On 24 September 1975, after 150 years of British naval presence in Singapore, the last British warship, HMS Mermaid, left the Sembawang Naval Basin.
On 18 July 1967, the British announced that all British military forces would be withdrawn by the mid-1970s. The move was a bid to bolster the ailing British economy by cutting back on its defence expenditure in the Far East. The British economy was vulnerable following the sterling crises from 1966 to 1967 and the devaluation of the sterling in 1967. Further, the British political arena was facing instability after a cabinet reshuffle. As a result, the withdrawal of the forces was accelerated, with most of them leaving by the end of 1971. The last of the British forces, stationed in Singapore under the Five-Power Defence Agreements, left in March 1976.
The military withdrawal had economic and security repercussions on Singapore. The departure of the British forces meant the liquidation of an “industry” then representing 20 percent of Singapore’s gross national product.
However, the anticipated effects of the withdrawal were ameliorated by the British agreement to provide monetary aid and to encourage British investment in Singapore. In addition, property held by the British were handed over to the Singapore government.
The military pullout coincided with the rise of communism in Southeast Asia, in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Singapore increased its regional cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member nations, which then included Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Singapore signed a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 1976 with ASEAN member states in the face of growing external threats. Singapore was also part of the Five-Power Defence Arrangements, a consultative regional security framework comprising Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore, which came into effect in 1971.
Singapore sought to maintain good ties and strategic links with its allies, promote peace and increase commercial and industrial projects. Further, a policy of friendship was maintained with the People’s Republic of China to enhance trade and culture. Singapore also advanced its military capabilities by upgrading the Singapore Armed Forces and engaging in military exercises with neighbouring countries as well as the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
1. Teo, E. (1975, September 25). End of the RN era as Mermaid leaves... The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Leong, L. (2011, September 29). Rethinking the British legacy – British withdrawal and origins of the Singapore Armed Forces, 1966–1971. Pointer, Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces. 37(2), 22–31. Singapore: SAFTI. Call no.: RSING 355.005 P
2. Pull-out in middle 1970’s [sic]. (1967, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Britain to pull out troops by mid-1970s. (1999, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. End of an era. (1971, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Loh, K.S. (2011). The British military withdrawal from Singapore and the anatomy of a catalyst. In Heng, D., and Aljunied, S.M.K. (Eds.), Singapore in Global History (pp. 195 —213). Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN -[HIS]; BBC. (2015). On this day: 19 November 1976: Wilson defends ‘pound in your pocket’. Retrieved 18 September, 2015, from BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/19/newsid_3208000/3208396.stm; Crucial stage in British belt tightening. (1968, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Byramji, N. (1975, May 15).
5. Campbell, W. (1971, October 30). Pull-out. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
6. 1,650 will be axed in last phase of pullout. (1976, January 25). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Start of British military pull-out. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Murfett, M. H., et. al. (2004). Between two oceans: A military history of Singapore from first settlement to final British withdrawal (pp. 392–407). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic. Call no.: RSING 355.0095957 BET.
7. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore 1819–1988 (pp. 293–399). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS].
8. Financial Times praises S’pore success. (1972, November 21). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Pull-out aid. (1968, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. ‘Invest in S’pore, Malaysia’ drive. (1968, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Turnbull, 1989, pp. 293–399; The Straits Times, 25 Jan 1976, p. 4; Total hand-over in 7 months. (1975, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. National Archives of Singapore. (2009) The 2nd decade – Nation building in progress, 1975–1985: Defence and international security. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. Leong, L. (2011, September 29). Rethinking the British legacy – British withdrawal and origins of the Singapore Armed Forces, 1966–1971. Pointer, Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces. 37(2), 22–31. Singapore: SAFTI. Call no.: RSING 355.005 P
14. National Archives of Singapore. (2009) The 2nd decade – Nation Building in Progress, 1975–1985: Linking bridges and strengthening ties. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
15. National Archives of Singapore, 2009.
The information in this article is valid as at Aug 2015 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.