An interpreter remembers years of war and tragedy
Although it was occupied by the invading Japanese for more than three years between 1942 and 1945, these days, there’s notmuchin Singapore that would automatically reminda casual visitor of that history.
One exception is the towering Civilian War Memorial Monument, located on park land along Beach Road, right in the Downtown Core of Singapore’s Central Region.
“Singapore fell on February 15, 1942, the first day of the lunar ChineseNewYear,” says H.H. Lee, a second-generation Chinese immigrant who became a government interpreter, accompanying the late Singapore PrimeMinister Lee Kuan Yew during the latter’s state visits and talks with various Chinese leaders.
“But of all the ethnic groups, the Japanese invaders massacred the Chinese most brutally and on the largest scale,” says Lee.
“This was partly due to the fact thatChinaandJapan were already at war, and partly because the Chinese in Singapore, then a British colony, were actively supporting their fellow countrymen’s fight against fascist Japan in China, mainly through providing financial assistance.”
According to Lee, 50,000 Chinese civilians died during the Japanese occupation, a large number of whom were killed within the first two weeks of the island’s fall, when Chinese men between the ages of 18 and 50 were driven to a beach and shot dead.
“Their remains later washed up on the shore,” says Lee, who is in his sixties.
The interpreter, whose job gave him comprehensive knowledge of the history of Singapore, also recounts a story about the Battle of Singapore, whichtook placebetween January 31 and February 15, 1942.
“As Singapore is an island, the British, who governed the entire Malay Peninsula including Singapore at the time, assumed that the Japanese attack would be from the sea at the south of the island, and was confident that the RoyalNavy would have no problem in dealing with it.
“However, the Japanese, who started with massive bombing from the air, then launched a surprise attack by land, using bicycles from theMalayan side on the north of island.
“They reached the Causeway bordering Singapore and the southern Malayan state of Johore where there were giant water pipes through which fresh water was supplied to Singapore which, at that time, was almost entirely dependent on this water for survival.
“What the Japanese did was basically stand on top of the pipes and shout: Surrender or we’ll have all the water pipes blown up!”
The result was a surrender without a fight.
Although local civilian forces did put up some resistance, the fighting was effectively over by February 15, 1942.
And, a dark chapter in the contemporary history of Singapore began.
At the completion of the Civilian WarMemorial in 1976, 600 jars were placed inside its base, each filled with the ashes of a victim.
“The sufferings are not to be forgotten,” says Lee.
Of all the ethnic groups, the Japanese invaders massacred the Chinese most brutally and on the largest scale.” H.H. Lee, a second-generation Chinese immigrant who became a government interpreter for Singapore
From left: H.H. Lee, a second-generation immigrant to Singapore who became an interpreter for the late Singapore Primate Minister Lee Kuan Yew; the Civilian War Memorial Monument in Singapore.