The Cenotaph, located at Esplanade Park along Connaught Drive, is the only war memorial in Singapore that commemorates the sacrifice of individuals who died in the two world wars.1 It was first unveiled on 31 March 1922 by the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor and King Edward VIII).2 The war memorial was gazetted as a national monument on 28 December 2010, together with two other structures at Esplanade Park – the Lim Bo Seng Memorial and Tan Kim Seng Fountain.3

The Cenotaph was first erected as a memorial in honour of the 124 men from Singapore who died in action during World War I.4 It was designed by architect Denis Santry of Swan & Maclaren, and modelled after the Whitehall Cenotaph in London, England.5

The foundation stone was laid on 15 November 1920 by Sir Laurence Nunns Guillemard, then governor of the Straits Settlements, in the presence of M. Georges Clemenceau, then premier of France, and Major-General Sir D. H. Ridout, the general officer commanding the troops of the Straits Settlements.6 The memorial was unveiled on 31 March 1922 in a ceremony by the Prince of Wales during his tour of Malaya, India, Australia and New Zealand.7 Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was part of his entourage as aide-de-camp, would return to Singapore after the end of World War II as Supreme Commander of Southeast Asia to accept the Japanese surrender.8

From 1922 to 1941, annual religious ceremonies and military processions were held at the Cenotaph as part of memorial services to remember the fallen soldiers of both world wars. Armistice Day on 11 November was commemorated for World War I soldiers until 1941, before the Japanese Occupation, when the memorial services ceased.9

Memorial services resumed after 1945, and the fallen soldiers of World War II are remembered as well.10 Since 1946, this commemoration has been known as Remembrance Day.11

In 1950, the government approved an extension to the base of the structure to commemorate those who died during World War II.12 The extension was completed in 1951.13

In 1963, the Remembrance Day service was held simultaneously at the Cenotaph and Kranji war graves cemetery (Kranji War Memorial today).14 In Singapore, Remembrance Day continues to be commemorated at the Kranji War Memorial.

The ANZAC Day has also been commemorated at the Cenotaph.15

The Cenotaph is made of local granite and nearly 18 m high. Bronze tablets on the memorial bear the names of the individuals who perished in World War I. Each of the original five steps leading up to the monument bears the war years, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918. Crowning the structure is a sarcophagus with bronze lion’s head handles. Below it is a bronze medallion consisting of a laurel wreath of victory enclosing a crown, to which the soldiers had rallied. The crown is also a symbol of the crown colony. Lower down is the inscription “The Glorious Dead”, and below the inscription are the years 1914 to 1918.16

On the reverse side, though no names are listed to commemorate the World War II casualties, the phrase “They died that we might live” is inscribed in the four official languages: English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. The extended steps added in 1951 bear the war years 1939 to 1943 in succession, leaving the remaining years of the war, 1944 and 1945, to be inscribed on the base of the monument.17

There are 14 pylons on both sides of the stone structure showing the names of famous World War I battles, with each battle surmounted by a laurel wreath.18

The Cenotaph is a simple, stately structure, wrought with just a hammer and chisel.19

Zubaidah Mohamed and Valerie Chew

1. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, 2010), 38 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 374 (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Yen Feng, “S’pore Conference Hall a National Monument,” Straits Times, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “At the War Memorial,” Malaya Tribune, 31 March 1922, 6; “The War Memorial,” Malaya Tribune, 1 April 1922, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 38; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 374.
3. The Preservation of Monuments Order 2010, S 798/2010, Government gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 28 December 2010, 3651–53 (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS); Yen, S’pore Conference Hall a National Monument.” 
4. “Our Glorious Dead,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 April 1922, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 374.
5. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 38; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 374.
6. “Singapore War Memorial,” Straits Times, 16 November 1920, 9 (From NewspaperSG); Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 38; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 374.
7. “At the War Memorial”; “The War Memorial”; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 38; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 374.
8. “With the Royal Party,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 30 March 1922, 203 (From NewspaperSG); Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 38.
9. “E.S.A.M. Armistice Day Arrangements,” Morning Tribune, 4 November 1941, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Singapore Pays Homage to Empire’s War Dead,” Malaya Tribune, 12 November 1945, 3; “Armistice Day Ceremonies,” Sunday Tribune, 11 November 1945, 3; “Armistice Day Services Held in Singapore,” Straits Times, 11 November 1945, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Remembrance Day,” Straits Times, 28 October 1946, 3.; “‘Double Eleventh’ celebration Arrangements in Singapore,” Indian Daily Mail, 8 November 1946, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Zhaki Abdullah, “Remembrance Day Marked in Singapore,” Straits Times, 12 November 2018, B2; “Remembering War Heroes,” Straits Times, 11 November 2019, B6. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
12. “Cenotaph Plan Approved,” Straits Times, 21 July 1950, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Work Completed on Cenotaph,” Straits Times, 29 April 1951, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
14.Remembrance Day Parades to Honour the War Dead,” Straits Times, 11 November 1963, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Cenotaph Tribute,” Singapore Free Press, 25 April 1951, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Singapore’s War Memorial to the Glorious Dead,” Straits Times, 11 November 1920, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
17. S. Ramachandra, “Lest We Forget...,” Straits Times, 8 November 1953, 6; “Singapore Monuments,” Straits Times, 28 February 1988, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “The War Memorial,” Straits Times, 18 March 1922, 8; Arrival of the Prince,” 31 March 1922, Straits Times, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Arrival of the Prince.”

Further resources
Armistice Memorial,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 14 November 1923, 14. (From NewspaperSG)

In Remembrance of the Glorious Dead,” Malayan Saturday Post, 15 November 1930, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

How Armistice Day Was Celebrated,” Singapore Daily News, 12 November 1932, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

A Colonel’s Wife Lays Special Wreath,” Straits Times, 11 November 1957, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Malaysia Honours Its War Dead,” Straits Times, 15 November 1965, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Cenotaph Ceremony,” Straits Times, 12 November 1966, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at May 2021 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.

War memorials--Singapore
National monuments