Yaacob urges Singaporeans to stay united

Yaacob urges Singaporeans to stay united
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".
PHOTO: The Straits Times

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," 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 Old Ford Factory in Bukit Timah, the site where the British formally surrendered Singapore 75 years ago.

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 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 - one of a series of events attended by thousands across the island to mark the anniversary.

"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 in the new Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies exhibition - of Singaporeans banding together during occupation, despite the harsh conditions, to help each other survive.

Tearing up, he recounted oral history interviews which spoke of how some Chinese handed prisoners-of-war water, 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 at the Former Ford Factory was also observed by the 200 guests and the 407 national service recruits.

A bugler played the military tune Last Post to remember the fallen.

About 1,200 people, from school children to religious leaders, took turns to pay their respects at the foot of the 67m-tall Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road during a service to remember civilian victims who died during the Occupation.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said at the event: "It is important for us to remember this part of the dark history of Singapore so we realise sovereignty is priceless, and it is worth protecting...

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

Later in the evening, a remembrance ceremony was held at the Kranji War Cemetery, where headstones mark the final resting place of almost 4,500 people, most of whom died here during World War II.

More than 300 people were in attendance. They included military officials and veterans, and representatives from the high commissions of Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The day of commemoration came to a close with the island-wide sounding of the public warning system sirens at 6.20pm, marking the exact time the British surrendered in 1942.

melodyz@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on February 16, 2017.
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