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Tired of Orchard Road? Try military tourism in Singapore

Singapore | Wed, December 20, 2017 | 03:23 pm
Tired of Orchard Road? Try military tourism in Singapore ‘Memorial to the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation, 1942–1945’ in Singapore. Beyond the bustling Orchard Road and astonishing Gardens by the Bay, Singapore possesses a rich history confronting British colonization, followed by a short yet distressing period of Japanese occupation. (Shutterstock/File)

Military- and war-themed museums are a common attraction that can be found in almost all countries. However, few offer such close interactions as the military tourist attractions in Singapore.

Beyond the bustling Orchard Road and astonishing Gardens by the Bay, Singapore possesses a rich history confronting British colonization, followed by a short yet distressing period of Japanese occupation.

The historical evidence of both British colonization and Japanese occupation are scattered throughout the island, from the famous Jurong Line where the allied troops withdrew after a gruesome battle with the Japanese army in the west, to the Changi Museum on the east coast.  

Beyond the stories of the past, military museums in Singapore also provide insights into how their armed forces will develop in the future.

To gain insights into one of the most advanced militaries in the world, these attractions are worth a visit:

Army Museum and SAFTI Bus Tour

Located in Joo Koon at west end of the island, the Singapore Army Museum was established in the same complex as the Singapore Discovery Center.

This museum’s exhibitions provide insights into the short history of the Singapore army, including its conscription policy, also known as National Service (NS).

In a departure from most military museums, which tend to glorify the past, the Singapore Army Museum portrays the modest beginnings of the country's armed forces in an era when Singapore had to build its own armed forces from scratch following its separation from Malaysia and the total withdrawal of British troops.

Something not be missed, is the bus tour within the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI). Outside this service, SAFTI is a restricted area for anyone who does not hold a permit to enter.

The bus tour takes around 25-30 minutes and stops by some key landmarks considered sacred by members of the Singapore Armed Force.

SAFTI itself is a 98 hectare military site dedicated to training purposes and is also home to the Command and Staff College.

Fort Canning Battle Box

Nothing is better than visiting a military museum on a former battleground. At Fort Canning Battle Box you can get a true sense of what Lieutenant-General Arthur Percivall experienced shortly before his surrender to the Japanese army.

Located inside Fort Canning hill (yes, inside the hill), Battle Box is a liveable military bunker that previously functioned as a hidden command and control centre for the British Army. The bunker was equipped with a water and oxygen supply system that allowed military officers to live inside

Visitors can take a guided tour inside the labyrinth-like bunker. Inside, visitors can learn about the history of Singapore in World War II via information panels, dioramas and movies, and also how the officers communicated without giving away their crucial secrets to the enemy.

The best exhibition is the meeting room where British officers and one Australian Lieutenant-General discussed the desperate situation they faced shortly before deciding to surrender to Japan.

In order to re-enact the crisis, this museum displays life-size dioramas to give the visitors a sense of the tension felt by the formerly strong colonizers, who, within the blink of an eye, would have to face their fate as prisoners of war.

Reflections at Bukit Chandu

As with Battle Box, Reflections at Bukit Chandu is a military-genre museum located on a former battleground.

Bukit Chandu was a British army stronghold that was used to halt the rapid advance of the Japanese imperial forces from the north in the beginning of 1940s. Here, last ditch efforts were made to protect the hill by British units, including a Malay platoon led by 2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi who became a Singapore national hero because of the exceptional perseverance he displayed in the battle.

The museum's buildings, which house various collections, include a colonial era bungalow, located on top of a hill. In addition to learning from the historical artefacts, visitors can also enjoy the ambience of the tall trees around the museum.

Although this museum recounts the stories of the British troops’ last efforts to prevent the Japanese army from conquering the island, many of the exhibitions are dedicated to 2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi and his men in the Malay platoon. (kes)

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Satrio Dwicahyo is an alumnus of Gadjah Mada University's History Department in Yogyakarta and is currently pursuing a graduate degree at Nanyang Technological University Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

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