Total Defence Day: Listen to survivors' life stories: Ng Eng Hen

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event.

SINGAPORE - Succeeding generations of Singaporeans need to stay cohesive, united and strong if the country's way of life is to be secured, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Saturday.

The small country will always be vulnerable and "that will not change" but a collective spirit and unity against any challenge is what defines Total Defence.

He was speaking at an event held at the National Museum to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Total Defence. It was attended by members of the public, including survivors of the Japanese Occupation during World War II and the attacks during Konfrontasi.

In his speech, Dr Ng took time to share accounts from these victims and urged Singaporeans to listen to their stories as a way to realise "what happens when our defences fail".

"Their life stories are cautionary tales that remind us of the heavy price of not being able to defend our country."

He noted - without elaborating - that interest in Total Defence has risen this year "arising from some episodes in the past weeks".

"I don't wish for these episodes (to happen) so that people will listen. But it's a very serious message," he added.

The media also plays an important role in reminding Singaporeans of this message by helping people remember the country's past, he added.

In his first public comments on the issue, Dr Ng also said that "old wounds have been reopened" by Indonesia's decision to name a warship after the saboteurs who bombed MacDonald House in 1965 during Konfrontasi.

Relations between the two countries have become strained as a result.

Dr Ng is expected to speak more about the issue in Parliament this week.

Dr Ng also made a point of remembering the soldiers who were deployed during Konfrontasi, including Lieutenant-General (Ret) Winston Choo, a former chief of defence force, who was stationed in the south of Sabah in East Malaysia for border patrols.

These witnesses to conflict are always ready to tell their stories "to those who would listen", said Dr Ng.

At the event, some of those affected by the MacDonald House bombing also shared their experiences with reporters.

Madam Janet Ng, 69, was one of them. She lost her mother, Ms Elizabeth Choo, who was then 36, in the same blast. The blast killed three people and injured at least 33.

Total Defence Day falls on Feb15, which is also the day Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942 during World War II.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.