Shenton Thomas



Shenton Thomas Whitelegge Thomas (Sir) (b. 10 October 1879, London, England–d. 15 January 1962, London, England), more popularly known as Sir Shenton Thomas, was the last governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States (1934–1946).1 He succeeded Sir Cecil Clementi, who had resigned on the grounds of ill health.2 Thomas’s governorship is most closely associated with the disastrous Malayan Campaign and Battle of Singapore against the Japanese.3 Following the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, Thomas was still technically Governor although in reality he was a prisoner-of-war who was initially interned by the Japanese at Changi Prison and subsequently at prison camps in Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and Manchuria until the end of the war. He eventually retired from his colonial posts in 1946.4

Early life and career in the British Colonial Service
Thomas was the eldest son of Reverend Thomas William Thomas, Rector of Newton-in-the-Isle, Cambridge, and his wife Charlotte Susanna Whitelegge. He first attended school at St John’s, Leatherhead, in 1890. A bright student who was also good at games, particularly cricket, Thomas eventually won a scholarship to Queen’s College, Cambridge, in 1898. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (2ndclass Honours) in 1901 and spent the next seven years working as a schoolmaster at Aysgarth Preparatory School, which was a well-known school situated in the Yorkshire Dales of northern England. Following his teaching stint, Thomas joined the British Colonial Service in 1909.5


Thomas’s first appointment in the Colonial Service was as an assistant to the District Commissioner in Nairobi, Kenya. There he met Lucy Marguerite Montgomery, otherwise known as Daisy. The couple were married on 11 April 1912 at the St Jude’s Church in Kensington, United Kingdom, after Thomas had completed his first African tour.6

Thomas gradually rose through the ranks in the Colonial Service and was eventually promoted to the position of Governor of the Nyasaland Protectorate (present-day Malawi) in 1929. In 1932, he received another promotion to become Governor of the Gold Coast Colony (present-day Ghana).7

On 7 September 1934, while back in London on leave, Thomas was offered the position of Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States.8 A month later, Thomas was granted an audience with King George V at Buckingham Palace where he officially accepted his new appointment.9

Journey to Singapore
Thomas, along with his wife and daughter, made the journey to Singapore on board the P & O ship Ranpura. After a brief stop in Penang, they finally arrived in Singapore on 9 November 1934. Upon reaching the shores of Singapore, they were greeted by three squadrons of aeroplanes and a salute of guns. Thomas and his family were then escorted onto the docks by an official party that included then Colonial Secretary Andrew Caldecott. The most significant moment of the welcome ceremony took place in the Council Chamber at Empress Place, when Sir Thomas signed his oath of allegiance as the new Governor.10


Thomas gave his first speech as Governor in the Council Chamber, where he urged the people of Malaya to practice financial prudence. Moreover, he praised the riches of the country and called upon all the different ethnic races to act for the greater good of Malaya.11

Governorship before and during World War II
Thomas took residency at Government House (now known as the Istana).12 His subordinates and the business community regarded his personality and style as Governor favourably during times of peace.13

During the interwar period of his governorship, Thomas presided over the opening of the Naval Base on 14 February 193814 as well as the inauguration of a new Supreme Court building on 3 August 1939.15

However, Thomas’s governorship has largely been associated with the wartime period. In this regard, he has been criticised for being an uninspiring and indecisive civilian leader during times of war.16 His indecisiveness as Governor was blamed for contributing to the frequent clashes between the British military and civil authorities during defence preparations for the Battle of Singapore (8 to 15 February 1942).17 These clashes greatly impeded the planning and construction of proper defences for Singapore.18

Captivity under the Japanese
After Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, Thomson spent three-and-a half years in captivity as a prisoner-of-war. During incarceration, he endured separation from his wife, who remained confined in Changi Prison until the end of the war. Thomas, on the other hand, was moved from Changi Prison to prison camps in Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and finally to a camp in Manchuria where he stayed until the Japanese surrender in 1945. As with all prisoners of the Japanese, he experienced malnutrition, physical illnesses and the privations of wartime.19


Retirement
After being released from captivity, Thomas officially retired from the British Colonial Service in 1946 and settled in London. He died of illness on 15 January 1962 at the age of 82.20 Shenton Way serves as a reminder of his governorship. It is a major road built in the 1930s, inaugurated in 1951 and named after Sir Shenton Thomas.21

Timeline22
10 Oct 1879: Born in London to Reverend Thomas William Thomas, Rector of Newton-in-the-Isle, Cambridge, and his wife Charlotte Susanna Whitelegge.
1890: Attends school at St John’s, Leatherhead.
1898–1901: Receives university education at Queen’s College, Cambridge.
1902–1908: Schoolmaster at Aysgarth Preparatory School.
1909: Joins British Colonial Service. Appointed as Assistant District Commissioner, East Africa Protectorate (Nairobi, Kenya).
11 April 1912: Marries Lucy Marguerite Montgomery (Daisy).
1919: Appointed Assistant Chief Secretary, Uganda.
1920: Appointed Chairman of the Uganda Development Commission.
1921: Appointed Principal Assistant Secretary, Nigeria.
1923: Appointed Deputy Chief Secretary, Nigeria.
1927: Appointed Colonial Secretary, Gold Coast Colony (Ghana).
1929: Appointed Governor of the Nyasaland Protectorate (Malawi).
1932: Appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Gold Coast Colony (Ghana).
1934: Appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States.
1942–1945: Interned as prisoner-of-war by the Japanese at Changi Prison and subsequently at prison camps in Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and Manchuria.
1946: Officially resigns from his colonial appointments.
15 January 1962: Dies from illness in London at the age of 82.

Family23
Wife: Lucy Marguerite Montgomery, also known as Daisy or Lady Thomas.

Daughter: Mary Bridget Thomas (b. 1914, Nairobi, Kenya–d. 1998). First marriage to Jack Leslie Larry Lotinga (m. 9 June 1936). Second marriage to Nicholas Richard Michael Eliot (m. 1965)



References
1. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 17, 207. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Corfield, J. (2011). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Landham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, pp. 271–272. Retrieved from EBSCOhost eBook collection; Koh, T. T. B., et al. (Eds.). (2006).
Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 563. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Sir Cecil Clementi resigns governorship. (1934, June 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Holmes, R., & Kemp, A. (1982). The bitter end. Chichester: Anthony Bird, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 HOL-[WAR])
4. Corfield, J. (2011). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Landham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, pp. 271–272. Retrieved from ProQuest.
5. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 17–18. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
6. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 24, 27, 30. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
7. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. 39). Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 37, 39. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
8. Downing Street, 7th September, 1934. (1934, September 14). The London Gazette, p. 5819. Retrieved from The London Gazette website: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34087/page/5819
9. Busy time for new Governor. (1934, October 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Welcome to Sir Shenton Thomas. (1934, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 12; Today’s welcome to new Governor. (1934, November 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. New governor looks at the future of Malaya. (1934, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
13. Heussler, R. (1981) British rule in Malaya: The Malayan Civil Service and its predecessors, 1867–1942. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, pp. 252–254. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5951006 HEU-[SEA])
14. Arrangements for today’s Naval Base graving dock ceremony. (1938, February 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9; Dock opening: Air view. (1938, February 20). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. The Singapore Free Press. (1939, August 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; Governor opens Singapore’s new supreme court. (1939, August 4). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Morrison, I. (1993). Malayan postscript. Kuala Lumpur: S. Abdul Majeed, pp. 154–155, 157. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 MOR-[WAR]); Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 202–204. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Farrell, B. P. (2004). The dice were rather heavily loaded: Wavell and the fall of Singapore. In B. P. Farrell (Ed.), Leadership and responsibility in the Second World War: Essays in honour of Robert Vogel (pp. 182–234). Montreal; Ithaca: McGill-Queen's University Press, p. 204. Retrieved from ebrary eBook collection.
17. Holmes, R., & Kemp, A. (1982). The bitter end. Chichester: Anthony Bird, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 HOL-[WAR])
18. Leasor, J. (1968). Singapore: The battle that changed the world. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, pp. 127–139. (Call no.: RSING 959.51 LEA)
19. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 140–171. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
20. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 207. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M.
21. Gimson to open Shenton Way. (1951, July 2). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 509. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 113. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]).
22. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 17–18, 24, 27, 30, 37, 39, 140–171, 207. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Corfield, J. (2011). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Landham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, pp. 271–272. Retrieved from ProQuest; New Governor a keen sportsman. (1934, June 15). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Cairns, I., Cairns C., & Eliot, P. (2014, August 2). Mary Bridget Thomas. Retrieved from RootsWeb website: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=icairns&id=I6561; Wedding of Miss Bridget Thomas. (1936, June 19). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6; Divorce suit. (1954, February 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 5 August 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Politics and Government
Arts personalities
World War, 1939-1945--Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Colonial Administrators
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
Colonial administrators
Colonial administrators--Singapore--Biography