Mr Vikram Nair, our Guest of Honour
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners present
LG Sir William Rollo, Commissioner, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, Australia’s Vice Chief of Defence Force,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would be remiss if I did not mention our very special guests – former civilian internees and war veteran: Ms Olga Henderson, Mrs Vilma Howe and Captain Ho Weng Toh. You are the living representatives of the millions who fought and endured the Pacific War.
On behalf of the Committee (whose members are reflected on the back of your programme booklet), I thank you for your presence today – for by doing so, you honour a sacrifice, though aged by the passage of time, remains no less significant than the day it was committed 75 years ago. A sacrifice made by men and women of many nations.
Today, we commemorate a battle that was fought 75 years ago, not with the desire to glorify war, for in truth there is little in war that is positive. On the contrary, war ultimately reflects the folly of man and his failure to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner. Unfortunately, war remains an aspect of the human condition, an affliction that is unlikely to find a cure.
So why do we commemorate today?
1. To Honour Our War Dead
Around us, lies the reason. Here lie the graves of 4,500 military personnel. And behind me, are chiselled columns adorned with the names of 24,000 men and women – individuals who were denied their last rites or a funeral that would have given solace to their families, as their remains were never found or identified.
It is they, and millions like them, whom we remember today.
We commemorate, to honour our war dead, for in them we find a reprieve for Mankind. While war highlights Man’s worst attributes, war also reflects the nobility of the human spirit. The sacrifice made by the armed forces amplifies Man’s higher ideals – his innate ability to lay down his life for the protection of others – to be selfless, to make the ultimate sacrifice for Nation, Brothers-in-Arms, Home and Family.
2. To Honour Those Who Serve in Our Armed Forces Today
And through them, we honour the men and women who don a uniform to protect our societies today – they earn our respect and gratitude for their willingness to risk all to defend the vulnerable.
These ceremonies are particularly important for a young nation like Singapore, for they foster a “culture of remembrance”. They nurture an appreciation of the service rendered by thousands of National Servicemen and active/regular officers and men who serve in the Singapore Armed Forces.
3. To Bring Nations Together
Lastly, 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 re-kindle, old wounds of a past conflict.
In that light, as a Singaporean and Southeast Asian, I had recommended to the Commonwealth members of the committee, that the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore afforded an appropriate opportunity to invite official Japanese participation in the committee. It was heartening to see unanimous support from the Commonwealth members for this view.
Japan has been an exemplary nation in the 72 years following the end of the Pacific War. A peaceful, liberal democracy, she was the engine of economic growth for many East Asian countries.
It takes courage and perseverance to forge new pathways in international relations. The invite by the committee and the Embassy of Japan’s acceptance of it to join the committee, is a significant development. It is a symbolic but important message to the world on how war commemorations can be a tool for peace.
A ceremony is a transient event. I do believe however in using something that is transient to create a permanent good outcome. I think we have achieved some of that today.
Ladies and gentlemen, by being present today, you have helped us achieve part of this greater vision.
Chairman, Committee for the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore
Director, The Battlebox and The Changi Museum