I’ve decided to create my own heritage walking trail about World War II in the central area of Singapore. I have visited 6 places relating to World War II and 1 place where you can learn about the whole history of World War II.
My first stop in the heritage trail was Fort Canning Park
The Gate of Fort Canning
First, I headed to The Gate of Fort Canning. This is the remnant of a fort that was built on the hill between 1859 and 1861. The fort served two purposes
– to protect Singapore from a sea-borne attack, and to give Singapore’s European population a refuge in the event of local disturbances. [National Park Board]
Old Gunpowder Magazine
A gunpowder magazine is a building that stores the explosive gunpowder for safety. The building has a rounded top and sides to deflect enemy cannonballs and thus lessen the possibility of an explosion. The magazine is about 30 meters long and 10 meters wide. On the left, there was a military hospital. The magazine was converted into a shooting range and the military hospital became a quarter for married officers. The Old Married Soldiers’ Quarters was another accommodation for married officers.
Sally ports are small entrance which leads in and out of a fort so that defenders can enter and exit undetected during attacks. The word “Sally” means to make a sudden potent exit. This is when their fort was being beleaguered by the enemies, they can exit secretly through the sally port and catch their enemies by surprise. There are about 3 Sally Port at Fort Canning in the past but this is the only one left.
The Battle Box is a former WWII British underground command centre. It was built 9 meters under Fort Canning in 1936. The Battle Box was an underground fortress network of bunkers and tunnels. It was a combined command and control centre for the British and Allied forces in Singapore and Malaya. On 15th February 1942, the British made the decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese in the Battle Box.
Now, it is a museum which gives a guided tour. The cost of the “Battlebox Tour – A Story of Strategy of surrender” for adults is $18 and for a child from 7-12 years old is $9. There is also another tour called “Of graves, guns & battles – a tour of battlebox & Fort Canning Hill”. You can find more information on http://www.battlebox.com.sg/.
Fort Canning Arts Centre
Fort Canning Arts Centre was used to be for the British army barracks in 1926. It was used by the Singapore Armed Forces before it was converted into squash courts and offices in the 1970s. However, it is now under renovation. It will have restaurants, galleries and flexible spaces. The lawn in front of the building is a popular venue for concerts and music festivals.
We past by The old Christian cemetery
This burial ground was used from 1822 to 1865. More than 600 people were buried in this graveyard and one-third of them are Chinese Christians. Most of the gravestones had become worn out by the 1970s and were removed by the governments. Some of the headstones along the two boundary walls were moved from another cemetery.
There are letters “IHS” above the Gothic-style gate which stand for Iota Eta Sigma or the name of Jesus in Greek.
The next destination in the heritage walking trail was the National Museum of Singapore.
I went to the exhibition “Surviving Syonan” and “Singapore History Gallery”.
The entrance for National Museum of Singapore is free for Singaporeans and Pernemant Resident and a child 6 years and below.
The exhibition “Surviving Syonan” specifically tell us about how people survived in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. It has many personal recounts and artefacts in it.
The exhibition “Singapore History Gallery” shows how Singapore has developed from the name Singapura, a Crown Colony, Syonan-To, and to Singapore. There are many artefacts that show how Singapore had developed over the past few years.
National Museum of Singapore website: http://nationalmuseum.sg/
My third destination was Young Men’s Christian Association located at 1 Orchard Road.
The Young Men’s Christian Association building was once the East Branch of the Kempeitai. The YMCA building was seized and turned into the interrogation and torture headquarters of the kempeitai (secret military police). Elizabeth Choy and her husband, Choy Khun Heng, were accused of relaying messages to Allied internees and was then arrested.
Background story Elizabeth Choy:
Elizabeth Choy and her husband ran a hospital canteen where prisoners-of-war (POWs) bought food. They were arrested on suspicion of smuggling radio parts to POWs. She was then held in a small cell in the Kempeitai headquarters which measured about 10 by 12 feet. She was badly tortured when she refused to confess to the crimes that she did not commit. She was only released after 200 days of torture and starvation, 200 days is about 6 months and 20 days. That was the longest time that a female civilian was known to be held in jail and tortured.
The fourth stop was War Memorial Park.
The Civilian War Memorial is the first war memorial built for the civilian victims of the Japanese occupation. the memorial is 67 meters tall and designed by Swan and Maclaren. It is known as the “four chopsticks” to locals. The four pillars represent the 4 different major races – Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians. These columns symbolise the merging of four streams of culture into one and the principle of unity of all races.
The memorial sits on a raised platform enclosing a vault that holds the victims’ remains from the mass graves in 606 urns. (roots.sg)
In the middle of the four pillars lay an empty urn. the pedestal is carved with words. it says “In deep and lasting sorrow this memorial is dedicated in memory of those of our civilians who were killed between February 15,1942 and August 18, 1945, when the Japanese armed forces occupied Singapore.” in Malay, Chinese and Indian languages.
On each pillar, it states ” This memorial was erected by the people of Singapore through the efforts of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the assistance of the government from funds donated by the government and people of Singapore. it was unveiled on February 15, 1967, by the prime minister.” in different languages.
The fifth destination was The Cenotaph
The Cenotaph is a war memorial that was built in the memory of soldiers who fought and died in world war I and II. This Cenotaph has a sarcophagus at the top of the memorial, featuring a bronze medallion of a crown – a symbol of the Crown Colony – surrounded by a laurel wreath which represents victory and peace. (roots.sg) It was first built in 1922 to honour the 124 soldiers from Singapore who fought during the world war I. At the front of the Cenotaph are steps stating the years 1914 – 1918, these numbers represent the years that world war I had taken place. At the rear of the Cenotaph states the years 1939 – 1945, these numbers represent the years that world war II had taken place.
The sixth destination was the Indian National Army Monument.
On the Indian National Army Monument, it states
“In the final months of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, a memorial dedicated to the “Unknown Warrior” of the Indian National Army (INA) was constructed at this site. The local INA was formed in 1942 with the Japanese support. It sought to liberate India from the British and consisted mainly of prisoners-of-war from the British Indian Army. Subhas Chandra Bose, who led the INA from 1943 onwards, laid the foundation stone for a memorial in July 1945. the Urdu words inscribed on the memorial read: ITTEFAQ (Unity), ITMAD (Faith) and KURBANI (Sacrifice). When the British returned to Singapore, they demolished the memorial barely two months after its installation. This marker sits on the site of the original memorial.”
My apologies for the bad photo quality.
With the help of the Japanese, INA was able to set up in SouthEast Asia. The Japanese supported INA to gain back India independence from the British.
While walking towards the Lim Bong Seng Memorial, I can across a pretty newly built Marker that is dedicated to the to those involved in the fight against Communision.
The last spot for the heritage trail was Lim Bo Seng Memorial.
Lim Bo Seng was an important Hokkien businessman led many anti-Japanese activities before and during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore and Malaya. He was captured in Malaysia by the Kempeitai and was tortured while he was being held captive.
Lim Bo Seng was one of Singapore’s war heroes in World War II. Lim Bo Seng Memorial is the only structure in Singapore that commemorates an individual’s efforts in World War II. It was built in an honour his heroic acts and selfless sacrifice during the World War II. (roots.sg).
After visiting 7 sites in Singapore that relate to World War II and researching more about it. I realised that I only briefly knew about what happened during the War.
I feel that as a citizen, one should know the history of their country. Knowing about the history of the country lets us know what kind of hardship people face in the past.
For instance, Elizabeth Choy, she was tortured very badly for about 200 days.
“The Kempeitai made her kneel down on a frame of three-sided wood. They tied her hands behind her back and also her legs. She could not move at all. Then, they brought her husband and he was made to kneel beside the frame to watch her being tortured. They slapped and kicked her and gave her the ‘electric shock’ treatment. The pain was extremely unbearable.” (Singapore Women Hall of Frame)
She was also given water torture. Water torture was when a victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position, and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach until he lost consciousness. The pressure was then applied, sometimes by jumping upon his abdomen to force the water out. The usual practice was to revive the victim and successively repeat the process. (Wikipedia; ibiblio)
She was traumatized due to the amount of torture she went through. Yet, she continued living her life as per normal after being released. It must be hard on her whenever she passed by the Kempeitai headquarters (Young Men Christian Association) or when someone talks about the War. Elizabeth might have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anything from the war might trigger her easily. Despite being tortured to such a degree, she still managed to persevere on with her life. For this reason, I am baffled by the fact that her mental-state was still stable after the amount of torture she went through.
After learning more of what had happened during the war, I thought about what my ancestor went through during that tough period of time. I also wonder how their life was like during and after the war. I might not be able to hear any story from my ancestor and only managed to hear past down story from my grandma, however, I didn’t understand her due to the dialect. I feel like we should know about what happened to our ancestor during the war so that future generations would be able to know about what had happened.
Bonny. 1999. Elizabeth Choy. [online] Available from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_816_2005-01-25.html %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
Cornelius-Takahama, & Vernon. 2001. [online] Civilian War Memorial. Available from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_516_2004-12-23.html [Accessed July 15, 2018]
Civilian War Memorial. 2018. [online] Available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_War_Memorial %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
Civilian War Memorial. [online] Available from https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/civilian-war-memorial %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
Esplanade Park Memorials. [online] Available from https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/esplanade-park-memorials %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
Elizabeth Choy. [online] Available from https://www.swhf.sg/profiles/elizabeth-choy/ %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
Esplanade Park Memorials. [online] Available from https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/esplanade-park-memorials [Accessed July 15, 2018]
Entrance gate to old Christian burial ground at Fort Canning Cemetery, before 1958 – BookSG – National Library Board, Singapore. [online] Available from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/image.aspx?id=39675281-e1cc-47df-95f8-97c786c0e6cd %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
HyperWar: International Military Tribunal for the Far East [Chapter 8]. [online] Available from http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/PTO/IMTFE/IMTFE-8.html [Accessed July 15, 2018]
Indian National Army Monument. [online] Available from http://www.visitsingapore.com/see-do-singapore/history/memorials/indian-national-army-monument/ %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
SINGAPORE SURRENDERS. [online] Available from http://www.battlebox.com.sg/ %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
The Civilian War Memorial. [Online] Available from http://www.visitsingapore.com/see-do-singapore/history/memorials/civilian-war-memorial/ %5BAccessed July 15, 2018]
Water cure (torture). 2018. [online] Available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_cure_(torture) [Accessed July 15, 2018]
Your Guide to Colonial History Trail in Fort Canning Park. National Parks. [PDF]