From the Stacks III

`From the Stacks’ showcases significant materials from the National Library’s Rare Collection. From now until 25th September 2016, over one hundred artefacts comprising books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, photographs and documents from 1701 to 1960 will be exhibited at the National Library Building.

The three curators of the exhibition spent over a year uncovering the stories and significance behind each item, and have put together a three-part series on their picks from the exhibition.

Personal Operational Diary on the Reoccupation of Singapore and Malaya

Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey


Picked by Georgina Wong, Assistant Manager (Exhibitions & Curation)


A page from the typescript operational diary of General Sir Miles Dempsey

A page from the typescript operational diary of General Sir Miles Dempsey

Assistant Manager Georgina Wong favours this unique typescript detailing the events preceding and during the re-occupation of Malaya by the British armed forces.

Singapore was officially handed back to the British with the signing of the Instrument of Surrender on 12 September 1945. While the Japanese Occupation was over, it was not the end of turbulent times. The National Library’s collection includes the military diary of General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey (1896–1969), after whom Dempsey Hill is named. Dempsey was the leader of the British post-war military operation to take back Malaya and Java from the Japanese. The diary’s entries cover the period from 8 August 1945 to 21 April 1946, and provide us with an unprecedented look at the logistics and politics surrounding the reoccupation of former colonial territories after the war.

During the operation, Dempsey kept a daily log of his activities and the weather, before being posted to the Middle East in April 1946. The pages of his diary contain records of the various issues he had to attend to during the reoccupation and rebuilding of industries and infrastructure in Malaya and Java. We also get a fascinating glimpse into the days leading up to the official surrender of the Japanese. From the moment the atomic bomb operation was in motion, the Allies had been making plans to reoccupy territories throughout Europe, North Africa and Asia, should the Japanese surrender. The diary revealed that, days before the official surrender, Dempsey was waiting on information to deploy his troops at a moment’s notice.

Also in the diary are insights into the political situation at the time, as the British entered into sometimes-tense negotiations with the Dutch, the French and the Malay Sultans over their territories, each party trying to secure their nation’s best interests. Tensions in the region are continually alluded to, and Dempsey spent much of his year in Malaya dealing with uprisings, strikes, and insurgents, which foreshadowed what would later become the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960).


Apart from the curators’ favourites, there are many other ‘treasures’ waiting to be discovered, each one able to reveal fascinating stories about Singapore’s history, culture and society. Catch this not-to-be-missed exhibition soon!

View of the exhibition section featuring World War II materials

View of the exhibition section featuring World War II materials

From the Stacks is ongoing until 25 September 2016 at the National Library Gallery, Level 10, National Library Building, from Monday to Sunday, 10am – 9pm. Closed on public holidays. Free admission.