The name of Sir Shenton Thomas will go down to history as the most abused Englishman and the Malayan Civil Service will be named as one of the most incompetent institutions which has ever existed.
Among civilians generally the failure of the air force receives more unfavourable comment than the inability of the Army to hold the Japanese on the mainland.
For the fall of Singapore itself, the Australians are held responsible, while their presence in the town in disproportionately large numbers during the last days, coupled with the escape of large numbers on ships and in boats, has aroused great indignation.
All criticism is mingled with bitterness and disillusionment.
Most civilians resent what they regard as gross and calculated deception on the part of Sir Shenton Thomas in that he repeated, both in public announcements and privately, assurances that there was no need to think of evacuation as Singapore would not fall.
The conditions attending the evacuations, even the earlier ones, from a heavily bombed town created a feeling of disgust, though, in fact, the arrangements, all things considered, were reasonably good. Warnings had necessarily to be given at short notice to avoid word getting to the enemy. In any event, thousands of people left in big ships without a single casualty.
There is no sympathy or understanding for the Governor in the impossible position in which he found himself. The civilian (and the better off, the loader the complaint) says simply that he and his well-to-do friends should have been warned in good time and evacuated in comfort, together with cash and securities.
The answer is to remind him of Penang and its aftermath, when the wealthy Chinese waited on Sir Shenton Thomas with a protest that they and other Asiatics were apparently in a different category from Europeans when it came to evacuation in the face of the Japanese invasion. They considered that they were just as much entitled to the protection of the British Government.
This was unanswerable and the Governor promised that in future no distinction of colour, class or creed would be permitted.
Critics fail to realise the effect which would have been produced by the stealthy withdrawal of the well-to-do, after the commencement of the Japanese advance.
The only possible solution would have been to disregard morale and to have laid plans for a wholesale evacuation from up country as part of a defensive plan. It would of course, have been greeted as defeatist and alarmist.
Though it must be admitted that the behaviour of the Australians in the final phase was a very bad example particularly to Indian troops, it is only fair to remember that they had been really heavily punished by shell fire on the night the 8th / 9th and were in fact the only troops in the whole campaign to come under heavy shell fire; secondly, a rumour got about that they were to be evacuated, and, lastly, they were near home and that home was under imminent threat of invasion.
While these are not justifications for desertion and indiscipline, they do explain that glancing over the shoulder.