Civilian War Memorial, War Memorial Park

Located on Beach Road within the central business district of Singapore is the Civilian War Memorial. Standing at almost 70-metres high the memorial was unveiled in 1967, 25 years after the fall of Singapore, to honour the Singaporean civilians who died during the war.

When the Japanese Army invaded Singapore in February 1942, they quickly went about occupying the city and rounding up individuals they thought were a threat to their security. Included in this group were local ethnic Chinese men aged between 18 and 50. As part of ‘Operation Sook Ching’, they were taken prisoner and shortly after the occupation killed on mass in the surrounding countryside. Whilst the Japanese reported the final death toll as 6,000, later official estimates have stated that up to 50,000 Singaporean civilians were killed during the three-year occupation.

During the 1960s, large mass graves containing the bodies of those murdered began to be uncovered in the Siglap area and other nearby towns. At threat of further disruption, it was decided the victims should be given an official burial and a place to be remembered. Together in 1962, the Government of Singapore and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce selected land for the memorial and commenced work on the structure.

Partially funded by the atonement money Japan gave to Singapore, the memorial consists of a burial chamber containing the ashes of those found in the mass graves and above, four tapering columns surrounded by a reflection pool. Designed by well-known Singaporean architect Leong Swee Lim, the four columns were chosen to symbolise the four main ethnic groups of Singapore (Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian) who shared the same war experiences and are now united as one. Inscribed on the base on the memorial in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, are the words ‘Memorial to the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945’.

Each year on the 15th of February, the day the British surrendered to the Japanese, large groups meet at the Civilian War Memorial to remember the locals who died and how the country as a whole suffered. Known as ‘Total Defence Day’, the ceremony is always initiated with the ‘all clear’ signal from the Singapore Civil Defence Force – now a symbolic gesture to let the public know that danger is over and life can return to normal.

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