Bukit Batok war memorials

The Bukit Batok war memorials consisted of the Syonan Chureito and the British Memorial Cross, built during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) to honour dead soldiers of the Japanese and British forces.1 Both memorials no longer exist today, but they were once at Bukit Batok Hilltop (present-day Bukit Batok Nature Park) in Lorong Sesuai, off Bukit Timah Road.2 All that remains at the memorial site is a flight of steps leading to where the monuments once stood.3

Syonan Chureito
After the Japanese conquered Singapore, commander-in-chief of the Japanese forces Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita ordered the construction of a memorial, known as Syonan Chureito, for the Japanese soldiers who had died in battle.4 A site at Bukit Batok Hilltop was chosen – overlooking the Bukit Timah area, where some of the fiercest battles between the Japanese Imperial Army and the British forces took place.5 The site was also near Ford Motor Factory, where the British had surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942.6 The Japanese also built a religious shrine, Syonan Jinja at MacRitchie Reservoir.7

British Memorial Cross
When a memorial for the dead Japanese soldiers was decided, Allied prisoners-of-war (POWs) sought permission from the Japanese to search for the remains of their compatriots. This request was conveyed to Lieutenant Toshiyuki Nekemoto, a liaison officer with the POW workforce, who raised the matter to his superior, Major Tamura. In keeping with Japanese tradition, Tamura proposed that a memorial be built for the dead soldiers of the opposing forces. General Takuro Matsui, commander of the fifth division of the Battle of Singapore, was initially resistant to the idea, but he eventually relented when he realised that the publicity would give the Japanese an opportunity to show their magnanimity.8

Construction of the memorials
The foundation stone of the Syonan Chureito was laid by Yamashita on 7 May 1942 at 4 pm.9 Thereafter, 500 Australian POWs from the Royal Australian Artillery encamped at Sime Road and Adam Park were put to work with the Japanese engineering company responsible for the project.10

Surrounded by a wooden fence, the Syonan Chureito was a 12.2-metre wooden pylon crowned with a brass cone that sat on two tiers of earth and cement. Immediately behind the monument was a small shed-like shrine that contained the ashes of dead Japanese soldiers. Further back stood a three-metre-high wooden cross, which commemorated dead Allied soldiers.11

Unveiling ceremonies
The Syonan Chureito was unveiled at 11 am on 10 September 1942, followed by a religious ceremony carried out according to Shinto rites.12 Representatives from the four main ethnic communities – Lim Boon Keng for the Chinese, S. C. Goho for the Indians, Ibrahim bin Haji Yaacob for the Malays and C. J. Paglar for the Eurasians – were in attendance.13

The British Memorial Cross was unveiled the following day. Lieutenant-Colonel C. A. McEachern of the Australian army gave an address, expressing appreciation to the Japanese for the opportunity to pay homage to their fallen comrades.14

Propaganda tool
During the Japanese Occupation, frequent ceremonies were held at the Syonan Chureito to honour dead Japanese soldiers. These ceremonies usually took place on the anniversaries of events such as the Battle of Singapore and the Yasukuni Jinja Shuki Rinji Taisai (Extraordinary Autumnal Festival of Yasukuni Shrine).15

Youths from each community were required to participate in marches to the Syonan Chureito and attend ceremonies that commemorated the Japanese war dead.16 They were filmed by the local Military Propaganda Unit and the Japanese Newsreel Company. The films were then broadcast to the Japanese back home to ensure their continued support of the war efforts in Asia.17

Destruction of the memorials
In 1945, the Japanese destroyed the Syonan Chureito for fear of its desecration by returning Allied forces. The ashes of more than 10,000 Japanese soldiers were transferred to the Japanese Cemetery Park at Chuan Hoe Avenue.18 The British Memorial Cross was left untouched but was later removed under unknown circumstances.19 Today, all that remains at the memorial site is a flight of steps leading to the former monuments. A television transmission tower currently occupies the site.20

In 1995, a memorial plaque was placed at the site by the National Heritage Board to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.21

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. “Shrine & Pagoda for Syonan,” Syonan Times, 8 May 1942, 6; “Memorial Erected to Fallen Enemy Soldiers,” Syonan Times, 12 September 1942, 4; “Shinto Shrine on Singapore Island,” Straits Times, 17 October 1946, 6; “Memorial Plaque Ensures War Lessons Are Remembered,” Straits Times, 10 July 1996, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Kevin Blackburn and Edmund Lim, “The Japanese War Memorials of Singapore: Monuments of Commemoration and Symbols of Japanese Imperial Ideology,” South East Asia Research 7, no. 3 (November 1999): 327–28. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
2. Yap Siang Yong, et al., Fortress Singapore: The Battlefield Guide, 4th ed. Singapore: Times Editions, 2004), 53 (Call no. RSING 959.5703 FOR-[HIS]); Pugalenthi, Sr., Singapore Landmarks: Monuments, Memorials, Statues & Historic Sites (Singapore: VJ Times International, 1999), 200 (Call no. RSING 959.57 PUG-[HIS]); Romen Bose, Kranji: The Commonwealth War Cemetery and the Politics of the Dead (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2006), 50. (Call no. RSING 940.54655957 BOS-[WAR])
3. Yap, et al., Fortress Singapore, 53; Pugalenthi, Singapore Landmarks, 200.
4. Pugalenthi, Singapore Landmarks, 198.
5. “Shrine & Pagoda for Syonan.”
6. “Shinto Shrine on Singapore Island.”
7. “Shrine & Pagoda for Syonan.”
8. Blackburn and Lim, "Japanese War Memorials,” 327–28.
9. “Shrine & Pagoda for Syonan.”
10. Pugalenthi, Singapore Landmarks, 198; Yap, et al., Fortress Singapore, 50; “Singapore Japanese Invasion Memorials,” Roll-of-Honour, 2002–2021.  
11. “Memorial Plaque Ensures War Lessons Are Remembered”; “Syonan Memorial to Our Fallen Heroes Unveiled,” Syonan Times, 11 September 1942, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Memorial Erected to Fallen Enemy Soldiers.”
12. “Syonan Memorial to Our Fallen Heroes Unveiled.”
13. “Syonan Memorial to Our Fallen Heroes Unveiled.”
14. “Memorial Erected to Fallen Enemy Soldiers.”
15. “War dead Enshrined at Syonan Chureito,” Syonan Times, 15 July 1844, 1; “Reverent Homage Paid to War Dead at Syonan Chureito, Jinja,” Syonan Times, 16 February 1945, 2; Glorious War Dead Enshrined at Syonan Chureito Last Night,” Syonan Times, 15 October 1943, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Pitt Kuan Wah and Leong Wee Kee, eds., Syonan Years 1942–1945: Living beneath the Rising Sun (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2009), 128. (Call no. RSING 940.53074595957 TAN-[WAR])
16. “Syonan Planning to Celebrate War Anniversary in Fitting Manner,” Syonan Times, 29 November 1942, 4; “Syonan En Fete on First Anniversary of War,” Syonan Times, 9 December 1942, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Blackburn and Lim, "Japanese War Memorials,” 328.
18. Blackburn and Lim, "Japanese War Memorials,” 335; Kevin Y. L. Tan, ed., Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011), 190–92. (Call no. RSING 363.75095957 SPA); Yap, et al., Fortress Singapore, 111.
19. Bose, Kranji, 50.
20. Yap, et al., Fortress Singapore, 52.
21. “Memorial Plaque Ensures War Lessons Are Remembered”; “Marking of WWII Sites to Serve as Reminder,” Straits Times, 9 June 1995, 29. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, 1991), 302–3. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])

G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore’s 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board, 2002), 126. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])

Hamzah Muzaini & Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Contested Memoryscapes: The Politics of Second World War Commemoration in Singapore (London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2016). (Call no. RSING 940.546095957 MUZ-[WAR])

Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore Under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram, 2005), 132–33. (Call no. RSING 940.53957 LEE-[WAR])

Memorial on Heights of Bukit Timah to Be Unveiled To-Day,” Syonan Times, 10 September 1942, 4. (From NewspaperSG)

Sacred Remains of Friend & Foe,” Syonan Shimbun, 13 September 1942, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

War Memorial to Be Built on Bukit Timah Hill,” Syonan Shimbun, 11 July 1942, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at November 2020 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
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
1942-1945 Japanese occupation