Standing tall as tribute to those who fought in war

Above: Mrs Lim (left), author of a book about the people behind the names inscribed on the Cenotaph, seen in the background of this picture, with Ms Clarke, grand-niece of one of the fallen men mentioned in the book.
Above: Mrs Lim (left), author of a book about the people behind the names inscribed on the Cenotaph, seen in the background of this picture, with Ms Clarke, grand-niece of one of the fallen men mentioned in the book.ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA
Above: The Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park, the only commemorative structure in Singapore that honours the sacrifice of an individual during World War II. Lim was killed by the Japanese for his role in organising the anti-Japanese resistance moveme
Above: The Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park, the only commemorative structure in Singapore that honours the sacrifice of an individual during World War II. Lim was killed by the Japanese for his role in organising the anti-Japanese resistance movement. ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA

From places of worship to educational institutions and the former residences of prominent figures, 72 buildings here have been gazetted as national monuments. Each is a yarn woven into the rich tapestry of Singapore's history. This is the 11th in a weekly series revisiting these heritage gems.

Arriving in London in January 1916 on the Hirano Maru vessel, 38-year-old Cecil Andrew Clarke, from a prominent Singaporean Eurasian family, was there to fight in World War I.

Cecil, who died two years later, had a bad track record in Singapore - having once been arrested for being drunk and disorderly - and was likely the black sheep in the illustrious family that included his uncle, Billy Clarke, the chief clerk of the treasury.

Black sheep or not, his name is etched into bronze plates alongside 123 others at the 1922 Cenotaph which faces the Padang.

The story of Cecil, one of several local men who left the colony for the war in Europe, was only recently uncovered by Irish-born writer Rosemary Lim, 56, in her book, Forgotten Names Recalled: Stories From The Singapore Cenotaph.

Her project sought to put faces to the names that line the national monument in the Esplanade Park.

Mrs Lim, who has been based in Singapore since 1990, has so far managed to piece together the stories of 112 of the fallen, after trawling through war forums, local and overseas archives, and genealogical websites.

Mrs Lim learned about Cecil through his army file, which had survived the bombing of a British army warehouse during World War II. Her book, supported by the National Heritage Board (NHB), was published in 2014.

She said: "Many of us pass by the magnificent Cenotaph but we don't know the men who died.

"When you go up close and see the individual names, it doesn't mean a lot until you see their faces and you relate to them. Many of them look like ordinary blokes."

A Singapore Free Press article from November 1920 said the Cenotaph would be a "noble, bold, classically beautiful memorial" that will stand as a lasting tribute to the immortal deeds of "men of many creeds and castes who fought shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy". It added: "These men took things simply, gave life simply, with no straining after glory..."

For the Clarke family today, many of whose members are based in Singapore, Mrs Lim's research helped to paint a more detailed picture of their ancestor.

His grand-niece, Ms Louise Clarke, 63, an educational psychologist, said her grand-uncle must have broken his mother's heart, having lived his life the way he did before he left for the war. But despite his past, she believes that "people and their contributions shouldn't be forgotten".

The 18m-high Cenotaph, made from local white granite, was designed by Mr Denis Santry from colonial architectural firm Swan and Maclaren.

In 2010, NHB's Preservation of Sites and Monuments division gazetted the Cenotaph along with the nearby Lim Bo Seng Memorial and Tan Kim Seng Fountain.

The former, a 3.5m-tall octagonal pagoda with four bronze guardian lions at its base, is the only commemorative structure in Singapore that honours the sacrifice of an individual during World War II.

Lim, a Singapore wartime hero, was killed by the Japanese for his role in organising the anti-Japanese resistance movement.

The memorial was designed by architect Ng Keng Siang, who had been appointed by Lim's widow. It was unveiled 10 years after Lim's death, according to the NHB.

Meanwhile, the Tan Kim Seng Fountain, commissioned by the British Municipal Council, was built to commemorate the philanthropist's contributions to Singapore, though it is unrelated to World War II.

Near the Esplanade Park in Beach Road stands the Civilian War Memorial, designed by Swan and Maclaren. The 67m-tall memorial comprises four vertical pillars that symbolise the shared war experiences of the four main races here.

It houses the remains of civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation, many of whose graves were dug up between the 1950s and 1970s as part of various development projects. Among them are victims of the Sook Ching massacre.

The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) was behind the idea of gathering the remains and building a memorial. It was completed in 1967 and has since been the venue for memorial services on Feb 15 every year.

That date in 1942 was when the British surrendered to the Japanese, marking the start of the occupation.

The services kick off with an "all clear" signal from the Singapore Civil Defence Force's public warning system.

They are usually attended by about 1,000 people including students, representatives from uniformed groups and relatives of the victims.

The programme includes a silent prayer by inter-religious representatives and the laying of wreaths by groups such as the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans' League. It ends with three bows being made to the civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation and the observation of a minute's silence.

SCCCI president Thomas Chua said: "The memorial services honour the memory of all those who perished. Another objective of the services is for National Education... to let young Singaporeans know that peace should not be taken for granted. "

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Standing tall as tribute to those who fought in war'. Print Edition | Subscribe