Places to Visit in Singapore: Kranji War Memorial 

The beautifully landscaped grounds of the Kranji War Memorial are dedicated to the Allied troops who died in the battle for Singapore during World War II. The memorial’s walls are inscribed with the names of those who died, and a register is available for inspection from the custodian. 

The War Memorial represents the three branches of the military – the Air Force, Army and Navy. The columns represent the Army, which marches in columns, the cover over the columns is shaped after of the wings of a plane, representing the Air Force, and the shape at the top resembles the periscope of a submarine, representing the Navy.

Location: 9 Woodlands Road, Singapore 738656

Getting there: Take TIBS bus 182 from Somerset Road or SBS 170 from Rochor Road and alight at bus stop opposite the Memorial

Opening Hours: 7am – 6pm

Admission fee: Free admission

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The Kranji War Memorial is a hillside graveyard about 22 kilometers from the city center. It is in a quiet neighborhood and is very peaceful once you get there.

Taking care of the dead

The monument remembers the people from Britain, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Malaya, the Netherlands, and New Zealand who died while doing their jobs during World War II.

More than 4,400 white gravestones are lined up in rows on the gentle slope of the graveyard. When Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, 69 Chinese soldiers were killed all at once. Their graves are marked by the Chinese Memorial in plot 44.

Hilltop monuments

As you walk up the few steps to the terrace on top of the hill, you will see four markers.

The Singapore Memorial is the biggest one. It has a huge center pylon with a star on top that stands 24 meters tall.

This memorial lists the names of more than 24,346 Allied soldiers and pilots who died in Southeast Asia and don’t have a known grave. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission keeps the list, which you can find at the entry.

Every year, on the Sunday before November 11, which is Remembrance Day, a remembrance service is held to honor those who died.

The Kranji War Memorial is close to the Kranji Military Cemetery and the Singapore State Cemetery, where the country’s first and second leaders, Encik Yusof Ishak and Dr. Benjamin Henry Sheares, are buried. The Kranji Military Cemetery is a non-World War II cemetery with more than 1,400 graves.

Singapore is the location of KRANJI WAR CEMETERY.   

Language: English, Malay, Mandarin   Altitude: 23m   Rainfall: 2,340mm Temperature: 24°c – 33°c ,  Wild boar and weather are the biggest problems.

Wild boar are the least welcome guest in Singapore. They have broken headstones and pulled up the grass.

The creatures give the Commonwealth War Graves Commission a lot of trouble. On the edge of the Asian city-state, on the open land of Kranji War Cemetery, they like to hang out.

Gardeners have had to watch out for boar and the damage they do to the war graveyard they take care of for decades. Over 4,000 people who died in the Second World War are buried here. There are war monuments with the names of another 25,000 people.

From this high point, you can look out and see where the Japanese Army came from during the Battle of Singapore in February 1942.

The Singapore Memorial is now at the top of the hillside cemetery, where it is the highest spot. The famous design shows the wings of an airplane, the fin of a submarine, and rows of soldiers standing at attention.

Read more: Attractions in Singapore: ARAB STREET

The monument has already been hurt by the weather. The CWGC is fixing up the building by ripping off the old waterproof layer on the roof and replacing it with stronger, more modern materials.

Even though the wild boar might be dangerous, people still come to the graveyard to pay their respects. Every year, tens of thousands of people attend the Remembrance Sunday service. This is exactly the kind of crowd that our country’s founders hoped to see all those years ago.

The Battle for Kranji and Singapore

In the 1930s, the Kranji area in the northwest of Singapore became a military base and a storage place for weapons. After the Allies left Singapore on January 31, 1942, it became the headquarters for an Australian battalion.3

During the Japanese attack, Kranji was a key battleground. After the Allies lost Malaya, the units that were leaving were moved to a new defensive line around Singapore. The 22nd and 27th Brigades of the 8th Australian Division were put in place to protect the northwestern coast, which was the first battleground from February 8 to February 10. The first attack by the Japanese was hardest on the Australian men because they were overworked and outnumbered. There are 2,690 burials and inscriptions of missing Australian soldiers at the cemetery. Of these, 519 have dates of death between 8 and 10 February 1942, which suggests that they died in fight during the first battles. Because of this, the location of the cemetery is important, since Kranji was where the war started and ended for many people.

The cemetery is on a low hill with a view of the Strait of Johor. It began as a small graveyard next to a prisoner-of-war camp and temporary hospital during the Japanese Occupation.5

After the Japanese gave up in September 1945, the site was turned into a permanent war cemetery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which is based in the UK and took care of the bodies of World War I soldiers, is in charge of the cemetery. War bodies were moved from POW camps and cemeteries in other parts of the island to Kranji, which would be the main place where Commonwealth soldiers who died during World War II would be buried.6

The graveyard was opened on March 2, 1957, to honor the people from Britain, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Malaya, the Netherlands, and New Zealand who died while doing their jobs. Designed by the British architect Colin St Clair Oakes, the cemetery has 4,461 graves with headstones and five memorials: the Singapore Memorial, the Chinese Memorial, the Singapore (Unmaintainable Graves) Memorial, the Singapore Cremation Memorial, and the Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial.7

In the cemetery, the rows of white gravestones are set on a gentle, green hill. As much as possible, each plaque marks the grave of a single person. This is in line with the CWGC’s policy of honoring each individual.8 The headstones are all the same shape, size, and material, which shows another idea: that suffering is the same for everyone, no matter their rank, race, or religion.9

The cemetery is set up like a military parade, with 100 headstones in a square (five rows of 20 headstones). The war dead make up a company that keeps marching forward.10

The Singapore Memorial, which was also built by Oakes, is at the top of the hill, past the graves. This building has 12 stone columns with the names of more than 24,000 people who went missing and have no known graves. A flat top in the shape of wings goes over the columns. From the center rises a 22-meter-tall pole that looks like the back of an airplane and is topped with a star.

Soldiers in the final battle

At the Kranji War Cemetery, there are graves for 264 soldiers from the Malay Regiment. During the Battle of Singapore, the Malay Regiment, which had about 1,400 men in two battalions, was part of the 1st Malaya Brigade and was sent to hold Pasir Panjang in the southwest part of the island.14

From February 10 to 12, 1942, Japanese troops took control of the strategic Bukit Timah area, which included access to supply dumps and reservoirs. This made it easier for them to control the city. When the Allies lost Bukit Timah, they were told to go back behind the last line of defense, which went from Pasir Panjang Ridge (now called Kent Ridge) in the west to Kallang in the east. This set up the final, desperate fight between the men of C Company of the 1st Battalion of the Malay Regiment and the 18th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army on February 14 at Bukit Chandu on Pasir Panjang Ridge.

On the morning of February 13, the Japanese attacked the Malay Regiment’s lines very hard. This was the start of the Battle of Pasir Panjang. Even though they were outnumbered, C Company held on to the village of Pasir Panjang. C Company moved to a new spot at Bukit Chandu at midnight.15 B Company watched the way to Buona Vista village on their left, while D Company took care of the Labrador area on their right. C and D companies were on opposite sides of a deep drain filled with oil that was on fire after the enemy bombed the Normanton Oil Depot on February 10.

In the early afternoon of February 14, the Japanese tried to get into the position of C Company by pretending to be Punjabi troops. But the trick didn’t work, and when the soldiers got close, C Company opened fire. 22 Japanese troops were killed or hurt, and the rest ran away.17 Two hours later, the Japanese came back in larger numbers and overpowered the men of C Company. On one side, enemy troops had already taken over B Company, and on the other side, there was a wall of fire.

Read more: Civilian War Memorial (War Memorial Park) Explore Now!

Captain H. R. Rix (plot 11, row D, headstone 1)18 was in charge of C Company and gave the order to hold the position. He fought bravely and inspired his men to do the same. At the place where Rix and 12 other Malay Regiment soldiers died, their bodies were found. Lieutenant G.F.D. Stephen died while leading a bayonet charge against the enemy in another platoon. Many of his men had already been killed or hurt.19 Stephen’s name is written on Column 114 of the Singapore Memorial. His body has never been found.20

The Jaywick and Rimau Commandos

Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Lyon of the Gordon Highlanders, which was part of the British Army from 1881 to 1994, is one of the people who are buried in Kranji. In September 1943, Lyon, who was called a “cool-headed, icy-calm, and professional soldier,” led a team of 14 Australian and British soldiers from the Allied Z Special Unit on Operation Jaywick, a risky mission to destroy Japanese ships in Singapore’s Keppel Harbour.

The soldiers left Exmouth Harbour, Western Australia, on September 2 in the Kofuku Maru, a Japanese fishing boat that they had taken over. It was used for something else and given a new name, Krait, after a small but dangerous snake that lives in tropical Asia. The men got rid of their uniforms and put on sarongs and brown paint to look like local fishers.25

Two weeks later, on September 18, Lyon and five other agents got off the boat at Pulau Panjang in the Riau Islands. On September 24, Lyon and his men set up on Pulau Subar, a small island with no people on it that made a great place to watch.

Lest We Forget

On March 2, 1957, Governor of Singapore Robert Black presented the “They Died for All Free Men” dedication tablet at the Singapore Memorial. About 3,000 people were there, including veterans and the families of those who had died in the war. The draped flags on the memorial’s columns moved away in time to drum rolls, showing the names of more than 24,000 people who went missing. Black said in his speech, “That simple sentence [“They died for all free men”] tells us why this large group of people of different faiths and races, but all united in their service to their King, were loyal to the end.”36 Black’s words remind us that Kranji War Cemetery began as an imperial spot to honor those who gave their lives for the British Empire at the time.37

During the nearly four-hour long unveiling ceremony, the Last Post, Lochaber No More, and Reveille were played, hymns were sung, and then people from the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian religions said prayers. As Governor Black and some guests were setting wreaths at the foot of the Cross of Remembrance, an old woman in a worn samfoo broke away from the crowd and stumbled towards them while crying loudly.

What started out as a place to remember the imperial past now has a different meaning for Singaporeans who visit the cemetery as part of national education and historical trips. If you look at the cemetery through the view of building a nation, you can learn about how important self-reliance and self-determination are. The cemetery honors Singaporeans who helped defend the country during World War II, and the war was the turning point toward decolonization.

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