SINGAPORE - Every year since 1967, Mr Lim Eng Hock, 81, visits the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road to pay his respects to his father who was killed during the Japanese Occupation.
In 1942, Mr Lim's father, the owner of a small cake business, was called up to help dig trenches in the ground in Siglap, where he was eventually shot dead by a machine gun and buried. His father's remains are now buried beneath the memorial.
It took Mr Lim's mother about half a year to realise her husband would never return.
"My mother was crying, praying to the gods to get him back," said Mr Lim, who was only seven years old at the time.
She was later forced to give two of her younger daughters away as she was too poor to raise seven children. After they relocated from the kampungs, Mr Lim never saw them again.
Mr Lim, who as a little boy witnessed Japanese soldiers slashing civilians and raping women, visits the memorial every year with food offerings. "My mum said to me, you don't know when he (my father) died, so on Memorial Day you need to go pay your respects."
He was among the 1,200 people who attended the 50th War Memorial Service on Wednesday, organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), to remember civilian victims who died during the Japanese Occupation.
Held at the War Memorial Park in Beach Road, representatives - including those from schools and religious organisations - took turns to pay their respects at the foot of the 67m-high war memorial.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, the guest-of-honour at the service, said: "This year marks the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, and also the 50th of the War Memorial... It is important for us to remember this part of the dark history of Singpore so we realise sovereignty is priceless, and it's worth protecting...
"We hope by having students from successive cohorts, and over decades, we are constantly reminding them that as young Singaporeans, they should resolve to dedicate themselves to protecting the country, and to learn about the resilience and resourcefulness our forefathers have shown... Never again will we subject ourselves to be occupied, never again will we allow our land to be run by another country."
Young people, she added, can engage in community service or set up social enterprises to "pledge, through actions, their dedication to Singapore".
SCCCI president Thomas Chua said: "Aside from commemorating the deceased, we need to help younger generations of Singaporeans better understand the horrors of war. We need to be vigilant in times of peace, treasure this peace, and continue to carry out total defence well."
Singapore fell to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. Built 25 years later, the memorial has four vertical pillars symbolising the shared war experiences of the four races here. Underneath the structure lay the remains of unknown war victims. The Japanese occupied Singapore for more than three years before surrendering to the Allied forces and returning Singapore to British control in 1945.
On Wednesday , which is also Total Defence Day, the ceremony began with an "All Clear" signal sounded by Singapore Civil Defence Force, followed by silent prayers by the Inter-Religious Organisation and the observation of a minute of silence.
Present at the memorial service were SCCCI Council Members, ambassadors and diplomats, leaders of business and clans associations, religious leaders, Singapore Armed Forces Veterans' League, uniformed groups and students.
Said Swiss Cottage Secondary School's National Cadet Corps Command Band member Lim Liang Rong, 14, who played the drums during the memorial service: "The memorial service is important, so young people like us can understand the importance of not making the same mistakes again."
Correction note: An earlier version of the story misstated Mr Lim Eng Hock's name. We are sorry for the error.