An in­ter­preter re­mem­bers years of war and tragedy

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ZHAOXU

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

PHO­TOS BY ZHAO XU / FOR CHINA DAILY

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.

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