Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great World Revisited – by Peter Chan

Under normal circumstances I like to blog about events, places and people because “I have seen it, been there and done it”. This is the way I feel about “reality memory”. However memories can be supplemented by hand-me down stories and like most stories the level of depth and accuracy can often be compromised when personal sentiments are involved.
Jasmine Lim did a study of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore for her 2002 Masters in Japanese Studies at the National University of Singapore. The thesis confirms many of the stories told to me by my elders about the Great World; before WWII and post-war. There is also a 1946 publication by the Malayan Law Journal called “The Double-Tenth Trial: War Crimes Court” which was held at the Victoria Memorial Hall in March 1946. It provides insights into the world of entertainment during the Occupation. In some ways one can always say that many of the activities we know today could be termed, Japanese “inventions”.

Photo 1: Aerial reconnaissance over Singapore by “E group” of the Royal Air Force. Photo courtesy from Peter Stubbs Collection

Great World Amusement Park reopened on Dec 4, 1942 and it was synonymous with “casinos”. Why shut for almost 10 months? Great World became Great World POW Camp immediately after the fall of Singapore. The British and their Allies continued to believe that this place housed POWs so there were many air-recon over Singapore. Beside Great World, there were also the River Valley POW Camp - now called Valley Point – Sime Road, Kranji, Pulau Damar Laut (now Jurong Island) and Changi.

There were many gambling dens and a variety of gamings such as Fan-tan and Blackjack. The Japanese Occupation introduced getai performances, literally translates as “singing stage”. Singers stood on the stage crooning a mixture of Chinese and Japanese songs to an audience. Shina no Yoru was one popular song mentioned by my late father. Another feature was the re-opening of the cabaret which did prove a challenge to the Japanese military authorities. On the one hand re-opening meant that life was returning to normalcy under the Japanese but it was considered morally decadent western lifestyle.
July 12, 1942 was a great day for the cabaret in Great World Amusement Park. It re-opened with a new name and far significant changes from its original days. It was now called “Great East Asia Cabaret”. Visiting a cabaret became the pleasure of Japanese officers and their collaborators who sought the company of “Taxi Girls”. I was informed there were no “Taxi Girls” before WWII. It was a decent place for the very rich Chinese towkays. At the cabaret, men bid for women to dance and accompany them for a sum of money. In the words of my elderly uncle, it was “jolly jolly” time for the Japanese officers.
Photo 2: The cabaret at Great World (c 1945). The blue text indicates its original position and the red text the present.

** Next Instalment: Great World Returns

Related posts:


Icemoon said...

July 12, 1942 was a great day for the cabaret in Great World Amusement Park. It re-opened with a new name and far significant changes from its original days.

We just finished the gala premiere! Thanks for the lobang, Peter :)

So Kym Ng and Marcus Chin were correct. Their restaurant had to close down due to the conversion to POW camp. They would have billed the Japanese later, haha.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Chun See for Teresa Teng's song. I have dedicated the latest posting to you.

It's a Great Great World with folks like you!

Anonymous said...

That Japanese song, Shina no Yoru is recorded into a Chinese song titled,春的梦 and sung by 姚莉。

Nice song. Listen to it here:


Unknown said...

Thanks for the post which brings back to a bygone era where entertainment was just as fun, albeit in a different context. I must go and watch the movie too since I heard so much about it. :)

Dog crates said...

These all entertainment of movie is looking really very awesome and it is one of the great context these all things are good to know about it.

Pet Meds said...

The movie is looking really very awesome and it is one of the great context these all things are good to know about it.

peter said...


The night that the Japanese dropped the first bombs on Singapore, the movie mentioned Keppel Harbour.

The nearest bombs that were dropped landed even closer to Great World Amusement Park. The bombs came down on the Tiong Bahru pre-war S.I.T. flats and the Singapore General Hospital.

My grandfather and uncles helped out as Air Raid Precuation (ARP) Wardens and the bombs landed on top of Blk 59 without exploding. Those that exploded killed many medical students at King Edward School of Medicine which is now Block 6 of the SGH.

oceanskies79 said...

Thanks Peter for the posts. I am feeling very tempted to ask for a tour of Great World area led by Peter. Though I am aware there's a drastic change in the landscape of the area.

Pet Taxi said...

Love this blog, keep up the great work wish you all the best.
Pet Taxi

Anonymous said...

If you’re interested in “Shina No Yoru”, I just posted the original 78rpm version by Watanabe Hamako on my blog : http://ceintsdebakelite.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/watanabe-hamako-shina-no-yoru-china-night-she-aint-got-no-yoyo/


Ceints de bakélite

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I must nit pick where you said that Pulau Damar Laut is now Jurong Island. The POW camp on Damar Laut was on the island of Damar Laut, which separate from the old Jurong Islands, now merged as Jurong Island. It was closer to the coast. It still exits (sort of) as a distinct location.

In the old days you could look out to the Jurong islands across the water from the Damar Laut POW location.