Kranji – War Memorial

Before 1939, the Kranji area was a military camp and at the time of the Japanese invasion of Malaya, it was the site of a large ammunition magazine. On 8 February 1942, the Japanese crossed the Johore Straits in strength, landing at the mouth of the Kranji River within two miles of the place where the war cemetery now stands. On the evening of 9 February, they launched an attack between the river and the causeway. During the next few days fierce fighting ensued, in many cases hand to hand, until their greatly superior numbers and air strength necessitated a withdrawal. After the fall of the island, the Japanese established a prisoner of war camp at Kranji and eventually a hospital was organised nearby at Woodlands.

After the reoccupation of Singapore, the small cemetery started by the prisoners at Kranji was developed into a permanent war cemetery by the Army Graves Service when it became evident that a larger cemetery at Changi could not remain undisturbed. Changi had been the site of the main prisoner of war camp in Singapore and a large hospital had been set up there by the Australian Infantry Force. In 1946, the graves were moved from Changi to Kranji, as were those from the Buona Vista prisoner of war camp. Many other graves from all parts of the island were transferred to Kranji together with all Second World War graves from Saigon Military Cemetery in French Indo-China (now Vietnam), another site where permanent maintenance could not be assured.

The Kranji War Memorial is laid out in a geometric pattern of stones spread out on a gently sloping green hill which offers a commanding view across the Straits of Johore to the north and over the hills of Singapore to the south. The Kranji War Cemetery was designed by Colin St. Clair Oakes. The design represents the army, the navy and the air-force services. The vertical element is the conning tower with a star at the top, while the spreading elements are the wings and the walls, symbolic of military formations. The names for the dead are engraved in the walls. The total number of burials in the cemetery is 4,465.

The main avenue of the cemetery rises gently from the Stone of Remembrance near the entrance to the Cross of Sacrifice, beyond which are flights of steps leading to a hill top terrace. On this terrace are four memorials. The largest memorial is the Singapore Memorial with the names of 24,346 soldiers and airmen who died during the campaign in Malaya and Indonesia, or in subsequent captivity and have no known grave. A register is kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The huge central pylon of the Singapore Memorial rises through the roof to a height of 80 feet with a star at its top. To the east of this Memorial is the Singapore Civil General Hospital Grave Memorial where 107 servicemen and 300 civilians from various races who had perished whilst in captivity are also buried. Finally, to the west is another memorial commemorating 255 casualties of the Malaya Campaign whose graves elsewhere in Malaya cannot be maintained. To the south, behind the Singapore Memorial is the Cremation Memorial which commemorates 789 soldiers of the Indian Army who died and were cremated according to Hindu rites. The Chinese Memorial in plot 44 is a collective grave for 69 Chinese members of the British Commonwealth Forces all killed when Singapore fell in February 1942.

As you take a walk around the Kranji War Memorial, you’ll see the war graves, the state cemetery, the memorial walls and the military graves honouring the men and women from many countries including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaya, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, and the Netherlands who gave their lives for freedom in WWII. The names of over 25,000 allied soldiers killed in the war but whose bodies were never recovered, are inscribed on both sides of the 12 standing Memorial Walls. The following services are held annually on these days:  Closest Sunday to 11th Nov – Remembrance Day, where the dead are honoured through a memorial service. 25th Apr – ANZAC Day is commemorated.

Towards the north end of the cemetery grounds is the State Cemetery and burial site of Yusuf Ishak and Benjamin Sheares, the first and second Presidents of Singapore. Inche Yusof bin Ishak served as Singapore’s President between August 1965 and November 1970, and died on 23 November 1970. Dr. Benjamin Henry Sheares became the second President of the Republic of Singapore on 2 January 1971, and was also buried here after he died on 12 May 1981.

Adjoining Kranji War Cemetery is Kranji Military Cemetery, a substantial non-world war site of 1,422 burials, created in 1975 when it was found necessary to remove the graves of servicemen and their families from Pasir Panjang and Ulu Pandan cemeteries.

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Text excerpts taken from infopedia.nl.sg and cwgc.org (Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

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