You have read about Lim Bo Seng, Lt Adnan Bin Saidi, and Elizabeth Choy…
but have you read about Halford Boudewyn or Tan Kay Hai?
During the Second World War, Singapore fought a one week battle against the Japanese army and we lost. Or did the British lose? Whatever the case, Singapore fell to Japanese rule, and was renamed Syonan-to.
When Malaya/Singapore was under the occupation of the Japanese, an estimated number of 283,000 people perished within 4 years.
Under the guise of these terrible events, ordinary people rose to these occasions to be heroes.
We share with you 7 Singapore Heroes from the Second World War whom you have not read about.
1. Dr Lim Boon Keng
If the name Boon Keng sounds familiar to you, you are probably thinking of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station named after him.
You can tell that someone has done a lot for his country when he has a train station and two roads named after him.
In Dr Lim’s case, he was a Singapore based resistance fighter against the Japanese during the Occupation years.
Before the start of the war, Dr Lim was already an active resistance fighter. He founded the Straits Chinese China Relief Fund Committee of Singapore to financially support China in the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.
After the fall of Singapore in 1942, Dr Lim rejected the Japanese’s demands to become the leader of the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA), an association designed to serve the needs of the local Chinese community under the approval of the Japanese.
Lim finally relented when he thought that the position could be used to protect the local Chinese community during the Japanese Occupation.
Under Dr Lim, the OCA protected the Chinese community and secured the release of prominent Chinese leaders held by the Japanese military authorities. Dr Lim would also often feign a drunken stupor whenever the Japanese asked him to co-operate with them.
After the war, Dr Lim Boon Keng lived life as an ordinary citizen in Singapore, passing away on 1 January 1957 at the age of 88 years old.
2. Eter Foo
Eter Foo is a super cool 94-year-old Singaporean war veteran who also happens to own a Facebook account.
As a 22-year-old man living during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Mr Foo went through everything he possibly could.
Fought against the Japanese√
Mr Foo was part of the Medical Auxiliary Service (MAS) where he was deployed to the front-lines during the Battle of Singapore.
In an interview with The Home Team, he recounted that he and his comrades did not have any decent weapons to fight and they were of no match to the Japanese.
Nonetheless, he was the lucky few who survived fighting against the Japanese.
Survived the Sook Ching Massacre√
According to Mr Foo, he was one of Chinese males who were rounded up in Operation Sook Ching, a Japanese Operation to eliminate anti-Japanese elements.
Fortunately, his quick thinking and his tall frame saved him when he hopped over a fence to escape from the Japanese.
Survived harsh interrogation by the Japanese√
Unfortunately, he was eventually tracked down and caught by the Japanese soldiers.
He recounted torture methods used by the Japanese to obtain information from him.
The soldiers used methods such as water cures and electrocution to torture me. They tied my legs and forced a running water pipe into my mouth, and then they kicked my stomach, causing it to swell. I couldn’t even fit into my clothes and vomited many times.
– Eter Foo
But he never divulged the names of his comrades.
Mr Foo was saved when his mother pleaded with an Indian general, who bribed the soldiers to release Mr Foo.
Worked as a Anti-Japanese Resistance Spy√
After the ordeal, Mr Foo started to learn the Japanese language in order to secure employment to support his family. It was then that he was approached by a resistance fighter to join the resistance as a spy.
Mr Foo’s mission was to collect highly confidential information such as the models of the Japanese fighter planes and the number of Japanese troops deployed.
Survived the War√
He continued serving as a spy until the Japanese finally surrender on 12 September 1945. After the war, Mr Foo served in the Police Force as part of the Special Branch in fighting against the Communist threat in the 1950s.
Mr Foo was recognised by The Home Team for his contribution in 2014.
3. Tan Chong Tee
Tan Chong Tee (left) with the more well-known Lim Bo Seng (right) during a Force 136 training. He is basically Singapore’s James Bond, because he assumed the cover of a rich businessman to carry out his espionage activities.
As a student in China, Tan actively participated in anti-Japanese activities such as boycotting Japanese goods since the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.
In 1942, he was recruited by Tan Chong Chew to join a special training camp and participate in the British counter-offensive programme, known as Force 136.
After his training in India, Tan was sent to infiltrate into Malaya to liaise with a group of guerrillas from the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). He was then assigned to operate as a spy under the cover of Tan Tien Soong, a rich businessman, to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment via economic sabotage.
Tan’s identity was eventually revealed after intense investigations by the Japanese Military Police (Kempeitai) and he was arrested on 26 March 1944.
He spent the next 18 months in captivity and had to endure harsh interrogation and torture by the Japanese. He held his silence and never provided information about Force 136 and his comrades.
On 24 April, he was transferred to the Batu Gajah Prison with Lim Bo Seng — who eventually succumbed to the mistreatment and died in this prison.
In February 1945, as the Japanese Occupation was ending, Tan and his comrades were planning a jailbreak that never took place because the Japanese had surrendered on 14 August 1945.
After the war, he received several medals and accolades including a certificate of service by Order of the British Empire in recognition for his efforts. Tan eventually became a businessman and retired in 1985.
In 1994, he wrote a memoir on his experiences with Force 136. He passed away on 24 November 2012 at the age of 96.
4. Arthur Ernest Percival
If the name sounds familiar to you, you probably know him from your Singapore history textbook.
He is the circled man in this iconic photo of the British surrendering Singapore to the Japanese at the Old Ford Factory.
General Arthur Percival was the General Commanding Officer of the British Empire troops in Singapore during the Battle of Singapore. He surrendered Singapore to the Japanese a week into the Battle of Singapore.
General Percival will be the most controversial addition to this list, since he was the general who surrendered Singapore.
But if we consider his position, General Percival was actually a hero for doing all that he could for Singapore.
Before General Percival had accepted the appointment as the General Commanding Officer in Malaya on 1941, he had already seen bad omens.
In going to Malaya I realised that there was the double danger either of being left in an inactive command for some years if war did not break out in the East or, if it did, of finding myself involved in a pretty sticky business with the inadequate forces which are usually to be found in the distant parts of our Empire in the early stages of a war.
– General Arthur Ernest Percival
He was made a Scapegoat
When Singapore fell to the Japanese, General Percival was the most convenient scapegoat for the fingers of critics to point to.
1. His Looks
General Percival towered at six feet in height and was a lanky man. He had a straight moustache, two protruding teeth, and was rather unphotogenic.
There was no doubt his (General Percival) presentation lacked impact as “his manner was low key and he was a poor public speaker with the cusp of a lisp.
– Clifford Kinvig
Scapegoat: General Percival and the fall of Singapore
His awkward appearance made it easy for critics to attach the reputation of being ineffective, lacking aggression, bravery, and determination on him.
2. His Superiors weren’t very good
General Percival’s request for reinforcement of war machines were constantly rejected by his superiors in the United Kingdom (UK).
When the Japanese invaded Malaya with over two hundred tanks, General Percival’s forces did not have a single armoured tank.
His superior in the British Far East Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, was not helpful either. Sir Brooke-Popham had a reputation of being inattentive at meetings and not being able to secure the reinforcements required to defend Malaya.
General Percival’s request to advance into neutral Thailand in preparation for the imminent arrival of the Japanese troops was also denied from the UK.
Nonetheless, General Percival displayed heroic acts after he had surrendered Singapore to the Japanese.
1. He did not run away
Despite knowing that Singapore was a lost cause; General Percival was told a day before the surrender that ammunition and water supplies were running out. He did not take the chance to flee Singapore unlike some of his subordinates such as General Gordon Bennett.
Upon signing the surrender terms with General Yamashita, the Commanding Officer of the Japanese troops, General Percival made sure that the Japanese couldn’t run amok by insisting that the British keep 1,000 men under arms in Singapore to preserve order. General Yamashita concede and granted General Percival that wish.
2. He kept the hopes of POWs high
When Singapore fell, General Percival was taken as a Prisoner Of War (POW), he had routinely shared his feelings with his fellow POWs in hope of boosting their morale.
With the desire to keep his fellow prisoners’ hopes and discipline high, he reconstituted a Malaya Command that was completed with staff appointments and occupy their time with lectures on history lessons that he taught personally.
3. He sent a “message” to General Yamashita on Singapore’s behalf
After the war, General Percival returned to the Philippines to witness the surrender of the Japanese army. In a coincidence, General Yamashita was the commanding officer for the Japanese to complete the surrender in Philippines.
General Percival refused to shake General Yamashita’s hand, angered by the mistreatment of people in Singapore under the Japanese.
General Percival is a Singapore hero in the sense that he did whatever he could to defend Singapore. Although Singapore fell, General Percival certainly did tried his best.
5. Tan Kay Hai
Tan Kay Hai is probably the only Singaporean who was involved in the Second World War on the European front against the Germans.
Tan flew with the Second Squadron for the Royal Air Force (RAF) with bomber and fighter planes during the Second World War. He was a participant in the Battle of Britain and the Normandy Invasion.
His aircraft was reportedly shot down during the Normandy Invasion during a photo-reconnaissance mission and he was taken prisoner by the Germans.
He was transferred to a German POW camp.
He successfully escaped the POW camp and returned to Britain.
That’s right, Tan’s life is pretty dramatic.
After the war, Wing Commander Tan was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and he then commanded the pre-independence Malayan Auxiliary Air Force (Singapore Wing) until 1960.
He passed away in 1991.
6. Halford Boudewyn
During the Second World War, Halford Boudewyn was an anti-Japanese spy. Unlike Tan Chong Kee, his cover was a more simple one — a vegetable seller.
As a Spy
As a vegetable seller, he was supplying food to Indian army camps in Singapore. During one of his deliveries, he came to know a POW who recruited him to work as a spy.
As a spy, Boudewyn would sell his goods near the headquarters of the Indian National Army (INA). Each day, his contact would purchase some vegetables then would later claim that some of the vegetable were rotten and return the vegetables with stolen documents.
These documents consists of information on mistreatment of the POWs and also on Japanese planned invasion via Burma of India. As a harmless vegetable seller, he was never searched.
As a Police Officer
Boudewyn was also a police officer under the Japanese. He illegally monitored Allied broadcasts and transmitted them to prison camps through his Indian Army contact and others to bring hope to prisoners-of-war.
He also transcribed information onto paper with a carbon pencil and affixed these messages with sago paste to lamp-posts and bus shelters, where they were widely read and improved public morale.
After the war, Boudewyn resumed police work. In 1968 he received a Long Service Medal from the Singapore government.
7. Mamoru Shinozaki
Mamoru Shinozaki is credited as the Japanese Schindler, when he saved thousands of Chinese and Eurasians in Singapore.
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, Shinozaki was a first adviser to the Japanese military administrator in Singapore.
He pulled his weight as first advisor, and freely distributed a huge number of good citizen passes especially to the Chinese and Eurasians. His actions was motivated after witnessing brutal tortures and killings by the Kempeitai.
Shinozaki was credited for saving thousands of Chinese from the Sook Ching Massacre. Scores of them were prominent Chinese including Dr Lim Boon Keng, Tan Hoon Siang, Wee Keng Chiang, and among others.
Shinozaki was also vital in setting up the Endau and Bahau resettlement villages in Malaya for the Chinese and Eurasians. The resettlement villages were a fall back plan in the case of emergency of food shortages in Singapore.
After the war, Shinozaki was captured in Singapore, but did not remain long in the POW camp since many survivors vouched for his courageous acts.
Shinozaki’s story should perhaps remind us that not all Japanese during the Second World War were hell bent on killing.
Singapore has no lack of war heroes
This list was not written to take away any sort of credit from the more commonly known heroes of Singapore, but rather to reinforce our understanding on lesser-known heroes of Singapore.
Our history textbooks have sadly missed out on the contributions of these lesser-known heroes who deserves just as much credit as the more popular ones.
But it should not be an excuse for Singaporeans to remain ignorant about the contributions from these heroes, perhaps it times we start to learn more about the lesser-known heroes of Singapore that may not even be found on this list.
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Featured Image via Spiralsheep, Wikipedia
With references from Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Home Team, Our Story Asia, On The Sanny Side, Spiralsheep, National Library Board , National Library Board, Singapore Memory, Halford Boudewyn Blogspot, Between Your Memories