On every Feb 15 at 6.20pm (which is today), you will hear the annual “Important Message” signal wailing through Singapore’s network of Public Warning System (PWS) sirens; a minute-long exercise conducted to mark Total Defence Day and the 75th anniversary of Singapore’s fall to the Japanese back in 1942. While most of the activities are held in schools, the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) presents a revamped permanent exhibition, Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies at the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant, which was gazetted as a national monument in 2006.
Donated artifacts from the public
Previously known as Memories at Old Factory, the updated exhibition has since been renamed to Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies. There were some strong opposing views online and offline about the name as many felt that the word “Syonan” was insensitive and appears to honor the occupiers. However, a spokesperson from the National Library Board (of which NAS is under) explained their rationale, saying that the word is a “historical name easily recognizable and associated with the Japanese Occupation in Singapore when the nation was renamed Syonan-to after the surrender of the British.”
Postcards with artists’ impressions of war scenes donated by Taka Sakurai, former officer of the Japanese Imperial Army’s propaganda department
About 80% of the exhibition is new, with the rest repurposed to be displayed in a more interesting and compelling way. You can check out more than 200 original artifacts, which includes items donated by the public during the Public Call for Archives last March, chilling video anecdotes of war survivors, projections of archival records, and much more; all detailing real-life accounts of Singapore’s darkest period. The exhibition is also divided into four different comprehensive zones—an introductory one will tells the story of Ford Factory and pre-war Singapore; the Fall of Singapore, which highlights the events leading up to the British surrendering to the Japanese in the factory’s boardroom; Becoming Syonan, an anecdote of sorts during the occupation; and Legacies of War and Occupation, which showcases the return of the British to Singapore.
Japanese intelligence map of Singapore donated by private collector, Lim Shao Bin
Information for your visit
When: From Feb 16
Where: 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road.
How much: Admission is free for Singaporeans and PR, $3 for non-Singaporeans.
What to do: There’ll be guided tours led by NAS’ volunteer guides from Mar 1, and a series of programs like special lectures by guest speakers, screening of restored films and more starting from June this year.
Find out more here.