Marking WWII in time of terror

Although they are plain and nondescript, the wedding bands and identity tags housed in a glass display case at the National Museum of Singapore beckon visitors. Each has a story to tell.

The items were recovered from an execution site and belonged to victims of the Sook Ching massacre during World War II. Between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaya were purged in a Japanese military operation in 1942, following the fall of Singapore on Feb 15 that year.

The heartbreaking display is a poignant and solemn reminder of the impact that a war has on society as well as the families that are destroyed.

It is part of a National Museum tour that takes participants through some of the experiences of local war victims, among other things. It is one of several National Heritage Board activities held to mark the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore. These will run from Friday to Feb 28. Other efforts include 30 World War II tours that span war-related sites such as Mount Imbiah.

Mr Iskander Mydin, deputy director of collections and curation at the museum, noted that Singapore had fallen during Chinese New Year. "A day meant for traditional joy and celebration became a day of silence in the aftermath of the surrender."

The programming for the activities taps members of the community, some of whom grew up in war-torn Singapore. The organisers said this accords the annual commemorative effort even more significance each year. For instance, the Battle of Pasir Panjang tour will be conducted in part by the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans League.

The veterans will tell the story of how soldiers from the Malay Regiment fought valiantly against the Japanese forces even though they were greatly outnumbered and short of ammunition and supplies.

Such activities remind us not only to avoid making the mistakes of the past but also that we can all be heroes of our own histories when we stand up for the right values in the face of invading forces.

This is timely as the world faces a new kind of war against terrorists and extremists.

This article was first published on Feb 10, 2016.
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