Relatives of civilians who died in Singapore during WWII continue to pay respects 80 years on

A visitor paying her respects to the war dead of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore at the memorial service on Feb 15, 2022, at the Civilian War Memorial. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Since 1967, Madam Chung Kwai Kuen, 85, has faithfully visited the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road every year - to pay respects to her father who was killed by the Japanese during the Occupation of Singapore.

Madam Chung's father, who ran a coffee shop at the time, was one of the Singaporeans killed in the early days of the Occupation in 1942.

She said: "He was a law-abiding man. When the Japanese took over, they told all the shopkeepers that they had to report to them and apply for a new permit.

"He went and never came back."

She was five at the time.

Her mother took her father's death badly and died soon after, said Madam Chung, adding that she will never forget how tough it was for her and her four siblings.

Now, she and her husband, Mr Chan Wing Hong, are worried that memories of the war are fading among young Singaporeans including their three grandsons.

Mr Chan, 88, a retired teacher, told The Straits Times in Mandarin: "There are very few of us left who had seen the war."

On Tuesday (Feb 15), the couple was at the 55th War Memorial Service held for the civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, which also marked Total Defence Day. Colonial Singapore fell to the Japanese 80 years ago on this date in 1942, leading to almost four years of occupation.

The memorial event has been organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) every year since 1967.

This year's event was scaled down due to Covd-19 safe management measures. It saw more than 1,000 attendees in the past.

On Tuesday, about 50 people were present, including members of the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans League and council members of the SCCCI.

The event was also open to family members of civilian victims.

Nine representatives from Singapore's major religions were also there to offer prayers to the dead.

SCCCI president Roland Ng spoke at the memorial and launched a new online exhibition about the War Memorial and Singaporeans' struggles during the Occupation.

Mr Ng said: "With the launch of the online exhibition, we hope younger Singaporeans can better appreciate how our forefathers sacrificed for the peace and stability that we enjoy today."

The exhibition can be found here.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was the guest of honour, thanked Singapore's veterans who fought in the war and the nation's pioneers who contributed in other ways.

He added that some of their stories are documented in the exhibition.

Mr Chan said the memorial's location in Singapore's city centre is of particular significance, adding: "Eighty years ago when Singapore fell, many of our forefathers were marched off from the city centre near, where we now stand, to Changi Beach.

"Many were never seen again."

Madam Chung said her father was in his 40s when he disappeared.

"As long as I am alive, I will come to this memorial every year. I come to ask my father for good health for my family. He was taken away so fast," she told ST.

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