Elizabeth Choy—The war heroine
Elizabeth Su Moi Yong, born in 1910, moved from Sabah, North Borneo to Singapore in December 1929. She moved to Singapore in search of higher education. She enrolled into Convent Of Holy Jesus. She excelled in her studies at the convent, even receiving the most outstanding student award, not just academically but the most outstanding in character as well.
After her Senior Cambridge examination, Elizabeth Yong decided to work , to provide for her younger siblings. She chose to enter the teaching profession and began doing so at St. Margaret's School for two years before being offered a teaching position at St. Andrew's School.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Elizabeth Yong married Choy Khun Heng, 16th August 1941.
After Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15th February 1942, Elizabeth Choy and her husband found themselves without jobs. Subjects in school were no longer in English, hence Mrs. Choy had to stop teaching and the Borneo Co. where Mr. Choy worked at, ceased to exist once the Japanese took over Singapore. However, doctors and nurses who knew the couple, urged them to help run a canteen stall in the Miyako Hospital (also known as the Woodbridge Hospital) to help provide basic essentials to everyone. They ran the stall together with the primary aim of providing fundamental necessities to the public
Elizabeth Choy and her husband were detained in the Japanese Kempetai headquarters, the former YMCA building. Mr. Choy was detained, on 29th October 1943, for passing radio parts and money to internees in Changi Prison. Worried that she would never see her husband, Mrs. Choy went down to the YMCA building, demanding to see her husband. She was turned away and told to go home. However, on 15 November 1943, a Japanese officer visited her house up at MacKenzie Road, asking her if she wanted to see her husband. She agreed and followed the Japanese office to the YMCA building. There, her valuables were confiscated and she was led to a dark cell with about another 20 prisoners. The three by four metres cell was to be her home with the other prisoners, for the next 193 days.
Mrs. Choy, along with the other 20 or so male prisoners, had to live in those squalid conditions with very little food, ventilation and clean water. They were also not allowed to talk or move from their cross-legged seating position. Although they were not allowed to speak, the prisoners continued to communicate with each other through the use of sign language which was taught by one of the fellow prisoners.
Mrs. Choy had been brutally treated during her internment. She was subjected to beatings by the Japanese officers and was even electrocuted in front of her husband. “When my interrogators could not get any information out of me, they dragged my husband from Outram Prison, tied him up and made him kneel beside me. Then, in his full view, they stripped me to the waist and applied electric currents to me. The electric shocks sent my whole body into spasms. My tears and mucus flowed uncontrollably.” Quoted Elizabeth Choy.
The Japanese tried to force her into giving out the names of informants or admitting that she was anti-Japanese. After 193 days, the Japanese finally released her from prison, after learning that they would never get the 'confession' that they wanted out of her. She was released the day after her husband was sentenced to 12 years of rigorous imprisonment on 25th May 1944.
After the war ended on 12 September 1945, she traced her husband's whereabouts to Outram Gaol and together with a British soldier, they freed him. Although he regained his freedom, Choy Khun Heng never fully regained his health. After her ordeal, Mrs. Choy developed a fear of electricity and electrical appliances. She would even avoid turning on a simple switch at all costs. Despite having this lifelong fear as a result of the atrocities inflicted upon her during the war.
In 1946, she and her husband were awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for their efforts during the war. She only returned to Singapore just before Christmas Eve in 1949. It was only after her return that she received the medal at an official ceremony.
Upon her return, she contested in the Municipal Council Elections and became the first woman to be nominated as a member of the Legislative Council. She eventually retired from politics in 1955.
The following year she helped set up the School for the Blind and served as the principal of the school. Elizabeth Choy, together with Mr. Ron Chandran-Dudley, secretary of the Disabled People's Association, made visits to the villages to convince skeptical parents of blind children to allow them to go to school. She retired from teaching in 1974.
By the time of her retirement, she had been awarded several medals not just for her bravery but also for her contribution to society.
1950 : Order of the British Empire
: Order of the Star of Sarawak
: The Girls Guide Bronze Cross
1973 : Pingkat Bakti Setia, Singapore, for her service of at least four decades in education
She also received the Order of the Star of Sarawak (OSS) from the Raja of Sarawak. She received this in appreciation of her pre-war work as a volunteer nurse, where she helped many Sarawakians. The Bronze Cross (BC) from the Girl Guide movement in England (the movement's highest award), was also awarded to Mrs. Choy in recognition for her valour during the Japanese occupation. And lastly she received the Pingkat Bakti Setia (PBS) or the Long Service Teaching Award from Singapore.
Her efforts during the war was remembered and documented on several occasions. Firstly, a TheatreWorks production entitled, Not Afraid To Remember was staged in 1986. Secondly, a biography of Elizabeth Choy was released in 1995, written by Zhou Mei, entitled Elizabeth Choy - More Than A War Heroine. This followed by an exhibition two years later, by the National Museum entitled, Elizabeth Choy - A Woman Ahead of Her Time.
Elizabeth Choy was unfortunately diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006 and peacefully passed away on 14th of September 2006 at her MacKenzie Road home. Her wake was held at the St. Andrew's Cathedral. It was the first time in St. Andrew's 150-year history that the a wake was allowed to be held to be held on the Cathedral premises. Considering her contributions to the school, society and country, they made an exception for the war heroine. She is also fondly remembered by the Changi Museum as a war heroine and as a friend. The Changi Museum extends their heartfelt condolences to the Choy family.
Done By: Denise Nicolette, Celestine Leong, Cheryl Chin