They say some stories should never be told, and indeed there are some skeletons that are best left in the closets where they belong. History is filled with many examples of perpetrators who attempt to erase – thankfully without much success – horrific crimes against humanity from living memory: the Nanjing massacre in China comes to mind, and closer to home, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge genocide.
Singapore’s history, while much less dramatic, is no less interesting in its own way. Some stories have yet to be told (people always surprise me with secrets they’ve kept hidden for years) while there are many more stories that are in grave danger of being forgotten. This issue of BiblioAsia unearths some of the stories and memories of yesteryear, and celebrates the unsung heroes who have charted the course of our history.
Her grandmother’s unexpected recollection of how Japanese soldiers came looking for women one fateful night in 1942 sets Yu-Mei Balasingamchow thinking about unspoken memories and the stories that haven’t been written yet.
Still on the subject of World War II, Fiona Hodgkins – whose mother and her family were resettled in remote Bahau in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation years – tells a personal story of a wartime atrocity that few Singaporeans know of.
On a lighter note, food columnist Sylvia Tan recalls some of the foods and flavours she grew up with in 1960s Singapore (handmade ice balls, anyone?), while Janice Loo regales us with an engaging colonial-era account of European mems and their love-hate relationship with the domestic help.
Among the many intrepid early settlers in Singapore was a lone Japanese man by the name of Yamamoto Otokichi – from remote Mihama in Aichi Prefecture – who in 1862 became the first Japanese to make this island his home. Bonny Tan tells us how he ended up in Singapore.
The Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC), which had its headquarters on Beach Road, was the precursor of the Singapore Armed Forces. Francis Dorai recounts the glory days of the SVC from its modest beginnings in 1854 to when it disbanded some 130 years later.
Nursing too has come a long way since the time of Raffles when chained convicts doubled up as nurses. Pattarin Kusolpalin pays a tribute to our “angels in white” –especially timely since Singapore celebrates Nurses Day on 1 August.
David Marshall, who became Singapore’s first Chief Minister in 1955, used to deliver his fiery lunchtime speeches – often railing against the British – under an “apple tree” in Empress Place. Was it really an apple tree? Marcus Ng unravels this mystery.
Whiteaways, Setron and Three Rifles are just three bygone brand names that people of a certain vintage would remember. Sue-Ann Chia traces the history of these and other household names that no longer exist in Singapore.
Fortunately, the Eu Yan Sang brand, synonymous with traditional Chinese medicine, is still very much alive and thriving. Seow Peck Ngiam highlights a selection of business-related ephemera – receipts, invoices, bills, remittance notes, letters and the like – from the National Library’s Rare Materials collection.
On a final note, the National Library is pleased to announce the launch of a new service, the Index to Singapore Information (ISI). The ISI is a comprehensive archive of index records that lists articles on or related to Singapore – or written by Singaporeans – in magazines and periodicals. Chris Tang and Leong Hui Chuan tell you more about this service that is now available on our OneSearch portal.
We hope you enjoy reading this edition of BiblioAsia.
Mrs Wai Yin Pryke