My family used to drive Ford cars back in the ’70s and ’80s, just as many other middle class families did. We had a Ford Cortina, and then a Ford Escort.
In those days a Ford vehicle was a solid choice, safe and much more reliable than the tin-can Japanese mass market upstarts that were starting to gain in popularity then. Many of the older generations will recall the Ford brand with much warmth.
Sad to say Ford vehicles today are no longer the cherished family automobiles they once were.
The Ford Motor Company assembly plant occupied its premises in Upper Bukit Timah Road for as long as I can remember growing up in the Bukit Timah area. The plant was actually set up in 1941, Ford and the SE Asian region’s first vehicle assembly plant then.
During WW II the British took over the plant to assemble fighter aircraft and military vehicles. After the surrender of the British to the Japanese army the Japanese then commandeered the plant, and Nissan, already an established Japanese corporation used the plant to assemble military trucks and other vehicles for the Japanese troops.
Ford eventually resumed commercial operations of its factory in 1947 after the war, before closing the plant down in 1980.
The Old Ford Factory’s main claim to fame however is that it was the historic site of the British surrender to the Japanese army. On Feb 15 1942, Lieutenant-General A.E. Percival met Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita in the then boardroom to negotiate and hand in the unconditional British surrender of Singapore to the Japanese.
In 2006, the iconic art-deco façade of the old Ford factory along with a small part of the building was preserved and gazetted as a national monument. The National Archives of Singapore also converted the site into a permanent exhibition gallery to document multiple facets of the 3 years and 8 months of the Japanese occupation of Singapore, including many survivor accounts of the atrocities they suffered.
The modern building at the entrance at the foot of the slope houses the private offices and storehouse of Singapore’s National Archives. The Memories at Old Ford Factory exhibition and museum are in the older building at the top of the slope.
Although the single story building is small in size, the exhibition is chock full of artifacts, exhibits and information about life during the war, including an interactive multimedia gallery where you can listen to snippets of eye-witness accounts of war incidents.
I was most shocked to learn about the many massacre sites across Singapore, including one across the road from where I currently live.
The room where the historic surrender took place has also been preserved (the 4 chairs are the originals although the table is an exact replica), and copies of the surrender documents are also on display.
There is a small auditorium off to the side behind the reception counter where you can watch documentaries about the war. Ask the staff about this. When I visited they screened a very informative 25-minute documentary titled The Trials of War.
Outside of the building there is also a small commemorative garden at the back, named the Syonan Garden. The wooden slats forming a path are made from actual old railway sleepers.
351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 588192
Monday to Saturday: 9.00am to 5.30pm
Sunday: 12.00pm to 5.30pm
Right off the main Upper Bukit Timah Road and across from the Bukit Timah hill and nature reserve. Not difficult to find at all as there is a large sign.
It is also a short distance away from the Rail Mall where you will find coffee shops and other dining options, as well as Cold Storage supermarket.
HOW MUCH TIME
I’d say about 45 minutes to an hour to properly view the exhibits and read the explanations, as well as listen to some of the audio clips. Factor in more time if you want to watch the short documentary.
- The driveway of the factory is also gazetted, as it was the path Lieutenant-General Percival took as he walked towards the ill-fated meeting with the Japanese to surrender Singapore to the Japanese.
- Original materials from the factory were used in the setting up of the gallery, e.g. the mosaic floor tiles, and even the windshield of an old Ford Cortina in the Talking Map Display.
- After Ford closed its assembly plant, the site and buildings were renamed the very prosaic Hong Industries Building and rented out to commercial enterprises, the last being Bridgestone Tyres – a Japanese company.
- The Japanese renamed Singapore Syonanto (昭南島 Shonan-To) (rhymes with “potato”) during the war years – meaning “Radiant or Bright Southern Island”. “Syo” means “radiant, bright, brilliant”, and was a reference to Japan’s Showa era and Emperor Hirohito’s reign title of Showa Emperor at the time; “Nan” means “south”, and “To” means “island”.
Although you will need to go up the stairs to the gallery at the top of the slope, the museum is wheelchair accessible – you just need to inform the staff who can open the gate to the driveway up the slope for you.
- Official Memories at Old Ford Factory site
- Singapore Preservation of Monuments Board page on Memories at Old Ford Factory (part of Singapore’s National Heritage Board)
- National Archives of Singapore site – in case you’re interested in Singapore’s “custodian of collective memories”