This park is a prominent and well-known feature of the Civic District because of the civilian War Memorial fondly referred to as “The Chopsticks”. The 61-metre tall memorial comprises four columns, which represent the four races, joined at the base signifying the unity of all races and is dedicated to the civilians of all races who were victims of World War II.
This strikingly simple memorial is dedicated to the civilians who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War. The locals affectionately call it the “Chopsticks” memorial because of its unusual design.
Today, the park is characterised by open lawn areas with Gnetum gnemon (Melinjau) trees lining the walkway leading up to the memorial from the four corners of the park. Around the memorial is a pond.
Lighted hours: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Location: Near Raffles City Complex
Getting there: Take the MRT to City Hall (EW13)
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Civilian War Memorial, Singapore Overview
The Civilian War Memorial is a monument dedicated to the civilians that lost their lives during World War II. Located within War Memorial Park at Beach Road in Singapore’s Central Area, this memorial is a sombre reminder of the perils of the Japanese Occupation in the country and is a symbol of hope for post-war Singapore. The monument is an iconic heritage landmark in the Lion City today, frequented by locals and tourists alike. Gazetted as a national monument in 2013, Singapore’s Civilian War Memorial comprises of four identical 70-metre tall white pillars, signifying the shared grief and unity of the country’s four major ethnic groups – Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, and Malay. Affectionately known as the ‘Four Chopsticks Memorial,’ this architectural marvel has an imposing façade that is set atop a burial chamber holding the victims’ remains in 606 urns. Each column also has an empty urn placed inside, with inscriptions commemorating the sacrifices of civilians. Housed inside a calm, verdant park with fountains, pools, and landscaped gardens, the Civilian War Memorial offers a serene location to contemplate and pay tribute to the spirit of Singapore.
An inter-religious memorial service is held every year on the 15th of February in remembrance of these brave souls. World War II was a global tragedy on a massive scale, and Singapore was not exempted from its consequences. It is said that more than 50,000 people were killed during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, from 15 February 1942 to 12 September 1945. The Civilian War Memorial, located east of the Padang on Beach Road, commemorates these civilian victims of World War II and the unity of Singapore’s four main races—Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian. It was unveiled by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 15 February 1967— the day that Singapore fell to Japanese forces 25 years ago—and gazetted as a national monument in 2013. Four pillars At this serene park, you’ll see four pillars of similar size and structure rising tall above 65 metres, symbolic of the shared suffering of Singapore’s main ethnic groups as well as those who died and were buried there. Younger Singaporeans today may be unaware of the Civilian War Memorial’s history, although they do refer to it fondly as “The Chopsticks”. It was constructed after mass graves of civilian war victims were found in several locations around Singapore in 1962. More than 40 of these mass graves came from Siglap’s so-called Valley of Death. Every year on 15 February, a memorial service is held here, in remembrance of the victims of the war. Not far from the Esplanade Park Memorials stands the Civilian War Memorial, the first memorial in Singapore dedicated to the civilian victims of the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945).
It calls to mind the shared sufferings of the various ethnic communities in Singapore, and the ardent hope that locals had after the war to rebuild their homes. Discovery of Mass Graves During the 1950s and 1960s, extensive excavations were carried out around Singapore as part of the foundation works for residential and industrial development projects. In 1962, several mass graves containing the bodily remains of thousands of civilian victims were discovered in multiple locations; more than 40 of these were found in the infamous ‘Valley of Death’ in Siglap. The remains belonged to victims of Operation Sook Ching (肃清), an attempt by the Japanese to sieve out anti-Japanese elements – primarily among the Chinese populace – during the war years. Thousands of men, many who were innocent, were arrested at screening centres and taken to different suburban locations around the island where they were brutally massacred and unceremoniously buried in mass graves. Commemorating the Civilian Victims The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry today) assumed the responsibility to excavate and resettle the victims’ remains. At that time, existing war memorials in Singapore commemorated only military personnel: the Cenotaph honoured the soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in the two World Wars, while the Kranji War Memorial was erected in memory of the Allied servicemen who had perished during the Second World War. After the Government had allocated a plot of land on Beach Road for a memorial park, SCCC established a Memorial Building Fund Committee on 19 March 1963 to raise funds for a proposed structure.
The memorial would be dedicated solely to the civilian victims of the Second World War. In addition, SCCC promised to match public contributions dollar-for-dollar. Design Competition An architectural competition was launched for the design of the new memorial. Swan & Maclaren, the well-known firm which also designed the Cenotaph, won the competition. The winning design was considered to have best met the competition’s requirements in expressing the feelings of ‘solemnity, tranquillity, courage and sorrow’. Swan & Maclaren’s initial proposal consisted of 12 parallel sets of sweeping interconnected fins forming a grand archway; this was later revised to become the present design. The memorial was completed in January 1967 at a cost of approximately S$450,000, and was unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 15 February the same year, the 25th anniversary of that fateful day the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. Architecture Comprising four tapering columns at a height of 67 metres, the Civilian War Memorial is affectionately known as the ‘Four Chopsticks’ by locals. Each column represents one of the four main ethnic groups in Singapore who perished during the Japanese Occupation: Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Eurasians.
While the majority of the civilians who suffered under the Japanese rule were Chinese, it was agreed that the new memorial should commemorate all victims of various ethnicities in Singapore. Painted white, the prominent structure can be seen from afar, both in the day and at night. It sits on a raised platform enclosing a vault that holds the victims’ remains in 606 urns. Within the four columns, an empty urn placed on a pedestal, together with inscriptions commemorating the deaths of countless civilians, brings visitors’ attention to the burial chamber underneath. Indeed, the Civilian War Memorial was a form of catharsis for war survivors as well as a symbol of hope for a brighter future in post-war Singapore. Displayed at the base of the Civilian War Memorial are the words ‘Memorial to the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation, 1942–1945’ in Singapore’s four official languages. The tall structure is surrounded by water pools and greenery, providing a sense of serenity and peace to a memorial commemorating a troubled past.
Civilian War Memorial Today Every year on 15 February, the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore in 1942, an inter-religious memorial service is held at the Civilian War Memorial. This day has also been designated as Total Defence Day. Religious leaders from various faiths offer their prayers during the ceremony in the presence of dignitaries and members of the public. Our National Monuments Our National Monuments are an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage, which the National Heritage Board (NHB) preserves and promotes for posterity.
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They are monuments and sites that are accorded the highest level of protection in Singapore. A dark chapter in Singapore history During the Japanese Occupation, an operation known as Sook Ching was carried out in which the Japanese set out to eliminate any anti-Japanese elements and propaganda in the Chinese community. Chinese males from 18 to 50 years old were interrogated and rounded up over the course of two weeks – those suspected of being anti-Japanese were executed cruelly. Areas like Punggol Beach (now Punggol Point), Changi Beach, Sentosa and others are known to be execution sites. It was only in 1962 that several mass war graves were uncovered in Siglap during sandwashing operations. After further investigations, more human remains were found in mass war graves in other parts of Siglap and Changi Road. Up till today, the total number of people killed during the occupation is still unknown due to conflicting records. It is estimated to be anywhere between 6,000 to 50,000. Did you know…
The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) – which also commissioned the investigation and exhumation of mass graves – decided to gather the remains and create a memorial for them in 1962. On top of proposing a site for a memorial monument, the SCCC also wanted to seek compensation from the Japanese government for the Sook Ching massacre. In 1963, the Singapore government announced that it would set aside a piece of land along Beach Road for the building of a memorial and park to commemorate the civilian victims massacred during the Japanese Occupation. In addition to this, the remains from the mass graves discovered would be cremated and the remains be placed in urns beneath the proposed memorial structure. If you’re observant, you can find the exact urn that is used to contain the remains in the middle of the four columns – but it is empty. So if you’ve come here to pay your respects to the fallen civilians or simply have a moment of peace in the middle of the city, know that you’ve kinda been chilling on top of an actual graveyard. These days The memorial has been gazetted as a national monument since 2013. More recently, the memorial was in the news because of some kid’s moment of douchery, when he used the pool to do some wakeboarding stunts. Hopefully understanding the true significance of the memorial, and the dark chapter of history it represents will make more young people appreciate it. The Civilian War Memorial project On 13 March 1963, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew set aside a plot of land at Beach Road for the building of a memorial dedicated to the civilians killed in World War II. The SCCC set up a fund committee that was later enlarged to include all ethnic groups due to good response from the community. With the support of the Government and contributions from the public, construction of the memorial was able to start. Architecture The design of the memorial was conceived by Leong Swee Lim of Swan & Maclaren Architects whom it won first prize in an open design competition in that month.
The design was one of Leong’s most famous and significant contributions towards Singapore’s architecture. The four identical pillars, each 70 metres (230 ft) high, represent the shared experiences and unity of the four major races of Singapore;– Chinese, Eurasian, Indian and Malay. Ground-breaking ceremony On 15 June 1963, Lee Kuan Yew performed the ground-breaking ceremony of “turning (or breaking) the sod” to lay the foundation for the memorial witnessed by a gathering of representatives from the Inter-Religious Organisation and members of the consular corps. Construction of the memorial began on 23 April 1966. A ceremony was held on 1 November that year before the completion of the memorial, which saw 606 urns containing the remains of thousands of unknown civilians from the mass graves interred on either side of the memorial podium, added to the material significance of the structure whose history it represents Unveiling of the Memorial The memorial was completed in January 1967 at a total construction cost of about S$500,000. On 15 February that year, the Civilian War Memorial was officially unveiled by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who laid a wreath at the memorial. The memorial is one of Singapore’s iconic heritage landmarks that truly embraces the virtues of a multiracial and multicultural city, the unity of which is inevitably one of the pillars for Singapore’s modern day success, harmony and prosperity. The memorial has also been affectionately described by some as resembling four giant chopsticks. Every year on 15 February (Total Defence Day in Singapore, commemorating the 1942 surrender of Singapore to the Japanese), a memorial service is held at the Civilian War Memorial to remember the victims of the war.