War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore

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By Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack

Singapore fell to Japanese forces on 15 February 1942. Within a matter of days, the occupying army took prisoner more than 100,000 British, Australian and Indian soldiers, and massacred thousands of Chinese civilians. A resistance movement formed in Malaya's jungle-covered mountains, but the vast majority of people could do little but resign themselves to life under Japanese rule. The Occupation of Malaya would last three and a half years, until the British returned in September 1945.

How is this period remembered? And how have individuals, communities, and states shaped and reshaped collections in the post-war era as the events of the time slipped out of living memory? This volume uses observations gathered from members of various communities involved in or affected by the conflict - Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, British and Australians - to respond to these questions.

The authors draw on other forms of memory: from the soaring pillars of Singapore's Civilian War Memorial, to traditional Chinese cemeteries in Malaysia; and from families left bereft by Japanese massacres, to the young women who flocked to the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, dreaming of a march on Delhi.

In preparing this volume, the authors have reinserted previously marginalized or self-censored voices back into the story in a way that allows them to reflect on the nature of conflict and memory. Moreover, these voices speak of the searing transit from war and massacre through resistance and decolonization to the molding of postcolonial state and identities.


"...an illuminating study of the complex contestations and configurations of the politics of memory to which war lends itself." - Diana Wong

"...an enthusiastic study of war memory in both Singapore and Malaysia. It demonstrates the malleability of the past, showing how war memory is suppressed or shaped, and how stories take on mythic qualities. In particular, its analytical model of breaking down memory into the level of individual, community, and state is very helpful at deconstructing this process." - PJ Thum

“In this excellent study War Memory brings out the persistence of multiple memories and the challenge of constructing a national narrative that is inclusive yet authentic. It is a book of high scholarly standard and should contribute to an informed discussion of history-writing in Malaya.” - Lee Kam Hing


Kevin Blackburn is an Associate Professor in History at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published on oral history, heritage, the prisoner of war experience, and war memory.

Karl Hack is Senior Lecturer at the Open University, United Kingdom, and Director of its Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies. He was born in Singapore, and taught at the Nanyang Technological University from 1995-2006. He has published books on Southeast Asia, and on military, imperial and oral history.


Publication Year: 2012
476 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-599-6, Paperback

NUS Press