Bukit Batok Memorial
The Bukit Batok Memorial, which consisted of the Syonan Chureito and the British Memorial Cross, was built during the Japanese Occupation to honour the dead soldiers of the Japanese and British forces. Located at the Bukit Batok Hilltop (present Bukit Batok Nature Reserve) in Lorong Sesuai, off Bukit Timah Road, the memorials were destroyed and removed after war. Today, all that remains from the memorial site is a flight of steps leading to where the monuments used to be.
The Syonan Chureito
After the Japanese took over Singapore, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese forces, Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita, ordered the construction of a memorial for the Japanese soldiers who died in battle. Plans for the memorial commenced as early as April 1942. A site on the Bukit Batok Hilltop was chosen because it overlooked the Bukit Timah area, where some of the fiercest fighting between the Japanese Imperial Army and the British forces took place. It was also near the Ford Motor Factory where the British had surrendered to the Japanese.
The British Memorial Cross
When a memorial for the dead Japanese soldiers was decided, the Allied POWs sought permission from the Japanese to search for the remains of their compatriots too. This request was conveyed to Lieutenant Toshiyuki Nekemoto, a liaison officer with the POW workforce, who then raised the matter to his superior Major Tamura. In keeping with Japanese tradition, Major Tamura suggested that a memorial be built for the dead soldiers of the opposing forces. General Takuro Matsui, the commander of the 5th division of the battle of Singapore, was initially resistant to the idea. He finally relented when he realised that the publicity gave them an opportunity to show the Japanese's magnanimity.
Purpose of the Memorials
The Syonan Times reported on 8 May 1942 that "the purpose of erecting these [memorials was] to perpetuate the memory of the Nippon heroes who laid down their lives at the battle fronts of Malaya and Sumatra; also to enable the Nippon-zin and the newly attached nationals of different races in the southern Co-Prosperity Sphere to respect the ideal of the founding of the Dai-Nippon Empire."
Construction of the Memorials
The foundation stone of the Syonan Chureito was laid by Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita on 7 May 1942. Thereafter, five hundred Australian POWs from the Royal Australian Artillery and the Anti-Tank Units, who were encamped at Sime Road and Adam Park, were put to work with the Japanese Engineering Company. The Syonan Chureito was a 12.2 m wooden pylon crowned with a brass cone that sat on two tiers of earth and cement. Immediately behind the memorial was a small shed-like shrine that contained the ashes of the dead Japanese soldiers. A wooden fence surrounded the memorial. Further behind the Syonan Chureito stood the memorial to the dead Allied soldiers. The memorial consisted of a 3 m high wooden cross and the ashes of the British and Australians soldiers were buried beneath the cross.
The Unveiling Ceremony
The Syonan Chureito (also called the Syonan Memorial to the Spirits of the Loyal Soldiers who died in the Battle for Singapore) was unveiled at 11:00 am on 10 September 1942. The unveiling was followed with a religious ceremony carried out according to Shinto rites. Representatives of the four main communities, Dr Lim Boon Keng representing the Chinese, S.C. Goho for the Indians, Ibrahim bin Haji Yaacob for the Malays and Dr C. J. Paglar for the Eurasians, were in attendance. The Memorial Cross was unveiled on 11 September 1942. Lieutenant-Colonel C. A. McEachern from the Australian army gave an address expressing the POWs' appreciation to the Japanese for the opportunity to pay homage to their fallen comrades.
A Propaganda Tool
During the Japanese Interregnum, frequent ceremonies were held in honour of the Japanese dead soldiers at the Syonan Chureito. These usually took place on anniversaries such as the battle for Singapore. Students were coerced to participate in marches to the Syonan Chureito and, together with the community leaders, partook in ceremonies which commemorated the Japanese war dead. This forced show of obedience and allegiance to the Japanese were reported in the press and recorded on film by the local Military Propaganda Unit and the Japanese Newsreel Company which was under the Ministry of Greater East Asia Affairs. The films were then broadcasted to the Japanese back home to ensure their continued support for the war efforts in Asia.
Destruction of the Memorials
After the war, the Japanese destroyed the Syonan Chureito for fear of desecration by enemy forces. The ashes of the Japanese soldiers were transferred to the Japanese Cemetery Park at Chuan Hoe Avenue. The British Memorial Cross was left untouched but was later removed under unknown circumstances. Today, all that remains from the memorial site is a flight of steps leading where the monuments used to be. A television transmission tower occupies the site where the memorials used to stand.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia
Blackburn, K. & Lim, E. (1999). The Japanese war memorials of Singapore: monuments of commemoration and symbols of Japanese imperial ideology. South East Asia Research, 7(3), 321-340.
(Call no.: RSING 959.005 SEAR)
Bose, R. (2006). Kranji: The Commonwealth war cemetery and the politics of the dead (pp. 47-60). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 940.54655957 BOS)
Koh, T. (Ed.) (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia (p. 531). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN -[HIS])
Lee, G. B. (2005). The Syonan years: Singapore under Japanese rule 1942-1945 (pp. 132-133). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram.
(Call no.: RSING 940.53957 LEE)
Memorial erected to fallen enemy soliders: Spirit of Busido reflected in our army's gesture. [Microfilm: NL 255]. (1942, September 12). Syonan Times, p.4.
Memorial on heights of Bukit Timah to be unveiled today. [Microfilm: NL 255]. (1942, September 10). Syonan Times, p.4.
Pugalenthi, S. (1999). Singapore landmarks: Monuments, memorials, statues & historic sites (pp. 198-200). Singapore: VJ Times International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 PUG -[HIS])
Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore's heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 302-303). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
Shrine & pagoda for Syonan: Our commander lays foundation stone. [Microfilm: NL 255]. (1942, May 8). Syonan Times, p.6.
Shrine to our war heroes in Syonan-to: Commemoration of battle for Singapore. [Microfilm: NL 255]. (1942, April 15). Syonan Times, p.4.
Syonan en fete on first anniversary of war: Youths march to Chureito. [Microfilm: NL 256]. (1942, December 9). Syonan Shimbun, p.2.
Syonan Memorial to our fallen heroes unveiled. [Microfilm: NL 255]. (1942, September 11). Syonan Times, p.1.
Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapore's 100 historic places (p. 126). Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
Yap, S. Y., et al. (2004). Fortress Singapore: The battlefield guide (pp. 50-53). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5703 FOR)
The information in this article is valid as at 2006 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Events>>Historical Periods>>World War II and Japanese Occupation (1939 - 1945)
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945