The Forgotten WWII Tomb Memorial at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery

At Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery Path 4 lies an undisturbed, almost forgotten, tomb. It is the tomb memorial for the Bamboo Lane’s Chinese victims who were killed during the Second World War. Their remains, more than 2,000 of them, are buried underneath the tomb.

Shortly after the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, the Japanese carried out massacres of Chinese civilians at many places. One of them was at tek kia hung (竹仔巷, “little bamboo lane” in Hokkien), where more than 3,000 Chinese were killed.

Tek kia hung was roughly the area around Namly Avenue today, located off Bukit Timah Road and behind Hwa Chong Institution. Known as Chinese High School then, its compounds and buildings were seized by the Japanese Army as headquarters and concentration camp.

After the war, many mass graves around tek kia hung and Sixth Avenue were discovered. Mass graves were also found at another 13 sites in other parts of Singapore. In 1962, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) and local Chinese community leaders conducted a full exhumation of the discovered mass graves.

Over 2,000 remains were unclaimed. Their ashes were kept in six large urns and reburied in a communal grave at the nearby Hock Eng Seng Cemetery (福荣山) at Laurel Wood Avenue. A tomb memorial was erected for the remembrance of the victims. In addition, the SCCC also requested the government to make representations to the Japanese government for compensations to the victims massacred by the Japanese during the occupation.

In 1996, Hock Eng Seng Cemetery was acquired by the government for redevelopment purposes. The communal grave and tomb memorial had to be relocated to Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery, where they were allocated a 46.5sqm site. In 2019, they were shifted again to the current location along Chinese Cemetery Path 4, under the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) exhumation exercise for Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

The new burial policy was started by NEA in 1998, where graves were limited to a lease of 15 years. Those old graves of 15 years and above were exhumed in phases. During the first phase, a number of Chinese (dated 1947-1961) and Hindu graves (1946-1953) were removed and exhumed.

Several exhumation exercise phases had since been carried out. They were:

  • Phase 2a (Chinese graves of 1954-1971)
  • Phase 2b (Muslim graves of 1973-1980)
  • Phase 3 (Chinese graves of 1968-1978)
  • Phase 4 (Muslim graves of 1980-1986)
  • Phase 5 (Chinese graves of 1947-1975)
  • Phase 6 (Muslim graves of 1984-2000)
  • Phase 7 (Chinese graves of 1955-1999)
  • Phase 7a (Chinese graves of 1992-2013)
  • Phase 8 (Muslim graves of 1990-2003)

The unclaimed ashes from the Chinese and Hindu graves were scattered at sea, whereas the unclaimed remains from the Muslim graves were re-interred at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery’s Pusara Abadi.

While most Singaporeans are familiar with the Civilian War Memorial at Beach Road, which has commemoration and memorial services held on 15 February every year, not many people are aware of this much smaller tomb memorial. But it will continue to serve as the testimony to the horrific Second World War and Japanese Occupation even as those memories fade away.

Published: 23 June 2022

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