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 from...is 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.



My Monday Guest, Ann Bennett, Author of Historical fiction set in S.E. Asia

Siobhan Daiko

Today I’m absolutely delighted to welcome back the lovely Ann Bennett.

ann photo No2 edited

 Please introduce yourself to my readers, Ann.

I’ve been writing on and off for over twenty-five years, and had written numerous short stories and three full-length novels, none of which had seen the light of day, before I discovered the peer review site YouWriteOn in 2011. The experience of receiving feedback from writers on the site helped me finish The Pomelo Tree, which had reached the top of the YWO charts, and eventually became Bamboo Heart. This book was published by Monsoon Books in 2014. I went on to write Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road. The trilogy is about the second world war in SE Asia, experienced from three different viewpoints. It was inspired by researching the experiences of my father who was a prisoner on the Thai-Burma railway. Bamboo Island is out on kindle now and will…

View original post 1,255 more words

Introducing Bamboo Island

Bamboo Island, the second book in my South East Asia WW2 Trilogy is now available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com 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

From the River Kwai to Kew: article published in Magna magazine about my research for Bamboo Heart

View from train along tressles - resized

From the River Kew to Kwai: A journey of discovery (Reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor and Friends of the National Archives. Documents WO 345/4 and WO 344/362/2 are held at The National Archives, London.)

Ann Bennett discusses how she traced her father’s records of army service and reveals the wealth of documentary sources that have survived.

Researching family history is a journey of discovery that can take you in many directions. There are different routes you can take: some are blind alleys and some super-highways to moments of enlightenment. This article is about my quest to find out about what happened to my father in the Far East during the Second World War. It took me on several trips to Thailand and also, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, to sources as far apart as Taiwan, the United States, London and Glasgow. It is a journey that is still not over – there are still avenues I would like to explore.

Please click on the link to download the full article MagnaRiverKwai 


My last post was about my 1988 trip to Kanchanaburi with my mum. Another time I’ll share more photos and diary entries about our adventures in Songhkla and Hat Yai in Southern Thailand, and our week in Burma during the 1988 military crackdown. Now I’m getting back on track with the inspirations for Bamboo Heart, by posting about my four days in Penang in 1985, my only visit to that beautiful island.

Straits of Malacca Penang 1985 no 2 001
Straits of Malacca Penang 1985

It made a huge impression on me, enough to stay with me for decades and inspire the setting for two story-lines in Bamboo Heart, separated by fifty years.  I would love to return one day.From photos and videos I’ve seen of modern day Georgetown, it is transformed from the low-rise, low-key atmospheric port I visited full of streets of shop-houses and colonial buildings into a to a bustling modern city of glass skyscrapers, although I understand that all the colonial buildings and Chinese shop-houses have been carefully restored and preserved.

Below are some photos of Georgetown that I took in 1985, and which inspired the sections of Bamboo Heart in which Laura visits Penang in 1986 on her quest to find more about her father’s past and track down the elusive Joy de Silva.

Georgetown Street scene 1985 001
Georgetown Street scene 1985
Pen Kong Temple Georgetown 1985 001
Pen Kong Temple Georgetown 1985
Georgetown suburbs 1985 001
Georgetown suburbs 1985
Street Scene No2 Georgetown low res 001
Street scene, Georgetown Penang 1985

My visit to Penang  was on a Bangkok to Bali Rover with Trailfinders, my first experience of travelling outside Europe. We had started out in Bangkok, visited Ayutiyah and Pattaya in Thailand, then boarded a night train to Butterworth in Malaysia. According to The Man in Seat 61, the trains look just the same now as they did then. I remember a fantastic night’s sleep on linen sheets and a cheap tasty meal washed down with Singha beer in the restaurant car.

Berths in 2nd class carriage in sleeper train – Bangkok to Butterworth
Thailand-train-restaurant-2 Restaurant Car

At Butterworth we took the ferry to Georgetown – a great lumbering square boat. There wasn’t a road bridge then. I remember crossing the straits at sunset, standing out on deck in the warm evening, and watching the red sky and the mountains behind the town coming closer.

Straits of Malacca Penang 1985 with  boat 001

We took rickshaws to the Cathay Hotel, which features in Laura’s story in Bamboo Heart. I remember it being a shabby old Portuguese Villa, once beautiful and imposing, but even then very run down. The rooms were huge and high ceilinged, and it was unbelievably cheap. I don’t remember now whereabouts it was in Georgetown, but in the book I set it in a busy quarter, full of loud bars and cafes. I’ve googled it and it now has a certain shabby-chic cachet – described in the New York Times as follows: ‘You could say that the Cathay Hotel comes up short in just about every category. Except for that most elusive, yet most important measure of a hotel’s allure: character. There, the Cathay Hotel gets six stars.’

Here is my picture from 1985. My camera obviously didn’t like to tropical climate! All the photos from that trip came out dull and dark.

Cathay Hotel Georgetown 1985 001

I would certainly have stayed at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, but all we could afford was a coffee on the terrace. I think that coffee probably cost far more than a night at the Cathay Hotel. I made up for it by having Tom stay there on his first night in Georgetown.


We hired a jeep and toured the island, drove through the suburbs of Georgetown, into the hills and over to Batu Ferringhi, a beautiful white sand beach, which even then was fringed with modern luxury hotels. Here are a few photos I took of Penang beaches on that trip. Those beaches inspired some of the important scenes in the book, featuring Joy and Tom (I hope that isn’t a spoiler!)

Batu Ferringhi beacn Penang 1985 001

Batu Ferringhi Beach Penang 001 Beaches in Penang. I believe this one is in Batu Ferringhi

We also took the funicular railway up to Penang Hill to see the wonderful views across the shimmering straits towards Butterworth and the mainland. I remember eating satays in the little cafe there. I have used this location in both Tom’s story in the 1930s and Laura’s 1980s story.

Waterfall on way up to Penang Hill 1985
Waterfall on way up to Penang Hill 1985
Gardens on Penang Hill 1985
Gardens on Penang Hill 1985
View from Penang Hill no 2 1985 001
View from Penang Hill no 2 1985
View from Penang Hill over Georgetown 001
View from Penang Hill over Georgetown

We also visited the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery (this isn’t my photo, but again, a key scene in the book takes place inside this bulding)


The below photo (which is mine)  of rickshaw riders resting in the trees near the museum in Georgetown inspired another scene in the book, I won’t say which one… if you’ve read Bamboo Heart, you’ll be able to guess.

Rickshaw-wallahs resting in sun Georgetown 1985 001

Bamboo Heart wins Book of the Lunar Year on Asian Books Blog

Fantastic that Bamboo Heart won Book of the Lunar Year – Year of the Horse – announced yesterday on the Asianbooksblog with further information on comments received by voters posted today…

Book of the Lunar Year: full results

As announced yesterday Bamboo Heart by Ann Bennett has won the poll to find Asian Books Blog’s Book of the Lunar Year.

Most people simply voted, but some included comments explaining why they’d made their choice. Here are some comments typical of those made about Bamboo Heart:

The story is gripping, the characters well-drawn and believable and it is very well written. 

A truly compelling read.

This was such a moving story, beautifully told, balancing a flavour of the place and time with a deep involvement in the lives of interesting, well-drawn and, above all, credible characters.

A wonderful uplifting read – a new perspective about the death railway.

Read more »

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Book of the Lunar Year: Bamboo Heart

 The winner of the inaugural Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year, in the Year of the Horse, is Bamboo Heart, by Ann Bennett, with 34% of votes cast.
Congratulations Ann!!!

Blog readers have said some lovely things about Bamboo Heart. Full analysis of the results, and comments from voters, will follow tomorrow.