Important for Singaporeans to stay united amid threats: Edwin Tong

Wreaths laid during the 56th War Memorial Service at the Civilian War Memorial on Total Defence Day on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Colonel (Ret) Lau Kee Siong (right) and Brigadier-General (Ret) Winston Toh (second from right) of the SAF Veterans' League at the War Memorial Park on Wednesday, paying their respects to civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Artefacts on display on Wednesday at the Civilian War Memorial special exhibition. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE – Sacrifices made by past generations have taught Singaporeans the invaluable lesson that the fate and security of the Republic depend on its people, and not outsiders.

The experiences of the wartime generation have also underscored how important it is for Singaporeans to stay united as one people and nation, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said on Wednesday as rain fell on a sombre gathering of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) veterans, religious leaders and other guests at the War Memorial Park in Beach Road.

“Apart from external aggression as experienced during Singapore’s early years, unity is also essential in guarding against various kinds of threats: terrorism, religious extremism, cybercrimes, disinformation and climate change, to name some,” said Mr Tong at the 56th War Memorial Service to remember civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation.

The service has been organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) each year since the memorial was unveiled by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1967.

Captain (Ret) Sawaran Singh, 72, from the SAF Veterans’ League, said: “This is a reminder for us that we must defend ourselves. Nobody else will defend our country.”

Wednesday was also Total Defence Day, which marks the day Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942.

The annual war memorial day prompts Singaporeans to reflect on World War II and the younger generation to be more conscious about strengthening national defence to prevent history from repeating itself, said SCCCI president Kho Choon Keng.

This is something the SCCCI hopes to emphasise through an exhibition on the genesis of the Civilian War Memorial, he added.

The exhibition, Reflecting Upon The Past, Moving Forward As One: The Civilian War Memorial Special Exhibition, showcases artefacts such as personal items that had belonged to civilian victims of World War II.

As the newly renovated SCCCI building is not fully opened, the exhibition will be by invitation only, said a spokesman for the chamber.

On Wednesday, 240 students were invited to the exhibition. 

St Joseph’s Institution student Augustus Surya Jayarajan, 15, said: “I wanted to come today to learn why Total Defence Day is vital, and why defence as a whole is so important to each of us.”

His schoolmate, Samuel Lim, 16, said: “My perception of Total Defence Day has been enhanced. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of what our forefathers had to bear to achieve the peace we hold so dearly today.” 

Many primary school pupils were excited about viewing the artefacts. Nan Hua Primary School pupil Jordyn Ng, 11, said that while she and her schoolmates learn about Singapore’s history in class, it was nice to see real-life examples at the exhibition of what people’s lives had been like.

“I got to see a lot of artefacts. I even saw a pair of old dentures,” she said, adding that Total Defence Day should be celebrated to appreciate those who had sacrificed themselves.

Nan Hua Primary School pupils viewing the artefacts at the Civilian War Memorial special exhibition on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Goh Zhi Kai, 10, from Nan Chiau Primary School, said: “I feel Total Defence Day is important to our country as it enables us to know about the Japanese Occupation, and how civilians died for Singapore.” 

In his speech, Mr Tong said Singapore is a diverse society, and unity has to be fostered through a shared heritage. “Without this thread, we are disparate and incomplete,” he added.

To that end, the Government will need to provide spaces for Singaporeans to learn about their history and connect with the pioneers who built the city, said Mr Tong.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong (centre) and other attendees observing a minute of silence at the 56th War Memorial Service at the War Memorial Park on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

One such space would be the Founders’ Memorial, which is slated to open in 2027. It will commemorate first-generation leaders and key personalities who helped to build Singapore.

But beyond reflecting upon past sacrifices, Singaporeans must continue to build a brighter future for future generations, Mr Tong said. 

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.