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War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore

Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack

Publication Year: 2012

Singapore fell to Japanese forces on 15 February 1942. Within a matter of days, the occupying army took prisoner more than 100,000 British, Australian and Indian soldiers, and massacred thousands of Chinese civilians. A resistance movement formed in Malaya's jungle-covered mountains, but the vast majority of people could do little but resign themselves to life under Japanese rule. The Occupation of Malaya would last three and a half years, until the British returned in September 1945. How is this period remembered? And how have individuals, communities, and states shaped and reshaped collections in the post-war era as the events of the time slipped out of living memory? This volume uses observations gathered from members of various communities involved in or affected by the conflict -- Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, British and Australians to respond to these questions. Its young women who flocked to the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, hoping to march on Delhi. The authors also draw on other forms of memory, including the soaring pillars of Singapore's Civilian War Memorial and traditional Chinese cemeteries in Malaysia. In preparing this volume, the authors have reinserted previously marginalized or self-censored voices back into the story in a way that allows them to reflect on the nature of conflict and memory. Moreover, these voices speak of the searing transit from war and massacre through resistance and decolonization to the molding of postcolonial state and identities.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half title, Title Page, Copyright Pages

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pp. v

Plates and Maps

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pp. vii-x

Note on Spellings

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

We would like to thank some of the many people who helped to make this book possible, not least the successive intakes of students at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, and the numerous people who allowed us the privilege of interviewing...


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pp. 1-49

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 3-13

This book addresses debates on war, memory and heritage, but for us it is more than a mere study of things done and dusted. The themes it tackles have formed a part of the fabric of our lives for nearly two decades. We have encouraged successive cohorts of students at...

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Chapter 2: Personal Narratives of British Defeat and Japanese Occupation

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pp. 14-49

In this chapter, the main focus is on five members of the wartime generation. The five include an Australian (Don Lee), and two Indian National Army veterans (Mr Kalyan Ram Das and Mrs Rasammah Bhupalan). There is also a Chinese volunteer who served in Dalforce...


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pp. 51-252

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Chapter 3: The European Prisoner of War as Hero and Victim

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pp. 53-95

This chapter traces the way British and Australians tried to shape the memory of the Fall and Occupation of Malaya. It details their attempt to turn their defeat, and shame at Malaya’s wartime fate, into something that could buttress empire, and provide a balm for the...

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Chapter 4: The Chinese War Hero

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pp. 96-134

For Malaya’s Chinese population, the Occupation was the worst of times, and the best of times; a time of humiliation, and yet also of transcendent heroism.1 It was the worst of times: a nightmare in which civilians were massacred by Japanese soldiers, survivors had to obey the...

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Chapter 5: Chinese Victimhood

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pp. 135-173

Chinese memories of the war crystallised around three main types of experience: those of the hero; the everyday victim; and the “inspections” and massacres of 1942. The previous chapter has already dealt with those who were...

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Chapter 6: Indian Nationalism and Suffering

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pp. 174-206

On 4 July 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose spoke in Singapore’s Cathay Building. Th ere he accepted the Presidency of the Indian Independence League (IIL), and the allegiance of the Indian National Army (INA). At that point the INA, raised from British Indian Army soldiers...

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Chapter 7: Malay Warriors and Pemuda

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pp. 207-242

“Student researchers … took note of the excitement shown by respondents when they were asked to comment on … school life under the “rule of the samurai” … some of them would burst into impromptu humming of a few bars of Japanese songs”.1 While adult Malays had...

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Chapter 8: Malay Victims

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pp. 243-252

The postwar emphasis on exemplars of the Malay martial tradition crowded out memories of Malay victimhood. Quite apart from “everyday victims” of the Occupation, and of shortages, these victims included Malays forced to labour on the Burma-Thailand Railway, and those sent...

Nations and States

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pp. 253

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Chapter 9: Memory and Nation-Building in Malaysia

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pp. 255-291

This chapter deals with war commemoration in Malaysia from 1967. This was the first year when the state no longer relied on massive British military assistance for its survival, following Indonesia’s formal ending of its 1963–1966 Confrontation of Malaysia, in August...

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Chapter 10: Memory and Nation-Building in Singapore

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pp. 292-333

In the mid-1960s, Singapore’s PAP Government had successfully struggled to harness the war grievances of the island’s Chinese, who constituted more than 77 per cent of its population.*1 Th e central focus of these was the Japanese massacre of up to 25,000 Chinese on the island...

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Chapter 11: Conclusion

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pp. 334-342

Memories of the war and Japanese Occupation have played a significant part in the moulding of modern Malaysia and Singapore at the individual, community and national levels. Th is period encompassed so many traumatic events — from British surrender, through the...


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pp. 343-344


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pp. 345-415


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pp. 416-438


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pp. 439-459

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696306
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695996

Page Count: 460
Illustrations: 43 images, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: New