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May 7, 2015

Why Lee Kuan Yew Did Not Remove Eyes And Break Teeth To Seek Revenge

The Civilian War Memorial Park at Beach Road, Singapore

The Civilian War Memorial is a monument dedicated to civilians who perished during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942-1945).  It is located on a parkland, along Beach Road, opposite Raffles City, in the Downtown Core of Singapore's Central Region.  The structure of four pillars soar to more than 68 metre symbolising the shared 'war experiences' of the Chinese, Indians, Malays and other races.

It resembles two pairs of chopsticks, so it is affectionately called the "chopsticks" memorial because of its unusual design. 

Since its completion and unveiling on 15 February, 1967, exactly 25 years after the "Fall of Singapore", every year on 15 February, ex-servicemen, families and others gather at the memorial to commemorate that fateful day.


In World War II, Singapore fell to the Japanese Forces, who occupied Singapore from 15 February, 1942 to 15 September, 1945.  The total loss of civilian lives remains uncertain.  A major massacre was that of "Operation Sook Ching" (which literally means "to purge" or "to eliminate").  The atrocities which occurred started on 18 February, 1942, shortly after the fall of Singapore.  Among the civilians who lost their lives were a large number of Chinese.  The torture and killing was a mass exercise to wipe out potential threats.  These atrocities continued until the Japanese surrendered in World War II.  The numbers of those taken away and massacred can never be accessed, but unofficial figures put the number of dead at about 50,000 people.

Discovery of Human Remains

On 15 February, 1942, in a headline, "Mass war graves found in Siglap's "valley of death", the Straits Times reported the discovery of five separate war graves located in a "Valley of Tears" in the Siglap area.  Twenty years ago, on its rugged countryside, hundreds of civilians of which a large number were Chinese residents, were rounded up by the Japanese Army, machine-gunned, and buried in several places.  The massacres by the Japanese took place during their occupation in 1942-1945.  The human remains were uncovered during sandwashing operations in an area off the 7.5 mile Siglap Road.  Subsequent investigations were carried out by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce team.

Source:  "Elements of Enterprise: 100 years of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry'"

In remembrance of her late husband, Dr Hum Wai, who was killed during the Japanese occupation, tears streamed down the cheeks of 80-year old Madam Ng Kuai Chee.  She was attending a special service at the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road on 15 February, 1975.

Relatives praying before the 600 urns containing the remains of civilian victims of Japanese massacres during the war before the remains were moved to a new memorial site in Beach Road for re-burial on 31 October, 1966.

In 1962, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry spearheaded a community effort to erect the War Memorial at Beach Road in remembrance of victims who sacrificed their lives in the cause of peace.  This solemn occasion gives the SCCCI an opportunity to remind future generations about the atrocities of war, and to value peace, freedom and the importance of total defence.

Singapore fell to the Japanese on February 15, 1942.  Built 25 years later, the memorial has four vertical pillars symbolising the shared war experiences of the four races in Singapore.  Underneath the structure lay the remains of unknown war victims.

The Civilian War Memorial monuments was completed in 1967 and dedicated to civilians who perished during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

Representatives from various religious organisations lay the wreath and pay their respects in front of the Civilian War Memorial.  -  STRAITS TIMES PHOTO:  NEO XIOBIN

Seeking Retrospective Justice

Excerpt from the "Elements of Enterprise: 100 years of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry'" commemorative magazine.

Claiming a rib of earth as one's own abode and habitat can also mean purging it of the remnants of war.  Hordes were massacred during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.  In a symbolic gesture to atone for the souls of those who sacrificed their lives during the war, the Chamber sought justice by seeking reparation from the Japanese for this debt of blood.  In May 1946, it marshalled like-minded people together and mooted the idea of an "Appeal Committee for the Singapore Chinese Victims Massacred by the Japanese!"  The following month, on June 2, 1946, a meeting was held at the Chamber during which the kith and kin of the war victims congregated in the thousands, and the Appeal Committee, comprising 37 members, was set up.

The grisly remains of war victims began to be exhumed at over ten sites in Singapore between January and February of 1962.  At a monthly meeting of the Chambers' council, a second 'Disposal of Remains Committee' was appointed to ensure that the bodies would be treated with dignity.  Between 14 March, 1963 and October 27, 1966, 35 sites around the island were excavated and the remains placed into 609 urns.

On 21 April, 1963, 609 organisations representing all the races convened for a meeting to discuss the issue.  A rally was held at the Padang on 25 August, 1963, where more than 10,000 people gathered and observed a three-minute silence in remembrance for the deceased.  Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew mentioned in his speech that a stab at some resolution be insisted upon after the three motions raised by the crowd were passed:  to unite with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak in a joint claim for the debt of blood,  to adopt a stance of hostility, towards the Japanese if they refused to pay, and to petition the government into denying for any Japanese into Singapore should this occur.  (The blood debt was finally settled in October 1966 with $50 million half of which comprised loans, and half as grants. 
In 1963, Prime Minister Lee allocated a piece of land to the west of Beach Road for the erection of the Memorial Park.  The four pillars of this cenotaph symbolised the four ethnic groups in Singapore, each with its record of martyrs who had died for Singapore.  On 15 February, 1967, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Japanese Occupation, Prime Minister Lee unveiled the War Memorial to bring repose to the souls of the honourable dead.  Since then, on February 15 of each year, the Chamber hosts a ceremony dedicated to the heroes who gave their lives to defend the country, and as a sombre reminder that a past not forgotten is the best lesson for the future.

Caught unaware in a photo by Lina Koh at Soh Kiak's studio while taking some research notes for this blog.

More research was done at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library at the National Library Building at Victoria Street, Singapore, online resources from NewspaperSG, National Archives of Singapore and other relevant publications and assistance of many heritage friends to compile information to share on  the blog with thanks and acknowledgement with gratitude.

The humorous title of this blog topic is intended as a "cheek-in-tongue" to attract the attention of blog readers and friends.

I beg your pardon and please forgive me to blog in this way because the death of loved ones is not a laughing matter.  Its not funny.

It is difficult emotionally for Singaporeans to imagine how many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were affected by a man-made disaster created by force by the armed forces of a country to conquer territories to win by inhuman and undemocratic means and military power to attack with bullet and machines ... not peacefully by ballots.

Founding father of modern Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his cabinet colleagues, the Government, together with community and religious leaders and like-minded people in Singapore who worked together to help, resolve and rebuild a war-torn Singapore over 50 years ago to transform this same place formerly strewn with bombed buildings and dead bodies in the streets to start all over again to clean up, organize and revive the resilient spirit and soul of the Singaporeans to be a better place to play, to work and live with hope and opportunities in Singapore today and the future generations.

There was a time in Singapore after the war when hatred, sorrow and resentment and revenge filled the air everywhere.  In jest, bitterness of revenge of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" would lead to a blind and toothless people of many generations which are still happening in some war-torn countries today.

Together with Mr Lee and the pioneer generation of  Singaporeans, our blessed forefathers who survived the war then picked up the broken pieces in this land and did countless ways for another generation in a brave new world with strength and hope ... without bitterness of the past.  We were not grievance collectors without benefits for the people.  World War II was a bitter lesson for everyone in the world to learn.  Let there be world peace!

"Appeal Committee for the Singapore Chinese Victims Massacred by the Japanese!"

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at a meeting with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce War Memorial Committee members on 30 May, 1962.

Prime Minister meeting with War Memorial Committee and other religious leaders on 13 June, 1963

War Memorial Exhibition at Victoria Memorial Hall on 15 June, 1963

Cutting The SOD By The Prime Minister on 15 June, 1963

Leaders of the Inter-Religious Organisation at the ceremony.

The Completion of the "Chopstick Memorial on 15 February, 1967

Gesture Of Atonement For War Dead Awaited

Source:  The Straits Times dated 16 June, 1963

Mr Lee Kuan Yew today expressed the hope that animosities would soon be resolved with a suitable gesture of atonement from the Japanese Government for the massacre of Singapore civilians during the last war.

The Premier was speaking at the "breaking the SOD" ceremony at a site on a vacant ground opposite Raffles Institution which has been chosen for a $750,000 memorial to commemorate the war dead.

Mr Lee told a gathering which included representatives of inter-religious organisations and members of the consular corps.

"However painful the past, we have to live and plan for the future, without being hobbled by past experiences.

He said the ceremony of dedicating the ground to the memory of all races and religion who died in Japanese-occupied Singapore, was part of the process of making the past less unbearable.


He added:  "We cannot altogether forget, nor completely forgive.

"But we can salve the feelings that rankle in so many hearts, first in symbolically putting these souls at rest, and next in having the Japanese express their sincere regret for what took place."

Then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (now Prime Minister) releasing white pigeons and laying a wreath during Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) at Civilian War Memorial at Beach Road on 12 September, 1995.

Rest in Peace, founding Prime Minister  Lee Kuan Yew for his legacy and his compassion and a great job done for the atonement of the war dead at the Civilian War Memorial Park in Singapore.

General of the Japanese Army during World War II

Tomoyuki Yamashit (November 8, 1885 - February 23, 1946) - General of the Japanese army during World War II.  September 2, 1945, he was taken prisoner by the Americans.  During the trial in Manila, the American military court sentenced Yamashita to death and was hanged on February 23, 1946.



Blogger Philip Chew said...

Well done James for your article. But I cannot agree with the title. LKY could not afford to seek revenge against the Japanese because Singapore then needed Japan for trade, investment and know how. Japan was a rising economic power and many of our citizen including Lam Chun See were sent to Japan for training to gain knowledge for applications in Singapore.

May 8, 2015 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thank you for your comments, Philip.

Precisely, the blog title is intended to explain the reason LKY he did not arouse or stir up people to take revenge against the Japanese after the war. His speech quoted on the blog to show the mutual benefit and interest of Singapore to handle foreign policies in their best ways.

May 10, 2015 at 10:38 PM  

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