New College of the Humanities

Ashes to Ashes

On the 60th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, arguably the nadir of Anglo-Australian relations, Richard Wilkinson explores the strange relationship between the two countries in the last century.

In 1992 Australia’s prime minister Paul Keating accused Britain of betraying Australia during the Second World War by sacrificing the so-called Far East to concentrate on Europe. A few months later the British government released documents suggesting that, when Singapore fell in February 1942, Australian troops resorted to rape, drunkenness and desertion. In Australian eyes this was a calculated and contemptible reaction to Keating’s allegations. Comments such as ‘the Australians were known as daffodils, beautiful to look at, but yellow all through’ looked like abuse substituting for argument. Certainly Japanese victories in the six months after Pearl Harbor (December 1941)  placed Australia in dire peril. Were Australians betrayed by the mother-country – or vice versa? Who was responsible for disasters such as the fall of Singapore? If there was betrayal, why did the relationship between mother-country and colony survive?

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