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Honouring Singapore’s Past Essay

The past half century, the pioneer generation has made great sacrifices for the good of our home, Singapore, along with our openess to trade and investments, and not forgetting, the unity of our people as a nation.

The Singapore Volunteer Corps, formed in 1854 as a militia unit as the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps, undergoing several reorganisations and going through different names during its existance. The Corps original idea was to supplement the local constabulary with tighter internal security in 1846, with its formation done after outbreaks of riots between the various Chinese Secret societies in May 1854. A century later, the SVC was renamed the People’s Defence Force, with its units absorbed into the Singapore Armed Forces as full time National Service operational battalions. From there on, the volunteer soldiers continued to serve our nation, training part-time National Service men when National Service was introduced in 1967. Unfortunately, the role of the SVC diminshed and soon, the last battalion, the 101 PDF, disbanded in March 1984.

The Volunteers were a great example of how our nation’s people could unite and stand against what was wrong and had shown that we, as a nation, are capable of protecting our home, the tiny island of Singapore. Despite our weakness in size, they fought back with unity and strength, as they slowly built our country up to what it is today.

Another person who contributed greatly to Singapore’s development and economical growth, is Mr Harry Lee Kwan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, having governed for three decades. Also widely recognized as the founding father of modern Singapore.

As the co-founder and first Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party, he led the party to eight victories from 1959 to 1990, overseeing the seperation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965 and it’s transformation from a relatively underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources into a ‘first world’ country.

Upon his appointment as prime minister in Singapore, Mr Lee introduced a five-year plan calling for urban renewal and construction of new public housing , greater rights for women, educational reform, and industrialization.Despite the failure of the merger between Malaysia and Singapore, Mr Lee quickly spearheaded a program to transform Singapore into a major exporter of finished goods, at the same time enouraging foreign investments whilst making moves to ensure a better standard of living for workers, all with the knowledge that Singapore required a strong economy to survive as an independent country.

Under Lee’s guidiance, Singapore had a per capita income second only to Japan’s in East Asia by 1980, with the country becoming a chief financial center of Southeast Asia.

Of course, that is not all, in WWII, Mr Lim Bo Seng greatly supported the war against the Japanese and eventually died in the most heroic of manners in Batu Gajah Prison, Malaya.

When the Second Sino-Japanese war broke out in1937, Mr Lim and other Chinese in Singapore participated in anti-Japanese activities such as boycotting Japanese goods and fund-raising in support of the war effort in China. Towards the end of 1937, hundreds of Chinese working in Japanese owned industries in Malaya went on strike. At the time, the Japanese government owned a tin mine in Dungun, Terengganu, Malaya, where about 3,000 Chinese labourers were employed. The tin was shipped to Japan to manufacture weapons for the war.

Lim Bo Seng felt that if the workers there were to go on strike, the Japanese would suffer massive losses, therefore, he planned to make the workers go on strike. Around Febuary 1938, he travelled to Dungun with Zhuang Huiquan of the Singapore Anxi Association to carry out their plan. Zhuang went to the mine to persuade the workers to go on strike while Lim contacted the local police and gained their support. By early March, Lim and Zhuang achieved success as many workers left the mine and followed the to Singapore, the result of the success of Lim’s campaign.

During his time in WWII, Lim left Singapore and travelled to Sumatra, Indonesia, with other Chinese community leaders and made his way to India afterwards. He recruited and trained hundreds of secret agents through intensive military intelligence missions from China and India. He set up the Sino-British guerilla task force Force 136 in mid 1942 with Captain John Davis of the Special Operations Executive.

Soon, Operation Gustavus was set to be under way, being aimed at establishing an espionage network in Malaya and Singapore to gather intelligence about Japanese activities, and thereby aid the British in Operation Zipper, a plan to take back Singapore from the Japanese. When the operation began, Mr Lim travelled under the alias “Tan Choon Lim” to avoid identification by Japanese and claimed to be a businessman when he passed through checkpoints. One of the Chinese provision shops was used as an Allied espionage base, with communication being done through smuggling messages in empty toothpaste tubes, salted fish and diaries.

Unfortunately, the operation failed even before the agents managed to achieve any results. A communist guerilla who had been captured by the Japanese in January 1944 revealed the existence of the Allied spy network that operated on Pangkor Island. The Japanese then launched a full-scale counter- espionage operation on the island in full response to the Allied forces. Soon, more than 200 Japanese soldiers were on the island.

Around March-April 1944, Lim Bo Seng was captured by the Kempeitai under Major Onishi Satoru at a roadblock in Gopeng, and thus taken to Kempeitai headquarters for interrogation, where he refused to provide any information about Force 136 despite subjection to severe torture. He soon fell ill with dysentry and was bedridden by the end of May 1944, dying in the early hours of 29 June, 1944.

When his remains arrived at the Tanjong Pagar railway station in Singapore on 7 December 1945, the hearse was sent off by a large procession of British officers and prominent businessmen. That same day, a memorual service for him was held at the Tong Teh Library of the Kuomintang Association in Singapore.

With this, Lim Bo Seng was buried with ful military honours, posthumously awardeed the rank of Major General by the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China.

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