More than 700 people, including members of the Singapore Armed Forces’ Veterans League, war veterans or former civilian internees and overseas WWII veteran associations such as the Malayan Volunteers Group and Australia’s 2/10th Field Regiment Association paid a two-minute silent tribute with heads bowed on Wednesday (15 February) to the fallen men who defended Singapore against the Japanese invaders in 1942 and the casualties of the 3.5 years of the Japanese Occupation.
A bell of remembrance was rung five times, once for each year the war raged in the Pacific.
On 15 February 1942, the Allied army which had been defending Malaya and Singapore, surrendered to the invading Japanese 25th Army in Singapore at the Old Ford Factory after 70 days of brutal fighting down from Malayan Peninsula and the island of Singapore.
This incident marked the start of three and a half years of Japanese Occupation of Singapore.
The ceremony honoured the sacrifices of military personnel who fought in Malaya and Singapore during the war and subsequent occupation. It too honoured the civilians who had lost their lives due to the war, individuals who were ill-prepared for the brutality of war.
The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs Vikram Nair, who was the VIP for the event, spoke during the ceremony, stating that he wishes for peace and that the horrors of war will never be forgotten.
He stated that though young Singaporeans have never experienced the horrors of war but stressed that all must never forget the lessons learnt.
“This commitment to remember the horrors of war and to defend Singapore is at the core of Total Defence. It is when every Singaporean is resolved to play their part, and contribute to keeping Singapore strong on all fronts, that we can be confident of safeguarding our nation and our home against different threats and challenges that come our way,” said Mr Nair.
The hour-long ceremony is the first one that Japan had worked with former Allied countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and India, to work together to organise a commemoration ceremony. This is recognition of the fact that all nations have suffered in WWII and after 75 years, former enemies have and are moving into the future as firm partners in peace.
The Japanese Ambassador to Singapore Kenji Shinoda, along with other dignitaries, laid a wreath at the ceremony as a symbol of reconciliation.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Mr Shinoda said, “I express my feeling of profound grief and heartfelt condolence. I believe such a feeling is being shared by an overwhelming majority of Japanese.”
Two representatives of the Japanese community in Singapore also presented tsurus (Japanese paper cranes), made by students of the Japanese School Singapore, to those who have fallen during the war.
A Commemorative Plaque for the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore was unveiled by the Commissioner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lieutenant-General Sir William Rollo. Dedicated to the 137,000 men and women of Malaya Command and those who continue to defend Singapore today, the plaque will be mounted inside the Battlebox on Fort Canning Hill.
As private individuals went up to present their wreaths to the fallen. Three survivors of the World War II, Ms Olga Henderson, 84, Mrs Vilma Howe, 88 and Captain Ho Weng Toh, were specially mentioned as they walked up to present their wreaths together.
Ms Henderson and Mrs Howe were imprisoned at Changi as children, while Captain Ho Weng Toh, flew 18 bombing missions over Japan-occupied China.
At the time of the surrender, 6.20pm, sirens were sounded across Singapore for one minute as a commemoration.