Civic groups calls for WWII volunteers memorial

World War II History Research Association's chairman Kek Boon Leong (L) and a 1945 drawing of a memorial (R).

SINGAPORE - A local civil society group has called for a memorial to honour members of the Singapore Overseas Chinese Volunteer Army who died during World War II defending the island against the Japanese.

The World War II History Research Association made this plea on Thursday night, after a public talk on World War II history at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Thursday was the date in 1945 on which the Japanese surrendered during World War II.

The memorial will also inspire younger Singaporeans, the history association's chairman Kek Boon Leong told The Straits Times.

"They died defending their homes and families," said the Chinese community leader who heads the Nanyang Confucian Association. The volunteers were hastily assembled just months before Singapore fell to the Japanese.

They came under British commander John Dalley, which is why they are more commonly known as the Dalforce.

Poorly equipped and with minimal training, they fought alongside British and Australian forces.

There are no definitive accounts of how large Dalforce was or how many died fighting, but estimates put the strength at between 1,000 and 3,000, with some 300 casualties.

The unit was disbanded days before Singapore's surrender on Feb 15, 1942. Some fled into the Malayan jungles to continue guerilla warfare. Others were rounded up and killed in the Sook Ching massacre, in which thousands of Chinese civilians suspected of being anti-Japanese were killed.

Since the end of the war in 1945, there have been sporadic calls over the years for a memorial to Dalforce. Mr Kek now hopes that one can be ready in a year, and he has already scouted potential sites. "The most ideal location is in Beach Road next to the Civilian War Memorial."

Another possible site is Bukit Chandu in Pasir Panjang where the Malay Regiment is remembered in a museum. "Having a memorial there will show that the locals defended Singapore regardless of their race," he said.

His association has dusted off a 1945 drawing of a possible memorial, which will cost more than $160,000 to build, excluding land costs. "But cost is not an issue because we can raise funds," said Mr Kek.

While supporting the building of the memorial, National Institute of Education history lecturer and associate professor Kevin Blackburn feels the Government does not have to take the lead. "The Chinese community would be better placed. Dalforce was the Chinese community's armed response in the field against the Japanese."

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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