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The Tartan Tenko

The Tartan Tenko: life and death of the Scottish soldier in Singapore 1937 – 1942

Cooper, Jonathan Paul (2021) The Tartan Tenko: life and death of the Scottish soldier in Singapore 1937 – 1942. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.


The Fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942 is the greatest military defeat in British history. It resulted in the largest capitulation of British and Commonwealth troops to date, with over 100,000 troops surrendering in a matter of hours to the Japanese. Uniquely the Prisoners of War (POWs) were left to look after themselves by their captors and tasked to create their own prison camp on the battlefield they had just fought over and among the quarters and barracks they had once called home. Tragically thousands of men would go on to die along the ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand and Burma or in the ‘Hellships’ transporting troops around the Japanese empire.

In 2011, researchers at the National Archives in Kew found what they described in the press at the time as the ‘Holy Grail’ of documents relating to the internment of POWs in the Far East. The papers, raised by administrators of the Bureau of Record and Enquiry (BRE) at the Changi POW Camp in Singapore, detail the movement and fate of all prisoners who passed through the gates. Among the files were those raised by the battalion adjutants of three Scottish units; the 2nd Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, and the 155th Field Regiment (Lanarkshire Yeomanry), Royal Artillery.

The aim of this research is twofold. Firstly, to use the BRE data to review the transition of the Scottish soldier from combatant to captive. Secondly, to determine what it was to be a soldier in a Scottish Regiment and how this affected a man’s chance of survival in battle and imprisonment. The analysis of the BRE records revealed new evidence on previously neglected narratives that both shapes and challenges the accepted histories. This thesis provides a detailed insight into the lives of the men who fought in the Scottish regiments, and who, for reasons beyond their control, found themselves at the edge of a crumbling empire, fighting a new and ruthless enemy in an unforgiving and alien terrain.

Read thesis here