Marking 70th year of end of WWII – The Straits Time Feature

Sep 13, 2015


When Mrs Vilma Howe heard the notes yesterday of The Last Post, a military bugle call played to signal the close of the day, it took her back to when she was a girl in a World War II prison camp

At 12, she and her family were interned by the Japanese in a prison camp in Singapore. The Last Post would be played during the funerals of soldiers who died in camp.

Said Mrs Howe, now 86: “I kept thinking of standing in that chapel there, of my friends dying.” She had made the pilgrimage from her home in Canada for the remembrance ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

The event, held by The Changi Museum at Kranji War Cemetery, was attended by representatives from 10 countries involved in the Pacific theatre of the war – including, notably, invading nation Japan.

It was the first time such a large group of about 20 members of the Japanese community here had attended the ceremony, last held in 2005 for the 60th anniversary.

Mr Haruhisa Takeuchi, Japan’s Ambassador to Singapore, was also the first of the foreign dignitaries to lay a wreath of poppies at the foot of the Kranji War Memorial.

Next to the flowers, members of the Japanese community placed strings of 1,500 colourful tsurus, paper cranes symbolising peace, made by students of the Japanese schools here.

Speaking at the ceremony, the guest of honour, National University of Singapore law professor Walter Woon, said: “To ignore the grim lessons of history is to dishonour the memory of the thousands of men and women who lie here around us.”

He said he hoped for a reconciliation in a similar vein for the leaders of Japan, China and Korea. Japan had marked the 70th anniversary under criticism from China and South Korea, which said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech failed to properly apologise for Tokyo’s past aggression.

Mr Jeya Ayadurai, the director of The Changi Museum, called the event a “world first” in terms of reconciling former combatants, given the unprecedented Japanese presence at the ceremony.

He said: “It takes courage to go to war. Likewise, it takes courage to make peace.

“We should put the past where it should be put, remember the war dead, but not let it bedevil our relations and instead move together.”

Mr Takahashi Yushin, 45, one of the ceremony’s Japanese guests, said: “I was very moved to see so many people at this event. ”

The educator, who has lived here for eight years, said: “The cranes represent our dedication to maintaining world peace and show what we are willing to do to keep it.”

Among those who laid wreaths was former prisoner of war Victor Grosse, 93, captured when the Japanese conquered Singapore on his 20th birthday. He spent three years working on railroads, breaking granite and cutting trees.

Said Mr Grosse: “It’s good to have these (ceremonies) from time to time. It reminds you you were in trouble before, that you’re lucky to be alive.”

Civilian internee Olga Henderson, 83, had flown from Britain to attend the ceremony despite a weak heart. The retired nurse, who was interned when she was 10, recounted atrocities she had seen during the war, including how a Japanese officer beat a Chinese woman to death for giving her mother a drink.

At the same time, however, she recalled Japanese friends she had grown up with, including a tailor who she later asked to make her wedding dress.

Pointing to the war memorial at the top of the hill, she went on: “It’s just so sad that there are still people fighting, who haven’t learnt anything from this.

“We don’t want another one of this, do we?”

– Olivia Ho for The Straits Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline ‘Marking 70th year of end of WWII’.