21 OCTOBER

CENSORSHIP OF BRITISH SEX CRIMES IN MALAYA – PROTESTERS SHOT DEAD

RAF Regiment unit on foot patrol. All photos on this website for illustrative purposes only. Soldiers depicted had no involvement in incidents described. © IWM (CI 1665)

[ 21 October 1945 ]

On 21 October 1945 in Malaya, up to ten demonstrators were shot dead in the town of Sungei Siput and three more in Ipoh, after they refused orders to disperse. British soldiers had been ordered to fire directly into the crowds. The following day, another four protesters were gunned down by British and Indian troops near Taiping, after demonstrators stood their ground.1

Local people had been incensed when two newspapers in Perak had been closed down, after journalists reported allegations of corruption and rape against British troops, who were already notorious for their exploitation of local prostitutes.  The colonial administration was concerned about a spike in venereal disease among recruits, but had little sympathy for the local prostitutes, many of whom were former ‘comfort women’, who had previously been coerced to offer sexual services to Japanese soldiers. Nor did the authorities appear unduly concerned about the suffering of many young local girls, most of them aged just 10 to 15 years,  being diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases.  One official privately acknowledged that ‘the facts, as known, would bring the government into grave disrepute.’2

The outrage over British sex crimes and the closure of the newspapers was not the only spark that ignited the protests. Others included pressing grievances over lack of employment and a desperate shortage of food, the use of hated Japanese troops as strike-breakers in Singapore and a growing anger at British military operations in the region, which were slaughtering thousands in the process of crushing nationalist movements in Vietnam and Indonesia.

FOOTNOTES

  1. Romen Bose, The End of the War: Singapore’s Liberation and the Aftermath of the Second World War, Marshall Cavendish, Singapore 2005, p. 162 and James Heartfield, Unpatriotic History of the Second World War, Zero Books, Winchester, 2012, pp. 349-350. The British newspaper reports claimed only one demonstrator was killed at Singei Siput, but this was disputed by witnesses and the communist politician Chin Peng. They did however acknowledge that troops had opened fire because the crowd in each instance had failed to disperse. See ‘Troops Fire on Crowd in Malaya,’ the Birmingham Mail, 25 October 1945, p. 1, ‘Malayans Disperse as Troops Open Fire,’ the Manchester Evening News, 25 October 1945, p. 5 and ‘Clashes in Malay’, the Dundee Courier, 26 October 1945, p. 3.
  2. Victor Purcell cited in Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Allen Lane, 2007, p. 104.  The same authors cite a report on venereal disease in the British military which peaked at 7.2% by early 1946 – p. 112.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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