The Civilian War Memorial is located in the War Memorial Park at Beach Road. Standing about 61 metres high, it is dedicated to the civilians of all races who were victims of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942-1945).
The Japanese Occupation - (1942-1945)
Amongst the many infamous incidents that took place during the Japanese Occupation was the Sook Ching or Screening Operation. In an effort to remove anti-Japanese elements in Singapore, Chinese men between the ages of 18 - 50 years of age were told to report to the Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police) inspection areas. Those who passed the screening were given an Examined stamp whilst the less fortunate ones were stamped with triangular marks and taken away. Some ended up in prison while others were killed. The latter lot was either thrown overboard off Blakang Mati (now Sentosa) or herded into the seas off Changi and Siglap and machine-gunned to death.
It is believed that between 5,000-50,000 Chinese were massacred by the Japanese.
War Crimes Trial
After the war, a war crimes commission was set up to investigate Japanese atrocities and the massacre of the Chinese. The trial for the Chinese massacres began in March 1947 at the Victoria Memorial Hall. Amongst the accused were MAJ-GEN Saburo Kawamura, Commander of the Syonan Garrison and COL Masyuki Oishi, head of the Syonan Kempeitai. Both were sentenced to death for their part in the massacres.
The Need for a Memorial
In Feb 62, a large number of remains belonging to civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation were unearthed in areas like Siglap, Changi and Bukit Timah. The need grew to gather these remains from all over the island and to find a place to bury them as a token of remembrance. The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) undertook this responsibility.
On 13 Mar 63, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, set aside the present piece of land for the building of a memorial dedicated to the civilians killed in WWII. The SCCC set up a Memorial Building Fund Committee. This was later enlarged to an all-races committee because of the good response from the local population for the Memorial. With the support of the Government and the contributions that came in, plans began for the construction of the Memorial.
The architectural firm of Swan and Maclaren won the open competition held for the design of the Memorial. In the initial design, there was an underground vault for the cremated remains. However, this was abandoned because the original proposal, which was to cremate the remains, was changed to re-burial. This was done in respect of those who objected on religious grounds to cremating the remains. Subsequently, approval was given to bury the remains by the side of the Memorial. Swan and Maclaren then submitted a new design.
Costing an estimated $500,000, one of the characteristics of the Memorial is its height of 61 metres and its four columns. The columns represent the four races joined together at the base - signifying the unity of all races.
On 23 Apr 66, construction of the Memorial began. The construction work was completed in Jan 67.
Unveiling of the Memorial
On 15 Feb 67, the Memorial was officially unveiled by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who laid a wreath on behalf of the Government and the people of Singapore. Religious rites were conducted by officials of the Inter-Religious Organisation and a three-minute silence was observed in honour of the dead. Those present included the victims’ families, members of the diplomatic corps (including the Japanese Ambassador), religious chiefs and representatives from the four races.
On 15 Feb each year, memorial services (opened to the public) are held at the Memorial - a solemn reminder to all that it is far better to die in battle than to expose unarmed civilians to the sword of an oppressor.
If any important lesson is to be learnt from the experience of civilians who died in WWII, it is that the defence of Singapore lies with Singaporeans alone. Today’s warfare can involve a country’s population, land and resources. An effective defence must therefore involve every aspect of Singapore’s resources. It is only through the active involvement of our people in Total Defence that we can ensure our peace, progress and prosperity.
There is a part for everyone in the defence of Singapore.