Friday, 17 February 2017

The Syonan Gallery Flap

Syonan Gallery exhibition at the Former Ford Factory is a reminder of a traumatic period in Singapore history: PM Lee
The Syonan Gallery: War & its Legacies exhibition which opened at the former Ford Factory on Feb 15, 2017. ST FOTO: MARK CHEONG

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has expressed his support of naming an exhibition about the Japanese Occupation "Syonan Gallery".

Critics have questioned the use of "Syonan", which some have said glorifies the occupiers of Singapore & is "insensitive".

S'pore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese in 1942, following the British surrender. It means "Light of the South".

NLB explains rationale behind naming new museum Syonan Gallery; name had sparked debate
"It is a sombre reminder not to take our peace and harmony for granted, and to appreciate the need to defend ourselves."

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, NLB said that after consulting historians and its advisory panel, it "decided that no other name captured the time and all that it stood for".

Elaborating on the rationale behind its decision, NLB said: "The period when Singapore was known as Syonan was a very important part of our history. The new name of the gallery reminds us how brittle our sovereignty can be, as Singapore lost not only its freedom, but also its name during the Japanese Occupation.

NLB said that the museum features voices from the darkest part of Singapore's history so that "future generations will remember what our predecessors went through".

related: Name of revamped museum stirs debate

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NLB on Syonan Gallery: No other name captured the time and all that it stood for
The National Library Board (NLB) said it was aware that the name Syonan Gallery, which it had picked for the newly revamped National Archives of S'pore museum, "could evoke strong emotions".

The name choice for the museum at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah, had sparked an active debate with some saying that the word Syonan was fraught with negative connotations since it was the Japanese occupiers' name for Singapore during World War II.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese in 1942, following the British surrender. It means "Light of the South".

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, NLB said that, after consulting historians & its advisory panel, it "decided that no other name captured the time and all that it stood for".

Syonan Gallery: War & Its Legacies

War and Its Legacies is a permanent World War Two exhibition presented by the National Archives of Singapore at the historic Former Ford Factory. This was the place where the British forces surrendered unconditionally to the Imperial Japanese Army on 15 February 1942. The exhibition presents the events and memories surrounding the British surrender, the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, and the legacies of the war.  Through oral history accounts, archival records and published materials, the exhibition highlights the diverse experiences of people in Singapore during this crucial time in our history.

BECOMING SYONAN - After the British surrender, Singapore was renamed Syonan-to, or 'Light of the South'. The Japanese Occupation was a period of suffering and unfulfilled promises. Through the personal items and oral history recollections on display, find out about the diverse wartime experiences and the different ways people responded to these challenges.

SOOK CHING - Three days after the British surrender of Singapore, the Japanese carried out a mass screening of the Chinese community to sieve out suspected anti-Japanese elements, marking the beginning of a fearful period of state-sanctioned violence. Through oral history accounts, learn about the harrowing experiences of those who were screened and escaped the killings.

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Surviving Syonan

On 15 February 1942, the British surrendered Singapore to the victorious Imperial Japanese Army. Japan’s Rising Sun flag now flew from all corners of the city, heralding the start of the darkest chapter in Singapore’s history.

This gallery shines the spotlight on how the people of Singapore coped with daily life and responded with grit and resourcefulness to the Japanese Occupation, a period of great adversity and abject scarcity. It celebrates their resilience, tenacity, resourcefulness and self-reliance; values that remain important and relevant today. Snapshots of these past lives are presented in an immersive cityscape of crumbling walls, evocative of the uncertain and shattered world these survivors of the war endured.

But amid the devastation, hope remained. The gallery’s concluding section presents stories and artefacts that celebrate courage, hope and love in a period marked by fear, hardship and oppression.

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The Syonan Gallery clown show

On 10 February 2017, Singapore's National Library Board (NLB) unveiled the new name for the Old Ford Factory WW2 history museum. It would be called the "Syonan Gallery", in memory of the name Singapore was administered as during the Japanese Occupation.

Tempers flared. According to the rising ire of detractors, the name Syonan (昭南 or "Light of the South") was an affront to survivors of the occupation. It glorified the imperialist project of the Japanese. The minister in charge of culture disagreed. Syonan is the most appropriate name to remind ourselves never again.

Of course, there isn't a doubt that Syonan Gallery was a mistake. It's a mistake that hasn't been seen before in the field of cultural and historical production. To my knowledge, there isn't a Sudentenland Museum in the Czech Republic, or a Lebensraum Museum or a Heims in Reich Museum in Poland - because competent historians and curators elsewhere know better than to name a war museum using the frame of reference of the historical villains.

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The Syonan Gallery, Empire Ball, and the Singaporean identity

The National Library Board’s (NLB) choice of name for the newly-revamped museum at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah road has stirred up some strong sentiments among Singaporeans lately.

Calling it the Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies, the new museum, which is housed on the site of the British surrender to Japanese forces on Feb. 15, 1942, takes its name from what Singapore was called during the Japanese Occupation (1942 to 1945) – Syonan-To, meaning “Light of the South” in Japanese.

Those who are against the museum’s name have pointed out that it is offensive to those who had lived through the war, and that the name inappropriately honours the brutality of the Japanese Occupation.

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Name of Syonan Gallery does not express approval of Japanese Occupation: Yaacob Ibrahim
Syonan Gallery: War & Its Legacies, an exhibition at the Former Ford Factory to remember the Occupation years. (Foto: NLB)

The name of the permanent World War II exhibition, Syonan Gallery: War & Its Legacies, does not express approval of the Japanese Occupation, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim on Wed (Feb 15).

Speaking at the official opening of the gallery at the historic Old Ford Factory at Upper Bukit Timah, where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago, Dr Yaacob said the exhibition remembers what the pioneer generation went through, commemorates the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Occupation & reaffirms the nation's collective commitment “never to let this happen again”.

“The name ‘Syonan Gallery’ has evoked some strong reactions in our community, and quite understandably,” noted Dr Yaacob. “Some among older Singaporeans who lived through that dark period feel that the name legitimises the Occupation. Others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, & we should call it what it was.”

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Syonan – The Museum of Betrayal

I was about to release a photo essay on my visit to the London Imperial War Museum on Sunday when I saw the  news about a Singapore museum to be launched on Wednesday.  I was shocked.

Who in his or her right mind would name a museum in Singapore, Syonan? Syonan-To is the name given to Singapore by the Japanese invaders during the War World II.

It is even more bizarre to time the opening of the Syonan Gallery on the day Japan conquered Singapore. To complete the joke, the Singapore government might as well invite the lunatic fringe of the Japanese ultra-right to officiate the opening of the museum.

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Internet reacts to the use of ‘Syonan’ in naming WWII exhibition at the Former Ford Factory museum

The National Archives Singapore revamped the exhibition at Former Ford Factory at Upper Bukit Timah Road and named it Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies.

The exhibition showcases Singapore’s involvement during World War II. There has been fierce debate over the name because when Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942, it was renamed Syonan-to, which means “Light of the South”.

Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said that the name of the gallery was not to express approval of the Japanese Occupation, instead he said the name “remembers what our forefathers went through, commemorates the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Occupation, and reaffirms our collective commitment never to let this happen again.”

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Signs of Syonan Gallery in Former Ford Factory tweaked
The tweaked signages at the Syonan Gallery War & its Legacies.ST FOTO: MARK CHEONG

The signs for the revamped World War II gallery space at the Former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road have been tweaked after a public outcry over the appropriateness of calling it Syonan Gallery.

The new signs now reflect its full name, Syonan Gallery: War & its Legacies, & include the phrase An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory.

Last week an active discussion ensued when signs showing just the words Syonan Gallery were unveiled outside & near the building.

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Your Views: Syonan Gallery

If the gallery at the war museum was created by the Japanese for the people in their own country, then I would have nothing to say ("Revamped war museum's name sparks questions"; Feb 10).

But in this instance, this is our gallery - to show S'poreans the atrocities & humiliation our people, especially the Chinese, suffered during the Japanese Occupation.

What was 'light' to the Japanese was 'calamity' to the people of Singapore.

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Syonan Gallery flap
Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) & Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Communications & Information & Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim & other MPs take a tour during the official opening of Syonan Gallery: War And Its Legacies, at the Old Ford Factory. Foto: Nuria Ling/TODAY

The decision by the National Library Board’s (NLB) to pick Syonan Gallery as the name of a revamped exhibition at the Former Ford Factory has “understandably caused strong reactions”, but Singapore cannot “bury the past”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name,” said Mr Lee, in a Facebook post last night sharing photos of the gallery’s official opening.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to — which means “Light of the South” — following the British surrender in 1942, and the naming of the gallery has provoked public outcry.

related: War survivors weigh in on referencing Syonan-to

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Syonan Gallery: Revamped S'pore war museum's name sparks questions

It has yet to open to the public but the new name of the revamped museum at the former Ford Factory - Syonan Gallery - has already raised a few eyebrows.

Some have questioned if it is an appropriate name, saying that it seems to be honoring the period of the Japanese Occupation.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese in 1942, following the British surrender. It means "Light of the South".

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Yaacob: ‘Syonan Gallery’ isn’t named to endorse the Japanese Occupation
Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim (second from left), Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Ong Ye Kung (middle), and Workers’ Party Chairman and Aljunied GRC MP, Sylvia Lim (right), looking at exhibits at the Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies. (Yahoo Singapore photo: Safhras Khan)

The name of the “Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies” wasn’t chosen to indicate approval of the Japanese Occupation, Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, said Wednesday (15 February).

The comments by Yaacob, who was speaking at the official opening of the gallery at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah, come amid strong reactions from some Singaporeans who felt that the name “Syonan Gallery” legitimises the brutal occupation of Singapore by Japan between 1942 and 1945.

Speaking on the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, Yaacob said the name symbolises the sacrifices of the older generation during the war.

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Lets glorify Syonan?

PM Lee has already came out and expressed his support of naming an exhibition about the Japanese Occupation “Syonan Gallery”. He had also said that we will never forget the darkest time of Singapore’s history.

Which is all true. We cannot change the fact that Singapore fell to the Japanese, Singapore endured many years of hardship and fear under the Japanese rule, and of course, Singapore even lost its name. PM Lee said that Singapore will always be small and vulnerable, and no one owes us our sovereignty or security. These are truths we must never forget. Again, all true, But to glorify the name Syonan as your name of the brand new museum? We shall not forget the past, but do we need to glorify the painful past? Maybe now we should also name a part of Changi or one of Changi’s roads after Yamashita?

We should really re-evaluate how we remember the past. If by glorifying the name of Singapore’s fall is how we remember our painful past, then we are seriously deluded.

PM Lee: ‘Syonan Gallery’ chosen to ‘evoke that dark and traumatic period’
Blunder in naming ‘Syonan Gallery’ reflects the failure of group-think in PAP

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Naming of WW2 museum to ‘Syonan’ draws flak

A World War II museum which is to be officially launched next week, on the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore to Japan, has drawn criticisms both offline and online. Many people feel that the name of the museum ‘Syonan’, which is emblazoned across the entrance of the museum in Upper Bukit Timah Road, shows insensitivity to the victims of war of the Japanese occupation.

Singapore was named ‘Syonan-to’ after it fell to the Japanese on 15 Feb 1942. The museum occupies a former car assembly plant at the site of the British surrender of Singapore to the imperial Japanese army. The building was gazetted as a national monument in 2006.

Facebook user Yuelin Chen responding the Straits Times article on the WW2 war museum said that the name “is hurtful to Singapore Chinese especially older generation who went through the atrocities during the occupation.”

related: Syonan – The Museum of Betrayal

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New World War II exhibition to open at former Ford Factory
The Old Ford Factory has been renamed Syonan Gallery: War & Its Legacies. (Foto: National Library Board & National Archives of S'pore)

A new permanent World War II exhibition will open to the public on Feb 16 at the historic Old Ford Factory at Upper Bukit Timah, where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago.

The exhibition has been renamed Syonan Gallery: War & Its Legacies, following a year-long revamp by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

The gallery, which was formerly known as Memories at Old Ford Factory, now features four zones, each illustrating different periods of Singapore’s time under the Japanese Occupation.

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This controversial exhibition in Bukit Timah details a darker side of Singapore’s history

On every Feb 15 at 6.20pm (which is today), you will hear the annual "Important Message" signal wailing through Singapore's network of Public Warning System (PWS) sirens; a minute-long exercise conducted to mark Total Defence Day and the 75th anniversary of Singapore’s fall to the Japanese back in 1942. While most of the activities are held in schools, the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) presents a revamped permanent exhibition, Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies at the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant, which was gazetted as a national monument in 2006.

Previously known as Memories at Old Factory, the updated exhibition has since been renamed to Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies. There were some strong opposing views online and offline about the name as many felt that the word "Syonan" was insensitive and appears to honor the occupiers. However, a spokesperson from the National Library Board (of which NAS is under) explained their rationale, saying that the word is a "historical name easily recognizable and associated with the Japanese Occupation in Singapore when the nation was renamed Syonan-to after the surrender of the British."

About 80% of the exhibition is new, with the rest repurposed to be displayed in a more interesting and compelling way. You can check out more than 200 original artifacts, which includes items donated by the public during the Public Call for Archives last March, chilling video anecdotes of war survivors, projections of archival records, and much more; all detailing real-life accounts of Singapore’s darkest period. The exhibition is also divided into four different comprehensive zones—an introductory one will tells the story of Ford Factory and pre-war Singapore; the Fall of Singapore, which highlights the events leading up to the British surrendering to the Japanese in the factory’s boardroom; Becoming Syonan, an anecdote of sorts during the occupation; and Legacies of War and Occupation, which showcases the return of the British to Singapore

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Former Ford Factory

This building was constructed by Ford Motor Works in 1941, and was Ford’s first motor car assembly plant in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately it couldn’t fulfill its purpose right away, for it was used as a Japanese butai (facility) when the Japanese Occupation hit, and Japanese multinational company Nissan took over the plant to assemble military trucks and other vehicles for the Japanese occupying forces.

Today, it has been converted into a World War II exhibition gallery and archive named Memories at Old Ford Factory.

Fun fact: This place is also the historic site of the British surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, or what we now know as Total Defence Day.

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Memories at Old Ford Factory

The Old Ford factory was Singapore 1st car assembly plant built in 1941.

The modern building at the entrance is not part of the heritage museum but was built and previously used for the Singapore Archives.

The old Ford factory is better known as the location where the British surrendered to the Japanese Army in 1942

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Memories at Old Ford Factory: Where We Surrendered
The Ford Factory Plant in Operation

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.

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A place of historical significance
While Singapore's modern history may be comparatively short, there are still many places of historical significance in Singapore that are worth a visit

On a sunny Saturday in the month of March 2006, I travelled to the Memories at Old Ford Factory. Located at 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, it took me about close to an hour to travel there by bus from home.

I regretted that I did not check up the visitor's information carefully before heading for Memories at Old Ford Factory. By the time I reached the place, it was already slightly past its opening hours. I could only count myself lucky that there was a tour group visiting the Old Ford Factory so the place remained opened after its opening hours.

As such, that visit to the Old Ford Factory was a rather rushed affair. By 2.30 p.m., the tour group had left, and the polite staff gave the remaining three visitors (which includes myself) a gentle reminder that the Old Ford Factory had extended its opening hours one hour beyond its normal closing time for Saturday.

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Memories at Old Ford Factory

The Old Ford Factory holds an archive of memories about Singapore's wartime occupation by the Japanese. It may have been the site of the first Ford plant in Southeast Asia, but the Ford Motor Factory in Singapore has a more infamous reputation.

It was here that the British formally surrendered Malaya to the Japanese during World War II, leading to more than 3 years of hardship for those living in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945.

Fittingly, the space is now holds the memories and reflections of the hardships faced by those who lived through the darkest years of the country’s modern history. Based on first-hand oral accounts, archival records and primary documents, the courage and resilience of Singaporeans are showcased as they endured the atrocities of the Japanese Occupation.

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Memories of the Old Ford Factory

A World War II Exhibition Gallery on the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942-1945). You can also play the 'History in Numbers' Game, visit the Wartime Garden, view Granite Carving, 'He Ping' Sculpture, and view Documentaries on the Japanese Occupation - Check with Reception Counter in the lobby for screening time.

Ford Motor Factory (replacing their old premises on Anson Road) began operations in October 1941 as Southeast Asia's first car assembly plant. Since then, it has remained a prominent landmark in the Upper Bukit Timah area. The National Archives of Singapore, an institution of the National Heritage Board, has restored this gazetted national monument (gazetted on 15 February 2006) and now unveils Memories at Old Ford Factory, a permanent gallery featuring the exhibition 'Syonan Years: Singapore Under Japanese Rule, 1942-1945'. During the Malayan Campaign, the Factory’s modern assembly equipment was used by the Royal Air Force to assemble fighter planes. However, most of these aircraft never fulfilled their destiny of defending Malaya. They were flown out of Singapore towards the end of Jan 1942, when prospects for Singapore looked bleak.

The Old Ford Factory building is significant as it was here on 15 February 1942 that Lt.-Gen. A. E. Percival, Commander of the British Forces in Singapore, surrendered to General Yamashita of the Japanese forces here. Lt.-Gen Percival received permission to surrender Singapore to the Japanese and together with two staff officers and an interpreter, left the bunkers at Fort Canning and arrived at the Ford Motor Works at 5.15pm to meet General Yamashita and his officers. Singapore was renamed Syonan-To (Light of the South) on 16 February 1942, which ushered in three years and eight months of Japanese rule. During the Japanese Occupation, the Ford Factory was used for the manufacture of Nissan trucks and as a depot for servicing army vehicles. Continued to be a service depot for the military two years after the Japanese Occupation ended, catering to British army vehicles. Thereafter, it resumed its original function of being a car assembly until 1980, when it was closed. For several years after, it was used as a warehouse. Memories at Old Ford Factory opens to the public on 20 February 2006.

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Japanese occupation of Singapore
Imperial Japanese Army war flag

The Japanese occupation of Singapore in World War II took place from 1942 to 1945, following the fall of the British colony on 15 February 1942. Military forces of the Empire of Japan occupied it after defeating the combined British, Indian, Australian, and Malayan garrison in the Battle of Singapore. The occupation was to become a major turning point in the histories of several nations, including those of Japan, Britain, and the then-colonial state of Singapore. Singapore was renamed Syonan-to (昭南島 Shōnan-tō?), meaning "Light of the South".

Singapore was officially returned to British colonial rule on 12 September 1945, following the formal signing of the surrender instrument at the Municipal Building.

The Japanese captured all of Malaya during the Malayan Campaign in a bit more than two months. The garrison defending Singapore surrendered on 15 February 1942, only a week after the invasion of the island commenced. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the fall of Singapore "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history"

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Fall of Singapore at 75
Singapore Surrenders - ‘Worst disaster in British history’

The British troops in Singapore surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese forces on February 15, 1942, seven days after the Nippon troops first stormed the island.

The capitulation came only two weeks after the Japanese onslaught on the Malay Peninsula forced the British troops to withdraw to the island, the BBC reported. UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the fall of Singapore as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”.

32,000 Indian soldiers, 16,000 British troops and 14,000 Australian soldiers were captured by the Japanese. The high number of prisoners was not surprising as the troops had been ordered to defend Singapore until the last moment.

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Syonan Gallery renamed after ‘public outcry’

I WAS about to write about the much-condemned Syonan Gallery when news broke that the G had changed its mind about the name. I was going to say that my father would turn in his urn if he knew about the name.

First, he would have said it was really Syonan-to, not Syonan. Then, he would have said it was not the Light of the South but the Dark of the Night. Finally, he would curse and swear at the historians and members of the advisory panel which the National Library Board (NLB) said it had consulted before alighting on the name.

Seriously, the NLB’s rationale for the name is no rationale at all. It merely reiterated the importance of remembering that period. It did not say that it had considered alternatives and discarded them. It merely stated that “no other name captured the time and all that it stood for”.

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