Visitors welcome name change of WWII gallery

Visitors to the revamped World War II gallery space in the Former Ford Factory will see its signage changed in a month or so, said the National Library Board (NLB) yesterday.

Initially called Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies, the space was renamed Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies last Friday, following a public outcry.

Signs bearing the original name at the gallery's entrance were covered or removed by yesterday morning.

NLB, which picked the name Syonan Gallery for the revamped National Archives of Singapore museum, said there are a total of nine signboards which will be replaced.

Design and production of the new signs may take some time but visitors can look out for the sign, Former Ford Factory, on the front gate, said a spokesman.

The gallery opened last Wednesday, but its initial name upset some people, who said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation.

In 1942, after the British surrender, Singapore was renamed Syonan-to, which means "Light of the South".

Announcing the name change last Friday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim apologised for the pain caused.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Facebook posts in Chinese and English, that he and his colleagues "honour and respect" the deep feelings of Singaporeans who went through the Occupation, and renamed the exhibition "to bear witness to these painful memories".

Read also: 'Syonan Gallery' renamed; Minister Yaacob Ibrahim apologises for pain that name caused

He also thanked people who gave their feedback on the matter and said "such conversations bring us closer together".

Visitors to the gallery called the name change an appropriate move.

Researcher James Low, 47, who was there with his family, said: "I'm actually quite impressed that there's a readiness to listen to how some people feel very strongly about this.

"When the (original) name was chosen, it reflected a factual consideration of that period of time. But deeper thought may only have been possible when people who lived through that time spoke up to share their thoughts and feelings."

Some, like retiree Tan Fong See, 79, cannot bring themselves to step into the exhibition, but he was happy to hear of the new name. "Many people did not like the Syonan name," he said.

World War II History Research Association chairman Kek Boon Leong likened the strong reaction now to Singaporeans' feelings when an Indonesian warship was named after two marines who bombed the MacDonald House in 1965. The move was called insensitive and unfriendly by some in 2014.

Others, like Ms Belinda Mock, 56, a manager in the IT industry, is supportive of the change but added that people should eventually look beyond what a place is called.

Mr Lam Phin Chong, secretary-general of a Chinese clan association, said that while he was disappointed at first with the authorities' reaction to opposing views from the public, he is glad they came round. "We should, and we can forgive (the Japanese). But we cannot forget that period of history. It hurt us and harmed us," said Mr Lam of the Char Yong (Dabu) Association.

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

Name of revamped museum stirs debate

This article was first published on Feb 19, 2017.
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