Singapore Film Locations Archive

Malaya War Record: A Record of the Onward March (1942)

Original film title in Japanese: Mare Senki: Shingeki no kiroku (マレー戦記 進撃の記録)
Literal English translation of film title: Malaya War Record: A Record of the Onward March

Filmed by Kameyama Matsutaro, Press Section of the Yamashita Corps (亀山松太 郎, 山下兵團報道班员) and Nihon Eigasha Correspondents (日本映画社特派員).
Edited by Iida Shimbi (飯田心美) & Miki Shigeru (三木茂)
Language: Japanese
Produced by Nihon Eigasha (Nichiei)

Film Locations:
Keppel Harbour, Victoria Memorial Hall, Raffles’ statue
Raffles Chambers, Raffles Place
Johor (Tebrau) Straits, Causeway, Sembawang Naval Base
Lim Chu Kang, Cashin House (‘The Pier’)
Bukit Timah, Ford Factory, Raffles College
Cathay Building, Telok Ayer Street (?), Farrer Park
Anson Road, Singapore Sailors Institute (Connell House)
Padang, Empress Place
Middle Road, Singapore Japanese Elementary School (now Stamford Arts Centre)
Liang Seah Street, Beach Road
Changi Prison, Changi Road, Johore Battery, Labrador Battery

 

ASSEMBLED from Japanese war news footage and confiscated British newsreels, Mare Senki: Shingeki no Kiroku was a feature-length combat documentary that recorded Japanese military operations against the British in the Malayan Peninsula and Singapore from December 1941 through to the surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942. Told from the perspective of the victors, this was to be a propagandistic and morale-boosting filmic document created for the consumption of the Japanese home population. It was also screened to the ‘newly conquered’ people of the Japanese empire in the Southeast Asian region, with the likely intent of claiming superiority over their past masters – the British colonialists.

Unlike short newsreels items that report on isolated events and happenings, this feature documentary compiled numerous footage from the war front and threaded them together into a coherent whole – a filmic document that narrated the major events of the Malayan Offensive by the Japanese 25th Army led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, in chronological order. But the portrayal of events in the offensive was selective. Overt scenes of violence, killing and the wounded were excluded. The focus was on war tactics, the shrewdness of General Yamashita and gallantry of his army; the ‘expansion of the empire’ down the Malayan peninsula, through space (key objectives, locations) and time (key dates of attack and victory); commemoration of the Japanese war dead for their heroic sacrifice; and antagonistic, at times ambivalent, sentiments towards the British. Even scenes of celebration after the triumph were rare. The conquest over Malaya and Singapore was portrayed as being clinical and a task completed with efficiency and deftness, as if to prove the supremacy of Imperial Japan, that victory was inevitable and hardly surprising.

Mare Senki: Shingeki no Kiroku is the first of a two-part series titled ‘Malayan War Record’ (Mare Senki; マレー戦記). Part two is a 15-minute short film Mare Senki: Shonanto Tanjo (Malaya War Record: The Birth of Syonan-To; マレー戦記: 昭南島誕生). Both parts are available for viewing at the National Archives of Singapore.

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Mare Senki: Shingeki no Kiroku is the first of a two-part series titled ‘Malayan War Record’ (Mare Senki; マレー戦記). Part two is a 15-minute short film Mare Senki: Shonanto Tanjo (Malaya War Record: The Birth of Syonan-To; マレー戦記: 昭南島誕生). Both parts are available for viewing at the National Archives of Singapore.

*Note: As the entire documentary was about the Japanese army’s campaign in Malaya, our review (particularly pertaining to Singapore film locations) covers only a portion of the film. We feature selected places depicted in the short introduction of the film and thereafter skip to around the film’s 30-minute mark, when the Japanese’s ‘march’ down the peninsula closes in on the Singapore island.

From the film’s introduction…

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From the film’s 30-minute mark, the paramount objective of the Malayan campaign was revealed… Shingaporu!

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After a swift charge down the peninsula, the Japanese army regrouped themselves in Johor Bahru and prepared for an all-out offensive on the island of Singapore, where all British, Australian and Indian troops had retreated. The Japanese launched an extended barrage of artillery attacks and air raids, aiming at several prime targets in Singapore, including Sembawang naval base, the air bases and other military installations. They also scrutinized the Johor Straits and pondered over the most opportune time and place to strike a land offensive.

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On the night of 8 February 1942, the Japanese invading forces – the 5th Division – were dispatched in rafts and boats that travelled down Sungei Skudai in Johore Bahru into the Johor Straits and landed in Singapore on Sarimbun Beach and the Lim Chu Kang coastline. Some of the Japanese forces would face fierce resistance by soldiers of the Australian 2/20 Battalion and the Dalforce Company.

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On the 13th of February, the Japanese captured Bukit Timah Hill and the water reservoir. The Ford Motor Factory was chosen to be the headquarters of Yamashita’s army.

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On the morning of 15th February, Lt. General Arthur Percival, the General Officer Commanding for Malaya, called for a Senior Commander’s Conference at Fort Canning to discuss the fate of Singapore. The outcome of the meeting was a decision to surrender. Percival had said that he “reluctantly decided to accept the advice of the senior officers present and to capitulate.” Percival had wanted to meet Yamashita in the city, but Yamashita insisted on the British surrender party to meet him at his headquarters in the Fort Motor Factory near Bukit Timah Village in the late afternoon. The following screengrabs, extracted from a much-quoted sequence in the documentary, feature the proceedings of the surrender in and around the Ford Motor Factory. The building is still standing today and it has since been converted into a war museum by the National Archives of Singapore, named “Memories at Old Ford Factory”.

The British surrender party – which included Lt Gen Percival, Major Cyril Wild (who carried the white flag), Brigadier Thomas Newbigging (who carried the Union Jack) and Brigadier Kenneth Torrance – were led by Colonel Ichiji Sugita to the Ford Motor Factory for the meeting with General Yamashita.

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This film sequence above at the Ford Factory has been replayed in countless documentaries about the fall of Singapore during World War II. During the time when it was first screened in Japan, it provoked great joy and applause in the movie theaters. It was the highlight of the film. Though it was meant to be a documentary, a postwar revelation from the Yamashita Corps Press Section Officer on site, Kameyama Matsutaro, revealed that the scene at the Fort Factory had actually been doctored for the screen. Peter B. High’s book on wartime Japanese films ‘The Imperial Screen’ (2003), contains the following quote from Kameyama: “On that fateful day we were the only camera crew allowed at the meeting … Since the tempo of the actual negotiations was very slow, I got the idea of under-cranking the camera, which of course has the effect of speeding things up on screen. This tended to emphasize the salient traits of the two main characters. Yamashita looks even more decisive and Percival appears actually quailing. So I would say it was a big success.”

A nondescript conversation became a rousing confrontation. Propaganda at its best.

The famous scene of the surrender meeting between Yamashita and Percival in the Ford Factory would be recreated in an amusing sequence in a feature length ‘indoctrination’ animation for children — Momotaro: Divine Warriors of the Sea (released in 1944), directed by Mituyo Seo. Momotaro, a stocky and heroic cartoon character, represents Yamashita, while Percival is parodied as a squirmy and horned military commanding officer of Ogre Island.

 

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After the climactic scene of the surrender at the Ford Motor Factory, the documentary film exhibited a series of events that were representative of the psyche and non-celebratory mood of Yamashita’s Army after the completion of the conquest of Singapore. We would see desecrated landscapes, vehicles on fire, a dirtied flag of the Union Jack, a very brief moment of ‘banzai!’(long live the emperor), and proceedings to commemorate the war dead. There was almost an attempt to avoid showing overt celebrations in the documentary. More time was dedicated to pertinent post-war matters – remembrance of sacrifices to the war effort, recovery of the Japanese civilians who had been interned by the British and the management of the prisoners-of-war. Acts of violence and purging, such as the Sook Ching massacre, which occurred within a few days after the surrender, were not represented in the film. The sequence of events depicted in the film suggests a peaceful and sombre transference of power from an aging British empire to the emergent Japanese imperialists. The atrocities the Japanese imperial army committed were well concealed.

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A day after the surrender (16 February 1942), the Japanese army organised a procession of tanks into the Singapore city centre. The documentary depicted tank soldiers in dignified poses, bearing the urns containing the ashes of their dead comrades (they were called ‘kotsu bako’ in Japanese; usually wrapped in white cloth and hung over the soldiers’ necks). It was not a portrayal of a triumphal parade, but a sombre commemoration for the dead as the tanks executed a symbolic takeover of the city centre, which had a concentration of architectural icons and monuments built during the reign of the former masters.

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Beginning from 17 February 1942, tens of thousands of Indian Army prisoners-of-war assembled at Farrer Park on several occasions to be addressed by Major Fujiwara Iwaichi (of the Japanese special operations unit codenamed F-Kikan) and Captain Mohan Singh, who was one of the first British Indian military officer to defect to the Japanese during the Malayan Campaign. F-Kikan had “recruited” Captain Mohan Singh after the defeat at Jitra (Kedah) and he was urged to form an Indian Army comprising the captured Indian soldiers. It was the early beginnings of the Indian National Army (INA), which would become the military arm of the Indian Independence League (IIL).

The intent of the address by Fujiwara and Mohan Singh was to convince the Indian prisoners-of-war to join the INA to fight for a free and independent India, with support from the Japanese military. Fujiwara had said during his address: “Japan is fighting for the liberation of the nations in Asia which have been for so long trodden under the cruel heels of British imperialism. Japan is the liberator and the friend of Asiatics… The independence of India is essential for the independence of Asia and the peace of the world; and it is the duty of Indians to free themselves. Japan is willing to give all-out aid and assistance to Indians in East Asia to achieve their aspirations.” Mohan Singh had also asked the crowd to raise their hands if they would like to volunteer to join the INA. He recounted in his memoirs Soldiers’ Contribution to Indian Independence (1974): “There was a spontaneous response from all the soliders. Along with the raising of hands, thousands of turbans and caps were hurled up in the air… soldiers jumped to their feet… with prolonged shouts of ‘Inqilab Zindabad’ (Long Live Revolution).”

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After the British capitulation, General Yamashita reportedly sent a telegram to the Imperial Army Headquarters: “The battle is no more than a prelude. The Army will not hold a celebration. Instead of a triumphal-entry ceremony, a ceremonial commemoration service for the dead will be solemnized on 20 Februrary, and immediately after, we will begin operations in Sumatra.” The commemoration service was held at the Raffles College (now National University of Singapore, Bukit Timah campus), where Yamashita’s headquarters had moved to from the Ford factory after the surrender. It was dedicated to the 3,500 Japanese soldiers who were killed in the Malayan Campaign.

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The Kanji characters written on the memorial in the screengrabs above read “…戰殃將兵之英靈”, which may be translated as “…Valiant Spirits of the Soldiers who Died in Battle”.

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One of the foremost tasks of the Japanese military after the British surrender was to free the Japanese civilian residents of Singapore, around 40 of them, held at Changi Prison since the outbreak of the Pacific war. The British Special Branch had rounded up all the Japanese nationals after the air raid on 8 December 1941 and interned them with the intention of sending them away to India.

Prior to the film sequence depicting the recovery of the Japanese civilian residents, the makers of the film documentary had included shots of ravaged shophouses along Middle Road, a pre-war Japanese enclave. Many Japanese businesses set up shop there, including bookstores, tailors, photo studios, provisions shop, clinics, hotels and brothels. The Japanese called it ‘Chuo-dori’, which translates into ‘Central Street’ or ‘Middle Road’.

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There were also two brief shots of the Singapore Japanese Elementary School (新嘉坡日本小學校) — one of the school gate and the signboard, and the other of a statue that stood inside the school. The elementary school was located within the Japanese enclave, at the junction of Waterloo Street and Middle Road. According to Mamoru Shinozaki in his book Syonan: My Story, the Singapore Japanese Elementary School had also been used as temporary accommodation for members of Singapore’s pre- war Japanese community returning from Japan after the British surrender. Those Japanese civilians who had been interned in India and returned to Syonan in August 1942 were also quartered at the Japanese school. (The Japanese and the British had agreed to a prisoner of war exchange.) The building has been conserved till today and now houses the Stamford Arts Centre.

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The abovementioned Mamoru Shinozaki, then press-attache of the Foreign Ministry, was jailed by the British for spying for the Japanese Imperial Army and held in Changi Prison since September 1940. After the start of the Pacific War, Mamoru Shinozaki was joined by other Japanese civilians and officials. Most were sent to India, leaving a group of around 40 still interned at Changi Prison – Shinozaki had written in his book Syonan: My Story that the group consisted of “a few old women, some Okinawan fishermen, Dr Nakamura from Malacca, and Masaji Hirayama.” After the fall of Singapore, they were recovered from Changi Prison on 16 February 1942 by the Kempei Tai (military police) and “taken to Beach Road, to the 2nd Field Military Kempei Tai headquarters.” This headquarters was presumably housed in what was the Beach Road Police Station, directly opposite Liang Seah Street.

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On 17 February 1942, two days after the British capitulation, some three thousand European civilians were assembled on the Padang for the march into internment. They were first instructed to walk to their first internment camps in Katong and Joo Chiat. By the first week of March, all the civilian internees had been moved to Changi Prison, where most of them were to stay until May 1944 (when they were next moved to the Sime Road Camp). The male and female internees were made to live in separate quarters. Many were making the most of out their predicament and brought along whatever belongings they thought would be useful during the internment.

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The old Changi Prison where civilians were interned during World War II was demolished in 2004, but the iconic entrance gateway was reassembled on a stretch of the wall of the new Changi prison. Today, there is limited access and visibility to this new prison wall.

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While the European civilians were interned at Changi Prison, the Allied prisoners-of-war (POWs) were held in the former British barracks. The Australian POWs were put in Selarang Barracks while the British POWs were placed in Roberts Barracks. On 25 February 1942, according to David Nelson’s war diaries The Story of Changi Singapore, at 3.30pm, all fit prisoners-of-war were “paraded and lined up in open order along both sides of practically the whole of the road system in the cantonment. The reason? An inspection by the Japanese general officer commanding. He arrived late, keeping us waiting in the hot sun.” The ‘cantonment’ was likely Changi, where all Allied POWs were held. The long road depicted in the film was probably (Upper) Changi Road. The Japanese general officer commanding who put David Nelson’s patience to the test was Yamashita.

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Finally, more military targets of the Japanese army and significant sites in Singapore were presented towards the end of the documentary, as if to announce control and possession of these former British-administered places – Keppel Harbour, Labrador Battery and Johore Battery.

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The Labrador Battery and casemate, which the British used as an ammunition store and shelter for the gunnners, was shown barricaded and locked up in the film. The original purpose of the casement was to be a protective concrete cover for one of the two 6-inch guns positioned at Labrador Battery. The tunnels in the casemate are now closed to the public. The last time we visited in 2012, the area in front of the casement was used by a nearby restaurant for al-fresco dining.

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The real 15-inch monster guns of the Johore Battery had been removed. Originally built in 1939 to protect the Sembawang naval base from an attack by sea from the south, the guns were turned around to face Johor in the north, days before the fall of Singapore. But the ammunition rounds used were of the armour-piercing type for naval targets and proved ineffective in destroying enemy troops and artillery. In 2002, the Singapore Tourism Board launched a same-size replica of one of the 15-inch guns, above the ruins of an underground ammunition bunker. It is located along Cosford Road amongst military camps and sits close to the runways of the Changi International Airport.

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Further Reading:
1. Peter B. High, The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the Fifteen Years’ War 1931-1945 (pp. 363-373, 451). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
2. Abe Markus Nornes, Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima (pp. 88-89, 115). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
3. Masanobu Tsuji, Japan’s greatest victory, Britain’s worst defeat (pp. 207-208). New York: Sarpedon, 1997.
4. Henry Frei, Guns of February: ordinary Japanese soldiers’ views of Malayan campaign and the fall of Singapore 1941-42. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2004.
5. Mamoru Shinozaki, Syonan: My Story. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2011. (First published in 1975.)
6. Surjan Singh, They Died for All Free Men. Singapore: Sikh Missionary Society Malaya, 2003.
7. David Nelson, The Story of Changi Singapore. Singapore: Changi Museum Pte Ltd, 2001. (First published in 1974.)
8. Shingaporu Nihonjinkai, Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore. Singapore: Japanese Association, 2004.

Film Images:
© 1942 Nihon Eigasha (Nichiei)

Photographs:
© 2012, 2014 Toh Hun Ping

 

 

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