Lim Bo Seng

Theirs was the ultimate love — a love for their country, writes Alan Teh Leam Seng

OUR nation experienced its darkest hours during the Japanese Occupation. For almost three years and nine months local civilians endured untold atrocities at the hands of their new master, the Japanese Imperial Army. Thousands died at the hands of the dreaded secret police and its hooded informers. With a mere point of a finger, a civilian standing in line had his or her fate sealed. Countless fathers, sons, mothers and daughters were taken away by the kempetai, never to be seen again by their bereaved families.

In the midst of the doom and gloom, many ordinary Malayans stood up to be counted, contributing in their own way to help end the occupation. Their willingness to pay the ultimate price for freedom will never be forgotten. With Valentine’s Day, the day of love, just around the corner, let us all take sometime to reflect on the sacrifices of these gallant Malayans who gave their greatest love to the nation.


Lieutenant Adnan Saidi

DEATH BEFORE DISHONOUR

The intelligence, alertness and intuition of Lieutenant Adnan Saidi helped the largely outnumbered and outgunned Malay Regiment repel Japanese invaders during the Battle of Singapore.

During the early hours of the battle, Adnan saw soldiers marching up the hill. The approaching group, dressed in Punjabi military uniforms, advanced in a four abreast formation. Observant Adnan immediately became suspicious. He knew that British-trained troops always marched in lines of threes. He saw through the Japanese deception and ordered his men to open fire with their Lewis machine guns. All the disguised Japanese soldiers were killed.

Enraged, the Japanese Imperial Army launched a full banzai assault. The Malay Regiment stood its ground and opened fire until its ammunition ran out. It then resorted to hand to hand combat. Adnan was badly wounded in the skirmish but he refused to retreat or surrender. Instead, he became the rallying point for his men to continue fighting. The Malay Regiment soldiers killed as many Japanese as they could.

Adnan bore the brunt of his aggressors’ fury when he was finally captured. They tortured him mercilessly before hanging his body in a gunny sack from a nearby cherry tree. The Japanese soldiers took turns to plunge their bayonets into Adnan’s lifeless body. Finally, his dismembered body was doused with petrol and set ablaze.

The wrath of the Japanese Army didn’t end with Adnan’s death. The kempetai traced his origins back to his village near Kajang, Selangor. Fortunately, his family received news about the approaching search party and burnt everything related to him. As a result, the secret police failed to find any evidence linking him to the village. His family was thus spared.

HELPING THE RESISTANCE FIGHTERS

Sybil Medan Kathigasu and her husband, Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu operated a clinic in Ipoh prior to the Japanese Occupation. The couple decided to relocate after Dr Kathigasu was injured in a Japanese air-raid. They moved to the nearby town of Papan just days before the Japanese took Ipoh.

At their new home, Sybil, who was a trained nurse, continued to help her husband treat local residents. During her spare time, she secretly used her shortwave radio set and listened to BBC broadcasts. Sybil disseminated the news among her trusted friends so that they wouldn’t be misled by the Japanese propaganda machine. The couple also quietly provided medical services and gave information to the resistance forces around Papan.

Sadly, their activities were uncovered by the kempetai in 1943. Both Sybil and her husband were apprehended and taken to the Ipoh Central Police Station. They were tortured by the kempetai but both refused to cooperate. Finally, the secret police tied Sybil to the summer house and brought her daughter, Dawn into the garden. They threatened to burn Dawn alive but the trick failed. Dawn shouted, “Don’t tell Mummy. I love you and we’ll die together.” Sybil said to the Japanese sergeant, “I always thought the Japanese were cowards. Now I know it’s true.”

Fortunately for them, a higher ranking Japanese officer arrived just in time and ordered Dawn’s release. Sybil managed to call out “Long live Malaya!” before she was knocked unconscious by a sentry. Sybil was kept in the Batu Gajah prison while her husband was taken to Taiping. After the occupation, Sybil was flown to London for further medical treatment. She received the George Medal for Gallantry from King George VI himself just months before she died on June 12, 1948. Her body was brought back to Malaya where thousands attended the funeral of perhaps the greatest heroine of Malaya at that time.

SINGA, LION OF MALAYA

Gurchan Singh believed that he had more lives than a cat. He was nearly bitten by a crocodile when he was less than six months old. When he was 7, he almost drowned and three years later he nearly stepped on a fallen live electrical cable. In 1933, he survived after falling off a cliff while climbing Mount Everest.

Gurchan moved to Kuala Lumpur when the Japanese invaded Malaya. He was on the kempetai watch list because he used to be a police inspector. Together with his two brothers, the trio printed leaflets telling people to defy the Japanese. He always signed his name as SINGA, the Lion. Gurchan distributed his work all over Malaya and managed to avoid detection by hiding his papers in his bicycle frame.

After some time, the kempetai raided his house and destroyed his printing machine and paper stocks. A guard was assigned to secure Gurchan. Seizing a moment of distraction, Gurchan knocked the guard down and escaped into the darkness. As a show of defiance, he hand-wrote 28 copies and pasted them around town that night.

The Japanese were furious. They ransacked his house, ill-treated his family and killed his two dogs. Gurchan decided to escape to Allied-occupied Burma with three other friends, Bala, Kitchey and Bul. Calling themselves the Four Musketeers, the men attacked trains carrying petrol on their way to the Siamese border.

The war ended before Gurchan could reach his destination. He later became the principal security officer of Tunku Abdul Rahman. Gurchan Singh died in an accident in Johor in 1965.


Lim Bo Seng’s funeral in Singapore after the war took place at the Municipal Building.

FORCE 136: PREPARING FOR THE RETURN

Lim Bo Seng was already a successful businessman when he decided to help defend Malaya from the Japanese attacks. Knowing that the kempetai would be looking for him, the British advised Lim to seek refuge in India. His wife, Gan Choo Neo was left to care for their young children in Singapore.

In India, Lim helped recruit and train hundreds of secret agents for the Sino-British guerrilla task force called Force 136. The British planned Operation Gustavus to secretly ship their agents back to Malaya to aid local resistance fighters. Lim and his men reached the coast of Teluk Anson on board a Dutch submarine.

He travelled under an alias to avoid arousing the suspicions of the kempetai. Together with Captain John Davis and Major Freddie Spencer Chapman, Lim established contact with the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army including Chin Peng and Lai Teck. He convinced the guerrilla fighters to obey British command in exchange for weapons, training and supplies.

Operation Gustavus failed when a captured guerrilla fighter, doubling as a fisherman in Pangkor Island, alerted the Japanese. Lim was arrested at a roadblock in Gopeng and taken to the Ipoh kempetai headquarters. Despite being severely tortured, he never disclosed any information about Force 136.

Lim Bo Seng died of dysentery and was buried in an unmarked grave outside Batu Gajah prison. After the surrender, his widow brought his remains back to Singapore where he was buried with full military honours at a hill at MacRitchie Reservoir.