If you’ve enjoyed our other World War II stories, now you can head out and discover Singapore’s war history and the remains of the Japanese occupation for yourself. From remnants of shells and bunkers, to some good museums and tours, here’s a good place to start…
Among the best known of Singapore’s military sites, the Battlebox in Fort Canning Park has recently reopened, offering a new experience for visitors. The site is home to an authentic secret WWII Command Centre built nine metres underground in the 1930s; there’s a labyrinth of rooms and corridors to explore, along with wartime artefacts to check out.
The most important area is what’s referred to as the “Surrender Conference Room” (pictured). It was here that Lieutenant-General AE Percival met with his generals on the morning of 15 February 1942 to decide whether or not to surrender to the invading Japanese army.
Info: Though guided tours are suspended, the Battle Box has introduced “free-and-easy admission”, so you can explore the underground bunker on your own. Tickets are $15 ($8 for ages 7 to 12; free for 6 and under) from the Battlebox Visitor Centre. Opening hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 10.30am to 4.30pm.
Address: 2 Cox Terrace, Fort Canning Park
Former Ford Factory
When the Ford Motor Company opened its state-of-the-art new factory on Upper Bukit Timah Road in October 1941, few could have envisaged what it would witness over the following months. First, the Art Decostyle factory was taken over by the RAF for the construction of fighter planes. Then, in February 1942, the building was seized by Japanese troops and converted to a temporary HQ for Commander Yamashita. Only two days later, Lieutenant-General Percival surrendered unconditionally in the factory’s boardroom.
Today, it houses a permanent exhibition, with a range of perspectives on the fall of Singapore. And, yes, you can walk into the boardroom where the surrender took place! Info: Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5.30pm. Free for Singapore citizens and PRs; $3 for foreign visitors.
Address: 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road
Sentosa’s Fort Siloso takes its name from the Spanish/Tagalog word for “jealous” (or perhaps from a Malay word for “rock”). Together with Labrador Park, it’s associated with the story of the British guns being “pointed the wrong way”. This is mostly an urban myth. Yes, Singapore’s coastal guns aimed out to sea, yet several could be turned in any direction; the problem was they weren’t accurate enough to use effectively against ground troops. Today, Fort Siloso is Singapore’s only preserved coastal fort, and a great place to see military structures, tunnels, memorabilia and more. The Surrender Chambers is an interactive documentary featuring wax figures of Japanese and British soldiers.
Info: Open 9am to 6pm. Tours and programmes are unavailable until further notice.
Address: Siloso Point, Siloso Road
Kranji War Memorial
Over 4,000 gravestones can be found at this hillside cemetery, which honours those from the Commonwealth who died in the line of duty. Hours: 8.30am to 6pm daily. A few kilometres north is the location of the Japanese beach landing and subsequent battle.
9 Woodlands Road
Sook Ching Memorial
The Sook Ching military operation of 1942 aimed at eliminating anti-Japanese elements from Singapore’s Chinese community; executions were carried out at Punggol Point, Changi Beach and elsewhere. A memorial stands at the Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown.
531 Upper Cross Street
Changi Chapel & Museum
Thousands were interned at the infamous Changi Prison during WWII, and a museum opened in 2001 to mark this dark period. Next door is a reconstruction of a chapel built by Allied PoWs. Both are closed for redevelopment. 1000 Upper Changi Road North
The Sime Road area is a former WWII camp, originally used by British troops, but taken over by the Japanese to house PoWs. The road itself is private, though you can access it to visit a heritage-listed concrete pillbox, where armed soldiers would have been stationed. Sime Road / Adam Road
Reflections At Bukit Chandu
This WWII interpretative centre is close to the site of the Battle of Pasir Panjang, fought between the Malay Regiment and the Japanese. It’s closed for development until 2021.
31-K Pepys Road
An excellent way to see the sites mentioned here, and others, is through Jane’s Tours, which offers various itineraries with an emphasis on Singapore’s WWII history.
• Two-hour walking tour: This walk focuses on the area around Chinatown and the Civic District, especially the Padang, which was so central to the pre-Invasion war effort and the early days of the Occupation. It also visits the City Chamber (pictured) where the surrender to Lord Mountbatten and the other Allies took place on 12 September.
• Half-day tour with transport: This tour goes further afield to places such as the Former Ford Factory, the sites of the Sime Road and Adam Park PoW camps, Fort Siloso and the Fort Canning area, in addition to the Civic District.
Jane Iyer of Jane’s Tours says…
“So often we associate the ‘surrender of Singapore’ with the ignominious surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. However, the surrender by the Japanese on 12 September 1945 is an equally important date in the story of WWII in Singapore. This year, we’re commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of that war, so it’s a good time to learn how it all came about and reflect on the implications for our country.”