As dusk fell, the haunting strains of The Last Post played by a lone bugler filled the air at Kranji War Cemetery yesterday.
It is a salute to the fallen men who defended Singapore against the Japanese invaders in 1942, and the casualties of the 31/2 years of the Japanese Occupation.
With heads bowed, more than 700 war veterans, military officials and diplomats, as well as relatives of slain soldiers, paid a two-minute silent tribute to them.
But for three survivors of the Occupation that began 75 years ago, the horror and brutality of war are still etched firmly in their memories.
Briton Olga Henderson, 84, was interned at age 10 in Changi Prison. She remembers a group of five children being forced to kneel on tarmac from dawn to dusk for stealing vegetables meant for the Japanese.
"The guards whipped them if they moved. We never had enough to eat and were covered with lice the whole time," she said.
She laid a wreath of poppies - symbolising blood shed on the battlefield - with Canadian Vilma Howe, 88, who spent part of her captivity with Ms Henderson in a crammed hut.
Laying a wreath of his own was Captain Ho Weng Toh, 96, who flew 18 bombing missions over Japan-occupied China. Wearing his pilot wings on his blazer, he recounted the terror of flying through anti-aircraft gunfire while keeping his plane in formation and staying focused on hitting his targets.
"There was a loud 'boom' whenever the plane was hit. Luckily, I always made it back to base. After some missions, there were bullet holes all over the fuselage," he said.
He is the last survivor in South-east Asia among the "Flying Tiger" group of pilots who fought the Japanese.
The hour-long ceremony was also a time for reconciliation, as the Japanese Ambassador to Singapore Kenji Shinoda laid a wreath under an overcast sky and light rain.
Yesterday's ceremony was the first time Japan had worked with former Allied countries, including Singapore, to organise a World War II memorial event here in the spirit of healing.
Said Mr Shinoda: "I express my feeling of profound grief and heartfelt condolence. I believe such a feeling is being shared by an overwhelming majority of Japanese."
The ceremony also resounded with the peals from a bell of remembrance that was rung five times - once for each year the war raged in the Pacific.
It rounded off a day of commemoration of a dark chapter in Singapore's history.
The remembrances began in the morning with the annual memorial service at the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road, organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Among the 1,200 people was Mr Lim Eng Hock, 81, paying his respects to his father, whom the Japanese took away and later shot dead with machine-gun fire.
"My mother was crying, praying to the gods for his return," said Mr Lim, who was aged seven then.
His father's remains are among those buried beneath the memorial, whose four pillars symbolise the shared war experiences of Singapore's four main races.
"It is important for us to remember this part of the dark history of Singapore," said Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu at the ceremony.
"Never again will we subject ourselves to be occupied, never again will we allow our land to be run by another country," she added.
Later in the morning, at the Former Ford Factory where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago to the day, a new permanent exhibition named Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies was unveiled.
At 6.20pm, the time of surrender, sirens were sounded across Singapore for one minute.
MP Vikram Nair said in a speech at the Kranji commemoration: "I wish for peace, and that the horrors of war will never be forgotten."
He added: "Our young, like many of us, have never experienced the horrors of war, but they must never forget the lessons learnt."
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Bell of remembrance is rung at Kranji War Cemetery. http://str.sg/4eYQ