'Surviving the Japanese Occupation. War and its legacies: An exhibition at former Ford factory', Bukit Timah

In 2006, the Memories at Old Ford Factory museum, opened within the building that originally housed the first Ford assembly plant in the Southeast Asian region. The factory started manufacturing cars in October 1941, however following the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the focus turned to assembling fighter planes for the Royal Air Force. Due to the Japanese Army’s swift takeover of Malaya, most of the planes assembled at the factory were never used to fight the enemy on home soil. Instead, they were flown out of Singapore and used to defend other locations in the Southeast Asia region.

When the Japanese invaded Singapore in February 1942, they seized the Ford Factory and inside, set up their military headquarter. Some days later when the British decided to surrender Singapore, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival and his troops met with the Japanese officials at the Ford Factory and formally surrendered the island to Japan.

For the next three years the Japanese company Nissan used the factory to construct military trucks and vehicles for the war effort. When the British re-took Singapore in 1945, they used the factory as a repair station for their military vehicles until 1947 when Ford once again began assembling motor vehicles onsite. The factory finally closed down in 1980 and over time was partially demolished to make space for housing towers. After much campaigning it was decided that the façade and front of the factory would be kept and converted into a history museum.

Recently renovated in 2017, the newly renamed Syonan Gallery displays a series of exhibitions that describe life in Singapore throughout the occupation. A collection of archival records, photographs, newspaper clippings and maps, many donated by local Singaporeans, illustrate the events that led to the fall of Singapore and the conditions many experienced under Japanese rule. First-hand oral histories of people who lived throughout the occupation are played in the various exhibit rooms and documentaries are screened at the in-house theatre. Of special interest is the ‘Talking Map’ – a mosaic map of the Malay Peninsula, Thailand, Burma and Sumatra that traces the route the Japanese Army took when invading the Malay Peninsula and beyond.

Beyond the main exhibition space, the boardroom where the British surrender took place has been refurbished to resemble the room at the time of the surrender. The chairs within the space are originally from the Ford Factory, while the table has been specifically reconstructed as the original now sits within the Australian War Memorial. Outside the museum, the Syonan Garden grows a number of food items that were commonly grown during the occupation. Visitors can learn about the food shortages that occurred throughout the war and the ways in which locals overcame starvation, including growing hardy foods such as tapioca, sweet potato, banana, pineapple and rice.

Managed by the National Archives of Singapore, the Memories at Old Factory Museum is now also used as a secondary repository for the growing archival collection. With plans to collect further materials related to the occupation, the museum will constantly be updated and enhanced with the addition of new documentation.


  1. http://www.nas.gov.sg/formerfordfactory