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What did Singaporeans
eat during WWII?

What did Singaporeans eat during WWII?

Based on personal interviews with senior citizens and research from the National Archives of Singapore, "Wartime Food Sg" is a visual documentation of how our forefathers and their families fed themselves during a time of extreme scarcity.

I have drawn these illustrations based on how these ingredients look like in our current time, subject to some artistic interpretation. Please note that these are war recounts and will be graphic in nature at times. 

 

Through this project, I aim to pay tribute to the resilience and innovation of our forefathers in the face of adversity, hoping that their stories will inspire and resonate with you as well. 

- Julia Tay 

history

On February 15, 1942, during World War II, the British forces in Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. The Japanese

Occupation of Singapore lasted from 1942 to 1945 and it was a period of extreme suffering for the local population.

 

After the surrender, Singapore was renamed "Syonan-to," which means "Light of the South" in Japanese. The Japanese aimed to convert Singapore into a self-sufficient state and implemented various measures to achieve that goal.

 Control of Food Supply 

Pre-war Singapore was a port city which imported most of its food - most of our rice supply came from neighboring countries such as Burma and Thailand.

 

When the British surrendered, the Japanese military immediately seized control of food essentials such as rice, milk, flour, salt and sugar. The export and import of food was taken over by Japanese companies ("kumiais") controlled by the military.

A black market sprung up to meet the demand for food and supplies. Greater scarcity occurred when the kumiais sold food meant for the people on the black market, with the military turning a blind eye.

“Grow Your Own Food” 

Campaign

To achieve self-sufficiency, the Japanese administration rolled out a series of food production measures under the “Grow Your Own Food” campaign.

 

Locals were encouraged to grow their own crops with distributed crop seeds. Available land in the public space was turned into vegetable plots. This included football fields, school playgrounds, and even the Padang—a large open field in Singapore's city center.

 

However the newly cleared urban land had poor soil and was not suitable for farming. Fertilisers were in short supply so farmers turned to human waste. 

 

The Japanese administration held exhibitions on model markets and gardens as examples for locals to emulate.

 

 Rationing

The Japanese military made it compulsory for every household to register its family members in order to receive a food rationing card. Food essentials could only be purchased at fixed prices from approved distribution centres. 

 

Queues for these rations were so long that people sometimes had to queue overnight for them. People would rarely be able to purchase them at the published prices, or worse, be forced to leave empty-handed. 

 

As the war continued, food rations shrank severely. The military did not allow people to purchase their monthly rice allocation at one go - they had to queue for them every week.

Resettlement Farms 

(Endau & Bahau)

Because of severe food shortages, the Japanese decided to relocate locals to two farming settlements in Malaya - one in Endau, Johor, and the other in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan. 

The Chinese settlement in Endau was successful as community leaders had farming knowledge.

 

However the Eurasian and Chinese Catholic settlement in Bahau was a disaster. The land in Bahau had poor soil and little access to water. Many settlers died to malaria and other diseases.

stories

stories

Father Michael Teo

Molly Ong

Teo Geok Beng

Sulaiman bin Yahya

Patricia Sim

Madam Zainab

Lee Mei Beng (Cecilia)

Doola Sakina

Kathleen Soh

Cheng Siew Kee

Tan Peck Hong & Tan Peck Hwa

Robert Chew

Ng Lee Hiang

Mary Toh-Roark

Evelyn Foo

Johnnie Ang

Wan's Ubin Journal

Tan Kia Meng

Pearl Lin

Koh Hoon Choo

Lim Heng Lee

Esther Zhou

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