15 Feb 1942, 1820hrs: The Fall of Singapore

The day Singapore, then under the command of British colonial forces, was surrendered to the invading imperial Japanese forces in the height of World War 2 in Asia. From that day on, up until the end of the Japanese Occupation 3 years and 8 months later, our little island was renamed Shonan-to – “Southern Island gained in the age of Shōwa”

This date, the 15th of February, has been marked as Total Defence Day in modern and independent Singapore. Every year on this date, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will sound a nation-wide siren over the Public Warning System (PWS) at 1205hrs to commemorate Total Defence Day. The siren is a precursor to a radio broadcast regarding the importance of this date as well as a reminder to all Singapore residents about the different types of sirens that could be heard from the PWS and their purposes.

The 5 pillars of Total Defence

The 5 pillars of Total Defence

Total Defence Day isn’t just about sirens and radio reminders. We have quizzes and mini-events in schools to mark this day only because we need our young to understand how important it is that our country is never left at the mercy of others’ decisions and actions. It was because Singapore wasn’t strong enough on her own in 1942 that she fell to the Japanese, regardless of whether the British had valued our land and our people enough to protect us. This day is a lesson and an encouragement to all Singaporeans – that everyone has a part in defending our country. As stated by the National Education department of the Ministry of Education:

This annual event reminds us that the task of nation-building is not easy, and that we must work to preserve our present prosperity and stability.

This year, Total Defence Day was also commemorated by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with a solemn ceremony at the Civilian War Memorial, coupled with a Weapons Presentation Parade of the 1st Guards Battalion. It was timed to coincide with the believed hour that Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival had signed the documents to mark the surrender of Singapore to its adversaries in 1942 on the same date. Seeing our local young men dressed in their military uniforms and receiving their rifles in front of the memorial tower sent out a strong message about the importance of National Service.

After the soldiers were dismissed from the grounds, I took some time to explore the simple memorial tower. I’d been here as part of a small student contingent before, 12 years ago on this same day, and once in a while I would take the paths that pass through this memorial park to get around from one shopping mall to another. I had never come up so close to the tower and take my time to appreciate the monument. Received quite a few looks, too, being the only female who stuck around after the event to take some photographs of the place.

The memorial tower is a really simple structure; 4 pillars rising up to meet at the top, each pillar representing the 4 main races in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian. The construction was funded by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the same organisation that took upon itself the task of gathering the unidentified remains of civilian war victims that have been found across the country and giving them a proper burial beneath the tower. Due to the design of the tower, it is affectionately referred to by locals as “the giant chopsticks”.

The war may have been a good 47 years before I was born, and I don’t know of anyone in my family who had lost his or her life during the Japanese Occupation, but for the very reason that I call myself a Singaporean, I hold the soul and reason for this monument and this day very close to my heart.

15 February 1942, 1820hrs; Lest we forget.

All photos were taken with Rosa affixed with my third-party Olympus 50mm f1.8 lens, accounting for the error in the EXIF data on visible when you click on the individual photographs. Some photos have been slightly rotated or sharpened because the location and/or ceremony didn’t seem to allow for tripods. Any critiques on the individual photographs, please click on it and leave your comments there. For all other general comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them below. Thank you.


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