or years our minds ran and reran the scene like a film strip looping endlessly through the projector: In the School Hall, the five Japanese officers glumly face a phalanx of Allied representatives across fifty feet of what used to be badminton court space a few years earlier. The early afternoon glare bleaches through those familiar brass-hinged doors. At the back of the bare stage, a Union Jack has been hastily draped – the only ornamentation in sight and a reminder to all present of who the victors are this time round. An interpreter, in immaculate white, presides like an umpire between the two sides, except that the game is almost over and we all know the score. At the periphery a motley gang of photographers loiters. Then, with the ink hardly dry on the documents, the parties get up and walk to the front of the school porch for the finale. Each Japanese officer in turn approaches the Allied representative and symbolically proffers his Samurai sword in submission. The watching crowd selectively jeers or cheers and a dark chapter in Malaya’s history ends. And it all happened on that unforgettable day - September 12, 1945.
Correct? Well, now we can say it was all WRONG. The date is WRONG. The scenario of a ceremony in the V.I. hall followed by a ceremony at the school porch is WRONG. These were actually TWO separate surrenders, five months apart, enacted by TWO different groups of people… the Japanese had actually surrendered TWICE at the V.I. !!!
To understand this puzzle, we need to step back in time to 1945 just after the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 15, the Japanese emperor Hirohito, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, addressed his people on radio and called upon his forces to lay down their weapons. On September 2, Japan signed the instrument of surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Three days later, Allied forces reoccupied Singapore and, on September 12, 1945, Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the surrender of 680,000 Japanese soldiers in South East Asia.
The ceremony was held in the Council Chamber of the Singapore Town Hall in the presence of military representatives of the United States, India, Australia, China, France and Holland. Mountbatten’s opposite number, Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Japanese Supreme Commander, was suffering from a stroke brought on by the earlier fall of Mandalay in Burma to the Allies and so could not travel to Singapore. Instead he authorized General Seishiro Itagaki of the Seventh Area Army to surrender to Mountbatten in his place. (Mountbatten eventually had Terauchi personally surrender to him in Saigon in November 1945 and was presented with the latter’s 700-year-old Samurai sword.)
The surrender document - 11 copies were made, with Itagaki's signature written in brush strokes - stated in part:
" …the Supreme Commander, Japanese Expeditionary Forces, Southern Regions (Field Marshall Count Terauchi) does hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia (Admiral The Lord Louis Mountbatten) himself and all Japanese sea, ground, air and auxiliary forces under his command or control and within the operational theatre of the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia.
"The Supreme Commander, Japanese Expeditionary Forces, Southern Regions undertakes to ensure that all orders and instructions that may be issued from time to time by the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia, or by any of his subordinate Naval, Military or Air Force Commanders of whatever rank acting in his name, are scrupulously and promptly obeyed by all Japanese sea, ground, air and auxiliary Forces under the command or control of the Supreme Commander, Japanese Expeditionary Forces, Southern Regions, and within the operational theatre of the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia…"
It would appear that all contingencies were covered by the document. And yet the following day there was a separate ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur at the V.I. to accept the surrender of the Japanese forces in Malaya. Why? A redundant act, a symbolic gesture to show the locals that the Japanese were defeated? A hasty effort to reassert British authority in the political vacuum eleven days after Japan’s capitulation?
Mountbatten's diary makes no mention of this event; his plane had landed briefly in Klang on September 11 on the way to the Singapore ceremony and after that he had stayed on for two more days before returning to Burma. If Kuala Lumpur had been important enough surely he himself would have flown the short distance north to be present. Instead, he left it to his underlings to accept the surrender. Be that as it may, certain events had already been set in motion in Malaya even before the Singaopre surrender. As news of Japan’s surrender in early September at Tokyo Bay filtered through, detachments of the 7,000 strong Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army began appearing in some towns and villages paying off old scores against those locals whom they regarded as Japanese informers. These guerrillas also attacked scattered pockets of Japanese forces. The latter – numbering some 100,000 and not counting some 85,000 Japanese civilians – had still not laid down their arms. The reason was simple; there was no one to surrender to, since the British forces, apart from some elements of the clandestine Force 136, had still not appeared on the scene in most parts of Malaya! The political and administrative hiatus was stretched to breaking point.
THE FIRST JAPANESE SURRENDER
Yet even before the Singapore event, the Japanese had already surrendered Penang in a ceremony on September 3 aboard the battleship Nelson. (In fact, the British had landed in Penang in late August but had held back on the surrender formalities until the American General MacArthur had finalised the official surrender negotiations in Tokyo.) A rash of local surrenders also erupted across South East Asia around this period - on September 3 as well at Luzon in the Philippines (where Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malaya" surrendered), on September 6 at Rabual in Melanesia, on September 8 at Torokina in Bougainville, on September 9 at Morotai in the Moluccas, on September 10 at Labuan, and on September 11 at Koepang in Timor. Hence, a separate ceremony in Kuala Lumpur was not entirely out of place nor redundant; it was probably necessary given the incipient chaos and lawlessness and the need to hammer out local logistical details. It was held one day after the Singapore surrender, namely, Thursday, September 13, 1945. (Two other local surrenders took place that same day across South East Asia, one in Rangoon and the other in Wewak, New Guinea.) That the V.I. was chosen as the venue is not surprising. The school was strategically sited on high ground in the centre of Kuala Lumpur at that time and its premises afforded a high degree of privacy and security. It had been a Japanese administrative headquarters of sorts and it could have been thought symbolic to turn the tables on the Japanese in their own lair, so to speak.
Of that event, The Malay Mail, which only days earlier was the subservient organ of the Japanese Government, now gushed in its special late edition that it was "the most historic ceremony that has taken place anywhere in the Malay States." Crowds had already gathered in the early afternoon outside the V.I. compound when the Japanese military officers were driven in with a couple of interpreters and a guard of Indian soldiers. Their cars bore white flags. The crowd jeered and booed on seeing the Japanese, who maintained a calm and unperturbed demeanour.
Lieutenant-General O.L. Roberts, commander of the 34th Indian Army, next arrived with Captain E.T. Cooper of the Royal Navy, Air Vice-Marshal the Earl of Bandon and other high ranking officers. The guard of honour, comprising men of the 2nd Punjab Regiment was drawn up outside the front entrance. After inspecting the guard of honour the British top brass retired to a classroom near the hall. The Japanese officers now entered the V.I. Hall, bowing low to the Union Jack at the entrance. Two rows of tables had been arranged for the two groups of signatories. The Japanese were handed a copy of the surrender document and the interpreters explained the contents to them. The essential fact communicated was that it was an unconditional surrender. The Japanese nodded and bowed in agreement. The British party entered and took their places at another table facing the Japanese. Lieutenant-General Teizo Ishiguro used a brush to sign his name while Roberts used a pen. It was all over in 20 minutes at 2:30 p.m.
Interestingly, this entire ceremony was witnessed by a V.I. Old Boy who was among the photographers. He was Too Chee Chew who was briefly a V.I. post-School Certificate student in 1939 and had helped Mr Daniel prepare drawings for his science books. He then joined Raffles College for a diploma course in science which was interrupted when war broke out in 1941. He can be seen in one of the shots above just behind the interpreter clicking away with his brand new Zeiss Ikon camera.
Outside the school the crowd had become restless, but a large group of British, Punjabi, Baluchi and Gurkha troops maintained order. Loud cheers greeted the British staff cars as they were driven out of the school premises into Shaw Road (now Jalan Hang Tuah). The Japanese had to put up with a large volume of jeering and insults hurled at them by the Malayan bystanders. It was a release of anti-Japanese feeling that had been suppressed for three and a half years. Lieutenant-General Roberts was obviously the top honcho in town on that day for he was whisked to another appointment at 3 p.m. at the Selangor Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) where he took the salute at a victory parade and march past in which Allied forces and units of the MPAJA took part. Taking the salute with him were two Force 136 fighters, Spencer Chapman and John Davis, who had only recently emerged from the jungle. (The following day, there was a ceremony for the laying down of swords and firearms at the Old Airport during which Ishiguro was the first Japanese officer to lay down his sword.)
September 13, 1945 was declared a public holiday and all over Malaya, in towns and villages alike, there were celebrations to mark the event. But for the V.I. community, however, it was a day of mixed feelings. The occupying enemy had finally left their beloved school but they had left the V.I. field in a mess. "It was a large muddy area," recalled Mr. S. V. J. Ponniah, a postwar VI teacher. Military vehicles had been parked in the grounds and the excellent sub-soil drainage system so carefully installed and cared for by the prewar cricket-loving Headmaster, Mr. Gates, had been totally shattered. The equipment of the science labs was destroyed, the library looted and the famous V.I. biological gardens overgrown with weeds. The prewar school bell and royal crest were missing and never traced.
Later there was more dismay when it was learned that the school building was not going to be available for its normal function as an educational establishment. Having expelled the Japanese army, the British Military Administration now decided to commandeer the V.I. premises for the 14th Army headquarters with Lieutenant-General Sir Frank Messervy as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief. The school’s strategic central location doubtless figured again in that choice. For the V.I. boys it would be a nomadic existence for one year as they travelled for their lessons first to Batu Road School and later to Maxwell Road School.
Frank Messervy had seen action in Eritrea and Sudan and his armoured forces had tangled, with severe losses, with Rommel’s Afrika Korps in Cyrenaica as well. In 1943 he transferred to the Southeast Asian theatre of war and saw fierce action against Japanese troops, eventually capturing Rangoon as the Commander of Four Corps in May 1945. He was part of the massive sea borne invasion force that had landed in Malaya and Singapore after the capitulation of the Japanese forces in Malaya. Whether he was in Kuala Lumpur at the time of the first surrender at the V.I. is not clear, but he definitely wasn't in the V.I. on that day. However, when he finally succeeded Roberts on Armistice Day, 1945, Messervy's 14th Army at the V.I. was reorganized from December 1 as Malaya Command. It is an especially delicious thought that, for the next few months, the whole of Malaya was administered by Frank Messervy, ensconced presumably in the V.I. Headmaster’s office - a place that used to witness nothing more momentous than the reprimand and caning of errant boys and the planning of school sports and speech days! Now the daily management of an entire country was being plotted and directed within the same four walls. And it is also quite possible that the supremo of South East Asia Command, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who (according to his diary) visited Kuala Lumpur twice in this period to meet with Messervy had actually walked through the portals of the V.I. as well.
At the V.I., Frank Messervy’s task was desperately daunting. 100,000 Japanese prisoners of war had to be disarmed, housed and fed while scarce sea transportation had to be found to ferry them back to Japan. (The United States eventually lent 200 ships to South East Asian countries for this purpose.) Throughout the region there were also 123,000 allied prisoners of war held in over 250 camps who had to be quickly located, cared for and sent home. So although the main surrender instrument had been signed in Tokyo and local versions inked in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and other territories throughout the region, in truth, many armed Japanese soldiers were still wandering around in some territories months after the war had officially ended. In some cases, these soldiers had either refused to acknowledge surrender or had thought that their Emperor’s order to them to surrender was merely a trick. Astonishingly, in some areas, Allied troops actually permitted armed Japanese soldiers to help patrol and maintain local order as well. Still, rogue elements of the Japanese forces were in control of some parts of Java as late as November 1945 and repatriation of Japanese forces did not completely wind up until February 1946. And even up to the mid-1970s, on various remote Pacific islands, the odd (ageing) Japanese soldier was still holding out!
The Malayan civilian population had to be looked after as well. Even before the surrender there had already been widespread food shortages brought about by the collapse of the Japanese rationing system. Now there was a stagnant economy amidst unemployment and festering labour unrest. The prewar expatriates who were familiar with the running of the country had either been killed or interned. The latter category included several past and future V.I. headmasters and civil servants and on their release after the surrender they were sent home to Britain to recuperate. The BMA functionaries, many of them civilians with military rank and newly arrived from Britain to temporarily replace the old Malaya hands, lacked familiarity with the country which resulted in chaos and confusion. All these and other matters doubtless kept that occupant in the V.I. Headmaster's office very busy!
THE SECOND JAPANESE SURRENDER
It was on Frank Messervy’s watch that the second V.I. surrender took place on February 22, 1946. The Malayan Daily News reported in its issue the following day:
"At a surrender ceremony held in front of the Victoria Institution yesterday afternoon, General Itagaki, Commander of the Jap 7th Area Army embracing Malaya, Java, Sumatra. Nicobar and the Andaman Islands and parts of Borneo and Siam and former Commander-in-Chief of the Jap Army in Korea handed his sword to Lt General Sir Frank Messervy, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Malaya Command.
"General Ayabe, Chief of Staff under Itagaki and 14 other high-ranking officers also surrendered their swords to Brigadier C. P. Jones, C.B.E., M.C., Brigadier General Staff, Malaya Command. ...."
Why a second surrender? Itagaki and his troops had already been disarmed in Singapore in 1945 and put away in a POW camp awaiting repatriation. According to Mr Lim Cheng Leng, the highly knowledgeable former Head of the Special Branch Psy-war desk and a retired Superindendent of Police, this ceremony involving fifteen high-ranking Japanese officers could have been staged as a token gesture of respect and homage to Messervy just before they were shipped back to Japan. The samurai swords used as props could have been drawn from the large pool of swords surrendered on September 14, 1945, at the Old Airport at Sungei Besi. So it was one last photo opportunity before Messervy’s own term ran out with the BMA’s. For, by 1946, there had been frenzied political activity up and down the peninsula to set up a new entity - the Malayan Union - on April 1, 1946, to replace the prewar Malay States and Straits Settlements. This surrender ceremony could have been one of the last flourishes of an old order before the curtain rose on a new political structure in five weeks. That this second surrender lacked news value and significance is evidenced by its report being tucked beside the editorial in the inner pages of The Malayan Daily News, whereas the earlier "historic" September 13 surrender had been prominently splashed on the front page of The Malay Mail. And yet so dramatic was this staged proffering of swords that the images from this event seem to have become etched in the consciousness of many writers as THE main surrender!
How did our own VI historians get it wrong? They all thought there was only one surrender and even then got the date wrong at that. Naturally all of us believed them and unquestioningly parroted them thereafter. Just a year after the momentous event, the first item in the School Bell of the 1946 Victorian declared, "History was made in the V.I. on Thursday, October 13, 1945 when the Japanese surrender was signed in the School Hall." Oops, out by one month and, besides, no one noticed that even if the scribe had been right, October 13, 1945 would have been a Saturday not Thursday!
V.I. Headmaster, Mr G. P. Dartford - a historian - used the date of September 12 in the history of the school which he wrote for the 1954 Diamond Jubilee issue of The Victorian. Two years later, Mr Ganga Singh, an Old Boy, probably quoting the 1946 School Bell, put the surrender on October 13, 1945 in his historical account of the V.I. in the January 1956 issue of The Seladang. Old Ganga could be forgiven for relying on erroneous information as he had been teaching in India during the war years and only returned to Malaya in September, 1946. Old Boy historian, R. Suntharalingam (later history Professor at USM), who was commissioned by Headmaster Dr Lewis to compile the 1962 official V.I. History, probably quoted Dartford in using September 12, 1945. And Dr Lewis himself did not catch that error. (He, too, could be forgiven as he was a Japanese prisoner-of-war on the death railway in Thailand at that time!)
Non-V.I. historians have fared no better. In fact they seem to be unaware of the September 13, 1945 event and instead regard the minor February 22, 1946 ceremony is THE big surrender and the ONLY surrender.
Unfortunately, the prize for historical confusion must go to the V.I.’s own official 1993 Centenary souvenir publication: Victoria Institution – The First Century 1893 – 1993. In the book, the author - obviously unaware of the 1946 surrender and trying to reconcile the photographs from the two events - bravely fused the 1945 surrender ceremony into the 1946 ceremony:
"…. Lieutenant-General Teizo Ishiguro used a brush for appending his signature while Lieutenant-General Roberts used a pen. The entire ceremony, which had started at 2 p.m., lasted hardly 20 minutes. Next came the important ritual of the handover of samurai swords. The Japanese marched out of the hall, and as their names were called out, each officer handed over his sword to General Frank Messervy, commander of the 25th Indian Division. This ritual signified the total disarming of the Imperial Japanese Army in Malaya…"
It put Roberts, his superior Messervy, Ishiguro and his superior Itagaki together at the same place on the same day! Lt-General Sir Frank Messervy is not visible among the Allied top brass in the V.I. Hall photographs. If he had indeed been in the V.I. in September 1945 then, surely, given his knighthood and rank, he - not Lt-General Roberts - would have been sitting at the centre of the Allied table and signing the surrender document. By the same token, he would have taken the salute at the victory parade that afternoon and his name - not Roberts' - would have been mentioned prominently in that afternoon's The Malay Mail. Conversely, all the Allied top brass - including the navy officer in white - seated in the V.I. Hall have disappeared from the V.I. porch photograph. Where did they go? And finally, the V.I. porch photograph shows the Japanese officer wearing a white arm band on his right sleeve whereas inside the V.I. Hall not a single one of the Japanese officers is wearing an arm band!
It is hoped that, with the matter of
the two surrenders now brought to light, the V.I. Museum,
the National Archives and other historical/heritage bodies
will note the facts as presented here and make the
necessary corrections to their accounts of the Japanese
capitulation, namely, that:
After Malaya, Frank Messervy went on to become General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, India. Following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, he was made the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army. He retired in 1948.
Too Chee Chew, the Old Victorian who witnessed and recorded the 1945 surrender, had an illustrious career during the Malayan Emergency which began three years later. He was one of the psychological warfare experts behind the operations to flush out the guerrillas hiding in the jungle. His deep understanding of the enemy mind set allowed him to craft highly effective propaganda material dropped in leaflets over the jungle, broadcast from Radio Malaya and from low flying 'voice' aircraft, published in articles in the vernacular press and screened in documentary shorts in cinemas and by mobile Information Department vans in kampungs and new villages. It resulted in many surrenders, more, in fact, than the total number of enemy killed. For many years the anti-insurgency services of many countries consulted him for advice. For his services to the country, C.C. Too, as he was more popularly known, was awarded the Panglima Setia Mahkota in 1986 which carries the title of Tan Sri. Incidentally, Tan Sri C.C. Too not only gave his sweat to the country but he literally gave his blood as well. For many years he was the donor with the greatest number of units of blood at the Kuala Lumpur Blood Bank!
And what of those poor wandering Victorians after that second surrender? Well, they weren't exactly kept away from their old premises. The various School sports teams had reconstituted themselves in early 1946 while squatting in Maxwell School and, thanks to the efforts of the cricket master, Mr Gorbex Singh, the V.I. cricketers were allowed by Malaya Command to use the V.I. ground for "nets" and for their matches. [It definitely helped that Gorbex Singh was in the good books of the British for he had been a resistance fighter against the Japanese. He was later awarded an M.B.E. for his bravery.] The V.I. footballers, too, could use the V.I. grounds twice a week and, taking advantage of this, they organised an inter-class tournament. As there were a number of military units itching for some recreation for their servicemen, the V.I. cricketers played them at the Malaya Command pitch (alias V.I. pitch). The Victorians even took on Malaya Command at their common ground in July 1946 and twice beat them, by 66 runs and by 40 runs. But before long Malaya Command was disbanded, its job done, and on September 9, 1946, the V.I. boys finally trudged back to their beloved home on Petaling Hill.
There was a massive clean up of the school premises followed by a grand re-opening of the school on October 11, 1946, with dignitaries like the Governor of the Malayan Union and the Director of Education gracing the occasion. Congratulations poured forth as to how the V.I. spirit could rise from the ashes and a variety concert featuring the School Orchestra capped an evening of celebration. Mr Anthony Chin, a V.I. teacher and prolific composer of patriotic songs to boot, wrote a song for the occasion - The Song of Liberation - that was rendered by the whole school:
Liberation, liberation, liberation of Malaya,
The festivities were presided over by the new Headmaster - Mr F. Daniel, the prewar Senior Science Master. He had been a Japanese prisoner-of-war at Changi and had suffered a personal tragedy from the dark days of the war. His wife, a teleprinter operator with Malaya Command Signals had been interned separately from him all the while and had died in Sumatra in August 1945, a mere month before the surrender. Because of rampant burglaries in the postwar chaos, Mr Daniel forswore the comforts of his official Headmaster's bungalow and moved in permanently with a camp bed, stove, pots and pans into the small corner room in the science wing to be the "school jaga". After Changi, this simple room must have seemed overly opulent. Notwithstanding Mr Daniel's watchful presence, one rainy night, some intruders nevertheless tore up and made off with the water pipes buried under the school grounds!
One question still not fully answered today would be on the role of the V.I. building, what it was actually used for during those three years and a half years in Japanese hands. No sane Kuala Lumpur resident would have dared venture near the School during the occupation and many of those who would know the answers are not around any more. The late Harry Lau, an Old Boy and later a V.I. teacher, is the only known person to have visited the V.I. during the Japanese occupation. He went there to collect his uniform when he was newly hired to teach in a Japanese school. He recalled that the building was being used as an administrative centre and not as a military headquarters as some stories would have it.
But we certainly now know a lot about how the school building was used from September 13, 1945 on - how for five months the whole country was run under British military rule from the V.I. and how, too, against all expectations, the Japanese surrendered at the V.I. not once, but twice. And, of course, thanks to the fact(s) of the Japanese surrender(s) in its premises, the V.I. was designated a Historic Building by the Armed Forces Museum in the late eighties or early nineties. While other old structures around the School have been torn down in the name of development, it is this special honour that has protected the School to some extent from the wrecker's ball!
Many thanks to Mr Lim Cheng Leng KMN AMN for the use of the photographs of the 1945 surrender at the V.I. and of Tan Sri C.C. Too from his book, The Story of a Psy-Warrior: Tan Sri Dr. C.C. Too which is available in Malaysian book stores.
Many thanks also to Old Victorians Dr Chong Siew Meng (VI '68), Loh Kok Kin (VI '95) and Leong Yoke Keen (VI '74) for their contributions. The latter has also written a review of The Story of a Psy-Warrior: Tan Sri Dr. C.C. Too at: http://www.victorians.bizhosting.com/victimes31
Created: 31 January 2004.
Last update: 23 February 2007.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
Ooi Boon Kheng