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Sep 15, 2014

Sentosa: A Journey Through History

Sir Harold Wilson (second from right) viewing the exhibits at the Sentosa Wax Museum during his visit to Sentosa island on 11 January, 1978.  His first visit to Sentosa during a five-day programme-filled visit to Singapore as personal guests of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The British Surrender Chamber and the Japanese Surrender Chamber were located at the double-storey former British Army barracks at Carlton Hill, near the Sentosa cable car  terminal.

The Surrender Chamber's $400,000 waxworks and photo display of the Japanese rule of Singapore in the second World War attracts many tourists, including the Japanese.

The Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) added a new feature to its present Surrender Chamber to provide visitors a  better perspective of the historical events that took place during the Japan's Malayan Campaign.

The SDC embarked on a project to re-enact another equally historic moment for Singapore - surrender of the British forces to the invading Japanese Army on Feb 12, 1942.  A display of wax figures similar to those depicting the Japanese surrender at the chamber.

The walk-in concept to give visitors a better and closer view of the wax figures and also enable them to take pictures.  (Source:  Business Times, Mar 22, 1980).

In the above photo, Sir Harold Wilson was standing beside the wax figure of Sir Ronald Brockman in the Japanese surrender chamber.
Sir Harold Wilson alighting from the cable car at World Trade Centre after touring Sentosa island.  The archived photos curated on this blog with the courtesy and acknowledgement of the National Archives of Singapore.

Sir Ronald recalls historic surrender scene in City Hall

(Source:  The Straits Times,  9 February, 1975)

Memories of the Japanese Surrender in Singapore 30 years ago came flashing back to a former captain in the British armed forces as he recounted details of the historic ceremony in which he took part.

For Sir Ronald Brockman, 66, now a retired Vice-Admiral.  September 12, 1945, was a memorable day as he was the surrender document officer for the Allied Forces at the ceremony, held in City Hall chamber.

He recalled that thousands of people had gathered on the Padang that cool early morning to watch the Union Jack being hoisted and unfurled after three-and-a-half years of Japanese occupation in Singapore.

It was the end of the Japanese domination of Asia.  As the people stood in silence, a bugle sounded, followed by the British national anthem.

Said Sir Ronald in an interview:

The scene on the Padang that morning was indeed moving.

I could see Lord Louis Mountbatten (Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in South-east Asia) standing on the City Hall steps saluting the soldiers of the Allied forces representing the various Allied countries.

Moments later came the rumbling sound of the 'mosquito bombers'.  It was a thrill to watch them fly past City  Hall.

After that we were informed that the Japanese were ready to sign the surrender documents.

Led by Lord Mountbatten, we moved into the chamber.  From every pillar hung the flag of the countries making up the Allied forces and standing below them were representatives of these countries.

Two tables facing each other were placed in the centre of the room.  Lord Mountbatten and the Allied Commanders took their seats on one of the tables.

Minutes later, silence fell over the chamber when it was announced that the Japanese were coming in.

There were seven of them and they walked into the chamber in single file, each flanked by Allied escorts.

Funny thing, most of the Japanese commanders were bald as if they had just shaved their heads.  Three of them were wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

They bowed and took their seats opposite the Allied commanders.  Their faces showed no emotion and they were looking straight ahead as if staring into blank space.

Sir Ronald said it was slightly past 11 a.m. and Lord Mountbatten, holding a document, stood up and said something like ... "this is a surrender instrument ..."

Gen. Susheiro Itagaki, Commander of the Japanese forces stationed here, was to sign the surrender document on behalf of Field Marshal Count Juichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese forces in Asia who was ill in Saigon.

Count Terauchi, he said, later handed over his sword to Lord Mountbatten in a simple but formal ceremony at Saigon.

Sir Ronald said the surrender ceremony at City Hall chamber lasted less than 15 minutes and after Gen. Itagaki had put his and the Emperor's seals on the document, the Japanese bowed and were ushered out under escort.

He said:  "While the various Commanders were signing the document, I sensed a feeling of relief inside the room.  Everyone was glad that the war was over.  Six years in Asia was a long time."

Sir Ronald said the British, however, encountered mounting problems after the war.  They included getting Allied prisoners-of-war out of Japanese jails, getting rice from Thailand and setting up a Civil Government in Malaya.

But he did not encounter any problem during the surrender ceremony", he said.

When Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Japan) received the order on the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay, every Japanese officer right down to the private, obeyed.

On taking over from the Japanese, everything was in chaos.

Fond memory

It was nine months later that the British Government sent some civil servants here to relieve us.  We returned to Britain and I continued with my naval duties."

Sir Ronald said he was satisfied with the waxworks done of himself and those who took part at the surrender ceremony because they captured the historic moment.  They were on display in the chamber.

More than 30 years have passed and I don't expect perfect duplicates of us.  I think they were done remarkably well", he added.
Sir Ronald, who is holidaying here and visiting his eldest son, Peter, said he first heard of the wax figures when Lord Mountbatten asked him to go to Madam Tussaud's in London to have his body measured.

Sir Ronald has settled down to a quiet life in a little English town in Devonshire.  He said he no longer travelled as much as he did when he was in the navy.

Sir Ronald said most of his friends and colleagues who fought together with him had died and this visit brought back fond memories of them.

[Obituary:  Vice-Admiral Sir Ronald Brockman died on 3 September, 1999 in Devonshire]

Courtesy of  The British Pathe News about the Japanese surrender, available on YouTube videos as mentioned in the previous blog.

Japanese Surrender And Local Shots (1945)

Order of the day - Mountbattens words to his men

SBC 1988 - Diary Of A Nation (Episode 25 - The Japanese Surrender)

Courtesy of the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation

The following book critic and comments may be outdated but were relevant at the times.

Courtesy of the NewspaperSG, National Library Board, Singapore
This is ideal quick-flip reading for the tourist who's interest in the bare bones of Singapore's history.

Meant both as a souvenir and guide when walking through Sentosa's Exhibition of Singapore Pioneers and the Surrender Chamber, tells simply the story of how people from far-off lands came to a land of promise, and how a war was won and lost.

With one in two pages coloured by glossy well-reproduced photographs of the pioneers, the booklet looks inviting.

It is like a time capsule of sorts - it tells of a time that seems to have no link with the present because it so neatly ends at the Japanese surrender of Singapore.

Which is fine on the one hand, since the book is meant as a guide to the exhibition, but not on the other, since the people behind it hope the book will sell as a souvenir on its own.

As a souvenir, it has nice pictures, but lacks meat.

The second section, a guide on Sentosa's Surrender Chamber, stops short in the same way.

The Malayan Campaign, the Battle of Singapore, the British surrender and the Japanese surrender - in less than five pages of text, the story of Japan's expansion in the region, its drive through Malaya, conquest of Singapore and final surrender to the British is told.

If you're wondering about life was like in Singapore under the Japanese rule, you won't find the answers here.

Sadly, the book in the end resembles the stiff tableaux that it describes.  Like each mannequin and scene that stands alone, so, too, each page of the booklet.

Little effort has been made to weave the strands of human life into a whole.  Singapore is 20 years away from the book.

And since it's recently published, some mention should have been made of the situation today - especially since this year marks the country's coming of age.

The book neither shows nor tells the reader how much Singapore's racial harmony has evolved through inter-marriage and circumstances since the tension of the 50s.

The absence of an introduction or foreword is a further setback, although a quotation from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew helps set the tone:

"To understand the present and anticipate the future,
 one must know enough of the past, 
enough to have a  sense of the history of a people."

Former journalist of The Straits Times, Ms Violet Oon and now Singapore's Food Ambassador, had written a special feature article "Sentosa - from military backwater to fun and games amid the greenery" in "The Straits Times Annual for 1975" as excerpted to share her first experience about 28 years ago to Sentosa via cable car on this blog.  (Source:  The Straits Times Annual).  Posted on this blog here .



Blogger ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you for an interesting read, much of which I am not aware of.

Andy Lim

September 17, 2014 at 5:27 PM  

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