To honour those who served their country

“In this their finest hour”


RAF liaison officer

George Patterson




Taken from

Malayan administrator who was ADC to General Percival at the fall of Singapore

George Patterson, who has died aged 87, began his career as a member of Malaya's self-confident administrative elite, known as the "Heaven Born", then suffered the horrors of imprisonment by the Japanese before returning from the war to serve on until the Malay states were granted independence.

The son of a senior commissioner in northern Nigeria, George Sheldon Patterson was born on July 25 1920 at Newcastle upon Tyne and went to the Royal Grammar School before reading Chemistry at New College, Oxford. He decided to enter the colonial service, but joined the Royal Artillery on the outbreak of war and then was posted to Terengganu, in Johore. He was learning Malay and supervising a dye works when Japan entered the war.

Bidding farewell to his servant and leaving his car running without oil, Patterson led a party of Europeans on a six-day journey through the jungle. They had to pause regularly to burn leeches off their bodies, but reached the Tembeling river, where their three Malays built a raft. When a rescue launch appeared, they had one tin of corned beef left.

In Singapore Patterson joined an anti-aircraft unit, became an RAF liaison officer and was posted to Army headquarters. He recorded in a Letts diary his appointment as ADC to General Percival, the GOC, on February 11 1942. Three days later he laconically noted: "Shell lifted the car off the road today but little damage done."

On February 15 he attended morning Communion before driving Percival, under a white flag, to surrender to General Yamashita. Soon Patterson and Percival were sharing a married officer's quarters at Changi with seven brigadiers, one colonel, a sergeant cook and a batman.

At first they lived off Army rations, played bridge and had little contact with their captors. Then a barbed wire fence was built, and prisoners were ordered to salute all Japanese personnel. Unlike some tall prisoners, Patterson never had to kneel to be beaten with a rifle butt; but ever afterwards even a playful slap in the face angered him.

When the prisoners were sent to Formosa the diary recorded a daily litany of deaths, but Patterson obtained a job exercising a spirited horse for a Japanese NCO. When some natives gave him some bananas as he rode back to camp, he retained them by telling the guards that they were the beast's favourite food. He was finally incarcerated at Mukden in Manchuria, and was released after American paratroops arrived, just ahead of the Russians, on August 16 1945.

Patterson returned to Malaya as private secretary to Malcolm MacDonald, the governor-general who speeded up independence. MacDonald deemed evening dress no longer necessary for dinner parties, and even entered one formal event walking on his hands. When Patterson visited Viceregal Lodge in New Delhi, residence of Lord Mountbatten of Burma (another proconsul in a hurry), he found that the iced butter there was inscribed "M of B" .

After marrying his wife, Marie Stansfield Worthingon, with whom he was to have two daughters, Patterson was back in Malaya during the Emergency. As district officer in Kototingi he had to have an armed guard, but he enjoyed running a rehabilitation centre which taught trades to captured Communists.

When General Sir Gerald Templer, the high commissioner, asked why he was not doing better, Patterson replied that he needed more money, and was promised it at once. Six weeks later Templer reappeared by helicopter, saying: "You didn't expect me, did you?" "Of course I did," Patterson smoothly replied. "I've got on a new pair of slacks."

Patterson's last post was in the service's establishment office. He returned home with an OBE in 1960 to work for PA Management Consultants.

In retirement he expressed regret that he had never kept a diary, and was astonished when his wife produced his Letts diary and letters home – he had blotted it from his memory. In 1993 he published his memoirs, ‘A Spoonful of Rice with Salt’.


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