Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Singapore Surrendered ...

About a month ago I visited the Old Ford Factory on Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore. It's quite strange that even though I stay a mere ten minutes away from this historic site for some years, I've never explored this place until this visit.

The original building, built in 1941, was the first Ford vehicle assembly plant in South-East Asia.It was strategically located near to the Malayan Railway, which allowed goods to be transported to and from the docks at Tanjong pagar. Being on Bukit Timah Road also afforded an alternative transportation route. During the earlier part of the war, the factory equipment was also used to assemble fighter planes.

But historically the most significant event to have happened at the Old Ford Factory was the formal surrender of the British forces to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. On this fateful day, the British forces led by Lt General Arthur Percival walked up the slope to the Old Ford Factory and surrendered to the Japanese forces led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

The Old Ford Factory, gazetted as a national monument, is now an exhibition centre known as "Memories at Old Ford Factory". It is dedicated to the surrender itself as well as recalls the hard times of the Japanese occupation years (1942-1945). There were many exhibits and pictures related the fall of Singapore, including even the boardroom in which the surrender took place. Visitors can see even the table & chairs used - some are replicas, but some are the original pieces.

The fall of Singapore to the Japanese Army is considered one of the greatest defeats in the history of the British Army and probably Britain’s worst defeat in World War II. About 80,000 Indian, Australian and British troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan campaign The Japanese gave Singapore a new name "Syonan-to" which meant "the Light of the South", which is quite ironic as the people in Singapore spent the darkest days of their lives during the three-and-half year long Japanese Occupation.

Here in Asia, we are fortunate to live in a region of relative peace and prosperity (notwithstanding the few potential hotspots of tension like Afghanistan or the Korean border, and the current global economic recession), so it is even more important to have places and exhibitions like "Memories of Old Ford Factory" serve as stark reminders of the horrors of war and occupation. In essence it embodies a strong caution of what could happen if tolerance, diplomacy and negotiation were to be disregarded.

In the garden by the Factory, a rock has been carved with an ancient Chinese poem titled "Taking History as a Lesson" by Emperor Tang Taizong:

"With a bronze mirror, one can see whether he is properly attired

With history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a nation

With man as a mirror, one can see whether he is right or wrong"

More information on the Old Ford Factory and related exhibits can be found at its website.