75 years since Singapore fell

New gallery reminder of traumatic past

(Above and left) Signs in front of the building and by the road now reflect the gallery's full name "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies", and include the phrase "An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory". The name "Syonan Gallery" had upset some Singap
Signs in front of the building and by the road now reflect the gallery's full name "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies", and include the phrase "An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory". The name "Syonan Gallery" had upset some Singaporeans, as they said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
(Above and left) Signs in front of the building and by the road now reflect the gallery's full name "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies", and include the phrase "An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory". The name "Syonan Gallery" had upset some Singap
Signs in front of the building and by the road now reflect the gallery's full name "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies", and include the phrase "An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory". The name "Syonan Gallery" had upset some Singaporeans, as they said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Signage now reflects its full name Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies

The new gallery at the Former Ford Factory building in Upper Bukit Timah Road opened its doors yesterday, but it was the signage outside that drew attention.

The signs - in front of the building and by the road - now reflect the gallery's full name "Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies", and include the phrase "An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory".

When reporters were given a preview of the revamped space last Thursday, the three signs by the road and building entrance read just "Syonan Gallery".

A spokesman for the National Library Board (NLB) said last night that "the signs had not yet been completed during the media preview last week".

"The revamped exhibition has always been titled 'Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies', An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory'," she said. "There has been no change to the name of the exhibition or the Former Ford Factory, which remains a gazetted national monument."

  • PM Lee's Facebook post

  • "75 years ago today, on Feb 15 1942, the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese invaders at the Former Ford Factory in Bukit Timah. There followed 3½ years of terror, hardship and misery under Japanese Occupation, when Singapore was renamed Syonan-to, the 'Light of the South'.

    "Every year, we observe Total Defence Day on this day, so that we will never forget that darkest time of our history. This morning, we launched the exhibition 'Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies' at the Former Ford Factory.

    "It documents the horror and viciousness of the Japanese Occupation, and the suffering and bravery of our pioneers. They know what it means for Singapore to lose its freedom and even its name. They emerged from that period determined never to let this happen again.

    "We now have the SAF and Home Team, but Singapore will always be small and vulnerable. No one owes us our sovereignty or security. These are truths we must never forget."

    In a caption, he said the name of the new exhibition has "understandably caused strong reactions". He added: "We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name."

The name "Syonan Gallery" had upset some Singaporeans as they said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation of Singapore during World War II.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese in 1942, following the British surrender. It means "Light of the South".

In a Facebook post last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the name of the exhibition "has understandably caused strong reactions".

He said: "We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name."

The new gallery takes over from an earlier museum called Memories at Old Ford Factory.

It is operated by the National Archives of Singapore, which is under the NLB. Its exhibits cover pre-war Singapore, the Japanese Occupation and the aftermath of war.

At the official launch yesterday, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said it was understandable that the name has evoked some strong reactions.

He said some older Singaporeans who lived through the Japanese Occupation feel that the name legitimises the Occupation, while others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and that "we should call it what it was".

He said the reactions reflect the indelible imprint left by the 31/2 years of Japanese Occupation on Singapore and its people.

"Younger Singaporeans did not have the same indelible life experience as their parents and grandparents. But I hope this gallery will give them a sense of what it was like to live through that dark period, and inspire all of us to build and defend our nation," he said.

He said using the name Syonan does not express approval of the Japanese Occupation. Instead, it "remembers what our forefathers went through, commemorates the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Occupation, and reaffirms our collective commitment never to let this happen again".

The gallery, he said, is a reminder of how precious the country's sovereignty is, noting that during the Japanese Occupation, Singapore lost not only its freedom, but also its name.

He added that the name had been used previously for other exhibitions.

For instance, in 1992, for the 50th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, the National Museum hosted the exhibition titled "When Singapore was Syonan-to".

The new gallery showcases documents and artefacts, and includes a Syonan Labour Department labour identity booklet contributed by war survivor Tan Hwee Hock, 87, a sports pioneer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'New gallery reminder of traumatic past'. Print Edition | Subscribe