The Road to Berlin #1: Singapore stopover.

After two days near the equator, I’m getting used to the heat and catching the rights tides of sleep. A trip into the town centre by bus on Tuesday was enough to persuade me I was still a bit too jet lagged for shopping, but you have to love the public statuary.

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This fiery lion caught my eye and is only one of many works of art that compete for attention with the supercharged power of the neon brands on shop fronts. Wednesday was going to be different, as I planned to find and visit the Changi Memorial Museum and chapel to locate a plaque I believed was sited there. This is a memorial to two of the nine airmen executed by the Japanese in August 1945 on Changi Beach.

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Sub Lieutenants Baxter and Haberfield were Kiwi pilots with the Fleet Air Arm, men of the RNZNVR who had flown off carriers in the British Pacific Fleet and were shot down and captured in the attacks on the Palembang oil refinery late in 1944. Haberfield was a relation of a Māori friend in Christchurch and Baxter had flown in 1833 Squadron off my Dad’s carrier, HMS Illustrious.

The taxi ride found me there quickly and cheaply – taxis here are really an extension of public transport rather than a luxury – and there it was. The chapel was there with its altar and wartime cross made by prisoners from an artillery shell. It was an outdoor site of worship and a living memorial to those prisoners who had lived and died under the Japanese occupation.

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To one side was a sandbox with sand from the beach where the men were beheaded, their bodies dumped at sea. There was note paper for messages to be placed on the memorial board opposite. I wrote a mihi mihi for the dead and lit two candles.

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There were a few tourists coming into the chapel including Japanese and their children. There were Tsuru garlands, peace offerings hung there sent by school children from Japan.

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After a quiet prayer and giving my poroporoaki to the mate, I left them to their rest and toured the museum. A man came out from a door behind the chapel as I left the memorial and walked past me with a sheaved samurai sword wrapped in cloth. I had a flashback to Japan and Hideaki Nishida offering me the sword of his dead kamikaze brother, Hisashi.

In the museum I learned of the suffering and the bravery of the Singaporeans and the Allied prisoners. I found the plaque I was looking for. His sister had come in 2002 and laid him to rest with comrade Baxter.

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E te rangatira, maua ko to hoa, rere atu, haere atu ra!

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About paparoa

Writer and researcher.
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