I was editor of The Malaya Tribune, a daily newspaper in Singapore, sleepily okaying Page One when 17 Japanese Zero bombers shattered the night. It was December 8, 1941. Having been fed daily stories full of optimism from London, we in Singapore hadn’t an inkling that war with Japan was imminent … I sneaked out when there was a pause in the bombing. Limbs of every description – European, Indian, Chinese, Malay and Eurasian – were everywhere.
Parapuram Joseph John – ‘John’ to all – is given an ultimatum by the Japanese invaders: work for us or face the consequences. He becomes No.2 at the Domei news agency, working on Japanese propaganda in Southeast Asia and broadcasting propaganda to Indian troops in India, urging them to switch sides and fight against the British, for which he receives a special commendation from Heinrich Himmler – ‘I was not happy about Himmler’s intrusion into my life, but I kept my mouth shut and my neck intact’.
John writes about wanton killings in Singapore and Malaya, the daily struggle to find food, and Blood Alley in Penang, where he witnesses a ‘cleansing’. He talks candidly about the rise of the Indian National Army and its charismatic leader Subhas Chandra Bose (whom he meets on several occasions), the creation of the all-female Rani of Jhansi combat regiment and the lure of the nationalist call of ‘Challo Dilli’ (‘On to Delhi’).
This is a fascinating eyewitness account of the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya as told by a career journalist. Following the war, John returned to The Malaya Tribune, where his deputy was S. Rajaratnam, the future Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore.