Wednesday, October 12, 2005


THOSE who survived the Japanese occupation have many memories. Few of them are happy. But out of the ashes of despair in those trying times, many heroes were born. Singapore withstood the terrible blows that were dealt it. Today, it still stands and is strong evermore. Here's a glimpse of Singapore during those war years.

FORTRESS Singapore, a 96-page booklet/guidebook, is a gem of an idea. The
creators of this easy-to-follow World War II war zone guide deserve a
round of applause.
Even though the multi-pronged strategy of publishing Fortress Singapore
also covers tourism, the historical aspect will certainly not be lost on
Malaysians and Singaporeans. Many can still relate personally to the news
trail that cuts painfully into memories forgotten or purposely buried.
Those fortysomethings would probably be well acquainted with horrific
tales from the five very long years of Japanese Occupation stretching from
Kangar to the far end of Singapore bay.
To be sure, many Malaysians of Chinese descent will find this journey down
memory lane a rather sorrowful one. Many of us will have parents or
grandparents who still harbour bad memories of what transpired about half
a century ago. The obligatory bows before the Japanese soldier, the
singing of Nipponese songs, and the ubiquitious ubi kayu all conjure up
flashes of the harsh days that made many lose relatives, loved ones, and,
for some, their humanity.
This "Special Bonus Edition' comes with bus guides and maps for the more
adventurous readers who may want to have a first-hand experience at the
actual sites of some of the more notorious incidents.
For example, the Sook Ching Operation carried out soon after the surrender
of Syonan-To (Japanese name for Singapore) when all local males from the
ages of 18 to 50 were ordered to report to the various registration
centres on Feb 21, 1942. By the time the operation was over, about 25,000
to 30,000 people were executed. The official estimate was 6,000.
The original intention of the Sook Ching Ops was to eliminate
anti-Japanese elements. The end result was thousands upon thousands of
innocent people being machine-gunned to death on the beaches of Punggol
and Changi. The massacre was to be one of Singapore's many days of infamy
during the Second World War.
Students imbued with a strong sense of local history will find this
publication an eye-opener. It will increase their understanding of what
their parents went through in no small way. Some of the shocking pictures
will bring home the terrible realities that prevailed when the Japanase
conquerors came.
In those long months of desperation, fear and anger eventually led to
nationalism and, later, independence. The tales of sorrow and hardship are
not confined to the local people. The British and Australian soldiers,
administrators and their families suffered just as much, if not more,
simply because the Japanese often singled them out for that bit of extra
punishment and sadistic entertainment.
Changi Prison stands out as a shameful example of those war years when
wickedness reduced men to animals and animals (rats, cats and dogs) into
food for desperate people. Some pictures in Fortress Singapore show rows
of tombstones of those foreigners who came to our part of the world, some
perhaps for adventure, others perhaps for more noble intentions.
Nevertheless, all did not return home except only in spirit and in memory.
With more than a hundred pictures of war-torn, shrapnel-splattered
Singapore, Fortress Singapore is a commendable effort. However, some
technical aspects can certainly be improved upon.
For a future edition, the publishers may wish to consider producing the
book in a larger size format. In dealing with subjects of this nature,
pictures are invariably of vital importance. Photographs when seen in a
smaller than desired size usually lose their visual impact, as is the case
Certain pages which have an overall tonal picture superimposed on the
words achieve a reverse effect by reducing the legibility of the words.
After a while, it is more of an irritant than a considered special effect.
The writers and the publisher should take a cue from overseas publications
on World War II. Some of the more impressive titles, like Nam: Eyewitness,
Images of War and War Years, are in magazine size and on quality paper.
Compared to them, Fortress Singapore pales. No doubt, high costs were a
major consideration but if such a work as Fortress Singapore is worth
doing at all, then it should be worth doing well.
Material aspects aside, this booklet is a pleasure to read in one sitting.
It will also serve as a good and quick reference for students of wartime

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