Wednesday, September 01, 2010

First Allied POW escape from Singapore in 1942

My father died in 1988 leaving a manuscript of his escape from Singapore and his return to India after the fall of Singapore in 1942. He would have been 99 on 11th August this year.

He was the first Allied prisoner of war to escape from Singapore and return to India. He used to tell us that he had travelled a thousand miles on foot, a thousand miles by boat and a thousand miles by train to make his journey of 3000 miles to freedom. In 1968 he visited me in England (where I was studying) and tried to get a copy of his official debriefing report from the War Office in London. He felt he needed to cross-check his manuscript written from memory long after the event. But he found that the report had been classified "MOST SECRET" to be held confidential for 50 years.(Ref: DMI/3756/70/G.S. 1,(e), 8th September 1942).

Capt. Mark Pillai c. 1950

In early 2000 I found that a copy of the official report was available in the Singapore War Archives. The report had been circulated to all the Allied Armies in September 1942 and the Australian copy had found its way into the Singapore Archives sometime after 1992 when the material was declassified. Apparently the 50 year classification was because the report contained not only the names of people who had helped him along the way but also the names of people he felt were Japanese collaborators and some rather frank assessments about the loyalties of different ethnic groups.

He was accompanied by two others; one of whom (Capt. Natarajan IMS, a medical officer) decided to settle at Prome along the way. The second was a civilian friend S. Radhakrishnan. To avoid the unneccessary hassle of getting a civilian back through Allied front lines they invented a story about the creation of the “Singapore Volunteers” after the fall and passed Radhakrishnan off as an officer in this fictitious regiment. The subterfuge served to get through the Allied check-posts and later Radhakrishnan was properly commissioned into the Indian Army.

(A separate report was written about the fictional Singapore Volunteers "Armindia No. 21123/I of 30/8/42" which I have not been able to access. To the best of my father's knowledge the Singapore Volunteers only ever had one member)

For about 6 months after his return my father had a “minder” – a brother officer from a different regiment but who came from his part of the country in Southern India – to ensure that my father’s escape was not a ruse to establish a ”sleeping” collaborator.

Eventually the manuscript was checked against the debriefing narrative and a publisher ( Lancer Military Publications) interested enough in an old Second World War escape story was found.

3000 Miles to Freedom by Brig M M Pillai MC

Capt Mark Pillai was a Bombay Sapper officer in Malaya when Singapore fell and the Allies surrendered. This is the story of his escape from the Changi POW camp in 1942. He was 31 years old at the time and he was accompanied by an Indian medical officer and an Indian civilian acquaintance. Mark Pillai was awarded the Military Cross by Field Marshal Archibald Wavell for his gallantry.


Blogger Peter G said...

Welcome to the blog, KTWOP, and thank you for having chosen our blog to post such a fantastic story. I look forward to reading your further contributions - you have made a cracking start.

Wednesday, 01 September, 2010  
Blogger Cathie said...

I agree, this is exceptionally interesting, thank you!

Wednesday, 01 September, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Thanks for posting a fascinating story of courage in WWII. It was not an easy matter to make a successful escape attempt, particularly from Singapore.

There are a few people I have tried to research for the main project I have been working on who died in Singapore or in the POW camps. It is not easy tracing information even now.

Friday, 03 September, 2010  

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