Wednesday 15 February 2017

75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15 Feb 1942

'2 bitter but valuable lessons' from Japanese Occupation
You can't depend on others to defend you, and the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must: Ng Eng Hen
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2017

Singapore's commitment to maintaining a strong defence force is the result of the lessons learnt from the Japanese Occupation, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday, as the country prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the island's fall.

The 31/2 years of brutal Japanese rule during World War II after the British surrendered Singapore, then a British colony, taught "two bitter but valuable lessons", he said in a four-minute video.

"One, you cannot depend on others to defend you and, two, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must," Dr Ng said. This is the reason the pioneer generation of Singaporeans introduced national service to keep the country safe and independent, he said as he thanked the more than one million national servicemen who had served since the institution was launched 50 years ago.

"Today, we have a strong and capable Singapore Armed Forces because our national servicemen are committed and dedicated to military defence," Dr Ng said in the video, which was uploaded on his Facebook page yesterday evening.

The video was filmed at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road, where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. The day is now commemorated as Total Defence Day.

The World War II museum at the former factory has been revamped and renamed and renamed * Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War And Its LegaciesIt will be officially opened today, and people can start visiting tomorrow.

In his message, Dr Ng reiterated the importance of the five pillars that make up Total Defence: military, civil, economic, social and psychological.

Every Singaporean has a part to play in Total Defence, he added.

"Indeed, when there is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, civilians will have to take the initiative to save themselves and others first, before the security forces respond."

On the economic front, Singapore cannot afford a prolonged slowdown.

The country needs to keep its air and sea ports as well as businesses functioning even under trying circumstances, he said, citing the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and the severe episode of haze in 2015.

Singaporeans also need to stay united against those who try to sow discord among the different communities or seek to test the resolve of the country, he added.

"We must, as one people, resist external pressures to weaken Singapore's sovereignty and independence. But no country can know all the dangers that may come its way.

"The stronger our Total Defence, the more certain we can be that no challenge will overwhelm Singapore," Dr Ng said.

Other memorial events today include the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's annual service at the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road, and a ceremony at the Kranji War Cemetery to remember the war dead. Public warning sirens islandwide will also be sounded for a minute at 6.20pm, the time that the British surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago.

Never forget darkest time of Singapore's history: PM Lee Hsien Loong
No one owes us our sovereignty, he says, pointing to lessons learnt from Occupation
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

The lessons learnt from the Japanese Occupation must never be forgotten, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as the country marked the 75th anniversary of its fall.

"Every year, we observe Total Defence Day on this day, so that we will never forget that darkest time of our history", when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name, he wrote on Facebook. "We now have the SAF and Home Team, but Singapore will always be small and vulnerable. No one owes us our sovereignty or security. These are truths we must never forget."

A new exhibition was launched yesterday at the Former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road, the site where the British formally surrendered Singapore. It highlights not just the 3½ years of misery caused by the Occupation, but also the bravery of those who fought it.

This courage and the humanity showed by ordinary people hold important lessons even today, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, as he urged citizens to work together to keep the country strong.

He explained how the way of life here is being challenged by a host of threats - from increasingly dissonant voices to terrorism.

"We have gone from battling for land to battling for heart, mind and will," he said in an emotional speech as he opened the exhibition.

"These threats are very present and may already be here. They may be a cyber attack or a terror threat, or perhaps the spreading of misinformation or disinformation. How can we ensure that we are resilient enough - and committed enough - to respond to these threats, and to recover quickly when crises strike?"

One way is to draw inspiration from the stories captured by the National Archives and in the new Syonan Gallery: War And Its Legacies exhibition - of Singaporeans banding together during the Occupation to help one another survive.

Tearing up, he recounted oral history interviews which spoke of how some Chinese handed water to prisoners of war and were slapped for it, and of Malays giving shelter to Chinese neighbours targeted by the invaders. He described how local volunteer group Dalforce and the Malay Regiment fought the Japanese, despite knowing it was a losing battle.

Dr Yaacob said that the true test of having learnt the lessons of war is that "we live lives of courage and of resilience, every day, today".

Community and harmony do not "magically come about" just because various people are thrown together. Instead, differences, even irreconcilable ones, need to be overcome. People have to "stay united" and turn diversity into a source of strength.

A minute of silence was observed by the 200 guests and 400 national service recruits, who were handed their rifles in a ceremony there.

About 1,200 people, from schoolchildren to religious leaders, took turns to pay their respects at the foot of the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road.

In the evening, a remembrance ceremony at the Kranji War Cemetery was attended by 700 people, including diplomats, military officials and veterans.

Solemn tributes to WWII victims at memorial services
Over 700 people observe two minutes of silence at Kranji War Cemetery
By Chong Zi Liang and Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

As dusk fell, the haunting strains of The Last Post played by a lone bugler filled the air at Kranji War Cemetery yesterday.

It is a salute to the fallen men who defended Singapore against the Japanese invaders in 1942, and the casualties of the 31/2 years of the Japanese Occupation.

With heads bowed, more than 700 war veterans, military officials and diplomats, as well as relatives of slain soldiers, paid a two-minute silent tribute to them.

But for three survivors of the Occupation that began 75 years ago, the horror and brutality of war are still etched firmly in their memories.

Briton Olga Henderson, 84, was interned at age 10 in Changi Prison. She remembers a group of five children being forced to kneel on tarmac from dawn to dusk for stealing vegetables meant for the Japanese.

"The guards whipped them if they moved. We never had enough to eat and were covered with lice the whole time," she said.

She laid a wreath of poppies - symbolising blood shed on the battlefield - with Canadian Vilma Howe, 88, who spent part of her captivity with Ms Henderson in a crammed hut.

Laying a wreath of his own was Captain Ho Weng Toh, 96, who flew 18 bombing missions over Japan-occupied China. Wearing his pilot wings on his blazer, he recounted the terror of flying through anti-aircraft gunfire while keeping his plane in formation and staying focused on hitting his targets.

"There was a loud 'boom' whenever the plane was hit. Luckily, I always made it back to base. After some missions, there were bullet holes all over the fuselage," he said.

He is the last survivor in South-east Asia among the "Flying Tiger" group of pilots who fought the Japanese.

The hour-long ceremony was also a time for reconciliation, as the Japanese Ambassador to Singapore Kenji Shinoda laid a wreath under an overcast sky and light rain.

Yesterday's ceremony was the first time Japan had worked with former Allied countries, including Singapore, to organise a World War II memorial event here in the spirit of healing.

Said Mr Shinoda: "I express my feeling of profound grief and heartfelt condolence. I believe such a feeling is being shared by an overwhelming majority of Japanese."

The ceremony also resounded with the peals from a bell of remembrance that was rung five times - once for each year the war raged in the Pacific.

It rounded off a day of commemoration of a dark chapter in Singapore's history.

The remembrances began in the morning with the annual memorial service at the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road, organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Among the 1,200 people was Mr Lim Eng Hock, 81, paying his respects to his father, whom the Japanese took away and later shot dead with machine-gun fire.

"My mother was crying, praying to the gods for his return," said Mr Lim, who was aged seven then.

His father's remains are among those buried beneath the memorial, whose four pillars symbolise the shared war experiences of Singapore's four main races.

"It is important for us to remember this part of the dark history of Singapore," said Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu at the ceremony.

"Never again will we subject ourselves to be occupied, never again will we allow our land to be run by another country," she added.

Later in the morning, at the Former Ford Factory where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago to the day, a new permanent exhibition named Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies was unveiled.

At 6.20pm, the time of surrender, sirens were sounded across Singapore for one minute.

MP Vikram Nair said in a speech at the Kranji commemoration: "I wish for peace, and that the horrors of war will never be forgotten."

He added: "Our young, like many of us, have never experienced the horrors of war, but they must never forget the lessons learnt."

* Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies - An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory
New gallery reminder of traumatic past
Signage now reflects its full name Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

The new gallery at the Former Ford Factory building in Upper Bukit Timah Road opened its doors yesterday, but it was the signage outside that drew attention.

The signs - in front of the building and by the road - now reflect the gallery's full name "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies", and include the phrase "An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory".

When reporters were given a preview of the revamped space last Thursday, the three signs by the road and building entrance read just "Syonan Gallery".

A spokesman for the National Library Board (NLB) said last night that "the signs had not yet been completed during the media preview last week".

"The revamped exhibition has always been titled 'Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies', An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory'," she said. "There has been no change to the name of the exhibition or the Former Ford Factory, which remains a gazetted national monument."

The name "Syonan Gallery" had upset some Singaporeans as they said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation of Singapore during World War II.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese in 1942, following the British surrender. It means "Light of the South".

In a Facebook post last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the name of the exhibition "has understandably caused strong reactions".

He said: "We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name."

The new gallery takes over from an earlier museum called Memories at Old Ford Factory.

It is operated by the National Archives of Singapore, which is under the NLB. Its exhibits cover pre-war Singapore, the Japanese Occupation and the aftermath of war.

At the official launch yesterday, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said it was understandable that the name has evoked some strong reactions.

He said some older Singaporeans who lived through the Japanese Occupation feel that the name legitimises the Occupation, while others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and that "we should call it what it was".

He said the reactions reflect the indelible imprint left by the 31/2 years of Japanese Occupation on Singapore and its people.

He said using the name Syonan does not express approval of the Japanese Occupation. Instead, it "remembers what our forefathers went through, commemorates the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Occupation, and reaffirms our collective commitment never to let this happen again".

The gallery, he said, is a reminder of how precious the country's sovereignty is, noting that during the Japanese Occupation, Singapore lost not only its freedom, but also its name.

He added that the name had been used previously for other exhibitions.

For instance, in 1992, for the 50th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, the National Museum hosted the exhibition titled "When Singapore was Syonan-to".

The new gallery showcases documents and artefacts, and includes a Syonan Labour Department labour identity booklet contributed by war survivor Tan Hwee Hock, 87, a sports pioneer.

* Syonan Gallery renamed Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies after public outcry
Minister Yaacob Ibrahim apologises for pain that name caused: 'Never any intention to cause pain'
Name change welcomed by Chinese community members whose families were targeted during WWII Occupation
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

The decision to remove "Syonan Gallery" from the name of a new World War II exhibition space came about because of the strong reaction it provoked.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday that Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies will now be called Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.

In a statement, he said that over the previous two days, he had read the comments made on this issue and received many letters from Singaporeans of all races.

"While they agreed that we need to teach Singaporeans about the Japanese Occupation, they also shared that the words 'Syonan Gallery' had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents," he said.

"This was never our intention, and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused."

He added: "I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation."

The gallery, which opened on Wednesday as part of events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore to Japanese occupiers during the war, is housed in the Former Ford Factory building in Upper Bukit Timah Road.

Dr Yaacob said yesterday that when he opened the exhibition, he had explained that it was designed to capture the dark days of the Japanese Occupation, and remind Singaporeans never to take for granted their peace, harmony and sovereignty.

"Far from expressing approval of the Japanese Occupation, our intention was to remember what our forefathers went through, commemorate the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Japanese Occupation and reaffirm our collective commitment never to let this happen again," he said.

The minister also noted that the word "Syonan" had been used before to factually describe this difficult period.

For instance, in 1992, for the 50th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, an exhibition at the National Museum was titled "When Singapore was Syonan-to". But the latest exhibition, he said, provoked a "strong reaction".

The decision to change the name capped more than a week of debate about the issue.

When signage with the words "Syonan Gallery" were seen during a media preview of the gallery on Feb 9, critics pointed out that it was insensitive and that it glorified the Japanese occupiers.

The National Library Board (NLB) later said that the signs had not yet been completed. When the exhibition opened on Wednesday, the signs read "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies, An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory".

During the opening, Dr Yaacob highlighted the courage and humanity showed by Singaporeans during the war. He teared up as he recounted how some Chinese handed water to prisoners of war and were slapped for it, and how Malays gave shelter to Chinese neighbours targeted by the invaders.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the name of the exhibition "has understandably caused strong reactions", but added: "We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name."

Dr Yaacob said yesterday that the contents of the exhibition remain unchanged. "They capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about," he said. "It is vital for us to learn the lessons of history, and reaffirm our commitment never to let this happen to Singapore again."

Last night, many Singaporeans, including netizens, the heritage community and members of the Chinese community whose families had been targeted by the invaders, expressed their support for the name change.

Businessman Daniel Teo, 74, whose granduncle was the war hero Lim Bo Seng, who was tortured by the Japanese and died in prison, described the news as "wonderful".

Mr Teo was one of those who wrote to the authorities asking for a change. He said it would not have felt right stepping into the compound and taking foreign visitors to the exhibition.

"My elders had suffered during the war, and Syonan glorified the might of our invaders. So the name Syonan Gallery had hit me very strongly," he added.

Mr Tan Aik Hock, chairman of the Singapore Lam Ann Association and council member of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, said he had received more than 10 letters from members whose relatives had experienced the war.

On the renaming, Mr Tan said: "This is a good ending. The Government has been decisive after realising it wasn't an appropriate name."

The gallery was previously named Memories at Old Ford Factory. It was closed for a year-long revamp ahead of the 75th anniversary. It now features many new archival materials, including contributions, such as a Syonan Labour Department labour identity booklet, from the public.

Visitors welcome name change of WWII gallery
Existing signs covered or removed; new signage expected to be up in about a month
By Seow Bei Yi, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2017

Visitors to the revamped World War II gallery space in the Former Ford Factory will see its signage changed in a month or so, said the National Library Board (NLB) yesterday.

Initially called Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies, the space was renamed Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies last Friday, following a public outcry.

Signs bearing the original name at the gallery's entrance were covered or removed by yesterday morning.

NLB, which picked the name Syonan Gallery for the revamped National Archives of Singapore museum, said there are a total of nine signboards which will be replaced.

Design and production of the new signs may take some time but visitors can look out for the sign, Former Ford Factory, on the front gate, said a spokesman.

The gallery opened last Wednesday, but its initial name upset some people, who said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation.

In 1942, after the British surrender, Singapore was renamed Syonan-to, which means "Light of the South".

Announcing the name change last Friday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim apologised for the pain caused.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Facebook posts in Chinese and English, that he and his colleagues "honour and respect" the deep feelings of Singaporeans who went through the Occupation, and renamed the exhibition "to bear witness to these painful memories".

He also thanked people who gave their feedback on the matter and said "such conversations bring us closer together".

Visitors to the gallery called the name change an appropriate move.

Researcher James Low, 47, who was there with his family, said: "I'm actually quite impressed that there's a readiness to listen to how some people feel very strongly about this.

"When the (original) name was chosen, it reflected a factual consideration of that period of time. But deeper thought may only have been possible when people who lived through that time spoke up to share their thoughts and feelings."

Some, like retiree Tan Fong See, 79, cannot bring themselves to step into the exhibition, but he was happy to hear of the new name. "Many people did not like the Syonan name," he said.

World War II History Research Association chairman Kek Boon Leong likened the strong reaction now to Singaporeans' feelings when an Indonesian warship was named after two marines who bombed the MacDonald House in 1965. The move was called insensitive and unfriendly by some in 2014.

Others, like Ms Belinda Mock, 56, a manager in the IT industry, is supportive of the change but added that people should eventually look beyond what a place is called.

Mr Lam Phin Chong, secretary-general of a Chinese clan association, said that while he was disappointed at first with the authorities' reaction to opposing views from the public, he is glad they came round. "We should, and we can forgive (the Japanese). But we cannot forget that period of history. It hurt us and harmed us," said Mr Lam of the Char Yong (Dabu) Association.

Recruits presented with rifles at site of British surrender
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

On Feb 15, 1942, British-led forces surrendered to the Japanese at the site of the Former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road, starting a 31/2-year occupation of Singapore.

That was 75 years ago.

Yesterday, shouts of "With my life, sir!" echoed on the same grounds as 407 national service recruits received rifles from their superiors and swore to defend the country.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, a weapon presentation ceremony - a rite of passage for recruits - was carried out by the 2nd Battalion of the Singapore Infantry Regiment (2 SIR).

Those attending the ceremony, which was also to commemorate Total Defence Day, observed a minute of silence that was followed by a lone bugler playing the Last Post to remember the fallen.

The weapon presentation ceremony is typically observed in camps.

While the ceremony has been held at the Former Ford Factory before, yesterday's event was symbolic for the passing of the baton from a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) veteran to a present-day soldier.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Swee Boon Chai, 71, dressed in his vintage Temasek Green uniform, handed over a rifle to the commanding officer (CO) of 2 SIR, Lieutenant-Colonel Choy Yong Cong.

The former, who joined the SAF in 1966 and was 2 SIR's CO from 1973 to 1974, said: "I am proud to represent my generation handing over the defence of the country to the next generation."

Mr Seow Chan Chee, 85, who attended yesterday's event, was 10 years old when Singapore fell to the Japanese. He described the Japanese Occupation as an "awful" period, with jobs hard to come by and food scarce. His grandson, Mr Malcolm Chow, 19, was one of the 2 SIR recruits yesterday.

In a speech after the event, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim urged the recruits to always remember the soldiers of different nationalities and races who had fought together against the Japanese, and "be inspired to a deeper sense of purpose and commitment to defending our nation".

Revisiting World War II sites of bungles - and bravery
British forces were routed in Singapore by a swift Japanese invasion this time 75 years ago, leading to the formal surrender of the supposedly impregnable fortress on Feb 15, 1942. In the first of a three-part series, Chong Zi Liang checks out the sites of key events leading up to the British surrender.
By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 12 Feb 2017

On the western end of Sentosa stands what is perhaps Singapore's most maligned gun.

This six-inch breech-loading MK VII gun formed part of the coastal defence, aimed southwards out to sea in anticipation of a naval attack as World War II rapidly approached Singapore's shores.

It is also supposedly one of the guns that, according to urban legend, never turned or fired when the Japanese came from the north instead, an ignominious symbol of the meek capitulation that was the fall of Singapore 75 years ago.

Standing near the gun emplacement at Fort Siloso - one of several historic war sites I am visiting over the course of several days - I have a commanding view of the vast expanse of waters it was supposed to protect.

It is a slow day at the fort and one of the few people I meet is polytechnic student Iman Alif, 20, who is filming a video at the military facility-turned-tourist attraction for his school work.

When I ask him if he has heard of the story of the guns that never turned, he replies: "I remember reading in a secondary school textbook that the guns were all facing the wrong direction, so I assume that's what happened."

But the guns did turn. And they did fire.

A display at the fort calls it "a famous myth" that the Fort Siloso guns never saw action. They, in fact, rotated and fired landward at Japanese troops advancing in the West Coast Road area and even sank a Japanese troop ship that was nearing Singapore.

But because the guns were loaded with armour-piercing ammunition meant to repel ships, they were ineffective against soldiers manoeuvring on land.

When surrender was imminent, the guns were turned on the oil installations on Pulau Bukom as part of a scorched-earth policy to not leave anything behind that might be of use to the enemy.

The original guns were destroyed by the surrendering British forces to prevent them falling into the hands of the Japanese invaders, so visitors to Fort Siloso today have to make do with seeing a replica.

Across the narrow waterway from Fort Siloso to the main Singapore island was Fort Pasir Panjang, which was later turned into Labrador Park.

The naval guns there also turned around to fire on Japanese soldiers who were in Pasir Panjang, locked in fierce combat with the Malay Regiment.

The British commanders simply did not anticipate that the heaviest fighting would take place in the west of Singapore.

Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, who headed the defence of Malaya, believed the main Japanese offensive would come east of the Causeway and so he concentrated his six brigades of troops, his strongest forces, there.

Two less experienced brigades were stationed in the north-west, where, as it turned out, the bulk of Japanese troops would land.


The most celebrated among the men of the Malay Regiment is Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, who led his troops in a fight to the death against the Japanese at Bukit Chandu.

It is a legacy that is honoured by artwork at the nearby Pasir Panjang MRT Station.

"Defiance has a name: Lieutenant Adnan," declares a two-storey, vertical banner in the centre of the train platform that depicts the soldier as an action-film star.

From the station, I walk uphill for about 15 minutes along a quiet, winding road towards the Reflections at Bukit Chandu heritage centre, located close to the actual ground that Lt Adnan and his men gave their lives to defend.

The colonial bungalow that houses the memorial is cloistered in thick foliage. I walk past a couple of secluded carparks where I spot a taxi driver who has reclined his car seat to take an afternoon nap.

There are few visitors at the centre. A father-and-son duo sheepishly say they are just enjoying the air-conditioning and hurry off to continue their day hike, while an Australian tourist says she was lost and happened to wander in.

Soon after, a group of about 15 full-time national servicemen arrives by bus for a national education tour with a guide, Ms Sheila Sim, 50.

For about an hour, she leads them through the exhibit, recounting the exploits of the 1,400 Malay Regiment soldiers during their 48-hour struggle against a 13,000-strong Japanese force.

Lt Adnan was part of the company of soldiers told to hold Pasir Panjang Ridge. They fended off the Japanese troops for most of the first day of fighting, retreating only in the evening as their losses mounted and supplies thinned.

All this while, British forces all over Singapore had been withdrawing further towards the south, unable to withstand the Japanese onslaught.

The lieutenant and his men then set up camp at Bukit Chandu, where they made their last stand on the second day, Feb 14, 1942. Even when ammunition was depleted, they refused to yield and engaged in hand-to-hand combat until they were eventually overrun.

Lt Adnan was captured, hung from a tree and bayoneted until he drew his last breath.

And, the very next day, the British waved the white flag of surrender, having been left with only 24 hours of water supply after losing all the reservoirs.

Ms Sim has been doing such tours for students and full-time national servicemen for the past nine years. She says they are generally attentive and receptive to the central message: Singaporeans must defend the country themselves.

She is unfazed when I point out that the young men in their camouflage uniforms listened mostly in silence and were reticent when they were asked questions.

"They need time to process the lessons of history. It's good enough to give them something to ponder about," she says.


It took the Japanese just one week to conquer Singapore from the moment they set foot on the island at its north-western coastline.

The road towards the Sarimbun Beach landing site takes me away from city life. I go past a cemetery, military camps, and vegetable and fish farms. This is the closest to a countryside that Singapore gets.

Turning off Lim Chu Kang Road, I head down a wide gravel path until a bronze marker set up by the National Heritage Board tells me I am in the right place.

On the night of Feb 8, 1942, soldiers from the fifth and 18th Japanese Divisions crossed the narrow Strait of Johor in small boats.

While the first two waves of attacks were repelled by Australian troops, the third wave broke through and captured Tengah Airbase the following morning.

I try to walk further, but a sturdy metal fence topped with barbed wire - set up in 2003 to deter illegal immigrants - prevents me from getting close to the water's edge.

More recent security concerns have literally become a barrier to the past.

So I seek out a second landing site, heading back to Lim Chu Kang Road and following it until it ends just short of the Strait of Johor.

A wooden jetty leads out to the open water and the high-rise buildings on the Malaysian side of the border are visible even in the fading evening light.

Here, the Japanese trudged through the muddy, mangrove- lined shore, beginning their lightning invasion that would lead to a fraught Occupation lasting for more than 31/2 years.

New award for students pays tribute to war hero
Winners have excelled against the odds or shown leadership abilities
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Sunday Times, 12 Feb 2017

A war hero's name now graces a new award for tertiary students who embody his fighting spirit, 75 years after he died valiantly in battle defending Singapore.

The SMEF-Lieutenant Adnan Award from the Singapore Muslim Education Fund (SMEF) will go to students who have excelled in their studies in the face of adversity, or proven their leadership mettle in a uniformed group.

It pays tribute to Lt Adnan Saidi who died fighting the Japanese in the Battle of Pasir Panjang during World War II. His platoon in the Malay Regiment was vastly outnumbered, but Lt Adnan rallied his men in a battle to the bitter end.

SMEF chairman Ameen Talib told The Sunday Times yesterday: "Lt Adnan is a symbol of bravery, leadership, resilience and determination, which we thought were perfect virtues for our younger generation to aspire towards."

He noted that the introduction of the award was timely, coming on the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore.

The $700 award was given out for the first time yesterday, in a ceremony at Mamanda Restaurant in Kampong Glam.

Among the three recipients was 19-year-old Nurhaliza Ramli who, despite her troubled family background, has excelled in her media management course at Nanyang Polytechnic.

She has never met her mother, and her father, who was released from jail two years back and is partially blind, lives in a halfway house.

After her grandmother died in 2007, Ms Nurhaliza spent years shuttling between her relatives' homes. She now lives with her taxi-driver uncle and his family.

After she graduates, she plans to find a job to help her save up for part-time university courses.

"I want to support myself and lighten the burden on my uncle, who has to think of his three children too," she said. "Sometimes I do feel down, but I always tell myself to focus on the future. That's something I can control."

At the ceremony, Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education Janil Puthucheary gave out $41,000 worth of awards to a bumper crop of 12 students.

This is the SMEF's largest disbursement since it was set up in 2013. Its initial focus was on supporting Malay/Muslim students pursue law and medicine overseas.

Yesterday, six medical students received the $5,000 SMEF Medicine Award, while three law students were given the $3,000 SMEF-Professor Ahmad Ibrahim Award, which is named after Singapore's first attorney-general.

Said Dr Ameen: "There were very few Malay/Muslim professionals in these fields, and so we wanted to encourage and support students doing law and medicine."

"Now, we want to look at other segments. We want to encourage those who have done their best against all odds, in any field."

After the fall of Singapore: Horror and, today, peace
On the morning of Feb 15, 1942, the British raised the white flag of surrender. In the second of a three-part series, Chong Zi Liang drops by the bunker where the decision was made 75 years ago and visits sites that are haunting reminders of the brutality of Japanese rule.
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2017

Fifteen minutes. That was all the time it took for the British officers who had the task of defending Singapore to decide to give it up.

Twelve wax figures dressed in khaki uniforms are posed around a long, rectangular table to dramatise the pivotal moment, at the "Battlebox" underground British command centre at Fort Canning, now a museum.

Crammed into this chamber the size of a Housing Board apartment bedroom, the real-life Percival and his compatriots would have sweated profusely in their concrete confines deep under a hill - and especially over their dire situation.

It was a decision that must have seemed inevitable: The Japanese had control of most of the island, including the reservoirs. The British forces that had retreated to the city centre had enough water to last only one day and food to last three days.

Later that day, the dejected British made their way to the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah - which had been seized by the Japanese as their command headquarters - to formally surrender.

The Battlebox - one of a few historic war sites I am visiting over several days - was refurbished and reopened to the public last year with air-conditioning, so visitors like myself do not have to experience the same environment of poor ventilation inside the network of 29 rooms 9m underground.


The fateful decision to wave the white flag transformed the British and Allied troops into prisoners of war seemingly overnight.

About 76,000 Allied soldiers and civilians were marched to the east of Singapore, where they were interned at the old Changi Prison and the nearby Selarang Barracks and Roberts Barracks. The prisoners endured hardships of overcrowding, malnutrition and disease.

Many were also sent to work on the infamous Death Railway that spanned Thailand and Myanmar to aid the Japanese war effort.

This suffering is documented at Changi Museum, next to today's Changi Prison Complex. But the exhibits also chronicle the indomitable human spirit of the internees, who banded together to try to make life just a little more bearable.

For instance, a group of inmates scavenged materials to make footwear, brushes and other necessities, wryly naming their operation the "Changi Industries Incorporated".

Others taught their fellow prisoners subjects such as mathematics and the classes came to be known as "Changi University".

During my visit, there is a mix of Singaporeans and overseas tourists at the museum. Mr Loke Tuck Luen, 45, and his wife Kok Kah Hui, 39, are both history teachers who have brought their 11-year-old daughter Erica for an encounter with a grim chapter of the past. "The displays bring the point across very well," Mr Loke says. "You can really feel for the prisoners. Our daughter has had a fairly comfortable life so it's good to show her that tough times once took place in Singapore."

The museum also attracts a steady stream of visitors who have some personal connection to World War II. Many of them pen their thoughts on little slips of paper and leave them on a board at Changi Chapel, a symbolic replica of the simple chapels built by the prisoners as places of solace. One note reads: "Great Aunt Trixie, to visit the place (where) you suffered so much, brings your suffering to life after hearing all about it. May you rest in peace."

I later meet Mr Andrew Maclaren, 72, and Ms Heather Wilson, 64, both teachers, who are listening intently to the audio guide of the museum.

They are tourists from Scotland and both have relatives who fought in World War II. Ms Wilson's father was in the Royal Air Force and flew 76 missions in Europe, while Mr Maclaren's uncle was forced into labour on the Death Railway after he was captured as a prisoner of war.

He tells me that though his uncle survived the ordeal, he later took his own life when he was in his 50s.

"He never talked about his war experience. He was damaged by it and there was something not quite right about him," Mr Maclaren says.


Indeed, life during the Japanese Occupation, which lasted for more than 31/2 years, was brutal. Just one week after taking over the island, the new Japanese rulers began Operation Sook Ching - a Chinese term meaning "purge through cleansing".

The Japanese military, suspicious of the Chinese population because of its experiences fighting in China, ordered all Chinese males aged between 18 and 50 to report to screening centres.

One such inspection centre was in Chinatown, where Hong Lim Complex now stands. A bronze marker to remember the significance of the location stands near the busy junction of South Bridge Road and Upper Cross Street.

The stated objective of the screening was to root out anti-Japanese elements. But in reality, the process lacked consistency and often hinged on the whims of whoever was on duty.

Some of the men failed the screening based on their answers to questions, while others were condemned because of their occupations. In some centres, there were hooded informants pointing out those who were supposedly guilty of harbouring anti-Japanese sentiments.

The victims were loaded onto lorries and taken to remote areas to be executed. One of these spots was Punggol Beach, today a popular hang-out that is crowded during weekends. Children build sandcastles, while couples take selfies on the same beach where men were executed after being rounded up from houses in Upper Serangoon Road.

Only a marker at Punggol Point Jetty reminds those who spot it of the place's grisly link to Sook Ching, which claimed the lives of between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese across Singapore and Malaya.


While Changi Prison was the main prison camp during the occupation, there was a smaller one in Kranji.

The inmates there started a small cemetery and in 1946, a year after the war ended, the graves from other parts of Singapore, including of those who died in captivity in Changi, were moved to Kranji.

Even the World War II graves from the Saigon Military Cemetery in Vietnam were relocated here.

There are now about 4,500 burial plots in the war cemetery of the Kranji War Memorial. I stand at the corner; the neat rows of tombstones seem to carry on endlessly up the hill. Most carry the name and unit of the dead soldiers. But with over 850 unidentified graves, many of the headstones are marked simply "a soldier of the 1939-1945 war".

I walk up the gentle slope to the Singapore Memorial, an imposing, sombre series of grey walls that bear the names of more than 24,000 Commonwealth soldiers and airmen who have no known grave.

For a while, it seems like I am alone in the cemetery. But as I wander down the main avenue back towards the entrance, I run into Madam Jen Lam, in her mid-50s, who lives nearby and is taking a walk with her husband.

She tells me that she has been coming here for her daily exercise for more than 10 years. While the cemetery sees few visitors, those who come usually linger to soak up the solemn atmosphere evoked by the white tombstones.

"It's very peaceful here. It's a fitting final resting place," she says.

75 years since Singapore fell: 'I hope killing of people in war doesn't happen again'
In the last of a three-part series, we look at what life was like during the Japanese Occupation through the eyes of two survivors. We were digging our own tombs, recalls Jewish man interned at Sime Road camp
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2017

Moshe Hai Sion was 15 when Singapore fell to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. Able-bodied adult Jewish men were among those rounded up and interned at Changi Prison but he avoided the internment.

"I was too young to be a threat," Mr Hai Sion, now 90, recalled. He was then living in a shophouse in Short Street with his father, a watch spare parts trader, and a younger sister.

His father, who was in his 60s, was too old to be interned but the family had to wear white armbands in public which identified them as Jews. Mr Hai Sion stopped studying at St Andrew's School to help with his father's business. But the family got rounded up again in March 1945.

They were taken to the Sime Road Internment Camp and spent about six months there until the Japanese surrender in September. The Japanese set up the camp at what was a Royal Air Force base to hold mostly Europeans and Eurasians.

"We heard Germany wanted Japan to kill the Jews in Singapore but the Japanese said no because the Jews here were no threat to them," he said. "We were locked up instead."

At the time, Jews in Europe were systematically rounded up and killed in concentration camps.

"Life at the camp was hard. There was not enough food and we made mostly stew," he recalled. "Once a week, we would get a duck egg. We had to write our initials on the egg and give it to the kitchen to be cooked."

At 18, Mr Hai Sion was considered strong enough by the Japanese to be a labourer. He spent his days farming and was occasionally taken to Johor to log rubber trees.

Unknown to him at the time, his future wife Victoria was also interned at the female section of the camp.

"Once a week, on Sunday afternoon for two hours, the male and female internees were allowed to meet," Mrs Hai Sion, 90, said.

The couple did not meet during their internment. But she said life there was not all depressing: "There was a woman who would play the guitar frequently. There were also two babies born there."

Mrs Hai Sion estimates there were a few hundred Jews in the camp. Some knew through radios smuggled into the camp that the war had ended in Europe in May 1945.

They also had an inkling that the war was coming to an end in Singapore. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug 6 and 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered the next month.

"The Japanese gave us better breakfasts with eggs," she recalled. "They were also more polite."

Just before the war ended, Mr Hai Sion had a close shave with death. He said a group of labourers were told to dig a tunnel but it was not finished. "We learnt after the war that the British were planning to land in Malaya to retake Singapore and if that had happened, the Japanese were planning to put us in the tunnel and bury us. We were digging our (own) tombs," he said.

After the war ended, the couple went back to their families. They met a year later at a social function, got engaged in 1949 and married in 1951, raising four daughters.

The couple did not visit the Sime Road camp after the war or talk much about their internment days.

"I'd love to visit the site one day," said Mrs Hai Sion.

Her husband continued his father's watch spare parts trading business and has visited Japan several times for business.

Asked how he felt towards the Japanese, Mr Hai Sion said: "I bear no animosity towards the Japanese.

"We are lucky to be alive. I hope such killing of people in war does not happen again."

He was forced to escort POWs to Death Railway
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2017

When he was 13, Booi Seow Kiat, who was living in Japanese-occupied Malacca in 1943, was forced into joining the Japanese army.

He was told one day that there would be a free outdoor movie screening at the Capitol Theatre.

But when he turned up, soldiers with rifles and bayonets rounded him up, along with other boys and men, and put them into trucks.

Mr Booi, who is now 87 and living in Toa Payoh, was transported to Singapore, where he worked for the Japanese Navy Air Service at an airbase in Seletar, and received basic training in maintaining aircraft.

He remembers climbing into the cockpit of an aircraft, when the Japanese soldiers were not around.

But he was found out and given a severe beating. "They pulled me by the ear and slapped me twice. I scolded them in Chinese and they hammered me (on the head) so hard that I couldn't makan (eat) for a week," he recalled yesterday.

He was also made to escort prisoners of war to River Kwai in Thailand to build the Death Railway.

"I was lucky. If they had made me do the railway work, I would have died there," he said. More than 100,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 Allied prisoners are said to have died constructing the railway.

While life under the Japanese forces was strict - almost like that of a prisoner - Mr Booi said he found some consolation in having food, clothing and a place to sleep.

After Japan surrendered in 1945, Mr Booi was given two pots of rice and put on a truck to Batu Pahat in Johor. From there, he took over a week to walk home. "Along the way, we slept on the verandahs of Malay (villagers') houses. Each of us gave some rice, which they helped to cook with tapioca."

Mr Booi returned to Singapore in 1948 when he joined the British Armed Forces and was deployed to Pulau Blakang Mati, now known as Sentosa. He quit after three years, and took on jobs with the Singapore Traction Company and the Auxiliary Fire Service as a driver.

From 1960 to 1972, he served with the Malayan Naval Force, the Singapore Division of the Royal Malaysian Naval Volunteer Reserve, and the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force, which later became the Republic of Singapore Navy.

He signed on as a regular in 1972 and retired at age 55 in 1986, holding the rank of staff sergeant.

Today, an active Mr Booi helps his wife, 80, at a hawker stall.

On why he joined the navy, Mr Booi said: "I wanted to go overseas. I've sailed to places such as Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Hong Kong."

New book on the men who lost Singapore
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2017

Much has been written about the military disaster the fall of Singapore in 1942 was. A new book by retired British army colonel Ronald McCrum, The Men Who Lost Singapore, examines the less-explored role the colonial government played in the build-up to war.

"People are more fascinated by the military aspect, who was fighting whom, how did they fight that battle. But the civilians have never been subject to the same close scrutiny as the military commanders," he said. In his book, Mr McCrum, 80, says the civilian authorities led by Straits Settlements Governor Shenton Thomas had tense relations with the British military and failed to coordinate efforts to deal with the growing Japanese threat.

They clashed over the allocation of manpower. While the armed forces wanted more people to help construct defences to impede a Japanese offensive, Governor Thomas diverted labour to producing more rubber and tin for the war effort in Europe. The authorities also neglected civil defence, failing to construct sufficient air-raid shelters. Neither did they come up with a plan for managing the evacuation of civilians.

Mr McCrum spent about five years researching the book in archives in London, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. He spent a few years of his youth in Singapore when his soldier father was stationed here after the war. Mr McCrum himself joined the army, and was assistant defence attache in Singapore from 1970 to 1972.

Asked for the key message of his book, he said it is that in times of crisis, someone needs to take ultimate responsibility.

"They need to impose a supremo. A person who is totally in command of both sides, military and civilian," he said.

The Men Who Lost Singapore, published by NUS Press, is available in major bookstores later this month at $36.


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