Alastair Urquhart was one of the 120,000 British, Indian and Australian troops marched into captivity following the fall of Singapore. It was a humiliating episode for those involved but the true horrors of becoming prisoners of the Japanese were yet to become apparent. The japanese marched most of the PoWs out of Singapore to the prison at Changi, about eighteen miles away, whilst they enforced their new order in the town:
We were in a very poor state on the march from Fort Canning to Changi. Utterly dejected and deep in despair we trudged along, prodded on by bayonets and with stragglers subjected to vicious treatment by the japanese. There was no defiant singing and little display of pride. We felt defeated and downtrodden. The sheer uncertainty was the worst thing. What was going to happen to us? …
Then, as we marched along the dusty road, without warning a horrific sight confronted us. We came face to face with a thicket of severed Chinese heads, speared on poles on both sides of the road. The mutilated bodies of these poor souls lay nearby and the heads, with their eyes rolled back, presented a truly shocking spectacle. The sickly sweet smell of rotting, putrefying flesh smothered us. Retching and fighting the instinct to be sick, I shouted to the boys to keep their eyes to the ground. For the rest of our march spiked heads, mainly Chinese, appeared at intervals in this way.
The Japanese had been busy with their samurai swords and had created a hellish avenue to terrify and intimidate. The tactic certainly succeeded.
Unknown to us we had just walked into the middle of the ‘Sook Ching’ massacre, a well-planned japanese purge of Chinese opponents, both real and potential. More than fifty thousand Chinese were murdered with the sickening sadism that seemed endemic in the japanese Army. The worst of thoughts now flashed through our minds.
Next I saw a column of at least a hundred Chinese civilians being marched across a pedang in the same direction as us. They wore white shorts and white T-shirts but were blindfolded. It struck me then as strange that we had not also been blindfolded.
The future of these hapless Chinese, I thought, looked especially gloomy. It was obvious that they were about to be killed. Paradoxically it made me feel a little better about our own immediate future – after all we were not blindfolded.
The ‘Sook Ching’ massacre took place over several days immediately following the fall of Singapore. The Japanese targeted the civilian population who might be regarded as ‘anti-Japanese’, although little evidence was needed to put people in this category – people were selected on the basis of their looks alone. Chinese residents were the main victims. Controversy continues as to the number of people actually killed. After the war the Japanese government paid compensation to Singapore but made no formal admission nor any formal apology.
Alastair Urquhart’s memoir The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East was not published until 2010 but is one of the most readable accounts of being a prisoner of the Japanese, and quickly became a best seller.