The British Empire Library

Shenton of Singapore: Governor and Prisoner of War

by Brian Montgomery

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
Colonial civil service biography has taken off in a big and welcome way since the Colonial Office closed its doors. Among its general genres, biography of the colonial governor is currently carving out its own important niche. To ongoing biographies-in-the-making of, to name only those which have not yet reached publication, such Excellencies as Sir Hugh Clifford, Sir Bernard Bourdillon. Sir Geoffrey Colby, Sir Andrea Cohen, or Sir Arthur Richards, Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Montgomery (already known to many members of our Association through his contribution to Charles Allen's BBC and paperback series. "Tales of the Dark Continent" ) now adds an important life of an important governor.

The fall of Singapore is a story that still grips us, whether in tact (e.g. Louis Allen, Raymond Callahan, Generals Percival or Kirby) or in fiction (e.g. J. G. Farrell or Noel Barber). Here, in what is not only a valuable contribution to Service history and a major addition to the literature on the fall of Singapore but also in its own right, is a book simply to read and enjoy.

The author's primary purpose is to retrieve the good name and reputation of the much maligned last Governor of the Straits Settlements. With access to Sir Shenton Thomas's personal diary and other private papers this objective has been successfully attained, although the story cannot be completed by reason of an ill-justified extended embargo withholding the release to the public of Sir Shenton's own report, wantonly suppressed by the Colonial Office over forty years ago.

Naturally the survivors of the Singapore debacle and thousands of others interested will be scanning these pages avidly, aided by a copious index, for overlong withheld revelations. This well-balanced, sympathetically written biography, however. merits the attention of a much wider public not necessarily interested in apportioning the blame amongst the mediocre muddlers and sinister schemers who were thrust upon the unfortunate Governor and his civil staff.

After taking us through his career, firstly in East and West Africa and then in Malaya, he reminds the reader how Sir Shenton and his dauntless wife endured with fortitude all the indignities and rigours of captivity in different prison camps. Coming nearer to home, as it were, with any luck the fact that this book is based on Sir Shenton's private papers, now safely deposited in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and under embargo until 1990, may inspire other members of HMOCS to deposit their own papers, letters, diaries, etc., with the Oxford Colonial Archives Project.

British Empire Book
Brian Montgomery
Leo Cooper Ltd


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