Just when the city and administration were limping back to normalcy after a few tense months of air raid alerts and safety drills, tragedy struck. In the concluding part of a series, A. Srivathsan writes about the strict censorship that was in place during 1942-43
By the end of April 1942, the government announced that the threat to Madras had reduced and important departments would return.
When the situation was slowly improving, ARP blundered and delayed the city’s return to normalcy. On May 6, a month after the city witnessed the first air-raid alert, ARP sounded another warning at 10 in the morning. Though the alarm lasted for just a while, it caused concern. Enquires revealed the alarm was false and it was accidentally set off while cleaning the siren. Though government offered explanations through newspapers, anxiety lingered.
It took a few more months for things to turn around. By July-end, news about evacuees and their problems almost disappeared from the newspapers and it was clear that the city had almost come back to its normal self.
Sabapathy, an all time favourite comedy film, released on August 7 in Paragon theatre, was running to packed houses.
The Chennai Corporation began to discharge its functions from the first quarter of 1943 and soon faced one of its biggest challenges.
There was a torrential downpour in the month of September and the city was severely flooded. When it was grappling with rehabilitation measures and cleaning up the mess, tragedy stuck.
On the night of October 11, 1943, a single Japanese reconnaissance plane dropped a few bombs resulting in, what the government claimed as, ‘light damages’ and causalties. Strangely, the ARP did not sound any alarm or warning siren to alert people. The government took two weeks to explain this failure. ARP could not operate the alarms since the floods had damaged the power lines and there was no electrical supply then, it said.
Many would have accepted this reason and the issue would have died down had it not been followed by another announcement that caused more agitation.
An official press communiqué conveyed that, in future, “It would not be practicable to give warning to the public before bombs are actually dropped.”
On such occasions, the public who are in the open should seek shelter as soon as they hear the sound of bombs falling, it announced.
The Hindu editorial published on the following day reflected the public dismay at this strange attitude and arrangement. If the intent of the government is not to create panic in the city by sounding the alarms often, then it is unjustifiable and counterproductive, the editorial cautioned.
Barring a single government press release, the newspapers did not carry any report about the damages caused by the bombing and the panic, if any, in the city. Canberra Times quoting Tokyo Radio mentioned that the planes “bombed installations and left huge fires burning among warehouses. A large transport in the harbour was set alight.”
There was strict censorship of news. Only announcements about regular safety drills and air raid practices were published.
Not everyone in the city took the drills and wartime regulations seriously. For instance, on November 8, on Rasapaa Chetti Street in George Town, V. Kannan, aged 28, a resident of Triplicane, refused to run to a safety shelter despite repeated warnings. The Court ordered him to pay a fine of Rs. 50 or undergo rigorous imprisonment for a month for what it considered irresponsible behaviour on his part.
Similarly, there were regular violations of lighting restrictions in the city. In Chintadripet, police filed cases against 20 persons, in the month of November alone, for infringement of lighting restrictions.
If people of Madras thought there would not be any further air raids, they were rudely reminded that the war was not over yet. On November 12, early morning, Japanese planes attempted to raid Madras again. The government press release claimed the ‘enemy’ planes were repulsed and no bombs were dropped on the city. Censorship continued.
The city would not have been completely free of fear, but it looks Madras was a lot more composed. Gemini’s Tamil film, Mangama Sapatham was running successfully in two theatres and getting ready to celebrate its silver jubilee.
Business went on as usual, but there was no let down on safety drills and anti-aircraft guns continued to protect the city. Madras and its citizens remained on alert until the war ended in 1945.