War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore addresses debates on war, memory and heritage. The themes it tackles have formed a part of the fabric of our lives for nearly two decades. The authors have encouraged successive cohorts of students at Singapore’s National Institute of Education to interview their parents and grandparents, and have immersed ourselves in heritage projects: climbing down rusting ladders into old gun tunnels; interviewing the Secretary-General of the Malayan Communist Party in Canberra; listening to memories of the Burma-Thailand Railway while sharing tapioca, and taking in the silence in the Chapel of Changi Prison in its last days before demolition. We have attended ceremonies for anti-Japanese guerrillas at Nilai, with Indian National Army veterans in Kuala Lumpur, for Australian and British soldiers at Kranji, and at Singapore’s Civilian War Memorial.
Singapore fell to Japanese forces on 15 February 1942. Within a matter of days, the occupying army took prisoner more than 100,000 British, Australian and Indian soldiers, and massacred thousands of Chinese civilians. A resistance movement formed in Malaya’s jungle-covered mountains, but the vast majority of people could do little but resign themselves to life under Japanese rule. The Occupation of Malaya would last three and a half years, until the British returned in September 1945.
How is this period remembered? And how have individuals, communities, and states shaped and reshaped collections in the post-war era as the events of the time slipped out of living memory? This volume uses observations gathered from members of various communities involved in or affected by the conflict—Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, British and Australians—to respond to these questions.
The authors draw on other forms of memory: from the soaring pillars of Singapore’s Civilian War Memorial to traditional Chinese cemeteries in Malaysia; and from families left bereft by Japanese massacres, to the young women who flocked to the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, dreaming of a march on Delhi.
In preparing War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore, the authors have reinserted previously marginalized or self-censored voices back into the story in a way that allows them to reflect on the nature of conflict and memory. Moreover, these voices speak of the searing transit from war and massacre through resistance and decolonization to the moulding of postcolonial state and identities.