Day 2 November 21st
Singapore Military History and Kranji War Memorial
With little sleep under the belt it was all systems go for our first day of touring. The early morning call for 6.45 was in place and instructions were for the group to be showered, fed and ready to go by 8.15. Well I was just about the last to breakfast at 7.30 so I was well pleased with that one. Well fuelled up with a stunning meal the kids were on the bus and our lovely guide Helena was ready to start. I have used the ‘Journeys’ company in Singapore since 2006 and have always had Helena for the WW2 day and Geraldine for the cultural focus. They are superb guides and have become part of the ever growing Connecting Spirits global family. Hugs and kisses with Helena and a catch up of the previous two years of personal news, and we were off.
As in previous tours Helena immersed us in the whole WW2 story from the Singaporean perspective one that is little known by our kids. She is such a great guide and teacher and despite the oppressive humidity, the attention of the group never wavered. We ploughed up Mt Faber and looked out over the world’s busiest port and harbor and learnt about the rapid fall of Singapore in WW2 and the many misconceptions of why the so called British fortress fell so easily. She is a wonderful narrator and is able to get the complexities of military history across in such a way that it becomes accessible to the kids and non-history buffs in the group. Good teaching techniques with a strong and commanding voice. She is pure gold.
In the 2008 tour I didn’t get to see the next stop as I was looking after a sick student so this time I saw the Battlebox for the first time. The underground labyrinth was reminiscent of Churchill’s War Cabinet Rooms in London in the way the exhibits and tunnels were presented. It was really cleverly done. And what a relief it was to be out of the energy sapping humidity. I don’t remember it being this clawing last trip. The sweat just ran and we all began to become very stinky! It was hard work. But despite the difficult conditions the kids were just wonderful. Not a winge or grumble and they kept up with the guide and paid close attention. It was so nice to not feel as though we had to constantly be on the kids to focus and to not fall behind and not talk when the guide was speaking. They just did it straight away ……this lot already have a handle on the appropriate etiquette when being led by a tour guide. Hope it lasts!
Lunch was a joy as we went to a new place for an Indian buffet. The restaurant was cool, clean and friendly. AND the food….YUM! It was a gem. Not too many overly hot and excessively spicy options but gorgeous vegetable dishes and a fish curry to die for. And the narm bread (have no idea as to how to spell that one!) was divine. With bellies full and appetites sated, it was off to Changi museum and later and the first of the commemorations at Kranji war cemetery. This place always poses many emotional challenges and today was no different. As I wrote in my book in 2006, the personal link I have here is that of my Uncle Morrie Royal (Dad’s younger brother) and the horrors of the life of the POW’s are indeed confronting. Uncle Morrie was on the Burma Thai railway and also spent time in Changi. Like his peers be became skin and bone and at 6 foot 3 inches tall and 15 stone at the start of the war, when he returned the 6 stone man was testimony to the horrors the POW’s endured. He was never bitter according to Mum and his favourite food was rice …….it had saved his life. Unlike some survivors, Morrie never hated the Japanese as they were just as hungry as the Australians. In silence the group listened, learnt and shed tears as did Helena. She tells the stories she knows so well, but tells them as if they are new to her too. This is the woman’s brilliance as she conveys her country’s and her own family’s history in such a personal way. The impact it has on the kids is profound.
First of all
I didn’t realize just how small Singapore is! Today we had so much information thrown at us. As soon as I stepped foot into Kranji War cemetery I felt relaxed and peaceful like there was nothing inside of me. When I looked at the headstones all I could see were soldiers standing tall. My mind was taking me into another world. When looking at all the names on the wall, water smudges ran from the names but I really believe they were tears running from each soldier’s name.
Today we did the WW2 part of our Singapore visit. It was hot and very humid but our guide Helena and bus driver Mr. Fu were awesome. We went to Labrador, Changi and Kranji War cemetery. We learnt about the experiences of the soldiers, the conditions they faced and their stories.
Today we learned about the Singaporeans’ involvement in WW2. We started the day at the civilian memorial dedicated to all the civilians killed during the war. We also learnt about the massacre of over 50,000 Chinese men between the ages of 18 and 50 in order to prevent anti-Japanese attitudes. I always knew that Singapore was devastated by the war but had no idea there were so many civilian deaths.
From the Changi museum it was onto the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Kranji and this year was special as one of our students Jade Newman, was to commemorate her great uncle Ivan Day who died on the Death Railway and is buried in Burma. Her personal reflections follow.
When I first started collecting information about my great uncle, I had no idea the emotions it would bring when telling his story to the group. Being first to commemorate was obviously scary, but it was a different kind of fear, not like the one you get when doing a class oral. This was so much more. I did my commemoration the best I could and feel honoured to be given the opportunity. When Jude came up to me and said ‘Your mum would be so proud’ made the whole experience even more emotional. The support from the kids and the friendships that have already formed makes me sure this will be the trip of a lifetime.
Talking to the kids about how they feel about the trip before we departed many shared a common anxiety about how their commemorations would go and how they would manage the emotional demands of it all. They are genuinely concerned about crying in front of their peers. The little treasures will soon learn that this very quickly becomes a non-issue. The bonding that happens amongst the kids because they are all in the same boat and we are all on this trip because of a common belief that this is worth doing, soon alleviates this fear. Many summed it up in their reflections:
Had the first commemoration today. It was a very moving experience to see another student show a lot of emotion.
To be the first to commemorate would’ve been hard but Jade did an amazing job. Knowing how she had worked up to it and how much meant to her made it a really moving experience. Seeing how everyone supported Jade has given me a heap of confidence for doing my commemorations. (although I am still very nervous!)
HAYDEN BIDDLE (Youth Leader)
With our first commemoration I think the kids have a greater sense of how lucky we are as a country and have gained a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made during the war.
The day ended up with the night safari at Singapore Zoo. This is always a big hit with the kids after such an intense day it’s good to enjoy the fire dancers, the animals of the night show and the wonderful Bongo Burgers. Our bus driver Mr. Fu was a hit amongst the kids….look out Richard…you’ve got competition!
Today we went to many different places with the guide and watched Jade do her commemoration. We visited the zoo and had a great day overall.
The Night Safari was fantastic and allowed me to appreciate how many animals are endangered in the world.
Singapore is a amazing place so full of culture and history. The heat was a killer though….give me an Aussie summer any day!
And the final word on the bus driver……
On a lighter note…..Mr. Fu is the BEST bus driver EVER! Three near misses and we were all still safe!
They haven’t seen anything yet in the bus driver category!!!!! Can’t wait to see the reactions they will have to Richard…game on!
To November 22nd