The Battlebox’s first ever Instameet

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This Saturday, 5 November, heritage tour company Journeys Pte. Ltd. will be organising an “Instameet” for 25 photography / Instagram enthusiasts, embarking on one of its tours, Through Fog & Fire – The Battle for Singapore 1942.

The tour, which will start at 10am and end at 1.30pm, will take participants to the Battlebox and Kranji War Cemetery. Transport will be provided.

Interested? Sign up here!

Check out the event post on Explore Singapore’s Instagram account.

The Battlebox also has its own Instagram account. Follow us here!

This event is jointly organised by Journeys, the Singapore Tourism Board, Edelman and Explore Singapore.

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“Inside Singapore’s Battlebox bunker”

Published online by Stuff Destinations (New Zealand) 

Byline: Gary Maddox

Deep beneath a hill in Singapore, in a series of musty corridors and cramped rooms, there is a powerful sense of history.

A wartime bunker known as the Battlebox, forgotten for decades before it was rediscovered in the 1980s, is potent memorial to the turmoil of World War II on the tropical island nation.

Reached through a hillside door in Fort Canning Park, it was where British and Allied military leaders desperately tried to hold off attacking Japanese troops.

In less than 70 days, Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s forces swept through the Malayan Peninsula and into the British military stronghold in February, 1942.

Nine metres below ground, lit by an emergency generator and no doubt sweltering given the poor ventilation, the bunker must have been a bleak as it was tense when Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, the British commander in Singapore, was forced to surrender. It remains one of the British military’s worst defeats.

Our guide at the newly reopened Battlebox, Gabriel Tay, outlines what a dramatic time that was as we examine the bunker, room by sparse room.

The tour is aimed at explaining to both tourists and Singaporeans – many of whom grew up knowing little about the country’s wartime history – just what happened and why the British surrendered.

With only limited air and naval defence, Japanese planes, artillery and advancing tanks battered Allied troops and civilians, causing heavy casualties and leaving the island’s defenders exhausted and, in many cases, demoralised.

Amid communications breakdowns, there was confusion as the Japanese landed and advanced inland. Water, fuel and ammunition supplies were low. Telephones barely worked.

As Romen Bose writes in Secrets of the Battlebox, which sells in the visitor centre, part of the problem was that Singapore was thought to be relatively safe from Japanese invasion.

“It was the immense bureaucracy and red tape of the civil administration and their lack of willingness to prepare fully for the war that led to the huge suffering of the local population and the total unpreparedness for the Japanese bombings and attacks,” he writes.

Inside the bunker, historic signs on the walls give a sense of the drama: “Hitler will send no warning so always carry your gas mask,” one reads. Others say “Keep it under your hat! Careless talk costs lives” and “Smash Japanese aggression”.

Maps, old typewriters and an ancient air filtration plant all give a strong sense of the times. In one corner is a secret escape hatch that leads to the surface. Giving perspective to the fall of Singapore are photos on the walls of great wartime battles in the Pacific.

It’s easy to imagine the tension as more than 500 officers and troops crowded into 29 rooms, without airconditioning in the tropical heat.

There is a telephone exchange that, no doubt to the frustration of operators needing urgent communication, had no dedicated military phone lines. A life-sized model of one of those operators, sits at a mocked-up exchange.

There is a signal room that was linked to bases in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and London. And a cipher room where messages were decoded.

The most striking room in the Battlebox though is what is now known bleakly as the “surrender conference room”, where the pain of defeat became a reality. Models of Percival and other senior military figures are hunkered over a table, planning their next grim move.

Once they had decided to surrender, a delegation was sent to the Japanese headquarters on the island carrying a Union Jack and a white flag. Then Percival met Yamashita to hear the terms of the surrender.

Shortly afterwards, a Japanese flag was raised on Singapore’s tallest building. A reputed 80,000 to 100,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war. For 3½ years, the Japanese occupied what they called Syonan-To.

Following the Japanese surrender at the end of the war, the Battlebox was looted by civilians. It was sealed then forgotten.

Only in 1988 was the underground communications centre rediscovered. After partial restoration, it was opened as a museum in 1997.

After further work, what’s now considered a national treasure was officially opened for tours this year, with newly discovered artifacts being added. Already evocative, it will be even more so when it is upgraded with more interactive exhibits within the next year.

“Underground insight into Australian history”

battlebox-entrance

Published online by the Seven West Travel Club (Australia) 

Byline: Stephen Scourfield

We’re always looking for new experiences in familiar places, and have discovered an insight into Australian history in Singapore.

Battlebox in Singapore is a former WWII-era underground command centre in the heart of the city, which was used by the British and Allied forces during WWII.

It was where the British decided to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on February 15, 1942 — the largest capitulation in British military history, including the surrender of some 15,000 Australian soldiers.

After the Battlebox closed a few years ago, Singapore History Consultants, a private heritage consultancy, took over the bunker premises a couple of years ago. After a titanic effort resolving maintenance and structural issues with the ageing place, they reopened the Battlebox in February.

Now, they are encouraging Australians to visit. Entrance into the Battlebox is through guided tours only; there are up to five guided tours a day, each lasting about 60 to 75 minutes.

“Battlebox bunker officially opens after 2-year revamp”

Published online by ChannelNewsAsia, 29 June 2016

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.

“New exhibit at Battlebox tells ‘real’ story of Japanese occupation”

Straits Times 29 Jun 2016

Published in The Straits Times print edition, 29 June 2016

With their heavy guns pointed uselessly to the south, British forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival failed to anticipate a Japanese invasion from the north.

The Imperial Japanese Army, riding in on bicycles, took the British by surprise and managed to capture Singapore in just 70 days.

Or so many falsely believed. While the 70-day time period is correct, this version of events is one of several popularly-held myths debunked at the refurbished Battlebox at Fort Canning Hill.

According to historical sources, Lt-Gen Percival had anticipated a northern attack on Singapore as early as 1937.

He stationed six brigades of troops in the north-east, but the north-west, where the Japanese struck with the bulk of their total forces, was only lightly defended by two less experienced brigades.

The new operator of Battlebox – Singapore History Consultants – officially reopened it yesterday with new generators and air-conditioning. Information panels and guided tours have also been reworked to present a more balanced and coherent narrative.

“For too many years, our schoolchildren have focused on getting a deep appreciation of the years of Occupation,” said Mr Jeya Ayadurai, director of Singapore History Consultants. “We’ve understood what it means to be victims, but there has been little understanding of what caused that occupation.”

The narrative will also touch on the military prowess of Lt-Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita and the Japanese army. Tour guides will emphasise that the fall of Singapore was inevitable, and that Lt-Gen Percival had little choice but to surrender.

“Telling more than one side of a story is really the only reasonable way to present history,” said Professor Brian Farrell, who specialises in military history at the National University of Singapore.

Yesterday’s opening event was also attended by Japan’s Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Kenji Shinoda.

He said: “I am reminded of the significance of working together for the cause of enduring peace for humankind, to ensure that what happened 75 years ago will never be repeated.”

Official Launch of the Battlebox

Launch

On 28 June 2016, the Battlebox was officially launched by Guest-of-Honour Lieutenant-General (Retired) Winston Choo, Singapore’s first Chief of Defence Force from 1974 to 1992. He is pictured above unveiling a plaque commemorating the Official Launch (left), with Battlebox Director Jeya Ayadurai (right).

The Launch took place at the Fort Canning Centre and Battlebox on Fort Canning Hill. Among other events, the Launch featured speeches by General Choo and Mr Ayadurai, the sounding of an air raid siren and a minute’s silence to honour the men and women who gave their lives defending Malaya and Singapore during World War II, and a specially curated Battlebox experience, bringing visitors through the newly-revamped Battlebox.

The Launch was attended by around 60 guests, including many ambassadors, high commissioners and dignitaries.

For news coverage on the Launch, please check out the Blog section of this website. 

Everyone here at the Battlebox is honoured to be part of a team that is keeping alive a very valuable, historic monument!

“Fall of Singapore retold at Battlebox museum”

Published in The Straits Times print edition, 18 February 2016

Byline: Melody Zaccheus

The British delegation on Feb 15, 1942, was a picture of dejection. The team, including interpreter Cyril Wild, had been sent to surrender to the invading Japanese forces at the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah.

Spotting the media filming the event, Major Wild, looking distressed and ashamed, chucked aside the white flag he had carried to the meeting.

This fleeting but poignant World War II moment is on show at the Battlebox museum in Fort Canning.

The footage is part of a new tour rolled out by the Singapore History Consultants aimed at giving visitors a deeper understanding of the frame of mind the defending forces were in, and the events that led to the largest military defeat of British and Commonwealth forces in Britain’s military history.

The 1936 Battlebox bunker itself, which has undergone a year-long $300,000 makeover, was the site where British commanders had gathered at 9.30am that morning to weigh their options.

The group included Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, who commanded the forces of the British Commonwealth at that time.

It took all of 15 minutes for them to decide to surrender as they had been cornered by the Japanese across land, air and sea.

Mr Razeen Chan, the director of research and consultancy at Singapore History Consultants, said: “The Japanese had 600 superior airplanes compared to the British’s 181 aircraft. The invading forces had pounded Singapore hard…”

The guided tours at the Battlebox, priced at $18 for adults and $9 for children, will take visitors through facts and figures such as the strength of the Japanese infantry, as well as the effort and money poured into the defence of Singapore.

The 9m-deep underground labyrinth was the nerve centre for military operations during WWII. It is slated to officially reopen on March 28.

The first round of works had addressed issues such as leaks. New generators and an air-conditioning system have been installed too.

Singapore History Consultants director Jeya Ayadurai said it is hoping for “government support” in rolling out additional improvements to the space.

This includes an additional $100,000 in funding to provide multimedia guides, and another $350,000 to fit the place with 3D and ambient technologies over the next two years.

Visitors can sign up for sneak previews of its tours from now till March 20.

The effort to breathe new life into the bunker ties in with the National Parks Board’s move to rejuvenate and draw more visitors to Fort Canning Park, which it manages.

Traces of an ancient Malay kingdom as well as gravestones of Singaporean pioneers lie there.

Mr Jeya hopes the authorities will look into protecting the area as well as awarding the historic bunker national monument status.

He expects the bunker to draw between 40,000 and 44,000 visitors in the first year.

Briton Peter Stubbs, 71, an amateur historian, who went on a tour on Tuesday, said he hopes the operator will add more depth to the experience as well as stories about key characters such as Lt-Gen Percival. “He was always seen as someone useless but he was quite a brave soldier,” he said.

“$300,000 makeover for WWII bunker”

Published in The Straits Times print edition, 20 January 2016

Byline: Melody Zaccheus

The site where the British decided to surrender Singapore to the Japanese – the Battlebox bunker – has been given a $300,000 makeover.

The one-year effort has rectified the problem of leaks and floods that filled the 9m-deep underground bunker whenever it rained. New generators and an air-conditioning system have been installed too.

The attraction at Fort Canning Park, which is managed by the National Parks Board (NParks), is slated to reopen in March.

Its new operator, the Singapore History Consultants which won a tender in 2013, plans to launch the attraction in three stages.

During the first phase from March to May, visitors will get to go on “high-quality guided tours” costing $18 for adults and $9 for children, said the firm’s director Jeya Ayadurai. There will be around five tours a day.

He said: “In the past, the Battlebox mostly focused on the rooms. We’re investing heavily in retelling the story of the fall of Singapore that led to Lieutenant-General (Arthur) Percival and the allied forces surrendering to the invading Japanese forces on Feb 15, 1942.”

Once the nerve centre for British military operations during World War II, the labyrinth was completed in the late 1930s. It had 29 rooms, including a cipher office and signal room.

Mr Jeya said multimedia guides will be rolled out in the second phase. Archaeological finds such as used ammunition from Adam Park – the scene of the last battle before Singapore fell – will be incorporated into the showcase. The final phase will weave 3D technologies, including ambient soundscapes, across the bunker.

Mr Jeya expects the attraction to draw about 60,000 visitors in the first year, of whom 60 per cent will likely be locals and the rest tourists. The Battle Box used to draw about 2,000 visitors a month.

Mr Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive officer of NParks’ park management and lifestyle cluster, said: “Fort Canning Park has a lot of history and culture. The Battlebox lends a good sense of historical significance to the entire site.

“If the story is going to be told in clearer clarity than before, then it is a good reason to come back and revisit Battlebox.”

Volunteer tour guide Chia Bee Lian, 60, feels entry fees are “a little expensive”, and hopes the content will be “meaty”. She said: “Perhaps the Battlebox could have some kind of a tie-up with neighbouring art gallery Pinacotheque Museum to ensure ticket prices are more affordable.”

Tickets to the Battlebox attraction were previously $8 for adults and $5 for children.

The effort to breathe new life into the bunker ties in with NParks’ move to rejuvenate and draw more visitors to Fort Canning Park, which is a stop along the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s Jubilee Walk.

Traces of an ancient Malay kingdom, the British empire’s bunkers as well as gravestones of Singaporean pioneers lie there.

Mr Kong said NParks is working with the area’s tenants to improve navigation. It has installed new lighting across the 18ha space, which draws about 1.3 million visitors a year.

The Singapore Tourism Board has also rolled out a free shuttle that serves museums in the civic district.

NParks also organises tours of the site as well as its sculptures, spice garden and heritage trees nearly every month.