Friday, January 27, 2012

MyPaper : Wartime survivors recall the day bombs fell

27 January 2012
By Josephie Price
JAN 21, 1942, is a bittersweet date for lawyer Mary Pereira.

"That was the day her father, a World War II civil-defence volunteer, was killed in Japanese air raids. It was also the day that her shell-shocked moth­er gave birth to her in an air-raid shelter, as bombs fell like rain outside.

"We were homeless after that night of bombing. I didn't know it at the time, but my mum told me thatwhole buildings were destroyed and our flat was taken over," said Ms Pereira.

Opportunists moved into their home after the bombing and changed the lock. Without a home, the Pereira family moved to Malaysia for some years to live with relatives.

Yesterday, some 70 years after that fateful day, Ms Pereira visited the same shelter in Tiong Bahru for the first time. She was accompanied by her two older brothers, who recounted the grim events.

One of them, retiree Andrew Pereira, was just five years old that year.

Now 75, Mr Pereira said that as a boy then, the experience of seeing planes in the sky and hearing sirens everywhere "was like something out of movie ".

"My uncle grabbed me from my bed and carried me and my brother down to the shelter, where we waited until it was safe to come out again,"he added.

Built in 1940, the Tiong Bahru air-raid shelter, located beneath Block 78 in Guan Chuan Street, is the only pre- war civilian air-raid shelter that still exists here.

The apartment block above it was the only public-housing building at the time to be equipped with an air-raid shelter.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore, the National Heritage Board (NHB) is conducting public tours of the air-raid shelter.

Two free guided tours lasting an hour each will be conducted every Saturday next month. Each tour can take up to 25 participants, and registration can be made online.

An exhibition on air-raid shelters will be launched at Tiong Bahru Market next Saturday to serve as a counterpart to the tours. The exhibition will showcase artefacts, such as pictures and newspaper articles, from the Imperial War Museum in London.

The two projects are part of a broader initiative by the NHB to highlight, until the end of June, some of the. lesser-known stories of Singapore's wartime past.

Said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's director of heritage institutions: "Through this project, we hope that members of the public, especially Singaporeans, will learn more about Singapore's war history."

He added that the agency also wanted to highlight the resilience of Singaporeans "in this particular difficult time in our nation-building".

For more information and to sign up for the tours, go to

A VISIT to a World War It air-raid shelter in Tiong Bahru yesterday brought back bittersweet memories for the Pereira family. The shelter was where Ms Mary Pereira was born in January 1942, amid a Japanese air raid. Her brothers, Andrew, 75, and Erasmus, 71, remember the sirens' blare and bombs falling like "something out of a movie".

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