Category Archives: Bamboo Trilogy

74th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore

74 years ago today, Singapore fell to the Japanese after a bloody campaign lasting just over two months. On this day, Feb 15th 1942, 85,000 British, Australian and Indian troops were taken prisoner on the island, to join the 50,000 so who had already been taken prisoner during the Malaya campaign.

Selarang Barracks
Selarang Barracks POW camp, Singapore, 1942

Winston Churchill called it the ‘worst disaster’ and ‘largest capitulation’ in British military history. Many of those prisoners were to suffer starvation, disease, brutal treatment and forced labour during their three-and-a-half year captivity.Tragically,thousands didn’t survive, and  countless others carried the scars for the rest of their lives.

In writing  my book,  Bamboo Heart I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live through  that final battle. I put myself in the shoes of an ordinary British soldier, Tom Ellis. Here is an extract from Chapter 21….

Bomb Damage Singapore
Bomb damage, Singapore Feb 1942

‘Tom had never seen a tank before. His mouth went dry, and he could not swallow. He tightened his finger on the trigger, but as he did so wondered what a rifle could do against the great guns on the tanks. The guns were blasting in every direction, at the buildings, into the rubber trees. They were soon upon them.

‘Fire for all you are worth, boys,’ yelled the Bull, and they all fired in unison at the first tank, but their bullets just pinged off the metal. The great gun swung round and faced them, blasting at them, round after round. The Japanese were also firing machine guns at them from inside the tank. The Bull went down with the first hit, then one by one the others were struck by bullets, screaming out in pain and falling back into the drain like rag dolls.

Japnese Tanks 2
Japanese Tanks, Malaya Campaign

Tom felt his breath coming in uneven gulps. He gave up firing and crouched down low behind the Bull’s body, trying to hide himself from the enemy. A sob of fear rose in Tom’s throat. The tanks went rumbling past him on their great caterpillar tracks, churning up the tarmac, brushing obstacles aside, moving on relentlessly like great voracious insects. When the last of the tanks were gone, he could hear troops marching past. Wave after wave of feet pounded the road, only a few yards from his ear. He was shaking all over. It would take only one of them to notice he was alive.’

Here is a link to my website, with details of my research into my father’s experience of the Malaya campaign and as a POW, the inspiration for my trilogy, Bamboo Heart, Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road, published by Monsoon Books.

The first two books in the trilogy available from Monsoon  at £8.99 each which includes paperback (free UK delivery) + FREE ebook at the following links–

Bamboo Heart Monsoon Books

Bamboo Island Monsoon Books 

With thanks to the Australian War Memorial Collection for the photographs I’ve included in this post.

500 words on Bamboo Island on Asian Books Blog


500 words a series of guest posts from authors writing about Asia, and published by Asia-based, or Asia-focussed, publishing houses, in which they talk about their latest books. Here Ann Bennett writes about Bamboo Island, the second book in her World War II South East Asian trilogy.  Last year, in the Year of the Horse, the first book, Bamboo Heart, won the inaugural Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar New Year. The trilogy is published by Monsoon, a company specialising in books that open windows onto South East Asian history.

So: over to Ann…

Bamboo Island is the story of a British ex-pat, Juliet Crosby, a rubber planter’s wife. It opens in 1962. Juliet has been living a reclusive life on her plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. The sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Together they embark on a journey to Singapore and to Bamboo Island, in Indonesia, to uncover secrets buried for more than twenty years.

Bamboo Island

The idea for the trilogy came from researching my father’s wartime experiences. He fought in the Malaya campaign and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. He worked on the Thai-Burma railway and survived the sinking of a hell-ship off the Philippines. In the course of my research, I read a great deal about the Malaya Campaign and the Fall of Singapore. I was struck by how the lives of everyone in the region were affected by the war and the Japanese occupation. I read horrific stories of massacres, of starvation, of unbelievable cruelty, but also amazing tales of sacrifice, hope and survival.

After I’d written Bamboo Heart, the story of a prisoner on the Death Railway, I wanted to go back to that time and place to write about the effect of the war and occupation from a different perspective. I chose to write from the viewpoint of an ordinary woman who had made a life in Malaya, but whose life was transformed by the war.

I wanted to show how the war engulfed the region, how it destroyed families and lives. It was important for my central character, Juliet, to be involved in her own personal struggle before the invasion changed everything. Juliet travels from London to Penang with her sister Rose, initially for a visit, but both soon decide to settle in Malaya. Juliet marries a rubber planter and travels with him to his estate, but she quickly discovers that all is not quite as might first have appeared. Her life is already in turmoil when war breaks out.

Through Juliet’s eyes the reader witnesses the horrors of the Japanese occupation of Singapore: an infamous massacre at a local hospital, the Alexandra Hospital; the horrific Sook Ching (elimination by purification) which saw the murder of many Chinese men; the brutal treatment of internees in the notorious prison camp, Changi.

The sinking of the civilian transport ship, the Vyner Brooke, and the massacre of survivors on a beach on Bangka Island, off Sumatra, were the inspiration for the sinking of a fictitious ship, the Rajah of Sarawak, which is central to the plot of Bamboo Island.

My aim, in Bamboo Island, as in Bamboo Heart, was to bring the dreadful events of the Second World War to life through the story of one character.

I’ve travelled a fair amount in far flung outposts of the former British Empire since my very first trip from Bangkok to Bali in 1985. I then stayed in crumbling guesthouses in India, Burma, Sri Lanka and Malaysia which would once have been the sumptuous homes of British expats. This kindled my interest in the people who, in the days of Empire, travelled half way across the world to make a new life in the East. That’s how Juliet first came into my mind – sitting on the veranda of her decaying house, looking back over the years, thinking about the people she loved and lost, and how the war and the Japanese occupation transformed her life.



Introducing Bamboo Island

Bamboo Island, the second book in my South East Asia WW2 Trilogy is now available on and in the Kindle edition. The paperback version is out in SE Asia already and will be launched in the UK in March 2016.

Bamboo Island

Here’s the blurb: Malaya 1962: Juliet Crosby, a plantation owner’s wife, has lived a reclusive life on her rubber plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. The sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Together they embark on a journey to Singapore and Indonesia to uncover secrets buried for more than twenty years. Juliet is forced to recollect her prewar marriage, her experiences during the Second World War – hiding from the Japanese in Singapore before being captured, tortured then imprisoned with other intertnees in Changi Prison – and the loss of those she once held dear.

Bamboo Island is volume two in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Road. They are all standalone stories. Bamboo Heart is available now and Bamboo Road is coming soon.

More details on my website here