75 years since Singapore fell: Operation Sook Ching during the Japanese occupation

75 years since Singapore fell: Operation Sook Ching during the Japanese occupation
Skulls, bones and other grisly remains being exhumed from a mass grave of Operation Sook Ching victims in Bedok on June 10, 1966.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Seventy five years ago today (Feb 15), Singapore fell under Japanese occupation when British Lieutenant General Arthur Percival surrendered the island after a week of fighting.

One day later on Feb 16, Singapore was renamed Syonan-To (Light of the South), and thus began 44 months of great upheaval under Japanese rule.

One of the darkest hours during the period was Operation Sook Ching, in which anti-Japanese elements among the Chinese community in Singapore were rounded up and killed, as punishment for supporting China's war effort.

The operation, meaning "to purge through cleansing", was carried out from Feb 21 to Mar 4, 1942, according to The Straits Times.

During the operation, Chinese males aged 18 to 50 were rounded up and inspected at screening centres.

The epicentre of the screenings was the Sook Ching Inspection Centre, a huge cordoned enclosure surrounded by barbed wire to prevent "suspects" from escaping, according to the National Heritage Board's Roots.sg web portal. Today, the site houses the Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown, where a memorial for Operation Sook Ching stands.

Suspects were singled out based on their age and occupation, physical appearance, personal wealth and educational background. Only those who 'passed' the screenings were released, whereas those who did not get through were loaded onto trucks and transported to killing sites for execution.

There were a number of major massacre sites around Singapore, with notable sites including Pulau Blakang Mati (Sentosa Island), Changi Road, Tanah Merah Beach, Changi Beach and Punggol Beach.

The Straits Times reported that many of the bodies of victims were washed ashore on Blakang Mati Beach (which is off Sentosa Golf Course), and buried there.

The exact number of people who died in the operation remains unknown. Officially, Japan claims that 5,000 were killed, but it is estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 were killed in Sook Ching and other related mopping-up operations.

Graphic: The Straits Times

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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