World War II Research

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Quick consolidation of personal notes and research into World War II / Battle of Singapore. Please excuse typos and errors, these are only working notes.


Visit to Battlebox

historical significance: underground bunker site of british HQ during last days of war, site where british decided after a 15 min meeting that they would surrender.

narrative: mainly about internment life, displayed using oral history reports, quotes, replicas, domestic objects, colour reproduction of documents.

Visit to Former Ford Factory

historical significance: site of british surrender to japanese

narrative: focused on

Visit to Reflections at Bukit Chandu

historical significance: site of last defence of singapore held by malay regiment. last surviving colonial bungalow on that hill.

narrative: mainly focused on military history and timeline of war, troop movement maps, display of old military equipment and weapons (including some unexplained framed gun in a corner), malay regiment oral history accounts from family, interesting hologram with earnestly acted soldier's personal account of last battle, animation depicting heroism of malay regiment and ltn adnan's strong leadership.

  • one of backers was military heritage MoD?
  • funny notice about not taking pictures too close because copyright.

Visit to National Gallery Supreme Court Wing

historical significance: site of japanese surrender to british

  • ongoing show of rare constitutional documents

Visit to National Museum Singapore - Surviving Syonan

historical significance:

narrative: focused on local civilian life during syonan years. many originals from NAS and NLB.

Visit to Changi Museum

historical significance: memorial site to changi internment camps. 1km from original location. all replica. built by STB 15 years ago. at the end of show there are lists of all internees and other documents which would be useful for family history research. apparently this is still top destination for british/australian visitors going on the WWII trail.

narrative: focused on POW internment life.

  • Changi Tree - area named after exceptionally huge tree in area, probably Sindora Wallichia / Sepetir which grew 50m tall, blown up by british army 1942 to prevent its usage as geographical marker
  • front of museum lined with military crests of companies, poppy flower garlands, Australia India Msia NZ Pakistan SG UK
  • Japanese soldiers were allowed two weeks to do whatever they liked after capture of Singapore, but after which they faced severe restriction for behaviour (impunity during war)
  • 3 star men, 2 star men, blue star for europeans indicating they were supposed to be under curfew, story about eurasian mother out with children to watch movie when a chinese civilian called her out for breaking curfew hours and she and the children were terrified (although it wasn't one of the authorities who caught her) and ran home
  • "Asia is for Asians" propaganda slogan used by japanese
  • POW Diet - Lunch was 50g cooked rice (source: oral history report of Dutch POW Victor Lois Bloen)
    • "Once I was given a puppy to eat, but I couldn't eat it. I was so hungry but still I could not eat it." - Jack "Crackers" Kyros Australian POW
    • rice based prison diet, snails, rates, small animals, coconuts used to be smuggled in with empty coffins after death and burial outside of the camp
    • crushed lalang juice supposed to be makeshift cure for beri beri (vitamin B1/thiamine deficiency)
  • Learning to make soap, wine, tapioca crackers, cakes (no flour), oil for lamps using coconut, condensed milk, shoe polish, frying pans, tyres, welding set bottles ropes paper
  • "Fatigue parties" "dustbin parades"
  • Remembrance ceremony held at Krangi War Cemetery in April and Nov
  • Plan of typical cell in so called "Asiatic style"
  • Secret POW postcards with allied intel info sent using postcards glued together with rice starch (source: prof malcolm H murfett)
    • shortwave radio hidden inside water tank, windup devices in matchbox for morse code
  • Alexandra Hospital Massacre, Sook Ching, Double Tenth Incident, Selarang Incident (no escape paper. "So we signed. What did we sign? we all signed fictitious names. The japs never knew. I signed "winston churchill. Some put down mickey mouse, charlie chaplin" (source: charles Lyon British POW)
  • New resettlement sept 1943 endau 12000 catholic chinese and several hundred eurasian catholics --> new syonan in endau johore (mainly catholic, some christian)
    • Bahau in negri sembilan "fuji-go"
  • "F Force" --> sent to death railway between thailand and burma, end of 1942. 7500 strong.
  • H E Mackenzie Illustrated London News Oct 27. 1942. A Japanese Internment hell in Singapore. Changi Criminal Jail. Diagram. File:Changicriminaljail.png
  • Replica quilt. made by volunteers from asian women welfare assoc.
  • timeline of changi gaol
    • 1937 opening of changi gaol which was supposed to accommodate 600. 24 foot (7.3152 metres) high concrete wall.
    • 1942 begining of civilian internment in changi. 3000 civilians of european descent marched into changi. gaol had +500 ppl in next 2 yers
    • 1944 civilians moved to sime rd camp. pow move to changi gaol, to make way for pow previously at changi barracks + thousands returning from death railway.
    • 1945 by jan the changi gaol housed more than 10000
    • 1945 end of war, reversion to civilian jail
    • 2000 old prison demolished but front gates of the old prison preserved and moved to the new prison - gates declared national monument (72th)
  • Changi Murals
    • Stanley Warren. was in dysentery wing. chaplain recognised his artistic talent asked him to paint murals.
    • the artist himself warren did not regard them as great art, said its effect was only for morale
    • paint used included dark brown decorating paint, crushed billiard chalk blue, battleship grey lorry paint.
    • murals later covered with distemper (chalk-based) so were not noticed till later
    • repainting of st luke chapel in roberts barracks - Warren returned in 1960, july 1982, may 1988 and reworked the murals with SAF boys. passed away 20 feb 1992.
  • list of artists who made work about the war in singapore: william haxworth, harold Young, Ray Parkin, Leo Rawling, gladys tomkins, murray griffin, ronald searle, liu kang, Koeh Sia Yong, angela mary bateman
  • indian troops 60% of allied deaths, often inexperienced wrong region training (north africa) [dd: INA story seemed less prominent in this museum]
  • Operation Jaywick - success in attaching limpet mine to jap shipping, sinking 37000 tons
  • Operation Rimau - failed
  • Other sections in museum: Force 136, Dalforce, Choys, Mamoru Shinozaki, Palembang Nine
  • Coconut Grove - a space in the garage of Selarang Camp - became performing space
    • Harry Smith's You'll never get off the island
    • in Feb 1945, production of music through the years had song "on our return", anticipating an allied victory. this performance offended the jap commander so much he banned all further productions.



Romen Bose - Secrets of the Battlebox

Romen Bose - The End of the War

Romen Bose - Kranji

Legacies of World War II in South and East Asia

Edited by David Koh Wee Hock, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

  • legacy of the war - political and social fallout

Chris Brown - Singapore 1942 Battle Story

Baba Boyhood

  • for academics, historians, the themes usually revolve around the whys of what happened? why did the defenders who outnumbered the invaders 3 to 1 lay down their arms? in contrast other books by brit expats focus on personal stories, oft tinged with bitterness.
  • for wg, born in cuppage rd in 1929 tail end of great depression. moved temp to geylang then settled in joochiat-katong. was in p1 during wwii. ages 8-11.5 during war.
  • wwii - death of many baba men during sook ching meant that marriages between members of the baba community became impractical. this coupled with the emancipation of the nyonya womenfolks, affected the essence of the baba culture and identity.
  • wg went to koon seng rd choon guan english school, his sisters to st hilda's girls sch!!
  • 110 carpmael rd
  • pomegranate holy plant to babas? also ixora
  • great depression of 1929 - wall st crash, loss of jobs
  • lucky child, sarawak pineapple, fermented glutinous rice, mosquito bus, ah lin accident in cuppage rd due to stray cat, spiritual compatibility
  • lorong 30 534-A geylang rd
  • trolley buses rumbling
  • That certain age starring Deanna Durbin at Queens cinema hall
  • pinang coconut banana, jambu chilli, jambu bol, jambu batu, hibiscus, ixora, jasmine, more seeds came from serdang agricultural station
  • streets littered with cow dung due to bullock carts - but face issue not allowed to use the dung / dung also tetanus concern
  • putu bamboo - mispronounced as kutu / tutu now tutu
  • hawkers call out on the streets
  • turning off of lights during night raids air raid drills
  • singapore's blackout area not so black - singapore free press sat feb 194?
  • name tags for children in case they were separated
  • ARP - air raid precaution wardens from neighbourhoods - wg's father was one
  • nelson eddy the forces of good (children shouting to make it sound like it was from him)
  • rumour of boobytrap toys placed by fifth column on beach - blinded a child
  • besides air raid and bomb threat, the other threat was propaganda, surveillance
  • boudoir biscuit - bodoh
  • father worked for jap company kawahara, therefore under surveillance, was detained
  • never take things at face value - reccalling how japanese nationals took notes at the seaside
  • spy nishimura who swallowed poison
  • from mid 1930s on wards there were japanese reported arrrested and charged for spying
  • was open secret that japanese hakwers plyed their trade far and wide in sparsely populated areas selling jap dumplings which would be a poor attempt at living but their routes took them around the vicinity of brit naval military airforce installations in remote areas
  • mamoru shinozaki
  • cathay tallest building had new flag
  • CHINESE NEW YEAR EVE - people driven out of homes
  • families taking residence in other friends (arab businessman's home, children with down syndrome apparently not uncommon in baba) mr allapitchay
  • from 18 feb 1942 all chinese supposed to leave home with 1 week of ration and go to one of give centres at ord road, arab st, jalan besar, tiong bahru, and telok kurau.
  • sook ching - purge through cleansing - 50000 chinese executed at changi tanaham era, telok mata ikam, singapore docks, ponggol, amber rd.
  • no word for rape in baba - "japanese about to disturb" - women smeared with soot to look terrible
  • japanese education
  • tapioca cultivation
  • SUDAH HABIS (finish already)
  • Singapore fifth gen baba

Review of Literature

"Their war experiences prompted a consideration of what, if any, responsibilities the nation state bore towards its citizens who chose to live beyond its borders, and then unwittingly suffered owing to their nationality when confronted by the nation's military enemy. The case of civilian internees became not so much a question of citizenship ‘rights' as it did a matter of charity – and accordingly, it invoked familiar issues of discretion, judgement and contingency. (...) What were the consequences for former civilian internees like Frank and Mary Merritt of returning to a society in which the citizen-soldier was the dominant figure in constructions of sacrifice in wartime? This dominance did not merely occur in cultural or commemorative forms. The extensive benefits available to returned servicemen and women has led Stephen Garton to suggest that a ‘welfare apartheid' developed in 20th century Australia, one which distinguished and privileged those who had served over those who had not."... "the central place that war service held in perceptions of wartime sacrifice." "Collective memories are not simply forged through top-down direction and organisation of remembrance campaigns. They tend to coalesce around the intersection of public pomp and communities of remembrance. Civilian internees have not fared well in either of these arenas, and they remain relatively invisible in Australian collective memories of World War II"

Historical Timeline


Keep Mum posters from IWM (replicated within the Battlebox)

    • - Mmmmmm. Mummeries. Mummer. The term was also borrowed by members of the acting community, who started to put on “mummeries,” or silent plays, at around the same time. In a mummery, people would wear masks to conceal their identities, and portray a scene which was often laden with political and social commentary.
    • - image: a three-quarter length depiction of an attractive woman, reclining on a chair and looking directly out of the poster. She is surrounded by three entranced officers, representing the Army, Navy and RAF. text: Keep mum she's not so dumb! CARELESS TALK COSTS LIVES Printed for H.M. Stationery Office by Greycaine Ltd., Watford and London.

Reading up on Ruins in Southeast Asia

  • ruins, battle ruins, fragments of british
  • ruins tracing the course of empire? the mute and mutable participants in great dramas spanning times and powers. witness to the fall. humbling and prophetic prompts to speculation.
  • discovery - its hard to accept the term with credits it with an interest or importance dating only from sighting by europeans and completely ignores local knowledge and practices.
  • ruins - deterioraition in aesthetic ability or expression? passing of a high point of artistic and creative history? + wider social and cultural deterioation that accompanied passing of empire?
  • tropical jungle - in tune with tastes for gothic horror? predatory and dangerous? capricious cruelty? merciless vegetal foe?
  • notions of climatic determinism??