Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Old Ford Factory

Museum Montage - Roger Smith

I have been using these few days of annual holiday to sally forth each morning to a different museum.

There are several that I have yet to visit and some that I frequent on a regular basis. Falling into the former category is the Old Ford factory, the site where the British surrendered to the invading Japanese army in 1942.

The trip to the museum is a mini-adventure in its own right; the MRT to Jurong and a change to the Red line sees one arriving at Bukit Batok. The bus interchange is adjacent to the station and easy to find. The bus to board is the 173 which winds through Bukit Batok and passes the museum in Upper Bukit Timah Road.

The much vaunted impregnable fortress of Singapore capitulated relatively quickly and Lt-General Percival received the terms of surrender in the Ford Factory.

As it transpired later, the Japanese were in fact out manned two to one and had seriously considered withdrawing from Singapore but Percival did not know this and his counterpart, Lt Gen Yamashita, succeeded in bluffing Percival by intimating that he had the superior strategic position.

February 15, 1942. Battle of Singapore, British Surrender. Lt.-Gen. Yamashita (seated, centre) thumps the table with his fist to emphasize his terms -- unconditional surrender. Lt.-Gen. Percival sits between his officers, his clenched hand to his mouth. (Photo from Imperial War Museum)

What followed was 44 months of brutal repression at the hands of the Japanese and it is therefore not surprising that many older Singaporeans will neither forgive nor forget what they lived through.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese and the Old Ford factory documents life during the Syonan years.

The WW2 People's War archive that the BBC produced contains many first hand accounts of the fall of Singapore and the Syonan years. Those who were prisoners of war had harrowing tales to tell but the local population also suffered terribly. See the Haxworth collection of POW sketches and online diary.

Memories at the Old Ford Factory chronicles these events and how people survived.

Despite the cruelty metered out by the occupiers some of the principal Japanese war criminals escaped punishment.

One Masano Tsuji, who orchestrated the 'cleansing' operations of the local population ( i.e. massacres by the truckload), evaded capture. Reportedly he alluded his would-be captors thanks to the assistance of a wealthy Thai Chinese wife and became a 'monk' in Thailand. He ended up back in Japan in 1948 under the protection of the US occupation forces. Even more bizarrely he then went on to author a book documenting his escape!

As a footnote, shortly after my arrival in Singapore the father of my best friend from High School wrote to me. He is a medical doctor who had trained with another NZ doctor, the latter ending up at Alexandra Hospital in Singapore when it was overrun by the Japanese.

The NZ doctor was murdered by the Japanese when they massacred patients and staff on February 14th, 1942. Hear audio recollections

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