'2 bitter but valuable lessons' from Japanese Occupation

Dr Ng Eng Hen
PHOTO: Facebook video screengrab

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.

Dr Ng Eng HenPhoto: Facebook video screengrab

"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.

Former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah RoadPhoto: Facebook video screengrab

The World War II museum at the former factory has been revamped and renamed Syonan Gallery. It will be officially opened today, and people can start visiting tomorrow.

Read also: NLB explains rationale behind naming new museum Syonan Gallery; name had sparked debate

Syonan GalleryPhoto: The Straits Times
Syonan GalleryPhoto: The Straits Times

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.

World War II in Singapore

  • Seventy five years ago, on Feb 15, 1942, Singapore fell under Japanese occupation.
  • Japanese Imperial Army soldiers cycle from Malaya to Singapore.
  • The Battle of Singapore lasted from Feb 8 to Feb 15, 1942. On Feb 8, Japanese forces launched an eastern feint attack from Pulau Ubin, and also landed on Singapore's north-western coastline.
  • Ssoldiers from the Malay Regiment who fought against invading Japanese forces.
  • On Feb 15, Lieutenant General Arthur E. Percival surrendered Singapore to Japan, after Japanese forces won the Battle of Pasir Panjang the previous day.
  • Brigadier T. K. Newbigging carrying the Union Jack flag as part of General Percival's surrender party.
  • Life during the Japanese Occupation, which lasted for more than 31/2 years, was brutal. The Japanese issued "banana money", named because the $10 note bore the image of a banana tree.
  • Just one week after taking over the island, the new Japanese rulers began Operation Sook Ching - a Chinese term meaning "to purge through cleansing".
  • The Japanese military, suspicious of the Chinese population, 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.
  • 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.
  • The victims were loaded onto lorries and taken to remote areas to be executed, such as Changi Beach, Punggol Beach and Pulau Blakang Mati (Sentosa Island).
  • Many of the bodies of victims were washed ashore on Blakang Mati beach, and were buried there.
  • The authorities also made the locals embrace Japanese culture and customs, and even built a Shinto shrine at the western part of MacRitchie Reservoir.
  • The Japanese eventually surrendered to the British on Sept 12, 1945.

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.


Read also: 
Feb 15 is Total Defence Day: 5 pillars of Total Defence
75 years since Singapore fell: Operation Sook Ching during the Japanese occupation
75 years since Singapore fell: Horror and, today, peace
Guided trail to offer glimpse of WWII in Singapore

This article was first published on Feb 15, 2017.
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