Byline: Nadia Jansen Hassan
SINGAPORE: The Battle Box bunker located at Fort Canning officially reopened on Tuesday (Jun 28), after a change in theme and a different layout.
The former British underground bunker from World War II was discovered in 1988, and was then reopened as a museum in 1997.
Previously, its content focused on the functions of the bunker’s underground communications centre, and Singapore’s surrender to the Japanese during the war. After the revamp, it will also include the military reasons for Singapore’s defeat.
One of the exhibits tells the story of Major-General Frank Keith Simmons and his team, who were taken as prisoners of war for surrendering Singapore to the Japanese during World War II. That choice tore Major-General Simmons away from his family for years.
“It would have been almost two years – we didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. We were in Australia and we had no messages, no letters, nothing. Eventually things started coming through – little messages saying he was alive,” said Major-General Simmons’ daughter, Anna Chirnside, who is now 82 years old.
As part of the revamp, more educational materials have been added to the walls. Recently-discovered artefacts are also on display.
The purpose of the shift is to further educate the public on the country’s past, according to the Singapore History Consultants, which manages the bunker.
“The primary focus is to share a very important part of history that’s not usually covered. Today’s Battle Box focuses on the military reasons for defeat, the strategies and tactics that were employed in the Second World War, why the Japanese were able to capture Singapore so quickly, and why the defeat for the allied army was so comprehensive,” said Mr Jeya Ayadurai, the director of Singapore History Consultants and The Battle Box.
“The greatest lesson is for our young Singaporeans to understand history, to understand where they come from. Singapore did not just appear suddenly. Singapore was built up through the years, and especially after our independence in 1965, lots of hard work, blood and soil and sweat went into building up Singapore. And young Singaporeans must know this,” said former Chief of Defence Force Winston Choo.
The revamp took more than two years and cost around S$800,000. The bunker was originally set to reopen on Mar 28, but the research team uncovered new artefacts which needed time for research and curation. This new reopening date also ties in with SAF Day, which is on Jul 1.
The Battle Box will undergo a second phase of renovation which will include incorporating technology in the exhibitions, and introduce interactive activities for students and families. This is estimated to be completed by 2017.