I went on a tour of the museum’s new ‘Witness to War: Remembering 1942’ exhibition – here’s what it’s like

The entrance to the Witness to War: Remembering 1942 exhibition.
Sujin Thomas/Business Insider

The date Feb 15, 1942, marked the fall of Singapore to the hands of the Japanese during World War II.

Some 75 years later, visitors to the National Museum of Singapore will be able to see more than 130 artefacts from that turbulent time in a carefully-curated exhibition.

Take note, many of the items have never been displayed here before.

For example, there is  Japanese Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s samurai sword, on display for this first time outside the United States since he surrendered his forces to the allies in the Philippines on Sept 2, 1945.

There’s also Chinese resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng’s diary and another star of the exhibition, an authentic 25-pounder field gun used by the British and Commonwealth armies during the war.

The exhibition is called Witness to War: Remembering 1942 and is open to the public from Sept 23 till March 25 next year. For more details, go to www.nationalmuseum.sg.


Business Insider went on a media preview of the exhibition to see what it’s like.

The first thing you see as you enter the exhibition hall is what’s called a title wall. It served not only as an introduction but also carried writings of war survivors in Singapore whose accounts are heard later on.

We were then led through a tunnel of sorts, which gave us an overview of what was happening in the world at that time – and just prior – through old newsreel footage and other films.

A sharp right turn at the end faced up head-on with a portrait painting of Sir Shenton Thomas, the Governor of the Straits Settlement from 1934 to 1946. The portrait was done by well-known Chinese painter Xu Beihong, who had composed it while on a visit to Singapore in July 1939.


Two posters featuring kungfu legend Bruce Lee’s grandfather Ho Kom-Tong, who had taken part in various opera performances in Hong Kong to raise funds for anti-Japanese activities, was also on loan from the Hong Kong Museum of History.

Among the exhibition’s star exhibits is the 25-pounder field gun on display with used cartridge shells and ammo boxes. Visitors will be greeted with a 2 1/2-minute light and sound experience which starts off with the playing of The White Cliffs of Dover, a popular song of the time, composed by Walter Kent in 1941. Museum staff even said to expect the smell of gunpowder every 10 minutes, recreated through artificial means, of course.

A Union Jack flag captured from a government building by a Japanese soldier, Sergeant-Major Uchiyama, in 1942, bears the date of the British surrender and Uchiyama’s name. It was recaptured by a British Army officer in Burma in 1944.

In one of the numerous display cases lay a pencil-sketch of General Officer Commanding (Malaya) Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival by war artist Murray Griffin, a fellow prisoner-of-war at Changi Prison. It was a stark reminder of the dire situation the entire country was in in 1942.

On one side of the exhibition hall in a glass case, General Yamashita’s samurai sword, or katana, greeted us. The sword’s blade – which we did not get to see as it remained sheathed –  was made sometime between 1640 and 1680.

 It is on loan from the West Point Museum in the United States.

General Yamashita was known as the Tiger of Malaya for how swiftly he attained victories against British forces, particularly when he led the Japanese 25th Army in his campaign through Malaya, eventually landing in Singapore.

In another part of the room, Chinese resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng’s handwritten diary was placed in another glass display case. It contains entries stretching from Feb 11 to Apr 4, 1942 and traces his evacuation from Singapore to Calcutta in India.

The diary, which is on loan, is on display for the first time. Beside it, visitors can read the digitised version of its pages, along with a transcription off a screen.

The exhibition is aimed at educating visitors – through plenty of story-telling by survivors and other narratives – on how Singapore’s fall was part of a wider campaign waged by the Japanese.

It also complements the current WWII exhibits in the museum’s permanent galleries which largely focuses on the battle for Singapore and the Japanese Occupation.

It promises to be both an eye-opener and addition to any military history buff’s bucket list.