“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.