On 15th February 2017, I joined the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC), members of the public, and 1,500 school-going youths from schools all around Singapore for the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of Singapore’s fall to the Japanese, which took place on that very day in 1942.
It was a very sombre yet meaningful and significant ceremony; a strong reminder of a dark time in our nation’s history. This was especially true for the students and youths in attendance. To them, this was an event they’ve read in history books; an event that grows more far-removed from their present day as the years pass, unless we remember.
‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
The ceremony took place at the Civilian War Memorial, situated across Raffles City, the building of which was completed in January 1967. As with the previous 50 years, the memorial service was organised on 15th February to commemorate the civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation.
Starting at 9.30am, the entire ceremony only took 30 minutes; but a weighty 30 minutes it was. It comprised an “All Clear” siren sounded by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), a simple wreath laying by representatives, and the observance of one-minute of silence.
In addition to attending the ceremony, I was invited to address the youths present. Prior to my address, a member of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Veterans League spoke. MAJ (Ret) Abdul Samad gave an account of the Japanese campaign of Singapore and recounted the hardships encountered by the people of Singapore during the occupation period.
That day, I took the opportunity to share with the youths the reason I’d decided to attend the memorial. Having been through the education system and experienced military training, I’m well aware of the details of the Japanese Occupation, and understand intrinsically why a strong defence force is required to defend our sovereignty.
My understanding of the Japanese invasion and occupation was purely head knowledge and from time to time, I felt the need to get involved in such memorials and visit such sites to turn that head knowledge to heart knowledge. It was an active decision to connect back to a past that seems to grow more distant year on year. True enough, prior to that day every youth present had heard about the Japanese Occupation, ‘Sook Ching’, and the hardships that the we went through as a nation, be it through the classroom or from their parents. With that, I encouraged the youths to spend some time reflecting about the time spent at the civilian war memorial; to think about the sights they saw, the sounds they heard; and essentially, to think about why a memorial has been held every year for the past 50 years: so that we would not need to build such a memorial again in the times to come.
About the writer: This article was written by Major (MAJ) Edmund Twohill, an NYC youth leader, INSPIRIT member, and speaker at the 50th War Memorial Service commemorating the civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation.