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56th War Memorial Service: Remembering the Past, Building our Future

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the 56th War Memorial Service, on 15 February 2023

  1. Good morning.
  2. Today, we have gathered to commemorate the 56th War Memorial Service, in conjunction with Total Defence Day. This is an important day as it reminds all of us that Singapore’s journey has not been easy. Thanks to the labour and perseverance of our pioneers, Singapore overcame those hardships and as today, has become a flourishing country. However, these are not events we should take for granted. It is very important that we stay united and work together as one people, so that Singapore will continue to thrive for many more generations. 
  3. Safeguarding Our Home

  4. On this day, 81 years ago, Singapore came under Japanese rule when the British surrendered. The city was under Japanese Occupation for three years and seven months. It was a tough period. But this chapter of our history has taught us an invaluable lesson – that the fate and security of Singapore and Singaporeans depends on ourselves, and on no one else. 
  5. This is why National Service is essential in ensuring that we will always be ready to defend and protect our home. On this note, I would like to salute the men and women of the Singapore Armed Forces, both past and present, and our Veterans who are here today, for their role in safeguarding Singapore. Without them, we would not be able to go to bed every night with peace of mind.
  6. I would also like to thank the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) for organising the War Memorial Service annually, which they have been doing since 1967. Today’s service not only reminds us of the sacrifices which past generations have made in order to pave the way for Singapore to be what we are today, but also reiterates for us how important it is to stay united as one people and one nation.
  7. This year, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry has also organised a special exhibition to underscore and underline the importance of unity. It is the “Reflecting Upon the Past, Moving Forward as One: The Civilian War Memorial Special Exhibition”.
    1. Besides providing the historical background of the Civilian War Memorial, the exhibition also comprises written excerpts from NIE students who viewed oral history recordings on the Civilian War Memorial at the National Archives of Singapore.
    2. This exhibition is very meaningful, as it enables our younger generations, who might have been too young to directly experience or remember this, to connect with our pioneers across time and space, while learning about historical events which took place before their time.
  8. Apart from external aggression as experienced during Singapore’s early years, unity is also essential in guarding against various other kinds of emerging threats. Terrorism, religious extremism, cybercrimes, disinformation and climate change to name some of the challenges we face today.
  9. To deal with these threats, we will need more than just grit and gumption. There are many faultlines in society today which could expose us to vulnerabilities and destabilise the nation, undermine the fabric of our nation, and tug at the threads that bind us as a people. However, if we resolve to work together as one united people, steadfast in our vision to protect our country, we should not fear. We often read in the news about how crimes are solved or even prevented because fellow Singaporeans lend a helping hand to one another. We look out for one another.
    1. COVID-19 is one good recent example. The Government, healthcare professionals, those working on the frontlines, and every citizen, coming together, playing their part, becoming a united body, and together making ourselves better and greater than the sum of our parts. As a result, we have emerged stronger and even more united than we ever were after the pandemic, compared to before.
  10. For this reason, Unite is one of the pillars of Forward Singapore. This pillar seeks to:
    1. Deepen our sense of belonging to Singapore;
    2. Strengthen our bonds with each other, and how we relate to one another with mutual trust that we have established and developed; and
    3. Build a better society for each other, not just for today, but for the Singapore that we want to leave behind for subsequent generations.
  11. Bringing People Together Through Shared Heritage

  12. In a diverse society like ours, unity can be fostered through a sense of shared heritage. It shapes our identity, reminds us constantly of who we are and where we came from, and what are the ties that bind us together. It helps us in our mindset, and our actions in our daily lives. It also deepens our sense of belonging to Singapore and with fellow Singaporeans, strengthening our commitment to build a better future together. With our shared heritage, we can also better build empathy and understanding among us. It is indeed like a thread which weaves us all into a giant social fabric. Without this thread, we are disparate and incomplete.
  13. It is for this reason that we need to provide spaces where people can learn about Singapore’s history and connect with our pioneers who have been instrumental in our nation-building journey, such as the Founders’ Memorial which is slated to open in 2027.
    1. It will commemorate our first-generation leaders as well as other key personalities who have, through the course of our history, played a vital role in our path to independence in our early years of nation building.
    2. It will also serve as a place for reflection on our journey as a nation, as well as provide space for inspiration as we think about the next bound - what should Singapore be, where can Singapore go, and how should we all play a part on that journey.
  14. On top of these spaces, we will also preserve our shared heritage through National Monuments which bear great national, historical and social significance, such as the Civilian War Memorial behind me.
    1. The four pillars of the monument, each about 70m tall, symbolise our four main ethnic groups who perished during the Japanese Occupation.
    2. Besides commemorating our losses, the memorial also serves to represent Singapore’s sense of togetherness.
    3. Many Singaporeans contributed donations for the construction of the memorial in the 1960s, regardless of their backgrounds.
    4. As a National Monument, the Civilian War Memorial is both a symbol of our history as well as an important lesson of unity and solidarity.
  15. To connect people with their heritage and with each other, the National Heritage Board will continue organising activities like the Singapore Heritage Festival, which will take place in May this year.
  16. Conclusion

  17. As I conclude, today, 15th of February, is a day where we come together to reflect on the sacrifices that our forefathers who fought to lay the foundations of an independent Singapore, and the Singapore that you and I, and our future generations, can enjoy and look forward to.
  18. It is also a day to remind ourselves constantly that our national efforts must continue beyond this, in the spaces and places we have created for our shared heritage. Not just physical spaces, but also the mindshare and mindset that we must have as fellow Singaporeans. Creating a shared heritage with common spaces, growing spaces where we can all thrive and enjoy, and also be as one Singapore, so that we can build an even better and brighter future for Singapore.
  19. I wish you a very memorable and special Total Defence Day. Thank you.
Last updated on 15 February 2023