Monday, August 04, 2014

Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph (Book launch)

I remember walking along the Esplanade Park, towards the direction of City Hall back in February this year and i encountered 3 memorial structures namely the Lim Bo Seng Memorial, The Singapore Cenotaph and Tan Kim Seng Fountain. I am slightly more familiar with the Tan Kim Seng Fountain and the Lim Bo Seng Memorial, but other than the fact the Singapore Cenotaph commemorates the soldiers who died during The Great War (World War I ) from 1914-1918 and behind it World War II, i know very little about it. The war memorial remembering the soldiers at Kranji War Memorial is much bigger.

National Monuments at  Esplanade Walk  

Book launch -Forgotten Names Recalled-Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph
I attended the book launch on the August 3, knowing nothing of the stories of the names of the 124 names etched on this memorial. It is indeed amazing that the author, Rosemary Lim is able to compile the stories of 112 of this people and launch this book 100 years after the start of the Great War ( World War I ). She is not alone, as in this book she acknowledged guest writers who made this book possible and they included Pierre Lee, Rosanne Woodmansee and Elaine Young. Some of the guest speakers spoke during the book launch. Another guest speaker was Dr Julian Davison (historian, academic author), whose Great uncle, Robert William Morris name is etched on the memorial wall after having being killed in action, missing and later died of wounds in the French-Belgian border on September 1917.

The book is a timely one as without documentation, this soldiers who once resided or contributed to Singapore's colonial eventually forgotten. It is a great edition to the many great books and online resources that commemorate the people (soldiers and civilians) who died in Singapore during the World War 2. On a personal side, I can identify with the author's work, as it was a journey of discovery for myself trying to find and remember the volunteer soldiers buried in Bukit Brown but unlike mine, she managed to find compile the stories of 112 people into a book so that they are no longer forgotten !

Photos from the book launch 

The History of the Singapore Cenotaph
The foundation stone was laid by the then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlement Sir Laurence Nunns Gulliemard in the presence of M.Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France and Minister of War, 1917-1919 on November 15, 1920. The design is a replica of the Cenotaph of the one in Whitehall, London and was built using local granite with 5 steps leading to monument bearing the dates 1914-1918. The architect of the memorial was  Mr Denis Santry of Messrs. Swan and Mclaren and the local contractor, Mr. Soh Mah Eng who expedited it's construction in time for its official unveiling by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII who abdicated the throne) in March 31, 1922. Armistice Day is observed year on November 11, dawn at 7:30 am.
Illustration of Singapore Cenotaph in 1920 (source: NewspaperSG)
Armistice Day pre 1941
In 1950, the Cenotaph was extended for those who died during World War II. The extension include expanding the Cenotaph towards the reclaimed area, where the sea facing front of the Singapore Cenotaph  was expended to include the memorial of the dead during the Second World War but no names were added as they were too many. (see picture below of the Cenotaph pre-1950 ). After the World War II, the term "Armistice Day" was changed to "Remembrance Day" to better represent those who died in both wars and by the late 1960's, the event was consolidated every year at Kranji War Memorial.
A rare picture where the Cenotaph is right by the sea.
(source: NewspaperSG)
The Singapore Cenotaph, Lim Bo Seng Memorial and Tan Kim Seng's fountain were all gazetted as National Monuments on December 28, 2010.

The Cenotaph was in the limelight for a different reason in 2013. It was vandalised by a security guard who using a can of spray paint, wrote the word "DEMOCRACY'" and marked an "X" on the monument. He was sentenced to three months' jail and three strokes of the cane. He was also ordered to pay $208 compensation to the State for the cost of repair.
Singapore Cenotaph today 
Postnote: Soh Mah Eng  
The Chinese Contractor, Soh Mah Eng sparked my curiosity to research more about him as well. Soh Mah Eng was the contractor that not only built the Singapore Cenotaph, he was also the contractor responsible for the building of the Chinese High School in 1924 and of many flats and shops in 1920 along Orchard Road and Penang Lane in which contract value was $403,500 !

Soh Mah Eng passed away on November 25, 1928 at No 11 Tiverton Lane. The executor of his will was a Mr. Ong Kim Lian.

Singapore War Memorial to the Glorious Dead. (1920, November 11). The Straits Times
Arrival of the Prince. (1922, March 31). The Straits Times
Armistice Day to be observed in Singapore. (
Extension to Cenotaph: Work Starts (1950, August 4). The Straits Times  
National Monuments. [website] Preservation of Sites and Monuments.


Tienyin Lo said...

So interesting that the Cenotaph has been once so close to the sea :)

Rojak Librarian said...

Isn't it !!@ Tienyin Lo.. I learn something too..