Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at the 54th War Memorial Service in Commemoration of the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation and Total Defence Day Commemoration 2021

Published Date: 15 February 2021 06:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Roland Ng, President, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Distinguished guests 
Ladies and Gentlemen 

1. 15 February 1942 was a dark day in our history, when Singapore fell to Japan during World War II.  So, we mark Total Defence Day on this day. And on this day every year, we come together to remember the shared experiences of those who went through the Japanese Occupation of Singapore and remind ourselves that our strongest response to any challenge facing Singapore is a collective one, where we stand together as one united people. 

2. It has been nearly 80 years since the Japanese Occupation. We remember those who lost their lives. We remember those who fought bravely and sacrificed themselves to secure our nation’s peace and security. We remember the many who endured untold suffering and overcame countless difficulties and hardships, and how they went about their duties steadfastly to lay the foundations for today’s Singapore.

3. These memories seem like a distant past, especially to our young people. For someone who is around my age, I still get the chance to hear first-hand experiences about the Occupation. I remember stories from my late grandfather – how he barely survived when the Japanese soldiers rounded up the young men in his village and brought them to a faraway place.  They let him go in the end, but his brother lost his life. I hear stories from my mother who’s now in her late 80s. She experienced the Occupation as a little girl, but the memories are still vivid of how she feared for her life on a daily basis, how she had to constantly hide from the soldiers, and how she survived on tapiocas and sweet potatoes every day.   

4. As time passes, the generation that endured the Occupation will gradually fade away. It is important that we keep these memories alive. So I am very glad that the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry has launched an e-Book this year, as you heard from Mr. Roland Ng just now, to capture the story and the significance of the Civilian War Memorial, as well as those who have gone through and experienced the hardships of the Occupation. I want to thank the SCCCI for contributing this useful resource, and also for all their contributions in keeping alive the memories of the Occupation, together with their partners, the SAF Veterans’ League and other community organisations. The resource is something that our educators can use to engage students as part of History and Social Studies. It will help new generation growing up to understand how we got here, why it could have easily turned out very differently, and why Singapore is worth defending.

5. Our pioneers who endured the hardships of war – they are a generation who got things done; who served with honour; who helped built the Singapore we love and cherish.   They have taught us that there is no trouble we cannot endure; no calamity we cannot overcome as a people.  

6. As we honour their contributions and sacrifices, let us reflect on how we can respond to our current crisis dealing with COVID-19, guided by the same sense of solidarity and collective responsibility.

7. The current Covid-19 pandemic is perhaps the biggest challenge for the world since the Second World War. In Singapore, we are doing everything we can to control the infection, and to protect lives and livelihoods. We have had to impose some important measures. They are necessary but we know that they are also very painful and difficult.

8. We are very glad to see Singaporeans taking these measures in their stride, cooperating with them, and embodying the spirit of Total Defence during this time, sacrificing for the common good, pulling together with tremendous resilience and fortitude. For example, we see frontline workers working round the clock all over Singapore, trying to keep Singapore safe. We see businesses and workers adapting to find new ways to pursue their livelihoods. We see neighbours and ordinary people reaching out to help the vulnerable and those in need, and we see Singaporeans all over adhering to safe distancing measures and making sure to pass on factual and accurate information for everyone’s safety and wellbeing.

9. So, I’m hopeful and optimistic that Singapore can emerge stronger from this crisis, just as we did after the Japanese Occupation.

10. The Occupation in Singapore lasted for more than three years. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, but at some point, the pandemic will pass and at some point, it will be over. At that time, I hope we can look back and say that this has been a defining moment in our history. We have been tested in this crucible, but we have overcome the toughest of circumstances together with resilience and resolve, and we have prevailed and forged a stronger sense of solidarity and unity.  

11. Ultimately that’s the best homage we can pay to our forefathers and our pioneers, to uphold their conviction and values of our nation, to take on the responsibility that they shouldered, and to commit to building a better Singapore together. Regardless of the challenges that lie ahead, if we hold fast to the values of Total Defence, I am certain we will be able to face the future with confidence, together. Thank you very much.

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