By Joseph Kennedy
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Extra resources for British Civilians and the Japanese War in Malaya and Singapore, 1941–45
The Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas, had over-all civil responsibility for Penang and Malacca as well; strictly, he was governor of one colony, the Straits Settlements, with civil heads in Penang and Malacca holding lesser roles. Hard on the news from Penang, Thomas was confronted in Singapore by Asian representatives who questioned him closely about the evacuation. In a situation of war the military garrison was the responsibility of the military leadership and he was not answerable in that respect, but what were the orders for the civilians?
There were no prior arrangements for the evacuation of anyone from Penang. To many of the British there, the idea of evacuation, had it been mentioned only a short time earlier, would have seemed preposterous. The failure to drive the Japanese off the landing beaches, the swift advance of the Japanese from Kelantan and from Thailand into the north-west region of Malaya, from where the main rail and road routes ran south through the most populated districts, and the traumatic experience of low-level air attack - all this had completely changed the scene.
Deliberate attempts were made to plot and use tracks and estate roads, but with only limited success, and time was short. The nearness of Singapore, around which the 'fortress' mystique still remained an act of faith for many, may have begun to exercise a magnetic pull. It might be the right place to defend and the right platform from which to launch the counter-defensive. General Wavell ordered GOC Percival to fight out the battle in Johore, but to prepare in secret for a withdrawal to Singapore.