Bukit Batok Memorial – Syonan Chureito

We visited the Bukit Batok Nature Park and found ourselves standing at the base of the stairs to what was once the Syonan Chureito, a shinto shrine and war memorial that honoured the Japanese who died in Singapore during World War II. Yamashita Tomoyuki, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese forces, ordered the construction of the memorial to commemorate the Japanese soldiers who were killed in the battle of Singapore. This area had seen one of the fiercest battles between the Japanese and the Allied troops. Nearby is the Fort Motor Company factory, where Lieutenant General Percival had unconditionally surrendered Singapore on 15th January 1942 to Japan.

At the end of 1942, about 500-800 Australian Imperial Forces POWs and a subsequent party of British POWs were taken from Changi Camp to flatten the land, build a parking lot and a long flight of stairs leading up to the memorial. Allied POWs sought permission from the Japanese to search for the remains of their compatriots too. This request was conveyed to Lieutenant Toshiyuki Nekemoto, a liaison officer with the POW workforce, who then raised the matter to his superior Major Tamura. In keeping with Japanese tradition, Major Tamura suggested that a memorial be built for the dead soldiers of the opposing forces. General Takuro Matsui, the commander of the 5th division of the battle of Singapore, was initially resistant to the idea. He finally relented when he realised that the publicity gave them an opportunity to show the Japanese’s magnanimity.

 Photo Source: roll-of-honour.com

The Syonan Chureito was a 12.2 m wooden pylon crowned with a brass cone that sat on two tiers of earth and cement. Just behind the memorial was a small shed-like shrine that contained the ashes of the dead Japanese soldiers. A wooden fence surrounded the memorial. Further behind the Syonan Chureito stood the memorial to the dead Allied soldiers. The memorial consisted of a 3 m high wooden cross and the ashes of the British and Australians soldiers were buried beneath the cross.

 Photo Source: National Archives of Singapore

The Syonan Chureito was formally unveiled on 10th September 1942. Over the next three years, Shinto services and burial ceremonies were held periodically at the memorial to honour the Japanese war dead from the region. Military and Japanese officials would regularly worship the Japanese Emperor and the deified spirits of their fallen comrades at Syonan Chureito and Syonan Jinja in MacRitchie Reservoir.

 Photo Source: National Archives of Singapore and retrievia.wordpress.com

Syonan Chureito was destroyed by the Japanese after the war for fear of desecration by enemy forces. The British Memorial Cross was removed later. All that remains now is the access road now renamed Lorong Sesuai, two entrance pillars and the 1201 concrete steps that lead to a transmission tower operated by Mediacorp. The ashes at the Japanese war memorial were subsequently re-interred in the Japanese Cemetery Park in Chuan Hoe Avenue.

Upon a suggestion to the authorities by a former Australian POW, S. Hannam, in 1981, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and National Heritage Board erected a memorial plaque at the foot of the steps to commemorate this little known history and the sufferings of the Australian POWs during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. In 1995, the site was gazetted by the National Heritage Board as one of the 11 World War II sites in Singapore.

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