On 11 Feb, I headed to the Memories at Old Ford Factory to attend one of the four weekend series of ‘Voices of our Darkest Hour: 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore Commermorative Talks’, with World War II survivor Mr Wong Hiong Boon the guest speaker for the day.
Rather then telling the facts and figures surrounding the Japanese invasion, Mr Wong adopted a personalised approach to this session, telling us his personal struggles of selling ‘ Huat Kueh’ to make a living, and how every single member of the community went all out to help one another with little regard for any religious and racial difference.
Three things ultimately stood out for me throughout his hour-long session.
First being the details of the screening processes of ‘Chinese conspirators’, and how upon receiving the ‘immunity seal’ from the Japanese, families refrained from washing that particular garment for fear of meeting the same fate as victims of the ‘Sook Ching Massacre’
Secondly, it was touching to see Mr Wong bravely recited all three National Anthems that he was made to sing through his life as a Singaporean, particularly that of ‘Kimigayo’ the Japanese National Anthem till 1945.
When Mr Wong sang the first two anthems it bore little pride but plenty of emotion as he expertly recollected the first verse of each song, but as he belted out just that one line of ‘ Majulah Singapura’ you could tell that unlike our current generation, he actually understood and appreciated the struggles that it represented.
Lastly, it was perhaps with a tinge of fate that I learnt that Mr Wong actually lived in Lowland Road (along Upper Serangoon Road) during the war time, and frequented Simon Road Market where incidentally my Grandmother used to hawk her wares of vegetables and tau kwa.
Mr Wong was ever so spritely when I told him about this fact at the end of the session, and he seemed so earnest, almost proud that my Grandma may or may not have been a part of his life and the community that survived the war.
Mr Wong’s talk left me with more questions than answers, but also a wondering as to how my Grandmother lived through the war, a question that unfortunately and perhaps shamefully on my part, I will never get to know about.