Hero or Deserter?
Gordon Bennett and the Tragic Defeat of the 8th Division
By Roger Maynard
Published by Ebury Press; Dist. By Penguin Random House
RRP $ 34.99 in paperback
On 15th February 1942, senior officers of the Allied forces in Singapore agreed to a ceasefire with the Japanese.
After little more than 70 days of warfare the Allied forces were faced with the inevitability of surrender. More than 15,000 Australian men became prisoners of war.
But there is a story from these events that has divided opinion ever since – the escape of 8th division commander Major General Gordon Bennett.
As Maynard writes, the “events surrounding his departure and the fall of Singapore have tended to overshadow a courageous fighting force who have been much maligned over the years.”
Maynard has drawn on eye witness accounts and Bennett’s own detailed recollections to piece together the story of the fall of Singapore. What he also reveals is Bennett’s stated objective of escaping and that he had begun planning his escape days before the surrender.
Bennett was firm in his belief that he should not fall into Japanese hands and that his greater responsibility was to get back to Australia to warn the government of the danger the country faced.
After the war Bennett faced first a military inquiry and then a Royal Commission, neither of which found in his favour. Maynard has written an excellent account of events that made headlines at the time and divide opinion to this day.
This is an interesting book for readers wanting to read more about the defeat in Singapore. It’s clear that Bennett failed to court favour among his fellow officers – he had been promoted ‘in the field’. When he most needed their support he found it was not forthcoming.
NOTE: This period of the war is of particular interest to me – my uncle was a 17 year old prisoner of war in Changi. He survived and as I write this he is alive and well, approaching his 95th birthday. He will not speak about the war and who can blame him.