Unforgettable images of World War II

(From front) SWO (Ret) William Wee, 1WO (Ret) Salleh Suratee, Capt (Ret) Hong Seng Mak, members of the SAF Veterans League, on the steps of the National Gallery Singapore yesterday.
(From front) SWO (Ret) William Wee, 1WO (Ret) Salleh Suratee, Capt (Ret) Hong Seng Mak, members of the SAF Veterans League, on the steps of the National Gallery Singapore yesterday.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
(From front) SWO (Ret) William Wee, 1WO (Ret) Salleh Suratee, Capt (Ret) Hong Seng Mak, members of the SAF Veterans League, on the steps of the National Gallery Singapore yesterday.
Major (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Survivors and veterans share memories at ceremony to commemorate 70th anniversary of the end of the war

Major (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh still remembers the shrill whistle of Japanese bombs falling through the sky and the sound of artillery fire thundering past.

The sight of dead bodies, crawling with maggots on the streets of Singapore, is another unforgettable World War II image.

The 86-year-old recounted his experiences at an event yesterday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

"I saw many dead people. With very few able to lend a helping hand, many died due to lack of proper care, food and medicine. There was no one around to clear their bodies," said Maj (Ret) Singh.

"Scabies, malaria and dysentery were common ailments that afflicted the whole population."

The ceremony, which was attended by war survivors, veterans and Inter-Religious Organisation representatives, included a segment in which Cultural Medallion recipient Professor Edwin Thumboo read a poem he wrote about growing up during the war.

A minute's silence was observed as well.

The National Heritage Board event was held in the City Hall Chamber at the National Gallery Singapore - the former Municipal Building.

It was where British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in South- east Asia, accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces in the region on Sept 12, 1945.

The ceremony yesterday was officiated by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Maj (Ret) Singh said that as part of war propaganda, people were told to gather in open fields dressed in white "to avoid being bombed during air raids".

He also recalled having to bow to Japanese soldiers.

Twice a month, he would visit the Singapore General Store in Serangoon Road to buy a 15kg bag of atta flour to make chapati (a flat bread), where he would bow deeply to a sentry on duty whenever he passed.

"When I did not have a load to carry, I would cut across the many side roads to Mandalay Road to reach Serangoon, just to avoid the sentry post," he said.

In his speech, Mr Wong said such memories and accounts, as shared by Maj (Ret) Singh and Prof Thumboo, are part of Singapore's history.

He said: "As we look back, let us never forget the lessons we learned about the importance of peace and stability across nations, and the price that comes with violence and conflict."

Mr Wong said that strong bilateral ties exist between Singapore and Japan today and that it was possible to move on with "sincerity and largeness of spirit on both sides".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Unforgettable images of World War II'. Print Edition | Subscribe