenton Thomas.

It is plain from Brian Montgomery's biography of Thomas (Shenton of Singapore, London 1984) that the latter's attitude to my father was from the start bordering on the paranoid. Only a year before, he had been called back to England for seven months' leave; and my father was not the only one to consider that he was 'one of those people who find it impossible to adjust their minds to war conditions'; Shenton's own chief, Lord Cranborne, wrote early in 1942 that 'from the Governor downwards, they seem to have been incapable of dealing with an abnormal situation . . . Clearly, the Governor should have been replaced earlier.' Evidence for this view will be found in plenty in Dr John Charmley's biography of my father (Duff Cooper, London 1986).

When, on 7 January 1942, the Prime Minister recalled my father to London, the final paragraph of his telegram began with the words: 'H M Government are entirely satisfied with the way in which you have discharged your difficult and at the time dangerous task'; the same evening General Wavell, Generalissimo for the whole of the Far East, drafted a telegram asking Churchill to cancel the order to return 'and to leave (Duff Cooper) for the time being in present position in which he has done much to improve defence situation . . . and in which his resolution in present crisis is most valuable.' It was only thanks to my father's insistence that this telegram was not sent.

Finally, may I assure Bert Humphreys, whose views are printed below Mr Bevins's article, that neither my father nor Sir Shenton Thomas could conceivably have ordered British troops into neutral Thailand, even had they wished to do so. So momentous a decision could have been taken only by the War Cabinet in

London.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN JULIUS NORWICH

London, W9

26 January

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