Seven Former Combatant Nations Recognise the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II at the Singapore Cenotaph
Wreaths placed at the Cenotaph by representatives from seven nations, Australia, Canada, India, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the Battlebox, an award-winning museum in Singapore run by Singapore History Consultants. Students of The Japanese School Singapore also made 2,000 tsuru (paper cranes symbolising peace and reconciliation), which members of the Japanese community laid alongside the wreaths.
Today, Saturday, 12 September 2020, representatives from seven nations separately turned up at the Cenotaph in Singapore city to recognise the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II (WWII), and pay respects to the fallen.
Due to COVID-19, a multi-national remembrance ceremony originally planned for the anniversary at Kranji War Cemetery had to be called off at the eleventh hour.
Commemoration Committee for the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II
The original ceremony was organised by the Commemoration Committee for the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II. It comprises the High Commissions or Embassies of Australia, Canada, India, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and Singaporean representatives from the Battlebox, an award-winning war museum in Singapore managed by private heritage consultancy Singapore History Consultants (SHC).
Laying of Wreaths and Tsuru
High Commissioners, Ambassadors, and representatives from these seven nations – former enemy combatants in the Pacific theatre of WWII but now close partners – honoured the significance of the date on their own, laying wreaths at the Cenotaph at varying times.
Students of The Japanese School Singapore also made 2,000 tsuru or paper cranes symbolising peace and reconciliation. Staff members laid them alongside the wreaths at the war memorial.
Keeping Alive the Spirit of Reconciliation
While these nations could not come together in an official ceremony this year, the spirit of post-war reconciliation and peace was maintained.
Today’s multi-national observances continue years of efforts to bring together former combatants to pay respect to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII.
In 2015, Japan joined the remembrance ceremony for the 70th Anniversary of the End of WWII at Kranji War Cemetery.
Two years later in 2017, Japan became a member of the organising committee for the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, a move that was unanimously supported by other Commonwealth countries in the committee. The ceremony was again held at Kranji War Cemetery on 15 February 2017.
Maintaining the tradition, Japan is also a member of the organising committee for this year’s ceremony.
Impact of COVID-19 on 75th Anniversary of End of War
The Commemoration Committee had convened as early as December 2019, planning not only for a major remembrance ceremony at Kranji War Cemetery, but many supporting events such as exhibitions and book launches. All these had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
The committee had intended to hold a scaled-down version of the ceremony at Kranji War Cemetery. However, the sudden closure of the cemetery to the public because of COVID-19 on 11 September 2020 – one day before the event – forced the committee to cancel the ceremony.
Consequently, the committee decided to pay respects as individual members at the Cenotaph, a National Monument dedicated to those who died in World War I and World War II. This was to ensure that this important day did not go unmarked in Singapore.
The Significance of Remembrance Ceremonies
The date 12 September is significant, because the surrender of the Japanese Southern Army to South East Asia Command in Singapore on that day in 1945 was the last major surrender ceremony of WWII. It terminated not only Japan’s military occupation of Southeast Asia, but also the Pacific War and, as a result, the Second World War.
The intention of this year’s observances was to honour all – both military and civilian – who had sacrificed their lives in WWII.
“Remembrance ceremonies can rehash painful memories of the war, as evidenced by the tensions war anniversaries raise in Northeast Asia. Remembrance ceremonies can also have an amazing capacity to enhance reconciliation and peace,” said Mr Jeya Ayadurai, chairman of the Commemoration Committee and Director of the Battlebox and SHC.
“This is why the work of the Commemoration Committee and the remembrance ceremonies it organises are important. They provide an alternative example of how these ceremonies can heal and strengthen relationships among former combatants.”
What was Planned at Kranji
This year’s remembrance ceremony at Kranji War Cemetery would have featured, among other things, public readings of war poems to encourage reflection on war and peace, the courage of those who bear nobly the call to duty, and those who have made the supreme sacrifice.
There would also have been an observance of two minutes of silence, to honour the fallen in war; a special bell would have been rung seven times to signify each year of the seven-year global war.
The ceremony would have concluded with the singing of Singapore’s National Anthem, Majulah Singapura, a fitting reminder that the defence of the city-state today lies in the hands of Singaporeans.
What Happened at the Cenotaph
Despite COVID-19 restrictions scuppering the remembrance ceremony, the representatives of the committee ensured that the memories of the fallen were kept alive.
Mr Jeya said: “While we were disappointed not to go ahead with the ceremony, it would have been wrong not to mark the day with a dignified gesture. Representatives from the seven nations decided that they would hold individual observances at the Cenotaph, keeping in line with COVID-19 safe management measures.”
Keeping the Memories Alive
To ensure that a permanent record was made of the observances, photos and footage were shot, which were assembled into videos. A digital Commemorative Booklet has also been created. These will be shared on social media and other online platforms to ensure awareness of the suffering of war and the need for peaceful solutions can be appreciated around the world.
Lastly, the primary reason for the ceremony is to help heal the wounds of conflict, not only among nations, but also offers the families of the men and women who were lost in this global conflict an opportunity for remembrance and closure.
Seventy-seven years ago, inside the Battlebox, the momentous decision to surrender Singapore to the invading Japanese was made by Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya Command.
On 4 February, Lt Gen Percival’s son, Brigadier (Retired) James Percival, retraced his father’s footsteps in the World War II-era underground command centre, currently managed by Singapore History Consultants Pte Ltd. He was accompanied by his wife Ann, and his daughter and son-in-law, Lady and Lord Acton.
The Battlebox team was honoured to host them on a tour of the Battlebox - A Story of Strategy & Surrender™. Of the tour, Brigadier Percival gave it a solid stamp of approval. He said: "The portrayal of the campaign is infinitely better now than it was when I was here before. It's totally different. It's more comprehensive and I think it's a fairer assessment of what went on than it had been before."
For more information about The Battlebox Tour - A Story of Strategy & Surrender™, visit www.battlebox.com.sg.