POST-EVENT MEDIA RELEASE, 15 FEBRUARY 2017
More than 700 VIPs, invited guests and members of the public from former World War II combatant nations came together in the spirit of reconciliation on Wednesday, 15 February 2017, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.
Side by side, Ambassadors and High Commissioners from Japan, Australia, India and Britain – some of the former enemy combatants in Malaya and Singapore in 1941 and 1942, now close friends – laid wreaths at the CWGC Kranji War Cemetery.
This symbolic gesture, the first of its kind in a commemoration ceremony, was the result of former Allied nations, spearheaded by Singapore, working together in committee with Japan.
The Commemoration Committee recognises the fact that all nations have suffered in World War II, and after 75 years, former enemies have moved and are moving into the future as firm partners in peace.
In all, diplomats and representatives from 12 countries paid their respects at the Ceremony, which was open to the public and broadcast live to multiple TV stations in Australia and New Zealand.
The 12 countries included Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States, China, Brunei and the Netherlands.
Chairman of the Commemoration Committee, Mr Jeya Ayadurai, emphasised the importance of reconciliation amidst remembrance. He said: “One of the high objectives of the Committee was to set an example on how war commemorations can be a positive force in bringing nations together. This does not mean that the facts of history should be hidden or viewed as inconvenient.
“Remembrance ceremonies should help forge greater international pathways to peace. They should heal, rather than freshly rekindle, old wounds of a past conflict.”
Sharing his sentiment was Japanese Ambassador His Excellency Kenji Shinoda. He said: “I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished and fell victim to the battles and hardships here 75 years ago.
“We must never repeat the horrors of war again.”
Diversity in Commemoration and Reconciliation
In keeping with the spirit of reconciliation, students of the Japanese School Singapore made 2,000 tsurus – paper cranes symbolising peace and reconciliation – which members of the Japanese community laid at the Ceremony.
Members of the Japanese community also turned up at the event, just as they did in September 2015 during the Commemoration Ceremony for the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Pacific War.
The diversity of the Ceremony is reflected in its organisers, the Commemoration Committee – it comprises Singapore and the Commonwealth nations, Japan, public and private sector bodies, and youth organisations.
The Catafalque Party was made up of Singapore National Cadet Corps officers and Australian soldiers from Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB).
The buglers playing the Last Post for the Ceremony were from the Singapore Armed Forces, and an Australian from RCB; the bagpipers playing The Lament were from the Gurkhas of the Singapore Police Force and RCB.
The readers of poems for reflection on war and peace were from Singapore (Singapore Civil Defence Force), and the British, Australian and Canadian High Commissions. Even the musical accompaniment was a Singaporean string trio, Grace Notes, while the choir was from Dulwich College.
Veterans and Current Defenders Honoured – Unveiling of a Commemorative Plaque
The Ceremony also honoured the sacrifices of all military personnel who had fought in Malaya and Singapore, civilians who had lost their lives during the War and subsequent Occupation, and current defenders of Singapore.
Unveiled at the event was a Commemorative Plaque for the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, dedicated to the 137,000 men and women of Malaya Command (the army which defended Malaya and Singapore during World War II), and Singaporean men and women in uniform today. A Commissioner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lieutenant-General Sir William Rollo, had the honour of doing so.
The Plaque will be mounted inside the Battlebox, a former Underground Command Centre in Fort Canning Hill for Malaya Command during WWII, the place where the decision to surrender Singapore was made on 15 February 1942.
On that day, the fateful decision was made to surrender Malaya Command and its 120,000 men and women to the invading Japanese. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later called the surrender “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. The event sent shockwaves around the world as Singapore was previously known as an “impregnable fortress” and the “Gibraltar of the East”.
Witnessing the Plaque unveiling were members of the Singapore Armed Forces’ Veterans League, and overseas World War II veteran associations such as the Malayan Volunteers Group and Australia’s 2/10th Field Regiment Association.
Also present were two former civilian internees in Singapore during World War II, Ms Olga Henderson and Ms Vilma Howe; the pair were aged only 10 and 12 respectively when they were incarcerated. Seated with them was Captain Ho Weng Toh, 97, the last surviving Flying Tiger in Southeast Asia. The Flying Tigers were American Volunteer Group pilots who fought the Japanese in China during World War II.
Guest-of-Honour Vikram Nair, Member of Parliament for Singapore’s Sembawang Group Representation Constituency and Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said: “We remember and honour our pioneers who endured the war, and helped to build Singapore to what it is today.
“The war instilled in them a deep resolve to protect what they called their own. (Hence) it is fitting that we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of National Service this year. This is a sacred and important duty that all Singapore Sons (and Daughters) have to carry.”
The solemn Ceremony also featured, among other things, silent prayers by religious leaders for the war dead, and an observance of two minutes of silence. A Remembrance Bell was rung five times to signify each year of the Pacific War from 1941 to 1945.
The Ceremony was brought to a rousing end by the singing of Singapore’s National Anthem, Majulah Singapura, a fitting reminder that the defence of Singapore today lies in the hands of Singaporeans.
For photos of the event, check out the Battlebox’s Instagram page here.