Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Battle Box

The Battle Box is an underground military operations complex that was part of the Malaya command headquarters during World War II. It's located in Fort Canning park, which is up the hill from the fire station in my previous blog entry.

Some of the posters on the walls have been recreated from the era. This was one of my favourites.

The figures are all animatronic. The Battle Box has been recreated as it was the day Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. The switchboard operator was a very busy man. There is still chalk writing on the door of this room dating to the day the British left.

Leaning on the table is a figurine of General Percival, who commanded the Allied forces in Malaya at the time. The meeting depicted in this room is a discussion that leads up to the decision to surrender. An act Winston Churchill called "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." In the meeting shown here Percival suggests alternatives, including a counter attack and the officers on his staff convince him that it would be futile.

Our guide, Dias, seen here on the left, was 7 years old when Singapore fell to the Japanese. He remembers hiding under the stairs with his brother and sister for three weeks before the surrender. The allied forces had no air or naval support by this time and the Japanese could bomb Singapore almost at will. He believes Percival's decision to surrender when he did saved the lives of himself and his family. Of Winston Churchill and his comments Dias says "That fat cigar smoking prime minister should have come here to fight. Percival had no planes, he had no ships, he could not win." Over the next 3 years, before the liberation, Dias learned Japanese in school, where it was compulsory.

This Japanese surrender flag was taken by British troops at Fort Canning. It features a Japanese character ('YAMAKA') that relates to an ordnance unit. Some of the text on the flag includes:
- This flag was removed by J. Fell (Ginger) from Fort Canning Singapore on Sept 9th 1945
- Bob (Smiler) Jolley Liverpool [followed by a beer mug]
- J. Smith Newcastle
- Cpl. R.E.M. Murrow Sunderland
- Cpl. Hobson Good Old BFD Northern

There's also an Irish harp design in the top right corner.

If you ever find yourself with a few spare hours to kill in Singapore, The Battle Box is well worth a visit.


alex said...

I'd love to see the Battle Box. The story of the fall of Singapore really depresses me, so many missed opportunities and fundamental errors. Surrender was probably right but the whole episode sticks in my throat not least because of the later atrocities like Bangka (Banka)Island

which the Australians, understandably, feel pretty strongly about but also because of the capture of so many Allied servicemen and women who were then incarcerated in Japanese POW camps.

Ian said...

Yes, not to mention the massacre of ethnic Chinese during the occupation. Official Japanese figures put the number at 5,000. Singaporean Chinese believe it to be closer to 100,000.

Singapore has a wonderful Asian Civilizations Museum that specializes in pan-Asian cultures and civilizations. Japan does not feature. Singapore, it seems, has not forgotten.

alex said...

I'm not surprised, I would imagine they also haven't forgotten being abandoned by their erstwhile colonial masters when they needed them most!

Ian said...

I don't know. I didn't notice any animosity and they are members of the Commonwealth. But then Britain's not in the Asian Civilizations Museum either.

noelbynature said...

if you're interested in Singapore and British history during World War II, there are a few other sites worth visiting: The Changi Chapel and Museum is a touching memorial to the POWs interred at Changi during the war. Reflections at Bukit Chandu is a war memorial/museum commemorating one of the last stands against the Japanese before the the surrender and the Memories at Old Ford Factory cover the period of Singapore under the Japanese occupation

Ian said...

I really wanted to get out to the Changi Chapel, but ran out of time. Nikki has been and said it was definitely worth visiting.

Anonymous said...

I used to own a copy of that poster.. I think we went on a school trip to the war museum in London ...

Ian said...

The Battle Box sells the posters, I picked up a set of 5 different ones in postcard form, bit easier to carry home.