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Singapore's Hidden Military Secrets Revealed
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Singapore's Hidden Military Secrets Revealed

Inside the dimly lit underground bunker, 12 military commanders are about to trigger the largest capitulation in British military history.

At 9:45 a.m. on February 15, 1942, Lt. Gen. Arthur Percival and 11 other senior officers agreed to surrender the British Empire's forces, numbering more than 120,000 in Malaysia and Singapore, to the Japanese, whose troops numbered under half that.

They made that decision from within "the Battlebox”. It was constructed in 1938 to serve as a highly secret, bomb-proof command center under Fort Canning Hill. That command center became a hub of British espionage and high-level decision making during the Malayan campaign and the Battle of Singapore as British commanders became wary of Japanese advances in the region.

A Forgotten Bunker

The Battle of Singapore, which is also known as the Fall of Singapore, was fought from February 8 to 15, 1942. The Japanese military took over the Battlebox following Singapore's surrender.

After the end of World War II, the bunker lay forgotten for many decades. Overgrown shrubbery hid its entrance.

The Battlebox was believed to be nothing more than a storage room until a journalist rediscovered its significance. Image: Emiko Jozuka/CNN
The Battlebox was believed to be nothing more than a storage room until a journalist rediscovered its significance. Image: Emiko Jozuka/CNN

The site was only rediscovered in the 1980s, when a journalist chanced upon it and wrote an article on its significance for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper.

Reliving the Past 

The site re-opened as a museum in 1997 on the 55th anniversary of the surrender of Singapore and was recently revamped by the Singaporean Historical Association.

From deep within the bunker, waxwork soldiers stand guard in corridors, giving a ghostly vibe. Guides take visitors through the winding underground warren, where rooms such as the Plotting Room, the Cipher Office and the Surrender Conference room have been remodeled to reflect exactly how things would have appeared in the 1940s. 

In the Cipher Office, old equipment and notes lay strewn on desks; Japanese characters denoting key British personnel are scrawled on the walls. They have been preserved behind clear glass. Midway through the tour, the museum docent divulges an anecdote on how the toilets used by personnel became blocked in the lead up to Singapore's surrender, exacerbating conditions for those commandeering British forces. 

The challenges of living within a dark, dank bunker during WWII are palpable.

The Battlebox sheds light on the the falll of Malaya and Singapore in WII and explains how an underground command center operated. Image: Emiko Jozuka/CNN
The Battlebox sheds light on the the falll of Malaya and Singapore in WII and explains how an underground command center operated. Image: Emiko Jozuka/CNN

Creating A Culture of Remembrance

As Singapore focused on growth, the idea of commemorating the past was overlooked, says Ayadurai.

The raison d'etre for the Battlebox arose from a desire, he says, to understand the complexity of war and bring about a constructive dialogue on painful past events. While none of the facts of war are glossed over, Ayadurai states that the Battlebox aims to leverage the act of commemoration to build a better future.

"When you leave (the Battlebox) your perspective of war and your understanding of its complexity and what these men went through will change. There's an appreciation on the human level of what took place."

Source : This is part of the article originally published in CNN.

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