SINGAPORE — At a new World War II exhibition to mark the 80th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, a poignant display of more than 200 personal artefacts recovered from a burial site underscored the scale of the tragedy that befell the residents of the city.
Consisting of keys, belt buckles, wallets, pens, watches, pipes and combs, they belonged to some of the victims of the Sook Ching massacre. During the operation, Japanese forces purged the population of supposed hostile elements – mostly targeting the Chinese population – in the period after Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. As many as 25,000 men never made it home.
The items were unearthed from the site at Jalan Puay Poon in 1966 and are displayed at the "Dislocations: Memory and Meaning of the Fall of Singapore, 1942" exhibition.
While some of the items bear the names of their owners, many more do not.
The National Museum of Singapore will launch the exhibition on Saturday (29 January). With an emphasis on different personal accounts by everyday Singaporeans, it will feature historical artefacts together with video projections, immersive experiences, and digital touch points in seven exhibition zones.
The narrative covers events in the lead-up to the war, the subsequent battle, the Fall of Singapore, and its aftermath. It will address previously unexplored topics such as the evacuation of civilians the week before the surrender and defensive preparations by locals, when many stepped up to be – among others – air raid wardens, nurses and members of the Singapore Volunteer Corps.
There are interactive elements such as an immersive pre-exhibition game "Sunset in Singapore", that allows visitors to encounter the war through the lens of individuals such as an Allied soldier, a nurse, or a civilian.
The third section "The Battle of Singapore", also features a selection of objects salvaged from the wreck of the Empress of Asia, a former passenger cruise liner sunk by the Japanese while on its way to Singapore in February 1942. Visitors can interact with an augmented reality (AR) experience and use their phones to view what eight of the salvaged objects might have looked like in their original state.
In addition, a tactical game allows visitors to understand the strategic decisions that were made in relation to the defence of Singapore.
Alongside curatorial fellow Iskander Mydin and assistant curator Syafiqah Jaaffar, Rachel Eng spent about a year putting the exhibition together. The assistant curator stressed that the story of the Fall of Singapore was not about a single, monolithic narrative, and instead consists of many different voices coming together.
"There were civilians who were crawling out of bomb shelters. There were soldiers who had to surrender and put down their arms. There were people who were trying to escape. So there are all these different stories that don't come up in that singular line of narrative," Eng said.
"We get to hear all of these people's voices finally come out."
In addition to Dislocations, which runs till 29 May, a series of public programmes will be held from February to commemorate the WWII experience in Singapore. "Battle for Singapore 2022" will be held across Changi Chapel and Museum and Reflections at Bukit Chandu and includes special tours and storytelling sessions.
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