A walk through Changi, the eastern end of Singapore, reveals battle scars from World War II.
History has the danger of being seen as dry, and the calamities of war have the ability to unsettle the mind. But our skilled guide, Sharul, manages to keep us hooked for 3 hours in an engaging and sensitive manner.
We’re on a heritage tour that takes us through significant sites in Changi, and Sharul fills us in on why this area is home to many haunting memories of the Japanese Occupation. When the British Army made Changi their principal base in Singapore, they equipped it with an extensive network of military infrastructure and three barracks. This, together with the Changi jail, made the area an ideal location for the Japanese to house their many prisoners of war.
At Changi Beach, the waves act as Sharul’s soundtrack as he paints a vivid picture of Operation Sook Ching, a military attempt to eliminate anti-Japanese sentiments from the Chinese population. We learn about the grand schemes that lured Chinese men into confinement, the random screening process to sieve out the supposed threats, and the massacres that were carried out at several locations. Suddenly, with the knowledge that this is where 66 victims lost their lives unjustly, the place transforms from a nondescript beach to one that holds much grief.
The focus shifts from bone-chilling killings to wartime strategies when we arrive at the Johore Battery, which was funded by the Sultan of Johore to build up Singapore’s defences. Here, we find the replica of a large naval gun and 15-inch diameter shell, and get a glimpse into a labyrinth of tunnels. Sharul sets the record straight regarding four commonly circulated myths regarding the guns, and demonstrates how the 90-degree bends of the tunnels were built to protect men in battle. Regrettably, these efforts were still insufficient to keep the enemy at bay.
Then, the stories get more personal and the messages become more powerful at the Changi Museum. We listen enraptured as Sharul goes into full storyteller mode. As we sit at the chapel pews, he gives a heart-wrenching account of how Harry Stogden turned a weapon of mass destruction into a symbol of peace with the famous Changi Cross.
Next, we are led through the exhibits within the museum, with moving narratives of Jack Sharpe’s unbreakable resolve that helped him triumph over extreme hardship, and the Changi murals that kept Stanley Warren going despite life-threatening sickness.
These are inspiring tales of the human spirit, no doubt, but the bigger picture also starts to unravel—what happens after the war has ended. And we realise the true importance of institutions like the Changi Museum. While many of those involved in the war seem unwilling to revisit the past, it is important to document what happened. Because it is by confronting the harrowing truth and putting all that behind them, that war veterans and their loved ones get the closure they need to move on.
And as for visitors like us, who are fortunate enough to only read and hear about these wartime experiences, it serves as a reminder that peace is always infinitely the better path to take.
The Changi WWII™ tour is brought to you by Changi Museum in partnership with Journeys, a heritage and travel service. For more war trails or walks around Singapore’s nooks and crannies, check out www.journeys.com.sg
Enjoy a Staycation in Orchard Road at Concorde Hotel SingaporeVisit Hotel Website