The Japanese Occupation

After the British surrender, which then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history", Singapore was renamed to "Syonanto" or "light of the south" by the Japanese.

During the occupation, the Kempeitai (Japanese military secret police) committed numerous atrocities against the common people. They introduced the system of "Sook Ching", which means "purge through purification", to get rid of those deemed as anti-Japanese. The Sook Ching Massacre claimed the lives of between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaya. These men were rounded up and taken to deserted spots around the island and killed systematically. Besides, the Kempeitai established a network of informers around the island to help them identify those who were anti-Japanese. These informers were well-paid by the Kempeitai and had no fear of being arrested. Japanese soldiers patrolled the streets and commoners had to bow to them when they passed by. Those who failed to do so would be beaten and some people would be taken away.

The Kempeitai


Also, life was hard during the occupation as resources were scarce. The prices of basic necessities increased drastically due to hyperinflation. The Japanese issued ration cards to limit the amount of resources received by the civilian population. Adults could purchase 4.8 kg (11 lb) of rice per month and 2.4 kg (5.3 lb) for children. The amount of rice for adults was reduced by 25% as the war progressed.

A Ration Card

The Japanese issued banana money as their main currency since Straits currency became rare. The Japanese instituted elements of a command economy in which there were restrictions on the demand and supply of resources, thus creating a popular black market. The "banana currency" started to suffer from high inflation and dropped drastically in value because the authorities would simply print more whenever they needed more money; consequently the black market often used Straits currency.


Food quality and availability decreased greatly. Tapioca, sweet potatoes and yam became the staple food of most diets of Singaporeans because it was considerably cheaper than rice and could also be grown in gardens. It was then turned into a variety of dishes, as both dessert, and all three meals of the day. They grew relatively easy and flourished relatively well near the water, became a popular crop, as did other vegetables.

Sweet Potato

After the occupation, Singapore was the target of various operations masterminded by Allied forces to disrupt Japanese military activities. In August 1945, two midget submarines of the Royal Navy took part in Operation Struggle, a plan to infiltrate Singapore Harbour and sabotage the Japanese cruisers Takao and Myoko using limpet mines. They inflicted heavy damage on Takao, earning Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser the Victoria Cross. From November 1944 to May 1945, Singapore was subjected to bombing raids by British and American long-range bomber units.

The Victoria Cross

Also, Lim Bo Seng of Force 136 led another operation, code named Gustavus, to establish an espionage network in Malaya and Singapore and gather intelligence about Japanese forces for the Allies. However, Operation Gustavus failed and Lim was captured along with his men. Lim died in prison due to ill-treatment. Today, Lim Bo Seng is regarded as a War Hero due to his bravery and commitment to the anti- Japanese activities.

Lim Bo Seng Memorial
Lim Bo Seng

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Background Information

Invasion of Malaya

Japanese Landings in Singapore

Battle of Bukit Timah

Battle of Pasir Panjang

Alexandra Hospital Massacre

The British Surrender


Labrador Park History Trail

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