Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day in Singapore

Today was our day in Singapore and I'm writing this as we sit in the brand new Marina Bay passenger terminal. This new terminal has been constructed on reclaimed seafront land - reclaimed from the sea by filling in the previous ocean front with tons and tons of sand - first obtained by flattening all the hills on the Island now imported from Indonesia. The area around here, beyond the terminal, is the new growth area of this unbelievably vibrant city. There is a new 'Garden by the Sea' under construction that is going to include acres of gardens, two large conservatories and these odd looking 'tree buildings' that will actually house vertical gardens. This in a city that already has one of the most impressive Botanical and Orchid gardens I've seen

Singapore is an island nation of 5 million people (of whom 3 million are Singaporeans) and despite its commercial and financial strength is suffers from a major shortage of local natural resources - first, population, apparently the birthrate of 1.1 per family makes the island non-sustainable so it is importing skilled immigrants!!! second, water - this despite over 100 inches of rain a year! It has to import water from Malaysia, desalinate the sea and reclaim waste water.

On February 15th 1942, it was the Japanese capture of Singapore's water supplies that actually led to the most catastrophic surrender in the history of the British Army. Our tour today focused on the events around battlefield Singapore which was of particular interest to Merle because her uncle - Lionel Cheerin from London was actually captured here and held as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese.

The story of the Japanese invasion of Malaya - which they wanted for its resources - rubber, tin, oil and labor and Singapore (which they wanted as a port to ship the loot back to Japan) was a sad one. The British Army was ill-prepared, ill-equipped, ill-trained and probably poorly led. General Yamamoto troops defeated the British in SE Asia in just over 70 days.

The final defense of Singapore was led by General Percival from an underground position called the 'Battle Box' and we toured this facility looking at the communications center, the command and control area to manage air defense and the conference room where the leadership of Malaya command made the decision to surrender

We also went to the Kranji war memorial and cemetery which was established by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the war. This is a beautifully maintained area of lawn with thousands of gravestones marking the last resting place of the known and unknown soldiers who died here.

We were astounded to learn that the YMCA in Singapore had been converted into the HQ of the Japanese Secret Police (kempeitei) and they tortured to death huge numbers here

felt it would be good to leave a sign that we had come to visit Merle's uncles' compatriots

There are also walls with lists of the dead by nationality (mostly Indian and Sikh) but also Australian, British, American and Dutch

We also visited the famous Changi Prison Museum - also a very moving experience. The old prison wall still exists only in part at the front of the new Changi prison and drug rehab center.

Before we entered Singapore we were given all the warnings of things you bring into the country that could get you into serious (chewing gum and cigarettes) and even more serious trouble (this is our entry visa)

The museum itself had graphic presentations of the terrible suffering endured by prisoners like Lionel - here in Changi and those moved to Borneo and to work on the Thai-Burma Railroad.

It also showed the unbelievable resourcefulness of the prisoners through what they made, their art, their university, the cultural activities and most interestingly through their retained spirituality - they built a number of places of worship in the prison which were really quite beautifully done - even to the point of murals on the walls

Humbling indeed! Happy Memorial Day to all

1 comment:

  1. What a history lesson. Would love to see the botanical garden..