Monday, 19 January 2015

Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery

It's been getting on for a year since I visited here with a few friends and they've long given up asking me when I'll write this post. To be honest where do I start? What should I say? How do I do this place justice? As I start writing now I have no idea how this will go and where my thoughts and my fingers will take me....

Set in the North of Singapore, on a hill overlooking Johor Bahru in Malaysia which is just 2 mile away. It overlooks the road where the Japanese crossed over to Singapore and fought their first battle, on the 9 Feb 1942. Quiet, peaceful and serene, a world away from the norm of Singapore, not a HDB, Condo or shopping mall insight. Here for ever remain the bodies and memories of too, too many serviceman and civilians that gave their lives in conflict. This site is home to not just the War Memorial but also the War cemetery, state cemetery and military graves.

Unknown soldiers

The site was previously a military camp and an ammunition dump before WWII. During the Occupation it became one of many POW camps across Singapore and a hospital was established close by with a burial ground. Naturally by the end of the war it was already a military cemetery but was given the status of war cemetery by 1946. It is, like the others across the world, managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and buried or remembered here are allied servicemen from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Malaya and The Netherlands.

Stone of Remembrance

You enter along a small road from the main road close to Kanji MRT and pass through gates until you reach the entrance. Here you will find the register of those listed on the memorial and of where others are buried, this in itself is thought provoking when you see row after row of names. From here you ascend up the hill from the Stone of Remembrance, towards the Cross of Sacrifice and onwards to The War Memorial.

The war memorial was designed by Colin St Clair Oakes and represents the 3 different services, Army, Navy and Air Force. On the walls of the memorial are the names of 24,346 serviceman who gave their lives around Singapore, Malaya and SE Asia, but these are just the names as their remains have never been located.

too many names. name after name.... 
....after name

The columns/pillars represent those who served in the army, as an army marches in columns, the "wing" across the top of the columns represents the Air Force and the wing of a plane. A top this, in the centre is the "sail" for the Navy

The cemetery is home to 4,465 allied serviceman of which 850 are unknown. The numbers are so hard to get your head around and this is just one of too many war cemeteries and memorials across the globe. In the North of the cemetery you will find the 2 graves of Singapores first two Presidents, Inche Yusuf Bin Ishak, who was President in 1959 and saw Singapore gain its independence in 1965 until his successor Dr Benjamin Henry Sheares came to power in 1970. To the West lies 255 Commonwealth Military graves of those who died during the Malayan and Indonesian conflicts, Konfrontasi and Communist insurgency.

The final rating place of Singapore's 2nd Presidents Dr Benjamin Sheares
More modern times and conflict, died Sarawak in 1965

There is a Chinese memorial for 69 Chinese that were killed by the Japanese in Feb 1942 when they invaded Singapore. These are buried in a mass grave. To the East is the General Hospital graves memorial for 107 serviceman and 300 civilians of different nationalities and religions who died during the occupation.

Memorial to a First World War member of the Singapore Volunteer Infantry who grave was at the Chinese cemetery on Alexander Road and which has now been lost.

There are 64 graves from WWI and 3 memorials for graves of people that were originally buried in Indochina (Vietnam) and who were relocated from Saigon. There is also an area of the site for a memorial to the 789 Indian serviceman who died and were cremated according to their beliefs. Many of the graves here are for people who died at the POW camps across the land, Changi, Buona Vista and more. There are 306 graves that were originally interred at Ulu Pandan (South East) and 61 from Bidadari Christian Cemetery (central East) and sadly many, many more.

One of the few graves from the First World War originally buried in Saigon
Ashes of the Gurkha's and their families originally buries at Pasir Panjang and Ulu Pandan 

Looking back at what I have written its just a list, after list of nationalities and of religions all who gave their life in just this small corner of the world, in a short period of human history. All hoping that it would make a difference. Clearly then it did, but what has humanity learnt? Just looking back over 2014 and then in Paris at the start of this year, have we moved forward or indeed are we progressing backward, and where will this all end?

Row after row........
Lovingly and immaculately tended

The Cross of Sacrifice in front of the War Memorial
Memorial and mass grave to those soldiers that died at the hospital in February 1942 when the Japanese invaded just a short couple of miles away

Just 18.

Please if you get the opportunity visit here, although you can't call it a happy place by no means is it sad, but tranquil, calm and thought provoking.

Less we Forget.

Kranji War Memorial
9 Woodlands Road
open daily 07:00-18:30

Sunday, 18 January 2015


I took a trip into Little India, at the end of last week, to experience a small part of the Tamil Harvest Festival known as Pongal. Like that of the Harvest Festivals celebrated in the UK, which I enjoyed celebrating as a child, Pongal is a time to give thanks for a good harvest and to honour the cattle that have worked hard in the fields and provided the family with milk throughout the past year.

Pongal falls on the 14th or 15th of January each year, on what is the the Tamil month called Thai, in the 10th month of their calendar. Pongal itself is a sweet rice dish made from milk, rice and sugar prepared in an earthenware pot, it is allowed to boil and overflow to show the abundance of rice and milk. These cakes/sweets are distributed and also used as offerings, to the gods, giving thanks for the harvest.

Throughout the 4 day festival homes and doorways are decorated with Kolams, which are paintings. This "paint" is made from rice flour, although in Little India we saw many colourful transfers used instead of the traditional white "paint"

Pongal last for 4 days....
On the eve of the festival homes are spring cleaned and old unwanted belonging thrown away to make a new fresh start.

The sweet rice dish of pongal is cooked in the pot then offered to the gods as thanksgiving.

This day is used to honour the cattle. They have their horns painted and paint added to their skins. They are honoured with garlands of flowers and are given beads and bells to wear. They thank them for all their hard work in the fields, ploughing and providing milk.

This last day is when the younger generation pay respect to their elders.

Although much of the festivities and celebrations have now ended in Little India the festival lights along Serangoon road are still in place and will remain so until Feb 8th, so its still worth a visit.

The cattle painted and decorated in the animal farm, part of the Cultural Village in Hastings road. Slightly sad that they couldn't move around very much, as they were tethered on short ropes.

A modern transfer kolam in the Cultural village in Hastings road and seen in many of the shop doorways.
A tradition kolam made from rice flour, already wearing away but I much prefer the traditional to the new transfers.
The colourful earthenware pongal pots

painted coconuts amongst the abundance of food in the Festival village in Campbell Lane

In the Cultural village an example of the making of the pongal. The young lady is having her hair tied back before she frantically fans the flames to get the pot to boil and overflow.

Elsewhere along Serangoon rd, the same place that had the traditional kolam, this woman is also encouraging the flames under her pongal pot.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Kuningan Celebrations Bali

Having spent the Christmas period in Ubud, Bali we were delighted to find out we had also managed, by pure fluke, to be there over one of their major holidays and celebrations, although this did have a knock on effect of even crazier roads and busier venues than the "normal" craziness of this island!

2014 Kuningan fell on 27 December and this is the last day of the Galungan, 10 days after the start.

offerings basket
Galungan is the celebration of dharma over adharma, good over bad, and is when the cremated ancestors return to earth to visit their former homes. If they are not cremated the family will visit their graves to give blessings. Very similar it seems to the Chinese festival of 7th month (Hungry Ghost festival) Galungan 2014 fell on 17 December, on the 11th week of the Pawukon Balinese calendar, which has just 210 days. Throughout this festival you will see the roads lined with large bamboo poles known as penjor covered in bamboo and palm decorations - an amazing vista looking up the hilly roads.

On these penjors you can see Tamiang which are round, shield like palm decorations which are meant to represent the earth and are supposed to protect and defend. They are also a reminder of karma. You will also see provisions of food, given as offerings, in coconut leaf filled pockets, these are known as Endongan and are food for the ancestors to take back with them on their journey to heaven.
Pigs and chickens will be slaughtered and pork made into satays. Men will also make lawar, a spicy mixture of long beans, coconut, limes, fish sauce and others ingredients. I can testify this is delicious having eaten it most days of the holiday!

Throughout the festival the outside of the houses will be decorated in the vibrant coloured yellow cloths, depicting the Hindu religion and we were told the black and white checked cloths depict good and evil. You never want to do away with evil completely as there has to be a balance between the two.

Throughout Galungan you will see young boys going from house to house and restaurant to restaurant playing instruments and with some dressed as a Barong or ngelwang, which is a lion like creature. The owners will give money to the children/barong and in turn the building will be blessed.

At Kuningan the ancestors spirits return to heaven, 10 days after the start of Galungan. You will see yellow rice as offerings. The name for this yellow rice in Balinese is Kuning meaning yellow, and is meant to give thanks for life, prosperity and health.
On the morning of Kuningan devotees will visit the temple (pura) as this is when the God Ida Sang Hyang Widhi blesses everyone, before returning to heaven in the afternoon.

For us we were able to see everyone, from tiny tots to elderly grandmas dressed up in the finery, woman in kebayas and sarongs, walking or riding motorbikes (albeit sidesaddle due to their tight sarongs) In the morning they were all enroute to their local temple (pura) before spending the afternoon celebrating with their family.

Not only are the temples (pura) and Homes (puri) blessed but so are the people, and also the vehicles, watching how many of them drive I think this is very wise!!

What was amusing was to see the same people the next day, after being dressed so vibrantly and with such care and tradition, scooting around in their normal jeans and t shirts!

The day after Kuningan and the very end of Galungan is known as Manis Kuningan which is when everyone should have FUN!! Sounds like a great idea and they all seemed to :)

The crowds at the festival market at the Royal Temple on Manis Kuningan. I think we can say they are all having fun!