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Blood and mud: living on a former battlefield in Singapore

December 9th, 2014

Then the Japanese invaded on February 8, 1942. Families were evacuated, leaving clothes, furniture and toys in their wake.

The estate was the site of an intense three days of fighting in the battle for Singapore. The men of the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment held off a series of attacks by the troops of the Japanese 41st (Fukuyama) Regiment but the island collapsed to the Japanese.

The Allied soldiers were sent to Changi Prison and the estate was turned into a prisoner of war camp, with Japanese soldiers using the homes as a base (pictured below.) The island was only liberated when America dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima, in Japan, in August 1945.

When peace came, the buildings in Adam Park were patched up and became private homes again as they remain today. With the consent of the homeowners, Jon has dug gas masks, empty bullet cases and regimental insignia from among the shell scraps hidden in their gardens.

“We have a lot of visitors [to the battlefield] from the UK, US and Australia, as well as expats,” Jon said.

“These are countries united by the fact that, although they took part in a world war, they didn’t fight a battle on their own soil. People struggle to understand the battlefield. Without military service most people’s experience is the picture painted by a trip to the cinema.”

Much of Singapore was a battlefield, and living here I have become immersed in the past. Some of the buildings surrounding my home housed soldiers. I can imagine snipers at the windows, and platoons patrolling the undergrowth. I have a real connection to the soil I stand on.

“The aim of the Adam Park project is to show the heritage potential of the battlefields. It is important as it gives people a sense of who they are and why they’re here,” Jon said.

“In the UK we take heritage and history for granted. If people understand the past they can have pride in the future. As Brits we can learn from this kind of nationalism. Singaporeans are proud of who they are.”

Jon, 49, has written books on the military and holds a Master of Literature in conflict and battlefield archaeology from Glasgow University. He was born in Canada where his father had been seconded from the Royal Navy to the Royal Canadian Navy, and brought up in Cannock, Staffordshire.

He’s served in the Merchant Navy himself, and later the RAF. With six years of expat life in Singapore under his belt – he lives there with wife Alison and their two children – he has the academic and practical experience to bring the battlefield to life.

“The British have left a strong legacy here and Singapore has built on that to become one of the greatest cities in the world,” he said.

A Colonial-era house in Adam Park, Singapore today


World War Two

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