Sunday, 17 February 2013

Civilian War Memorial at Beach Road gazetted as national monument

By Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2013

THE Civilian War Memorial will be gazetted as a national monument, a move that will further preserve the memories of ordinary people who died during the Japanese Occupation.

As Singapore's 65th national monument, the 67m-tall structure will be protected by law from being torn down or changed in "any major way", the Government said yesterday. Any proposed works will have to be approved by the Preservation of Monuments Board.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who announced the move, said it was a way to preserve the collective memories of the 1942 to 1945 Occupation.

The memorial, which includes four columns that taper towards the top, symbolises Singapore's multiracial culture and the need for unity, he added.

Mr Wong was speaking at the 46th War Memorial Service, which was held yesterday in front of the monument near City Hall MRT station.

Held every year, the service includes representatives from schools and religious organisations laying wreaths before the memorial in a simple but sombre ceremony.

Feb 15, the day when Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942, is also Total Defence Day.

The memorial and surrounding park were built in 1967 to house the remains of civilian victims of the Occupation. These were first discovered in 1962 across Singapore in places such as Siglap, Changi and the hill behind Nanyang Girls' High School.

The project cost about $300,000, with half of the funds provided by the Government and the rest raised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The National Heritage Board said yesterday in a statement that national monuments are chosen for their "socio-historical merit, importance to the community, as well as architectural merit".

In general, they have to retain their original facade.

Dr Donna Brunero, a history lecturer at the National University of Singapore, said the move is fitting as the monument is a site of remembrance and provides a "localised memory" of the war years.

"It has further historical significance because it was built during Singapore's early years of nationhood," she told The Straits Times.

The Republic's 64 national monuments include the former St James Power Station, gazetted in 2009, and Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, gazetted in 2011.

Sisters remember the day their father was taken away
By Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2013

IT IS an all-too-familiar memory of war - the men on the truck, bound for an unknown fate while the women watch helplessly.

What happened more than 70 years ago to thousands is something Madam Linda Gan (seated) remembers clearly still - the day her father, Mr Gan Tiong Huat, disappeared from her life.

The 84-year-old retiree was just 12 years old when her father was arrested by the Japanese. One of her sisters was five, and there was another baby on the way.

Mr Gan, then 39, had gone on Feb 22, 1942 to register with the Japanese occupiers of Singapore. "He was a teacher and considered 'educated'", she said.

"I couldn't even see properly into the truck they put him on, because I was too short."

The British had surrendered seven days before, ceding control of Singapore to the Japanese in one of its worst wartime defeats.

And it was the last time Madam Gan was to see her father.

Yesterday, she went to the War Memorial Park along Beach Road, as she had done every year for the past 45 years since the monument was first erected, to attend the 46th War Memorial Service for civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation.

More than a thousand others were there, including two of her sisters, Woon Seng, 77, and Irene, 71, who was the baby yet to be born.

The Japanese occupied Singapore for more than three years, before surrendering to the Allied forces and returning Singapore to British control in 1945.

In a simple and solemn ceremony, participants, including those from schools and religious organisations, laid wreaths at the foot of the memorial.

"He had gone to register together with my uncles, but they came back without him to say he had been arrested," Madam Gan told The Straits Times.

"We managed to visit him four times at the truck before it left. The fifth time, the truck was gone."

Madam Gan never knew what happened after the truck left the registration area near Maxwell market.

"My mother asked (him) to just get off the truck and run away. But all he said was, 'ting tian you ming' (a Chinese idiom meaning one is resigned to his fate)".

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