Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visited the Kranji Commonwealth War Memorial in Singapore yesterday. It’s one of the most moving places I have visited on my travels, so I wanted to re-run this post for those who may not have seen it before.
With an insanely packed schedule, covering the whole of Asia Fashion Exchange (Singapore Fashion Festival, Asia Fashion Summit and the Blueprint fashion trade fair), it was hard to carve out time to see un air-conditioned Singapore, but I was determined.
On the Monday afternoon I took the MRT out to Kranji in the north of the island to visit the Commonwealth War Memorial. “Dedicated to the men and women from United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Malaya, the Netherlands and New Zealand who died defending Singapore and Malaya against the invading Japanese forces during World War II, it comprises the War Graves, the Memorial Walls, the State Cemetery, and the Military Graves.” (Wiki).
In February of 1942 Singapore was finally invaded by the Japanese and, after eight days of heavy fighting, often with hand to hand, eventually fell, in what remains the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history, and many of the headstones here mark the graves of those who died defending the island. There are memorials here too to the hundreds of staff and patients who were bayoneted by the invading troops in the Alexandra Hospital massacre during the invasion, and to the local people who died trying to defend their island.
There’s a narrow entrance road winding up from the highway, and then you see it through the grey heat haze. The tall obelisk rises through the mist first, but nothing prepares you for the sight of the seemingly endless grey headstones stretching into to the distance nor the submarine shape of the memorial cresting the hill ahead.
Every time you walk to the top of a rise and think you have seen everything, another swathe of headstones appear, as far as the eye can see.
And, in the distance, Singapore appears in the heat haze, reminding you of what the men & women buried here died to protect.
In all, the War Cemetery is the final resting place for 4,458 allied servicemen in marked graves, but upon the Memorial’s walls are inscribed over 24,000 names of allied servicemen & women whose bodies were never found. (Wiki). Everyone is remembered here from the cooks and Indian Army Postal Workers to the most honoured. The lists of names are relentless; they go on and on and on. Every part of the walls is covered with the names of the dead. It is beyond heartbreaking. These men and women from the furthest-flung parts of India, from the cities of Australia, from every part of the Commonwealth, who all gave their tomorrows for our todays.
“They died for all free men.”
The Rev H Smith, a chaplain to the Army, aged just 29, who died during the fall of Singapore
Most of all take a very large packet of tissues. I cried and cried and cried. And then I stood at the memorial on the top of the hill, recited Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, and went home.