Slaughter beach

An unusual discovery at Punggol beach dug up a slice of history that many Singaporeans are not aware of. Punggol beach used to be one of the Japanese killing fields. So were the beaches at Sentosa and Changi. WILEEN CHANG reports

A MAN digging for earthworms to use as fishing bait, at the stretch of beach along Punggol jetty, found parts of a human skeleton instead.

There was a skull with two gold teeth, parts of an arm and leg.

Although it hardly seems like it, this quiet stretch of beach at the end of Punggol Road, near Punggol jetty was a Japanese killing field during the Second World War.

The skeletons are believed to be the remains of about 300 to 400 Chinese civilians who were gunned down there on Feb 28, 1942 by the bojo kempei (Japanese auxiliary military police) firing squads.

Mr Ang, 37, a gas supplier, was at the scene when the human remains were discovered on Dec 30 last year.

"It was the gold teeth which led to this discovery because the sun was shining on them and they sparkled.

"Curious, the man dug further and further until a whole skull was uncovered.

"Someone let out a loud yell, so a lot of people including children fishing at the jetty ran down to have a look.

"When I saw the remains, I found that it looked very peaceful as if it was sleeping with one hand tucked under the chin.

"The man who uncovered the remains quickly kept the gold teeth at a secure place before the police arrived for fear that someone might steal them," he said.

All the remains were handed over to the police.


Punggol Beach

Regulars at the Punggol beach were not surprised.

"Every once in a while, someone will pick up some human remains from the beach, " said Mr Lok Ah See, 64, an attendant at the petrol kiosk near the beach.

"After the war, my father and a lot of villagers staying around this area helped dig up the sea bed in search of human skeletons."

During World War II, on Feb 28, 1942, about 1,000 Chinese from the area around Upper Serangoon Road were rounded up by the Japanese as part of the Sook Ching or mopping-up operation.

They were detained.

Then, they were executed, presumably because of tattoos spotted on their bodies - a sign believed then to be linked to the triad societies.

A regular fisherman at Punggol jetty said: "It is not unusual for us to fish up a set of teeth belonging to those who had been executed."

"Most people are usually quite 'pantang' (superstitious).

"So, even if they see any human skeletons lying around, they will pretend not to see it.

"We too will not dig it up purposely.

THE SITES

PUNGGOL beach is now on the National Heritage Board's list of historical sites.

The marking of the Punggol beach massacre site was part of a series organised in 1995 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II.

The other two sites during the Sook Ching operation were Changi beach and Sentosa.

CHANGI:
Changi beach is believed to be one of the first killing grounds.

Sixty-six Chinese men were killed by the Japanese auxiliary military police firing squads at the water's edge along the stretch of Changi off Nicoll Drive.

Today it is a popular recreational venue.

SENTOSA:
From Feb 20 till Feb 28, 1942, several hundred Chinese civilians, bound hand and foot, and tied back-to-back in groups of three or four, were transported by the boat-loads from the docks at Tanjong Pagar to the surrounding waters.

There, in the open sea, they were hurled into the waters and fired upon by the Japanese captors. Many of the dead were swept out to the sea by strong currents.

Some 300 bodies were washed ashore by the tide to the island of Blakang Mati (Sentosa's old name). A memorial plaque (picture, above) site at Sentosa's Serapong Golf Course marks the massacre at sea.

MEMORIAL PLAQUES
Memorial plaques outlining the history of these three sites have been installed in permanent memory of the Chinese civilians who were massacred during the Japanese Occupation.

Generally, a site must be linked to a significant historical event or the life and activities of organisations that have made important contributions to the nation before it is listed as a historical site.

First published in The New Paper, Feb 10, 1998

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