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'Privates to the Fore': World War II Heritage Tourism in Hong Kong and Singapore

Daniel Schumacher


     World War II represents a watershed in East and Southeast Asia's modern histories. The swift defeats Japan inflicted upon British-led forces, particularly the one in Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941 and even more so in Singapore on February 15, 1942, utterly crushed Britain's reputation as a powerful protector of its subjects and, in a wider context, rendered the notion of the alleged white man's superiority void.1 Both the hardships endured and resistance effected by the local civilian populations during the ensuing three and a half years of Japanese occupation fuelled local strivings for political reform and independence in the aftermath of the war, as authors such as Wang Gungwu have assessed.2

     Post war, the battles for Hong Kong and Singapore and the subsequent years of Japanese occupation were gradually employed by state agencies to stand exemplary of the darkest and most gruesome periods of Hong Kong's and Singapore's modern histories.3 Since the formal end of British colonial rule, these legacies of World War II have received more prominent attention as sites of subjugation and atrocities have been discovered to be major sources of income.4 They have partly in cooperative efforts between the state and the private sector been marked as 'historic' or 'heritage sites' and developed for tourist consumption, targeting both foreign and domestic visitors alike.

     In the cases of Hong Kong and Singapore, I will argue that the development of World War II as a theme for tourism came to serve as a new practice for renegotiating colonial and post-colonial memories of the war between governmental and private agents. Visiting war-related sites in a tourist context was thus constructed as an alternative form of war commemoration; alternative, that is, to the already established official practices at 'traditional' war memorials and the like. I will attempt to show that private agents have taken centre-stage and have gradually augmented or even largely replaced governmental bodies as the principal interpreters of the territories' World War II pasts, exemplified in this paper by their conducting of battlefield walks.5 By placing this alternative practice in the historical context of the local development of war commemoration since 1945, I will show that the current choice of battlefield walk itineraries and the narratives passed on through them have become pervaded not only by post-colonial interpretations. Instead, they also strongly include connotations from the British colonial period and encompass places formerly marginalised by the authorities of the Republic of Singapore and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) respectively.

Battlefield tourism, memory, and heritage

Organised visits to former sites of armed conflict and final resting places of the fallen are, of course, no new phenomena of the last few decades.6 The battlefields of Waterloo or the Boer War, for instance, had been tourist attractions for British travellers at an early stage. The sites of carnage that the First World War left in France and Belgium or on the shores of Gallipoli were also turned into popular destinations that carried powerful symbolic implications for the national identity of several countries, from Turkey to Australia.7 After the Second World War, even more sites associated with warfare and mass violence lent themselves as destinations to a growing industry of mass tourism, many of them located in East and Southeast Asia.8

     After the Imperial (later, Commonwealth) War Graves Commission had installed war cemeteries in Hong Kong and Singapore in the 1950s, British, Canadian, and Australian veterans who had served in these theatres and bereaved family members of the fallen gradually commenced undertaking pilgrimages to both territories.9 These were very much in the tradition of pilgrimages to battlefields and war cemeteries on the Western Front after the First World War. These former sites of battle were first and foremost visited because of the survivors' personal memories acquired in situ or because of personal links to specific individuals who had not returned.10 These pilgrims to Hong Kong and Singapore often joined the war commemoration practices staged by local organisations loosely affiliated with the respective colonial government, such as the Royal British Legion's Hong Kong and China branch, or the Ex-Services Association of Malaya at Singapore. The main occasions for such pilgrimages were the anniversaries of the end of World War II, of Remembrance Day or ANZAC Day at Hong Kong's and Singapore's Cenotaphs and war cemeteries. There, the pilgrims enacted the familiar rites of laying poppy wreaths, listening to a bugler sound 'The Last Post', and observing of two minutes of silence.11 Fittingly, John Lennon and Malcolm Foley drew a connection to this earlier form of modern-day battlefield walks and classified such undertakings as "acts of remembrance."12

     Battlefield pilgrimages were, however, gradually deprived of their meaning once this generation of pilgrims from 'Western' countries started to pass away or increasingly grew too old to complete long overseas journeys to places as far away as Hong Kong and Singapore. In the 1980s and 1990s, their dwindling numbers would come at a time when the Second World War would be more widely promoted as a new major source of revenue and new themes fit for tourist consummation were sought out by both the governments of Singapore and Hong Kong. It also coincided with a new generation in Singapore assuming key positions in the state who increasingly felt detached from the founding generation of the republic, as the former had not shared the experiences of suffering during wartime and the following struggle for independence.13 With the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 and Hong Kong's 'handover' to China in 1997 looming large in the near future, the cultural distinctiveness of Hong Kongers towards the inhabitants of the mainland was also thought about.14 What constitutes the 'heritage' of this territory? was a question both Hong Kong and Singapore were actively engaging with. The agents involved in the construction of Hong Kong's and Singapore's official heritage could easily mine existing ways of commemorating World War II for narratives and symbolism.

     This paper will treat 'heritage' as "the very selective ways in which material artefacts, mythologies, memories and traditions become [cultural, political, and economic] resources for the present."15 In this context, heritage will be understood "as a form of collective memory," as "a social construct shaped by the political, social and economic concerns of the present."16 I will, furthermore, follow Laurajane Smith who defined heritage as both cultural tool and part of the wider process of creating and recreating meaning through reminiscing and remembering. […] Thus, visiting and engaging with heritage sites becomes both a cultural and political statement and an act of remembering.17

     This process of meaning-making through performing acts of remembrance at particular heritage sites allows not only for identifying with a certain collective or community. It can enable 'ordinary', private agents to challenge the state in its role as primary producer or performer of history, constructing, and disseminating new narratives of the past in the process.18 To clarify what kind of collective memories the colonial period left behind and in what way they were transformed, this issue requires some brief elaboration.

Hong Kong's and Singapore's 'infrastructure of war commemoration'

Teo Hsu-ming aptly observes that "in many post-colonial nations […] the tourist economy was dependent upon the legacy of imperialism both for its organisational infrastructure and for the promulgation of cultural fantasies of exotic travel."19 The same holds true for both Hong Kong and Singapore.

     To this day, a certain colonial 'infrastructure of war commemoration' is retained in both territories.20 Remembrance Day is still observed each year in November at Hong Kong's centrally located Cenotaph and at Singapore's rather remote Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery. In both cases, these practices underwent transformation processes during the colonial days in which it was attempted to symbolically incorporate the local war dead.21

     With the advent of an independent Republic of Singapore in 1965, war commemoration came to be utilised by the new authorities for their rigid nation-building efforts.22 In the course of this, a major connotational shift was implemented under state guidance towards a more victimised view of the war years. Previously, the British colonial government and the affiliated ex-service organisations had advocated imperial unity through a sacrifice-oriented commemoration of the local war experience. A strong focus was put on the British and Empire troops and it was suggested that a causal relationship existed between the soldiers' deaths in the defence of Singapore and the freedom achieved with the eventual victory over Japan.23 Of course, this neither reflected the experiences of the military personnel who had suffered crushing defeat and spent the rest of the war in captivity, nor did this notion of freedom and liberation really apply to the local civilians that came under British colonial rule again after Japan had surrendered. Thus, after independence had been achieved, imperial unity through (Allied) soldierly sacrifice was officially substituted for the notion of national unity through victimisation of the (local) civilian population. The British colonial version assumed a marginal role insofar as it was rejected by the new government, but was still allowed to continue in a more unofficial manner.24 The authorities of independent Singapore made February 15, the day the British had surrendered the island in 1942, the day for annual commemorative events at the new Civilian War Memorial, inaugurated in 1967.25 This date could thus be retrospectively constructed as the event that gave rise to a local striving for freedom from (any) foreign rule that had finally resulted in an independent state in 1965.26 Britain's inability to protect the island in its hour of greatest need and the collective suffering of the local civilians under Japanese occupation was utilised by the Singaporean state to nurture the idea that this young nation had to rely on its own population for its defence at all times.27 This notion of national self-reliance provided a fitting justification for National Service and was embedded in the National Education Scheme in the late 1990s.28 Already on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995, the National Heritage Board (NHB) had set up fourteen large memorial plaques in selected locations all over the island. They retraced the ill-prepared British defence of Singapore and commemorated Japanese atrocities committed against local civilians.29 These sites of battle and mass death were thus added to the official canon of war-related heritage sites. They were moulded to work as a "catalyst in stirring patriotism"30 and, according to the Minister for Information and the Arts, Brigadier-General George Yeo, "learn lessons for the future,"31 such as "that Singapore continues to be vulnerable."32 These newly erected markers thus further emphasised the victimised view on the war years that the authorities of independent Singapore had started to champion in the 1960s.

     The same shift towards a victim-centred interpretation of the war and its casualties began to emerge in Hong Kong during the colonial period. Between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, Hong Kong-based British ex-Prisoner-of-War (ex-POW) Jack Edwards had lobbied for pension and passport rights for locally-recruited Chinese and Eurasian soldiers who had served alongside the British, for their wives as well as the widows of those servicemen who had already passed away. British immigration legislation had, since the 1960s, gradually stripped Britain's colonial subjects in the (former) overseas possessions of their rights to freely enter and settle in the UK. These efforts hoped to curb 'non-white' migration to Britain in order to uphold in the metropole a narrowly defined British identity in which people of colour appeared to have no place.33 Convinced that wartime suffering in British service ought to be the only yardstick for measuring the claim to British citizenship, Edwards portrayed the soldiers of multi-ethnic, British-led formations as having been victimised not only by their former Japanese captors through physical and psychological maltreatment, but also by the current British government through racially biased immigration laws. He used the official observance of Remembrance Day in Hong Kong to disseminate his highly politicised demands for full British passports. Despite the successful conclusion of this campaign in 1996, a victim-centred view on the ex-servicemen's ordeals in wartime survived beyond the end of British rule.34 Reframed in this vane, Remembrance Day was allowed to continue under the lead of the newly formed Hong Kong Ex-Servicemen's Association and the British Legion for charity purposes after 1997. Official war commemoration by the HKSAR government came to focus on the formerly marginalised Communist resistance fighters of the East River Column (東江縱隊 dongjiang zongdui) while also taking an interest in the exploits of the locally recruited but British-led Volunteers.35

Commercialising war commemoration

Pioneering attempts of turning both Hong Kong's and Singapore's wartime history into a commodity for tourist consumption first centred on the development of single sites. In both territories these efforts took a cue from the end of colonial rule when former British facilities were converted and commercialised. In the early stages of developing war-related sites into tourist attractions, uncontroversial presentation, and universal appeal was key to their promotion as not to deter visitors from both the former allied and enemy countries.36 An early example of this strategy was the redevelopment of the former British coastal stronghold Fort Siloso on Sentosa Island into a "guns of Singapore museum"37 in the 1970s by the Sentosa Development Corporation, a statutory board of the Singapore government.38 Critical reflection of the Fort's history seemed undesirable and so was enlisting it for the open dissemination of the state's wartime narrative. The latter was strictly to be passed on and enacted at the sites specifically laid out for it.

     This changed in the wake of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board's (STPB) first master plan that articulated, in 1986, the objectives of local tourism development over the next few years. This plan focused on "[h]eritage enhancement and conservation,"39 including the promotion of the island's 'colonial heritage'.40 While the STPB began advertising Singapore as an attractive destination for stopover holidays in both the UK and Australia,41 it also launched, in 1987, a 'Battle of Singapore' project that intended to cater to the war-related interests British and Australian visitors were anticipated to take in the local history. This saw both private agents coming to the fore more prominently, and state ideology gradually being infused into commercialised war heritage sites.

     British and Australian ex-POWs played an important part in setting up a replica of the Changi Prison Chapel in 198842 and in restoring the Changi Murals, another product of POWs' efforts to cope with the experience of internment.43 The involvement of the advising ex-service associations by the STPB turned the Changi site into an emotional projection point for the surviving veterans and their families.44 However, the number of local school children visiting the site quickly surpassed those of foreign visitors.45 This, again, created the opportunity to specifically enlist such heritage sites in the dissemination of a state-endorsed national narrative. Turning the students' field trips into 'Learning Journeys for National Education' in 1998 was the consequence of this. According to the officials in charge, these Learning Journeys were intended to "inject life and meaning to what is taught in class,"46 engender in the pupils "a shared sense of nationhood, an understanding of how our past is relevant to our present and future",47 and an appreciation of "Singapore's constraints and vulnerabilities."48 Learning Journeys were to be carried out not only by governmental bodies, but also by private sector companies.49

     In Hong Kong, commercialisation of local World War II sites was much more limited than in Singapore. During the British colonial period, public remembrance of war was confined strictly to the official sites of memory earmarked for annual ceremonial use. Where initial commercialisation efforts were undertaken by the state, they did, like in Singapore, centre on single sites. Between 1993 and 2000, the abandoned British Lei Yue Mun Fort, which had guarded the eastern entrance to Victoria Harbour since the late 19th century and which had also seen action in World War II, was converted into a Museum of Coastal Defence. Under the purview of state agencies now falling under the newly created Leisure and Cultural Services Department, this "forgotten, inaccessible site [was turned] into a significant educational resource, an authentic tourist destination and a special place to be for locals", as the Asian Architect & Contractor called it shortly after the museum had first opened its doors to the public in August 2000.50 After the end of British rule, this museum was the first to adopt a decidedly localised view on the past. It placed Hong Kong's defence against Japan in 1941 into the broader context of the defence of the South China coast against various aggressors over the course of time, such as marauding pirates in the 14th century or the British fleet in the Opium Wars.51 Together with the Museum of Heritage, opened in December 2000, and the Museum of History, reopened in 2001, it passed on a China-centred view of Hong Kong's past, designed to stress the territory's historical ties with the mainland and portray the British colonial period as merely a short interlude within the much larger context of several thousands years of Chinese rule.52 World War II itself was, at first, not a theme seen fit for state-guided commercialisation in its own right. This slightly changed with the increasing involvement of private agents.

     Through privately-run battlefield walks in Hong Kong and Singapore, the aforementioned narratives and places were linked as never before and allowed for challenging the state's authority over the organised interpretation of the local wartime past.

Linking war-related sites through battlefield walks

In Hong Kong, such walks have been conducted since 1995.53 The individuals offering them were either born in Hong Kong or have made it their permanent home. They maintain a fairly high profile in the local press and have had popular history books published on the military details of the Battle of Hong Kong, or on the physical remains the fighting left behind.54 These publications function as quasi-guidebooks to the territory's former battlefields and have repeatedly served as the principal source of information for the HKSAR's own tourism bodies.55 Some of the authors have either professionally tapped into the tourist market themselves, such as Jason Wordie who runs a small private tour company, or offer battlefield walks only occasionally as a public service while particularly standing out with other private endeavours, as Tony Banham does with his 'Hong Kong War Diary' project.56 All of these agents have or are currently providing history consultancy services for the HKSAR government due to the latter's lack of experts in this field.

     In Singapore, battlefield walks are largely in the hands of a private company called Singapore History Consultants (SHC), which was the first to introduce them in 1995 and continues to be a primary operator in this field. The tours are led by local guides certified by the Singapore tourism authorities but employed and additionally trained by SHC itself, following the guidelines laid out by its founder and general manager.57

     In both territories, battlefield walks are now a more [Singapore] or less [Hong Kong] well-established feature in the range of tourist products on offer and are designed along similar lines. They encourage multi-sensory interaction with some of the places the tourists visit so that the 'tourist gaze'58 is augmented by olfactory, audio, and tactile experiences. Apart from the educational approach adopted by these tours and the collective memory constructs they pass on through them, the creation of first-hand experiences of something 'out of the ordinary' and emotionally appealing constitutes a major part of this tourist product.59 Thus, in addition to a certain context provided by the narratives supplied by the guide, the interaction with the sites visited is intended to leave the tourist with his own array of personal experiences and memories thereof. These are supposed to provide him with the opportunity to emotionally relate to the sites and narratives included in the walk. It might be argued that in contrast to more 'traditional' acts of remembrance, commercialised walks are designed to stimulate not only contemplation or feelings of national pride but feelings of excitement as well, which turn sites of mass death into attractions in the process.60

     The walks link several war-related sites with one another and thus allow for performatively bringing together different narratives associated with them. The tours connect colonial sites of commemoration, sites marginalised by both the colonial and post-colonial authorities, and sites developed jointly by post-colonial governmental bodies and private agents. Creating the latter sites marked the beginning of a new phase of commercialised war commemoration in both Hong Kong and Singapore.

     When wartime bunkers and underground tunnel systems were rediscovered in the 1990s and early 2000s, they sparked new public interest in local World War II history. Some of the newly unearthed sites were developed for tourist consumption under state guidance and enlisted extensive help from experts in higher education and from private history consultants.61 Upon completion of these projects, the governmental bodies involved pulled out and left the field entirely to the private sector, with an eye to creating revenue. Fitting examples can be found at Singapore's Labrador Battery and Hong Kong's Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, both officially opened in 2005.62 Subsequently, both were performatively instilled with meaning by private agents who thus began to substitute the state as primary interpreter of the local war years. The narratives employed by private agents were pervaded by a strong focus on the fallen Allied troops under British command, a focus familiar from colonial days which did, however, include the previously explained shift from a purely sacrificial to a rather victim-centred view of the war dead.63

Battlefield walk itineraries and their narratives

The various itineraries of battlefield walks offered in both Hong Kong and Singapore include sites intended for very different purposes. There are, for instance, sites created specifically for reflecting on war and mourning its dead, such as war cemeteries. There are also authentic remnants of warfare, like bunkers, gun emplacements, or tunnels, which would originally have been outside the tourists' reach and not laid out as destinations for visitors. Some of the latter, such as Shing Mun Redoubt in Hong Kong's New Territories, lie abandoned in a state of decay, featuring considerable war damage. While they remain unprepared for tourist consumption, they are still accessible through nearby hiking trails (Figure 1).64 Others, such as Labrador Battery at Singapore, have been specifically developed as a tourist attraction, outfitted with storyboards and figurines while the surroundings were turned into a well-tended park open to the public and offering a diverse tourist experience, which also incorporates aspects of eco-tourism (Figure 2). In both cases, these wartime remnants are placed in the context of the swift military defeat British-led troops suffered during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and Singapore respectively. They are used to epitomise the futility of the colonies' defence due to them having been deemed 'expendable' by London even before the attack.65 In this way, a notion of implied victim-hood is introduced which borrows from the narratives that had already found their way into official war commemoration in independent Singapore in the late 1960s and colonial Hong Kong in the early 1980s. The tourists are invited to identify with the troops formerly manning these installations and a victim-centred view is created for them by means of striding through the tunnels and interacting with figurines as set up at Singapore's Labrador Battery. The development of the latter between 1995 and 2005 in a joint effort by the state-run National Parks Board and the private SHC acquired additional significance when it became connected to the Pasir Panjang Historic District, laid out for tourist auto-exploration. This Historic District took the defeat of the Malay Regiment shortly before Singapore's surrender as its subject, thereby putting emphasis on the locally-raised forces of Malay origin. Their 'heroic' last stand put up against the Japanese invaders comes with an underlying state-endorsed message of inescapable futility due to the reliance on foreign protectors as well as utter dedication to the fight for a Singapore free from colonial rule.66

     Such a war-related Heritage Trail that was conceived in a state-private joint venture can also be found in Hong Kong. The Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail was a project initiated by the Hong Kong Tourism Commission (Figure 3).67 It was realised with the help of other departments, such as the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) and the Antiquities and Monuments Office, while substantial help was also enlisted from private history researchers Tony Banham and Ko Tim-keung. The trail retells the futile defence local Eurasian Volunteers, Canadian, and British troops put up at Wong Nai Chung Gap in December 1941. The battle decided the fight for the colony and resulted in an enormous loss of life on both sides. The Trail picks up on this fact by introducing the sacrificial deeds of individual personalities on the Allied side and thus creates a notion of the troops on the front line having been at the mercy of mechanisms leading to their inevitable defeat no matter their dedicatory efforts.68 In Singapore, the same reasoning is employed at Labrador Battery and at the Pasir Panjang Historic District. This also serves to put greater emphasis onto the roles played by locally-recruited troops who had, in part, been marginalised under colonial rule on racial and/or political grounds.69

     By concluding many of the walks at the war cemeteries set up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at Kranji in Singapore and at Stanley on Hong Kong Island, for instance, a distinctly Christian, sacrifice-centred narrative is touched upon that spells out the link between the dead and the living (Figure 4).70 The former's demise in the past and the latter's freedom in the present are suggested to be in a causal relationship, obligating the living to show gratitude towards and respect for the dead through acts of remembering.

Figure 1
  Figure 1: A group of school children being led through a war-damaged tunnel of Shing Mun Redoubt, Hong Kong (photo: author, Nov. 2010).  

Figure 2
  Figure 2: Participants of a guided battlefield tour inspect a restored gun and figurines of wartime artillerymen at Labrador Battery, Singapore (photo: author, Dec. 2010).  


Figure 3
  Figure 3: Pillbox and storyboard along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, Hong Kong (photo: author, Jan. 2012).  

Figure 4
  Figure 4: Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery, Singapore (photo: author, Dec. 2010).  

Private agents take over

While it is understandable that places explicitly linked with colonial symbolism would tend to be neglected by the new authorities, it still stands to question why the state would abandon sites newly developed upon its behest as soon as they are completed, as was the case with Singapore's Labrador Battery and Hong Kong's Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail.

     In Hong Kong, this seems perfectly in line with Beijing's approach to the development and promotion of the HKSAR's heritage. In 2003, a well-received Culture and Heritage Policy Recommendation Report, prepared for the Home Affairs Bureau, stated that in the long run, non-government organisations should take the lead in cultural development and the government should gradually reduce its direct involvement and management in cultural facilities and activities.71

     Hilary du Cros also points out that developing and sustaining local heritage associated with the British colonial period is by no means a priority of the HKSAR government. Rather, the territory's rootedness in Chinese culture and its historical links to the mainland are more strongly emphasised and the role of British colonialism is downplayed.72 This is, however, not at odds with the co-development of the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail by the Tourism Commission and its promotion by HKTB, since the latter government agency in particular appears to aim at 'Western' tourists who are assumed to be more interested in the British colonial chapter of Hong Kong's history.73

     In Singapore, sentiments run less high than in Hong Kong when it comes to British colonial heritage. It is more fully, yet still selectively, embraced and adapted to fit the national narrative.74 Yet the Ministry of Education, the NHB, and the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) strongly rely on private agents both for sustaining formerly developed sites and for passing on the associated narratives. Today, the SHC is a prominent agent in both servicing foreign tourists and Singaporean students on state-instituted Learning Journeys to war-related sites throughout the island and has assumed authority over such commercialised acts of remembrance. Despite noticeable government supervision, there is still enough room for merging both post-colonial/national narratives and re-adapted colonial ones, thus further consolidating a multi-perspective view on the wartime past. In the wake of the 70th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore in February 2012, the SHC, the NHB, and the MICA jointly set up three new World War II walking trails, weaving existing and newly marked World War II heritage sites together in differently themed educational tours which are carried out by the SHC.75 This continues the trend described in this paper. Commercialised remembrance—performed several times a week—appears to gradually render annually staged official ceremonies increasingly obsolete for the dissemination of certain views of the Second World War in Singapore. In 2013, two further World War II walks joined the existing ones.76


This paper has shown that an alternative practice of war commemoration in the form of commercialised heritage tours has emerged in Hong Kong and Singapore in recent decades, exemplified here by battlefield walks. These, I argued, incorporated formerly marginalised sites, representing warfare and mass death, which were in part redeveloped in cooperative efforts between governmental and private agents, though upon completion gradually abandoned by the state. The narratives passed on during the privately-run battlefield walks fell back heavily on content which pervaded official war commemoration during the British colonial days and, consequently, perpetuate those narratives in part. In Hong Kong, this challenges the content of war commemoration publicly staged by the HKSAR government and might be seen as carrying potential appeal for 'Western' tourists exclusively. The private agents offering these walks profit from the HKTB's keenness to target foreign tourists for revenue reasons and the Board's willingness to allow an alternative interpretation of the past to co-exist next to the state-endorsed one. In Singapore, such acts of commercialised remembrance are more visibly localised and pick up on the state's national narrative which centres on victim-hood. However, a clear focus on the Allied war experience is also retained from British colonial times, wherefore it might be argued that the Singaporean form of commercialised war commemoration can more effectively attract both locals and foreigners. While the state is also disposed to give private agents relatively free reign, the Singapore Tourism Board and the NHB still function as supervising agencies in the background that ensure central issues within the state's national narrative of the past are not deviated from.

     Nevertheless, with private agents coming to the fore and publicly substituting governmental ones in creating and recreating meaning through commercialised acts of remembrance, a practice has been created that—despite or because of its multi-sensory, experience-oriented approach—needs to be taken seriously. Particularly so, since it carries the potential to both reach out to a local and global audience, and employ war-related sites as palimpsests-like77 infrastructures. These, again, can offer more thorough insights into the processes of merging and renegotiating colonial and post-colonial narratives of the local pasts and the mechanisms in which the agents involved operate.

Daniel Schumacher has worked as a Research Assistant and Doctoral Fellow at the Centre of Excellence "Cultural Foundations of Integration" at the University of Konstanz where he is currently finishing a Ph.D. in History. He is also one of the principal coordinators of the international "Writing the War in Asia"-Network (WWAN). He can be contacted at


1 cf. John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 9; Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain's Asian Empire (London: Allen Lane, 2007), 10; Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, 6th impr. (London: Joseph, 1994), 216; Karl Hack, Defence and Decolonisation in Southeast Asia: Britain, Malaya and Singapore 1941-1968 (Richmond: RoutledgeCurzon, 2001), 35-55.

2 cf. Wang Gungwu, "Memories of War: World War II in Asia," in P. Lim Pui Huen and Diana Wong, eds., War and Memory in Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: ISEAS, 2000), 19.

3 For Hong Kong, see, for instance: John M. Carroll, "Displaying and Selling History: Museums and Heritage Preservation in Post-Colonial Hong Kong," Twentieth-Century China 31 no. 1 (November 2005), 99. For Singapore, see, for instance: Kevin Blackburn, "Nation-Building, Identity and War Commemoration Spaces in Malaysia and Singapore," in Rahil Ismail, et al., eds., Southeast Asian Culture and Heritage in a Globalising World: Diverging Identities in a Dynamic Region (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 93f; Kevin Blackburn, "Changi: A Place of Personal Pilgrimages and Collective Histories," Australian Historical Studies 30 no. 112 (April 1999), 155f; Hamzah Muzaini, et al., "Intimations of Postmodernity in Dark Tourism: The Fate of History at Fort Siloso, Singapore," Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change 5 no.1 (2007), 28–45.

4 cf. Deepak Chhabra, Sustainable Marketing of Cultural and Heritage Tourism (London: Routledge, 2010), 4f. See also: Michael Hitchcock, et al., eds., Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2010).

5 This paper deliberately excludes more obvious places where tourists would encounter officially endorsed narratives of the wartime past, namely, the state-run museums of Hong Kong and Singapore. Instead, places that have been marginalised by academic research thus far will be illuminated.

6 See, for instance: Philip Stone and Richard Sharpley, "Consuming Dark Tourism: A Thanatological Perspective," Annals of Tourism Research 35 no. 2 (April 2008), 574ff.

7 cf. David W. Lloyd, Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of the Great War in Great Britain, Australia and Canada, 19191939 (Oxford: Berg, 1998), 19–39.

8 See, for instance: Malcolm Cooper, "The Pacific War Battlefields: Tourist Attractions or War Memorials?," International Journal of Tourism Research 8 no.3 (May/June 2006), 213–222.

9 For the Sai Wan Memorial and Cemetery at Hong Kong, see: "Poignant Scenes at Unveiling of H.K. War Memorial," South China Morning Post, 21 February 1955, 6; RA/42269, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Maidenhead, UK (CWGC). For the Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery at Singapore, see: "New Kranji War Memorial," Straits Times, 1 February 1957, 2; RA/41595, CWGC.

10 cf. Lloyd, Battlefield Tourism, 218.

11 Ex-servicemen would also visit places of their former internment, such as Argyle Street and Sham Shui Po camps at Hong Kong, and Changi prison at Singapore: "Former POWs Begin Remembrance Visit to Hongkong," South China Morning Post, 12 November 1965, 6; "Former POWs Attend Reunion Dinner at Camp", South China Morning Post, 13 November 1965, 9; "10 Service Widows on the Way from Britain," Straits Times, 26 February 1957; "PoW Memories Relived as Trade Mission Leader Goes Back to Changi," Straits Times, 25 April 1958, 1; "Australian Tourists at Kranji," Straits Times, 2 January 1961, 4.

12 John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, Dark Tourism, repr. (London: South Western Cengage Learning, 2009), 3.

13 cf. Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, "War Landscapes as 'Battlefields' of Collective Memories: Reading the Reflections at Bukit Chandu, Singapore," Cultural Geographies 12 no. 3 (July 2005), 347; "In Search of the Singaporean Soul," Straits Times, 9 February 1992, 18.

14 cf. Elizabeth Kenworthy Teather and Chun Shing Chow, "Identity and Place: The Testament of Designated Heritage in Hong Kong," International Journal of Heritage Studies 9 no. 2 (January 2003), 96. See also: Gordon Mathews, Global Culture – Individual Identity (London: Routledge, 2000), 136.

15 G.J. Ashworth, et al., Pluralising Pasts: Heritage, Identity and Place in Multicultural Societies (London: Pluto Press, 2007), 3.

16 Robert Shannan Peckham, "The Politics of Heritage and Public Culture," in idem, ed., Rethinking Heritage: Cultures and Politics in Europe (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003), 7. This borrows from Maurice Halbwachs.

17 Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage (London: Routledge, 2006), 65, 66.

18 Jerome de Groot, Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2009), 60.

19 Teo Hsu-ming, "Wandering in the Wake of Empire: British Travel and Tourism in the Post-Imperial World," in Stuart Ward, ed., British Culture and the End of Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 166.

20 I use this term to describe both architectural markers and socio-political practices associated with them, and to conceptualise the historical metamorphosis of attempts at symbolically structuring and regulating public space and the people occupying it. See: Dirk van Laak, "Infra-Strukturgeschichte," Geschichte und Gesellschaft 27 no.3 (July-September 2001), 385f., 393; Jens Ivo Engels and Julia Obertreis, "Infrastrukturen in der Moderne: Einführung in ein junges Forschungsfeld," Saeculum 58 no.1 (2007), 6.

21 For augmenting the Esplanade Cenotaph at Singapore with multi-lingual plaques in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil in 1950, see: NA871 81/45, National Archives of Singapore (NAS). For the Lim Bo Seng Memorial, inaugurated at Singapore in 1954, see: Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2012), 122–133. For the Hong Kong Memorial Garden, opened in 1962, see: HKRS70/3/298, Public Records Office Hong Kong (PRO HK); HKRS156/1/4400, PRO HK. For concentrating official remembrance in Hong Kong at the local Cenotaph and adding Chinese inscriptions to it in 1981, see: HKRS883/2/4, PRO HK.

22 cf. Blackburn, "Nation-Building," 93–113; See also: Kevin Blackburn, "History From Above: The Use of Oral History in Shaping Collective Memory in Singapore," in Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes, eds., Oral History and Public Memories (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008), 31–46.

23 See, for instance, HKRS70/3/298, PRO HK, and ME 3741 792/47, NAS.

24 Remembrance Day had been moved from the Esplanade Cenotaph to Kranji War Cemetery and was allowed to survive there as an unofficial ceremony organised by the British High Commission. See: Romen Bose, Kranji: The Commonwealth War Cemetery and the Politics of the Dead (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2006), 116.

25 cf. "Memorial Day: Feb. 15 Is Chosen," Straits Times, 1 April 1967, 8. For the Civilian War Memorial, see furthermore: Kevin Blackburn, "The Collective Memory of the Sook Ching Massacre and the Creation of the Civilian War Memorial of Singapore," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 73 no. 2 (September 2000), 71–90; Blackburn and Hack, War Memory, 164–170.

26 cf. Wang, "Memories of War," 19.

27 cf. "Mothers Mourn Anew at Memorial," Straits Times, 16 February 1967, 9.

28 cf. Speech by BG Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister at the Launch of National Education, Ministry of Education, Singapore, 17 May 1997, 1–6, <> 11 December 2011.

29 cf. "Signboards Will Be Put Up to Mark World War II Sites: Move to Mark 50th Anniversary of S'pore's Fall," Straits Times, 1 January 1992. Eventually, eleven plaques would predominantly mark sites that had seen major battles during the defence of Singapore while three additional plaques would mark sites where mass killings of civilians had taken place shortly after the fall of the island to Japanese forces.

30 "Heritage Can Be Catalyst in Stirring Patriotism: BG Yeo," Straits Times, 12 September 1995, 3.

31 George Yeo quoted in ibid.

32 Trade and Industry Minister Yeo Cheow Tong quoted in "Don't Take Peace for Granted: Cheow Tong," Straits Times, 13 November 1995, 29.

33 cf. Kathleen Paul, "Communities of Britishness: Migration in the Last Gasp of Empire," in Ward, British Culture, 195–197.

34 cf. Caroline Knowles and Douglas Harper, Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 22–34.

35 cf. "Memorial Day for War Heroes," Hong Kong Standard, 12 August 1998; "Late Honour for Wartime Guerrilla Defenders," South China Morning Post, 29 October 1998, 4; "Dongjiang Veterans Recall War Years," Hong Kong Standard, 29 October 1998, 4.

36 cf. Muzaini, et al., "Intimations of Postmodernity," 34.

37 Karl Hack and Kevin Blackburn, Did Singapore Have to Fall? Churchill and the Impregnable Fortress (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 165. See also: "When History 'Comes Alive'," Straits Times, 2 December 1984.

38 cf. Muzaini, et al., "Intimations of Postmodernity," 28–45.

39 T. C. Chang, "Theming Cities, Taming Places: Insights from Singapore," Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 82 no. 1 (2000), 39.

40 cf. ibid, 38.

41 cf. Pamelia Lee, Singapore, Tourism & Me (Singapore: Xpress Print, 2004), 220.

42 cf. Jean Beaumont, "Contested Trans-National Heritage: The Demolition of Changi Prison, Singapore," International Journal of Heritage Studies 15 no. 4 (2009), 305.

43 cf. Blackburn, "The Historic War Site," 1–43.

44 Through additional efforts by the STPB, the particularly horrific POW experiences on the Siam-Burma Railway were also tied up with those at Changi (which were rather moderate by comparison), since prisoners would often be channelled through the latter camp on their way to or back from the Railway. See: Beaumont, "Contested Trans-National Heritage," 299ff.

45 cf. Blackburn and Hack, Did Singapore Have to Fall?, 166.

46 Speech by RADM (NS) Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Education, at the Launch of 'Learning Journeys', Ministry of Education, Singapore, 28 February 1998, 1, <> 11 December 2011.

47 Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Ministry of Education, Singapore, 8 September 1996, 3, <> 11 December 2011.

48 Ibid, 1.

49 cf. Speech by RADM (NS) Teo Chee Hean, 2.

50 Ralph Thomas, "In Defence of Heritage," Asian Architect and Contractor 29 no. 6 (October 2000), 28.

51 cf. Teather and Chow, "Identity and Place," 113.

52 cf. ibid, 113f. See also: Rubie S. Watson, "Tales of Two 'Chinese' History Museums: Taipei and Hong Kong", Curator 41 no. 3 (September 1998), 174f.

53 cf. Mr Ko Tim-keung, Member of the Antiquities Advisory Board, Hong Kong, interview by the author, unpublished, 12 November 2012.

54 See: Jason Wordie and Ko Tim-keung, Ruins of War: A Guide to Hong Kong's Battlefields and Wartime Sites (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (HK), 1996). With Hong Kong University Press, Wordie subsequently published The Voices of Macao Stones (1999), Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island (2002) and Streets: Exploring Kowloon (2007).

In the 2000s, the above writings where joined by Tony Banham's micro studies, also published by Hong Kong University Press: Not the Slightest: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941 (2003), The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru: Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy (2006), and We Shall Suffer There: Hong Kong's Defenders Imprisoned, 194245 (2009).

55 cf. William Greaves, "Forts, Barracks and Battlefields – Tourism Possibilities for Hong Kong's Former Military Sites", in Antiquities and Monuments Office Hong Kong, et al., International Conference: Heritage & Tourism, 13.-15.12.1999, PRO HK, 1–16.

56 Since October 2002, Banham has been updating this online platform on a monthly basis with a detailed report that records his latest acquisitions of written documents, personal interviews, press cuttings, photographs, memorabilia, etc. relating to "the 1941 defence of Hong Kong, the defenders, their families, and the fates of all until liberation." See: Hong Kong War Diary: Hong Kong's Defenders, Dec 1941 – Aug 1945, <>, 10 December 2012.

57 cf. Mr Jeyathurai Ayadurai, General Manager of SHC, Managing Director of Changi Chapel & Museum, Managing Director of Journeys Pte. Ltd. Singapore, interview by the author, unpublished, 17 January 2011.

58 cf. John Urry, The Tourist Gaze, 2nd ed. (London: SAGE, 2002).

59 cf. Joseph B. Pine and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre and Every Business Is a Stage (Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1999).

60 cf. George Ritzer and Allan Liska, "'McDisneyisation and Post-Tourism': Complementary Perspectives on Contemporary Tourism," in Chris Rijeka and John Urry, eds., Touring Cultures: Transformations of Travel and Theory (London: Routledge, 1997), 96–112; John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster (Padstow: South-Western, 2000).

61 cf. Lee, Singapore, 53ff. See also: "Signboards Will Be Put Up to Mark World War II Sites," Straits Times, 1 January 1992, 16; "Percival's Fort Canning Bunker Re-Opened," Straits Times, 1 February 1992, 16; "Singapore's 'Underground': WWII Tunnels Found in Various Parts of the Island," Straits Times, 12 February 1992, 22; "Dr Yeo Suggests Opening More WWII Sites to the Public," Straits Times, 15 February 1992, 19; "Waterworks Engineers Invade Historic War Site," South China Morning Post, 12 February 2003; "Tapping Military History for Tourism", South China Morning Post, 12 February 2003.

62 cf. "Canadians Remember Heroes Who Fought for Hong Kong," South China Morning Post, 4 December 2005; "Trail of Blood," South China Morning Post, 26 May 2006; "Trail of History," China Daily (Hong Kong Edition), 11 November 2008; "Battle Tales," China Daily (Hong Kong Edition), 16 December 2008.

63 cf. Jason Wordie, "Hong Kong Battlefields and Wartime Sites," Battlefield Walking Tour script, unpublished, c.2010. Also, personal notes taken by the author during SHC's and Journeys' battlefield walk "End of Empire – Singapore 1942 (The Battlefield Walk)" on December 15, 2010 and the "Changi WWII"-walk on December 11, 2010.

64 In terms of accessibility, Shing Mun Redoubt and its tunnel system benefit from the popular MacLehose Hiking Trail that converges on the wartime installation in several places.

65 cf. Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China and the Japanese Occupation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 40–52; Blackburn and Hack, Did Singapore Have to Fall?, 79–94.

66 The Pasir Panjang Historic District comprises the former battlefield at Kent Ridge Park, marked itself in 1995 by the National Heritage Board with a bronze memorial, the World War II Interpretative Centre 'Reflections at Bukit Chandu', opened in 2002, and Labrador Battery, opened in 2005.

67 cf. "Tapping Military History". The Tourism Commission is part of the HKSAR's Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.

68 cf. "Trail of Blood". The texts on the bilingual storyboards (Chinese and English) set up along the Trail by the Tourism Commission heavily fall back on the writings of Tony Banham, as he provided most of the historical information.

69 At the same time, one needs to be mindful of the fact that, like the former British colonial authorities, the Singapore government do largely exclude the wartime contribution of Communist guerrilla forces, for instance.

70 For further processes of re-appropriating Kranji in independent Singapore, see also: Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, "Memory-making 'from below': Rescaling Remembrance at the Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery, Singapore," Environment and Planning A 39 (2007), 1288-1305.

71 Policy Recommendation Report: Letter to the Chief Executive, Culture and Heritage Commission, Hong Kong, 31 March 2003, 9, <> 8 February 2011.

72 cf. Hilary du Cros, "Postcolonial Conflict Inherent in the Involvement of Cultural Tourism in Creating New National Myths in Hong Kong," in C. Michael Hall and Hazel Tucker, eds., Tourism and Postcolonialism: Contested Discourses, Identities and Representations (London: Routledge, 2004), 166.

73 cf. ibid, 160. It has also been argued that "the heritage tourist is both wealthier and better educated" than other types of tourists which means that, besides being willing to undertake long overseas journeys to visit heritage sites, the 'heritage tourist' is also likely to spend money on other commodities on offer at his destination of travel more generally. See: Michael Tomlan, "Colonial Heritage in a Post-Colonial Territory – The Political Impact of Heritage Tourism", in Antiquities and Monuments Office Hong Kong, et al., International Conference: Heritage & Tourism, 13.-15.12.1999, PRO HK, 3.

74 cf. Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli, The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008), 15-18.

75 cf. "Take a Walk Down New WWII History Trails," Straits Times, 3 February 2012; "War History Comes Alive," Straits Times, 15 February 2012, C10.

76 cf. ibid.

77 cf. Jay Winter, "In Conclusion: Palimpsests," in Indra Sengupta, ed., Memory, History, and Colonialism: Engaging with Pierre Nora in Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts (London: German Historical Institute London, 2009), 167-174.

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