Wednesday, April 13, 2016

WWII@Bukit Brown - the book is finally out !

"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love
only what we understand; and we will understand only
what we are taught." (Baba Dioum, 1968.)

9th April 2016 marks another important day for the members who make up All things Bukit Brown aka Brownies. It was the day we launched our book on one facet of Bukit Brown rich history from a World War II  perspective.

The book launch was graced by Senior Minister of State Mr. Desmond Lee, Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Home Affairs and very well attended by members of the public, descendants of some of the personalities written about in the book, generous donors and Singapore Heritage Society members. The quote above was part of  his speech and indeed meaningful, as our effort's to teach society at large on the importance of Bukit Brown as a nature and heritage site is something we have been trying to do and hopefully the Singapore society and its appointed leaders will have a change of heart and come together to proactively help conserve Bukit Brown.

Senior Minister of State, Mr. Desmond Lee gracing the WWII@Bukit Brown event 

Senior Minister of State Mr. Desmond Lee addressing the audience

Catherine Lim addressing a packed URA auditorium 

Catherine Lim and Claire Leow (Editors) with the rest of the editorial team of the book
(photo by Lawrence Chong) 
An interesting, informative and interactive panel discussion chaired by Darren Koh (Associate Professor, SIM University) took place in conjunction with the book launch with panelist which included: Kok Heng Leun (Nominated Member of Parliament), Chua Ai Lin (President of Singapore Heritage Society), Jon Cooper (Battlefield archaeologist at Adam Park) and Claire Leow (Co-founder of All Things Bukit Brown).  on "Community Engagement - Shared Experiences".

Panel discussion

The book is available online via Ethos Books, Singapore and in major bookstores by end April.

Related reading: Book Launch-WWII@Bukit Brown

Speech by SMS Desmond Lee at the Book Launch of "World War II @ Bukit Brown"
09 Apr 2016 05:30 PM

A very good afternoon to all of you.

I am pleased to be here at the launch of the book, “World War II @ Bukit Brown”.

This book, co-published by the Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos, with a partial grant from the National Heritage Board, is a fine example of how the community can come together to celebrate our history and our heritage, as well as pay tribute to our pioneers.

All Things Bukit Brown

In my constituency, Jurong, we have this practice that whenever we give out prizes or awards to students, we try to weave in something educational or something meaningful, as far as we can.

We come up with a smorgasbord of choices. If you like the environment, we take you to Pulau Hantu; if you like to put yourself at risk, we go rock-climbing; if you like to understand more about history, we take you to Bukit Brown. We let them decide where they would like to go.

In late 2013, on 21st December, a group of very thoughtful young people signed up for the walk to Bukit Brown. We brought them there to appreciate our heritage and to better understand the issues surrounding Bukit Brown, because it was then very much in the public eye.

Two days ago I attended a landscape architecture conference, and I suggested for our green environmentalists to talk to our students about green conservation. It is a very different topic from today, but this lady whom I know, put this quote on screen, and I think it is apt for today as well. She was quoting a famous person who said, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. And we will understand only what we are taught.”

As far as Bukit Brown and the deep history that surrounds it, what better way than on a guided tour by our Brownies.

During the visit three years ago, we learnt about the history and heritage of our pioneers from the stories shared by the Brownies.

Over the years, we have all been very impressed by the passion demonstrated by the Brownies, as they have contributed so much of their personal time, personal energy and expertise to research, document and share the history of Bukit Brown with the rest of us in Singapore.

They are an example of what the community can do to connect with, and to celebrate our history. But if we reflect on it, although Bukit Brown is a cemetery, their work is so much more than just about the past. It is also very much about our future.

The research that the Brownies did led descendants to approach them for help to identify their ancestors’ resting places, and from there, an opportunity to open up conversations about their personal and family stories, which they then shared for the benefit of posterity.

I understand that some of the descendants are here. Some of your stories and stories of your forefathers have made their way into this book. This book is a testament to the hard work and effort the Brownies had invested over the years.

World War II @ Bukit Brown 

This year marks the 74th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore during World War II. It is a timely effort to commemorate and respect our pioneers. The stories detailed in various chapters of the book are a reminder of how vulnerable we are, how vulnerable we were, and the horrors of war.

A couple of stories from the book struck me. One was James Tann’s chapter on the Fall of Singapore. It reminds us of the ultimate sacrifices made by our pioneers in their attempt to protect us from the Japanese.

In Jon Cooper’s detailed account of the Battle at Cemetery Hill, we are also reminded that many of those who lost their lives for Singapore are still unaccounted for.

I hope that through these stories, more Singaporeans will learn about and appreciate the acts of soldiers who died protecting our island.

Apart from battle stories, the Brownies have also managed to unlock the family histories of some of those buried at Bukit Brown. These memories, some of which are painful for them to recount, highlight that the war disrupted the lives of ordinary people.

Many families were broken apart by Sook Ching, while some families were forced to re-settle in the harsh jungles of Endau and Bahau.

The stories gathered from the war survivors are a poignant reminder that we should never take our peace and security for granted.

Jon mentioned getting our young people to do archaeology, to research – this resonates deeply with me. More of our young people need to get their hands into the soil to look for our history, but also to visit places that we gazette, that we conserve, that we make national monuments because they would otherwise be hollow shells. But for the life that people in this day and age continue to breathe into it, by researching, by cherishing it, by getting people around to talk about it, it is history that never dies.


With that, I congratulate Jon, Catherine, Claire and many others who worked so hard on this book. Many people who supported the funding of this book, many well-wishes here and abroad, I congratulate them for this tremendous citizens’ grounds up effort. Government officials are here today as supporters, and funders; but the grit, the work, the determination is entirely by people who care. Thank you.

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