Thursday 21 January 2016

Fort Canning Bunker: $300,000 makeover for WWII bunker Battle Box

New operator of Battle Box at Fort Canning Park aims to start operations in March
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2016

The site where the British decided to surrender Singapore to the Japanese - the Battle Box bunker - has been given a $300,000 makeover.

The one-year effort has rectified the problem of leaks and floods that filled the 9m-deep underground bunker whenever it rained. New generators and an air-conditioning system have been installed too.

The attraction at Fort Canning Park, which is managed by the National Parks Board (NParks), is slated to reopen in March.

Its new operator, the Singapore History Consultants which won a tender in 2013, plans to launch the attraction in three stages.

During the first phase from March to May, visitors will get to go on "high-quality guided tours" costing $18 for adults and $9 for children, said the firm's director Jeya Ayadurai. There will be around five tours a day.

He said: "In the past, the Battle Box mostly focused on the rooms. We're investing heavily in retelling the story of the fall of Singapore that led to Lieutenant-General (Arthur) Percival and the allied forces surrendering to the invading Japanese forces on Feb 15, 1942."

Once the nerve centre for British military operations during World War II, the labyrinth was completed in 1938. It had 29 rooms, including a cipher office and signal room.

Mr Jeya said multimedia guides will be rolled out in the second phase. Archaeological finds such as used ammunition from Adam Park - the scene of the last battle before Singapore fell - will be incorporated into the showcase. The final phase will weave 3D technologies, including ambient soundscapes, across the bunker.

Mr Jeya expects the attraction to draw about 60,000 visitors in the first year, of whom 60 per cent will likely be locals and the rest tourists. The Battle Box used to draw about 2,000 visitors a month.

Mr Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive officer of NParks' park management and lifestyle cluster, said: "Fort Canning Park has a lot of history and culture. The Battle Box lends a good sense of historical significance to the entire site.

"If the story is going to be told in clearer clarity than before, then it is a good reason to come back and revisit Battle Box."

Volunteer tour guide Chia Bee Lian, 60, feels entry fees are "a little expensive", and hopes the content will be "meaty". She said: "Perhaps the Battle Box could have some kind of a tie-up with neighbouring art gallery Pinacotheque Museum to ensure ticket prices are more affordable."

Tickets to the Battle Box attraction were previously $8 for adults and $5 for children.

The effort to breathe new life into the bunker ties in with NParks' move to rejuvenate and draw more visitors to Fort Canning Park, which is a stop along the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's Jubilee Walk.

Traces of an ancient Malay kingdom, the British empire's bunkers as well as gravestones of Singaporean pioneers lie there.

Mr Kong said NParks is working with the area's tenants to improve navigation. It has installed new lighting across the 18ha space, which draws about 1.3 million visitors a year.

The Singapore Tourism Board has also rolled out a free shuttle that serves museums in the civic district.

NParks also organises tours of the site as well as its sculptures, spice garden and heritage trees nearly every month.

Fall of Singapore retold at WWII bunker at Battlebox museum
New tour at Battlebox museum details events leading to British defeat and surrender
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2016

The British delegation on Feb 15, 1942, was a picture of dejection. The team, including interpreter Cyril Wild, had been sent to surrender to the invading Japanese forces at the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah.

Spotting the media filming the event, Major Wild, looking distressed and ashamed, chucked aside the white flag he had carried to the meeting.

This fleeting but poignant World War II moment is on show at the Battlebox museum in Fort Canning.

The footage is part of a new tour rolled out by the Singapore History Consultants aimed at giving visitors a deeper understanding of the frame of mind the defending forces were in, and the events that led to the largest military defeat of British and Commonwealth forces in Britain's military history.

The 1936 Battlebox bunker itself, which has undergone a year-long $300,000 makeover, was the site where British commanders had gathered at 9.30am that morning to weigh their options.

The group included Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, who commanded the forces of the British Commonwealth at that time.

It took all of 15 minutes for them to decide to surrender as they had been cornered by the Japanese across land, air and sea.

Mr Razeen Chan, the director of research and consultancy at Singapore History Consultants, said: "The Japanese had 600 superior airplanes compared to the British's 181 aircraft. The invading forces had pounded Singapore hard..."

The guided tours at the Battlebox, priced at $18 for adults and $9 for children, will take visitors through facts and figures such as the strength of the Japanese infantry, as well as the effort and money poured into the defence of Singapore.

The 9m-deep underground labyrinth was the nerve centre for military operations during WWII. It is slated to officially reopen on March 28.

The first round of works had addressed issues such as leaks. New generators and an air-conditioning system have been installed too.

Singapore History Consultants director Jeya Ayadurai said it is hoping for "government support" in rolling out additional improvements to the space.

This includes an additional $100,000 in funding to provide multimedia guides, and another $350,000 to fit the place with 3D and ambient technologies over the next two years.

Visitors can sign up for sneak previews of its tours from now till March 20.

The effort to breathe new life into the bunker ties in with the National Parks Board's move to rejuvenate and draw more visitors to Fort Canning Park, which it manages.

Traces of an ancient Malay kingdom as well as gravestones of Singaporean pioneers lie there.

Mr Jeya hopes the authorities will look into protecting the area as well as awarding the historic bunker national monument status.

He expects the bunker to draw between 40,000 and 44,000 visitors in the first year.

Briton Peter Stubbs, 71, an amateur historian, who went on a tour on Tuesday, said he hopes the operator will add more depth to the experience as well as stories about key characters such as Lt-Gen Percival. "He was always seen as someone useless but he was quite a brave soldier," he said.

* New exhibit at Battlebox tells 'real' story of Japanese occupation
Relaunched exhibit tells 'real' history of invasion
The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

With their heavy guns pointed uselessly to the south, British forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival failed to anticipate a Japanese invasion from the north.

The Imperial Japanese Army, riding in on bicycles, took the British by surprise and managed to capture Singapore in just 70 days.

Or so many falsely believed. While the 70-day time period is correct, this version of events is one of several popularly-held myths debunked at the refurbished Battlebox at Fort Canning Hill.

According to historical sources, Lt-Gen Percival had anticipated a northern attack on Singapore as early as 1937.

He stationed six brigades of troops in the north-east, but the north-west, where the Japanese struck with the bulk of their total forces, was only lightly defended by two less experienced brigades.

The new operator of Battlebox - Singapore History Consultants - officially reopened it yesterday with new generators and air-conditioning. Information panels and guided tours have also been reworked to present a more balanced and coherent narrative.

"For too many years, our schoolchildren have focused on getting a deep appreciation of the years of Occupation," said Mr Jeya Ayadurai, director of Singapore History Consultants. "We've understood what it means to be victims, but there has been little understanding of what caused that occupation."

The narrative will also touch on the military prowess of Lt-Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita and the Japanese army. Tour guides will emphasise that the fall of Singapore was inevitable, and that Lt-Gen Percival had little choice but to surrender.

"Telling more than one side of a story is really the only reasonable way to present history," said Professor Brian Farrell, who specialises in military history at the National University of Singapore.

Yesterday's opening event was also attended by Japan's Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Kenji Shinoda.

He said: "I am reminded of the significance of working together for the cause of enduring peace for humankind, to ensure that what happened 75 years ago will never be repeated."

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