Liberation 70 by All Things Bukit Brown

Publishers: Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos Books

Date Of Publication: 5 December, 2015

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and All Things Bukit Brown (atBB)  are pleased to announce their plans to publish a collection of essays and poems, mined mainly from oral history and family archives, which looks at the Second World War (1942-1945) and the impact in Singapore from the perspective of those interred at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The book commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore under Japanese Occupation (Sept 1945) by offering new material and insights into the human tragedy of war, which adds another layer to the already vast literature on WWII in Singapore.

“The stories have taken us to the Endau Settlement in Johor, to Taiping (Malaysia) and to the beaches of Normandy in ways so unexpected they took our breath away,” said Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of All Things Bukit Brown, a group of volunteers who work to raise awareness of the municipal cemetery. “It is a slow and at times painful unravelling of family history, lost in memory but for the persistence of descendants. It has taken seven decades for some of these fragments to be pulled together, and we see this not as a one-off book but a first step in the difficult journey of re-discovery and re-membering. The narratives also re-affirm to us Singapore’s place in regional and global historical narratives.”

It is a known fact that many who lived through the horrors of war and Occupation barely spoke about those days. The 70th anniversary of the Liberation, coinciding with an outpouring of emotion as Singapore celebrated the Jubilee of independence (SG50), unlocked the memory vaults of strangers who entrusted the editorial team with intimate familial stories and memorabilia. The compilation will span across the immediate pre- war, occupation and post-war years for the people of Singapore. It will also feature a poem of lamentation for soldiers lost in the battle at Bukit Brown, juxtaposed against recently unearthed official archival material on the battle that was fought at Cemetery Hill aka Bukit Brown Cemetery, with anecdotes from the diaries of soldiers, the pastor who bore witness to the aftermath, as well as memories of surviving prisoners of war who lived in the nearby Sime Road POW Camp. Most of this will be new, unpublished material.

SHS is pleased to support this ground-up project, as an extension of the advocacy the society encourages and the Bukit Brown cause that SHS has backed since 2011, when the cemetery came under threat of development first through a highway and later, housing.

“Bukit Brown has unexpectedly turned out to be a touchstone about the loss of heritage – tangible and intangible – in a Singapore eager to modernise and develop,” Chua Ai Lin, President of SHS. “The book is an important evolution of the civil society movement to uphold Bukit Brown as a site of national significance, and illuminate one of its more fragile narrative threads. It brings together at once the strategic and personal importance of the site, and SHS is pleased to once again support All Things Bukit Brown, which has evolved from a volunteer base guiding weekly public tours and regular customised tours, to hosting exhibitions and participating in arts programmes to reach as broad a support base as possible to save what is left of the site.”

The book, which now has the working title “Liberation70”, is ultimately a tribute to those among us,  civilians and soldiers who laid down their lives. In the Ode of Remembrance read at most war commemoration ceremonies worldwide, the public repeats the key line, “We will remember them.” This is our collective act of remembrance.

The book will be co-published by the Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos with a partial grant from the National Heritage Board, under its Heritage Participation Grant. All proceeds from the book will be channelled into future Bukit Brown projects.


Singapore Heritage Society was founded in 1987 and is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation and registered charity with Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. It is Singapore’s leading organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy on Singapore’s history, heritage and identity. SHS is behind many significant publications on Singapore history including Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese, 1942-1945 (1992); Memories and the National Library: Between Forgetting and Remembering (2000); Spaces for the Dead: A Case from the Living (2011).

All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) is the banner for a community of volunteers who conduct independent research and guided walks on Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since they came together as a community in 2012, they have collectively organised public talks with partners such as the NUS Museum and Chui Huay Lim Club, two exhibitions and successfully nominated Bukit Brown Cemetery as the first site in Singapore to be placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch list 2014-2016. Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of the blog, are the editors for the book, backed by a volunteer editorial team from within the community.

Drama Box_

(Photo credit Han Xuemei, Dramabox)

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.57.13 pm



SAA award

The Award (Photo: Theresa Teng)


All Things Bukit Brown is pleased to announce that it is the first recipient of the Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year Award in the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards. This is our acceptance speech at the ceremony on August 30, 2014. 

“We are honoured and humbled to have been deemed deserving to receive this award by a dedicated and diverse panel of activists, many of whom have worked tirelessly and for a much longer time on a variety of causes such as foreign worker abuse, AIDS awareness and education, the protection of women’s rights and the championing of the local arts scene.

While we are very much the “new kids on the block” among causes highlighted today, we have stalwarts before us who championed the cause of heritage preservation and protection. We look upon this award as encouragement and affirmation, that what we do in promoting awareness of the Habitat, Heritage and History  of the iconic Bukit Brown Cemetery is contributing to the growing voices of concern about how rapid development has resulted in the loss of our old places and a growing sense of alienation of what is home.

Our encounters on the ground talking to and documenting stories from tomb keepers to descendants have been enriching, and our wider Bukit Brown experience has led us to places we have never been, to temples and other areas of cultural and ethnic significance, and in observing the customary rites and rituals which are being practiced today, and further afield to maritime port cities linked to our past. By celebrating the rich diversity of a shared past which is being kept alive by sheer dint of devotion and effort, we find ourselves sharing in a larger collective act of preservation of our culture and identity. We are far from alone.

In receiving the honour of this award, we pledge to continue to engage in conversation and in concert with all stakeholders to make heritage a part of the development paradigm, and to re-imagine spaces which will reinforce memory and identity from one generation to another generation.

We would like to thank especially Raymond and Charles Goh, for leading the way and sharing with us so generously and so passionately all your research from when both of you started exploring Bukit Brown eight years ago. Our abiding gratitude goes to the community especially on Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Facebook group which have encouraged and supported us, and which enlivens Bukit Brown daily with the members’ sharing of interesting articles and stories, anecdotes and sometimes grave discussions. It is your enthusiasm that led us all on this journey; unlike most online communities, we are glad to have met many of you face-to-face in on- and off- site events.

We thank the Singapore Heritage Society for nominating us and finally we thank the SAA for this honour, which we will endeavor to live up to. We have much to live up to.

We acknowledge and congratulate all the other nominees. For us, it was enough to have been nominated.

This initiative by SAA makes all of us nominees winners because it celebrates the acts and sacrifices made by volunteers across different communities. Volunteers are the heart of many communities, raising awareness, lifting spirits, affirming shared values, shaping aspirations, and connecting the different threads of society into a fabric that is stronger for weaving its constituents together. Volunteerism is often driven more by passion and purpose than resources, and demands us to be creative, persevering and collaborative. It is often, especially in the nascent stages, lonely and intimidating, confusing and almost crippling in the face of lofty expectations of what a few individuals can and should achieve.

We acknowledge and endorse the efforts of the SAA to bring voices to the communities that need encouraging, causes that need acknowledgement and affirmation, and issues that benefit from airing in public discourse. We do ourselves a service by taking ownership of issues and responsibility for making dreams a reality. This is our contribution to our society. It is humbling to be acknowledged.

Next year, we as a country will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Singapore as a republic, and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Singapore from occupation during WWII. We salute all the communities and civil society activists before us who have taken our country to where it is today.”


Claire Leow & Catherine Lim, Co-Founders, All Things Bukit Brown


The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer

The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer


The symbol chosen is an inverted ‘A’ (for Advocacy) and stems from the idea of the ‘tipping point’, which in sociology is defined as ‘a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice’. Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’, defines the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire”.Here, the inverted ‘A’ is placed in a transient state in which it may sway both ways. Its position and layout in relation to the text suggest that the ‘A’ will stand firmly over the text if you choose to tip it over.
The Judges:

  1. T. Sasitharan (Panel Chair) – Arts educator and Cultural Medallion winner
  2. Cherian George – Academic
  3. Richard Ho – Architect
  4. Faizah Jamal – NMP & Environmental Activist
  5. Sharon Siddique – Consultant
  6. Constance Singam – Civil Society Activist and Writer
  7. Wong Ting Hway – Medical Doctor
  8. Geoffrey Yu – Arts Supporter and Former Diplomat


“Activism and advocacy are the cornerstones of an active and vital civil society movement and the need to establish and protect free space for civil society has never been more urgent than it is now,” said Mr Sasitharan. “A strong civil society will lead to healthy, functioning democracies. Conversely, healthy, well-functioning democracies must allow strong civil societies to exist.”

“If civil society in Singapore is to grow and mature, then it is crucial that good advocacy work that makes an impact on society, that is engaged with the community and that empowers people, should be properly recognised, acknowledged and applauded.” (Source: TOC article here)


The Honours List:

ACRES * All Things Bukit Brown * Braema Mathi * Chan Li Shan * Damien Chng * Eugene Tay * Jeremy Boo and Lee Xianjie * Louis Ng * M Ravi * Pink Dot


SAA honorees

SAA honorees



Advocate of the Year: Braema Mathi (President of Maruah, a human rights advocacy group)

Advocate of the Year: Louis Ng (ACRES – Animal Concerns Research and Education Society)

Advocacy Organisation of the Year – All Things Bukit Brown

Most Promising Advocate – Chan Li Shan (mental health advocate, author of A Philosopher’s Madness)

Most Promising Advocate – Damien Chng (We Believe in Second Chances)


 The citation:

citation for SAA I

citation for SAA II


Postscript: It is worth mentioning that we acknowledged fellow nominee Eugene Tay, who supported us from the early days, and blogger Jerome Lim of The Long and Winding Road fame, for bringing us together. They inspired us in their railway walks, a precursor to the Green Corridor campaign.


Jerome Lim and Eugene Tay at SAA

Jerome Lim and Eugene Tay at SAA, with us and Constance Singam


We received the award from William Lim, one of the greatest honours we have experienced.


(Photo: SAA)

(Photo: SAA)


William Lim and his wife at the SAA

William Lim and his wife at the SAA


Lim Su Min, a Brownie and a descendent of Tan Tock Seng and Lim Boon Keng, sketched the historic inaugural awards:


SAA sketch (Credit- Lim Su Min)

Related Posts:

Bukit Brown named World Monuments Watch site


Globalising the Local

( a forum organised by the Singapore Heritage Society)

4 November 2013

In December 2012 the historic Singapore Botanic Gardens became a nominee for UNESCO World Heritage site status. In October 2013 Bukit Brown was selected by the World Monuments Fund to be included in the 2014 World Monuments Watch list. Two equally deserving heritage sites on different pathways towards international recognition. What does it mean to be recognised as a World Heritage site or to be on the World Monuments Watch list? Are these new ways of thinking about the significance of heritage in Singapore? Can heritage give us insights into what being global means for Singapore and Singaporeans?

Join us at the Forum where we will hear expert speakers explain the meaning and significance of these developments.

Please register early as seats are limited:

10 November 2013, 2-4pm
Ngee Ann Auditorium, Asian Civilisations Museum

Dr Chua Ai Lin – President of the Singapore Heritage Society

Dr Kevin YL Tan – President, ICOMOS Singapore
Dr Ian Chong – Political Scientist
Ms Faizah Jamal – Nominated Member of Parliament
Dr Lai Chee Kien – Architect

Globalising the Local _ SHS


November 2015
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