On 12 September 2015, Singapore marked the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War.

The 12 September 1945 surrender ceremony at Singapore’s old City Hall officially brought to an end one of the darkest periods in Singapore’s history.

At the University Scholars Programme (USP), students acquainted themselves with the surrender’s significance through a series of talks that culminated with students attending a remembrance ceremony at the Kranji War Cemetery.

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On 8 September 2015 and 10 September 2015, Assistant Professor Cheah Wui Ling (who is with NUS Faculty of Law and teaches at the USP) and Dr Moritz Vormbaum (Senior Researcher from Humboldt University) organised two talks at the USP and NUS Law on post-war justice.

Both researchers are collaborating in a Humboldt-NUS funded comparative study of British-run war crimes trials in Singapore and Germany.

USP students who attended the 8 September 2015 talk at University Town engaged both speakers on numerous topics.

Many students were interested in how these post-war trials dealt with the responsibility of lower-ranking soldiers. Participants were also intrigued by the steps taken by Germany to address its wartime responsibility.

Dr Vormbaum shared with us some thoughts about his talk at the USP.

“The discussion during the seminar was lively and inspiring. It was a great pleasure to debate with NUS students on a high academic level. I was impressed by the well-organised and well-equipped NUS campuses and the learning atmosphere there. In my view, German universities can learn a lot from NUS in this regard.”

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On 12 September 2015, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in Singapore, a group of USP students enrolled in “USE2320: Singapore Studies: Transitional Justice and War Crime Trials: Case Studies from Singapore and Asia” attended a remembrance ceremony organised by The Changi Museum at the Kranji War Cemetery.

The ceremony featured thought-provoking speeches by dignitaries and poetry readings. At the end of the ceremony, diplomatic representatives from different countries, including Japan’s Ambassador to Singapore, laid poppy wreaths at the foot of the Kranji War Memorial.

Members of the Japanese community presented armfuls of brightly coloured paper cranes symbolising peace, a particularly relevant message in light of ongoing tensions over various issues in East Asia.

When exploring the Kranji War Cemetery before and after the remembrance ceremony, USP students were particularly struck by local names engraved on the memorial’s walls.

Many students spent some time in the cemetery for Muslim soldiers located behind the main memorial. Some commented on the young age of those who fell while others discussed less known vignettes of Singapore’s history, including the fight put up by the Dalforce and the Malay Regiment at the ill-fated Battle for Singapore.

The week leading up to the 70th anniversary of Japan’s Second World War surrender was a good opportunity for USP students to learn about wartime sacrifice and post-war justice in Singapore. Hopefully, this will lead to more conversations and debates about less-known periods in Singapore’s story.

Note: Assistant Professor Cheah is also working with NUS law alumnus Ms Ng Pei Yi on a public outreach project and web portal on the Singapore trials. The project is supported by National Heritage Board (Singapore). They are currently still looking for donors and volunteers. Those who would like to get involved should get in touch with Assistant Professor Cheah at lawcwl@nus.edu.sg or Ms Ng at mail.peiyi@gmail.com.