The first real day of the tour. Our guide Helena arrived to pick us up at the civilized time of 10.00am and we boarded the bus for a quick tour of the civic area of Singapore where many of the significant events of the war took place. From here we travelled to the Labrador Battery where some of the guns that were meant to make Singapore an “Impregnable Fortress” were located. Here Helena explained how the guns could were able to be turned to fire at the approaching Japanese, but how, being naval guns, they were virtually ineffective against a land attack. The Labrador Peninsula is one of the rare places in Singapore where you can walk through jungle, so not only was it interesting, but also a beautiful walk. Except that Julie kept looking for snakes all of the time!!!! Obviously not from Meningie!!
After a quick lunch we headed to the Changi Museum. Here we saw a replica of a chapel built by POW’s and heard many stories of suffering and despair as well as hope.
One of the stories that Helena told us is the one about the cross made from an old artillery shell on the altar of the chapel. It was made by a POW who died at sea after the war, leaving his three young children as orphans. Their mother died in the blitz, and for over 50 years they had no physical link with their father. Then the cross was re-discovered and returned to Singapore. The oldest son was then invited to carry the cross to the altar during the dedication service for the chapel. As he walked through the courtyard, he was overcome by the emotion of 5 decades, and was unable to move.
“When we arrived at the Changi Museum it was very heart wrenching seeing all of those photos of POW’s and realizing that many were around your age is difficult to comprehend. It made me really think about how lucky my great grandpa was to survive WW2 and not be a POW. These men were all incredible Australian heroes.”
“Helena is such a good story teller! Really gets you into it.”
After Changi we headed to the Kranji War Memorial and the first of our commemorations for the tour. The rain was falling and there was lightening all around us, as we made our way up through the headstones to the massive structure and the site of our service. Marni and Demi had the honour of being the first to commemorate soldiers, and Alana the first Connecting Spirits student to play the “Last Post” in Singapore.
“The peacefulness with the rain falling as Marni and Demi were doing their commemorations made the moment so magic. Getting caught in the moment like the rest of the world didn’t exist”
As Alana played the “last Post”,.. “From the first note my whole body broke out in goosebumps. Alana was amazing and we are all so proud of her”
Some other thoughts from the day.
“Amazing, it almost seems unreal that so many people could be killed. The conditions were so harsh it is amazing anyone survived! I have so much respect for those soldiers and I am proud to be able to wear the uniform and remember them. The mateship was incredible and as our guide Helena said you were more likely to survive when you didn’t think about self-preservation.”
“Sadness for what happened, but we will never fully understand what happened and how recent it truly was.. How could they have done some of the things that they did? The war that people die, that they could be treated so badly; it never seemed so real before, compared to how it is now. I really like the feel that the commemoration service gave but it also made me sad.”
We’re on the bus on the way to Kranji after visiting the museum where we learnt about the prisoners from the death rails and the Singaporean victims. I understand that in times of war people die but I don’t understand how one human could think,” A good punishment for asking for help is by sticking chopsticks in his ears” or “See that woman begged to save her children, I think I might hit her with my gun so hard her teeth fall out, then leave her children to die anyway” It doesn’t make any sense that they could be so lacking in human compassion. The damage done to prisoners of war is truly unthinkable. Of course the story of the two malarias carrying cholera makes you appreciate the goodness in people is really shown in times of difficulty. Singapore still so beautiful even with all of the rain. The bus has become a personal safe house refuge from the heat and the water. The tours have been really interesting but the highlight has to be seeing the squirrel in Labrador Park, it was so cute!!”
It’s amazing to think that the experiences I encountered today are just the tip of the iceberg. I thoroughly enjoyed today as I believe it is the first day the group started to bond and form new and stronger friendships. I am very proud of both Marni and Demi for breaking the ice and commemorating their soldiers first. In saying that also I’m glad to report that I am chuffed with my playing of the “Last Post.” I didn’t stuff it up!! Woo! Missing home already, however the relationships I’m developing with these guys makes it a lot easier.
Zac Van den Brink
The War memorial really made me think a lot about every family that was affected. In a way it really changed the way I looked at the war.
Stories of the past that sadden me just make me appreciate what I have even more.
I felt moved when the lady talked about the “Rape of Nanking” and I felt very sorry for the thousands of innocent civilians that died over a silly thing like soft hands.
After our service at Kranji we made our way to the Singapore River and saw the Merlion before boarding a bum boat for a tour along the river front, disembarking to enjoy a spicy tea in and Indian restaurant.
“Tea at the Indian restaurant was interesting. It reminded me very quickly that I can NOT handle spicy food. It was a massive culture shock for me. I think I can speak for Jack when I say “Bring back the Aussie food!!
Realising the true amount of pain and suffering within these areas is far more immense than I had originally thought.
I couldn't believe that through the amount of suffering there was still such a sense of community and hope within all the soldiers and close families.
The Labrador battery was an amazing place to see and made me imagine all the fighting that was going on, to protect from the Japanese at such dis advantages.
When seeing the huge monument, I was stunned with the amount of passion towards each life lost and how the Singaporean people dedicated and created such a tribute. I also found it so amazing that you could see visible bullet holes from World War 2 still seen in the side.
Each time I come here I am moved just a little more deeply by its stories. No matter how many times I have heard Helena share these painful memories, I am still amazed that anyone survived those hell holes. I just hope the young ones we take with us on these journeys, really take the time when they return home, to back up their emotional journey with one of further learning and reading. Acts of commemoration are really important parts of this whole process but unless they lead to the desire to learn more and to be agenst of change then in some ways the words and rituals are hollow vessels.