Mr Chia Chew Soo was only 11 when the Japanese raided his family's farm in Ayer Rajah and killed eight members, including his father, on Feb 14, 1942. A day later, Singapore fell to Japan.
Mr Chia, now 87, was stabbed with a bayonet multiple times, buried with other victims and left to die. He regained consciousness two days later and miraculously survived, after digging himself out. Today, he still bears the bayonet scars.
Yesterday, on the anniversary of the fall of Singapore, Mr Chia's brother attended the 51st War Memorial Service to remember the civilian victims who died during the Japanese Occupation.
Although Mr Chia could not be there in person as he was ill, he told The Straits Times over the phone that he hopes people will remember what happened during the war.
"It is something we should not forget," he said, adding that people who lived through the war can never fail to recall the hardships they endured.
About 1,200 people attended the service held at War Memorial Park in Beach Road. It was co-organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and Nexus – MINDEF’s Central National Education Office.
The service began with an "all clear" signal sounded by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, followed by silent prayers led by religious representatives from the Inter-Religious Organisation. A minute of silence was also observed.
Those at the memorial service included families of war victims, diplomats, as well as representatives from SCCCI, business and clan associations, uniformed groups, schools and the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans League.
They took turns to pay their respects at the foot of the 67m-high Civilian War Memorial, built in 1967. Underneath the structure are the remains of unknown war victims.
President Halimah Yacob, the guest of honour at the service, said that Total Defence has evolved over the years "to become a rallying effort for everyone to play their part in times of challenges and crises".
She said Total Defence continues to be Singapore's best response to potential threats such as self-radicalisation or cyber attacks, citing the 2001 Al-Qaeda terror threat, 2003 Sars outbreak and 2007 to 2009 global financial crisis as challenges Singapore has faced.
"In the current security environment, we can no longer just rely on security agencies to ring-fence these threats. Everyone - at work, in school or at home - has a part to play," said Madam Halimah.
She added that the country's legacy of racial harmony - represented by the war memorial's four columns symbolising the shared experiences and unity of the different races during the war - will continue to "underpin the strength and cohesion of our society, especially as it grows in diversity and complexity".
"It will help fortify us and keep us resilient even in the face of a crisis."
Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.