Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lim Bo Seng

Life in the Early Years

He was born in Nan'an, Fujian, China, on 27 April 1909 to Lim Loh, a very rich businessman who owned a biscuit and brick manufacturing business in Singapore. When he was a boy, his family and him migrated to Malaya. Lim came to Singapore in the year 1917 when he was 16 to study in the Raffles Institution of Singapore under the British colonial government, and proceed on to further his studies later in the University of Hong Kong. In 1930, Lim married Gan Choo Neo who is a Nonya woman in the Lim Clan association hall of Singapore. They had seven children. Initially raised as a Taoist, Lim converted to Christianity after receiving strong European influence. Each war would have a hero and each country would have a patriot whose deeds would stand the test of time. It was sixty one years ago this month, in the dark years of the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, that such a person existed. He was Lim Bo Seng.

Lim Bo Seng, in spite of his privileged background and success as a businessman, was staunchly anti-Japanese even before the war came to Malaya. An alert contributor of the China Relief Fund, he was the Director of the Labour Service Department later in the newly formed Singapore Chinese Mobilisation Council. Certain to be an aim of reprisals for the Japanese, he was compelled to flee Singapore just before it capitulated. He was able to arrive in Sumatra where he then went to Colombo and gradually to Calcutta in India. He met a British officer named Basil Goodfellow there who convinced him to join the British efforts in building up a joint China-Britain espionage network in Malaya. He then moved on to Nationalist China to recruit overseas Malayan Chinese for this job. This endurance network came to be known as Force 136.

He was held in high regard by the British and other members of Force 136 for his patriotism, leadership and organisational capabilities. After going through training from the British in India, the men of Force 136 were sent into Malaya by submarine in groups. Chosen leader of the Malayan Chinese section, he arrived in Malaya in November 1943 to co-ordinate the efforts personally. He was one of the five signatories in the Bukit Bidor Agreement signed on 1st January 1944 where the British and the Malayan Communist Party agreed to work together and help each other against the Japanese.

Tragedy was to strike when he was stopped at a checkpoint at Gopeng and arrested. He had earlier ignored warnings and pleas from his comrades about the harm of his mission, which was to revamp the entire intelligence network and raise funds from his friends who are rich in wealth. Brought to Batu Gajah Prison, he was subjected to non-stop interrogations and torture by the not popular Kempeitai. Lim Bo Seng was already sick in health, having just gone for a haemorrhoids operation in India before arriving in Malaya. To make matters worse, he suffered from dysentary. Finally, on 29th June 1944, he succumbed under the painful suffering and passed away.

After the surrender of the Japanese in Malaya in September 1945, the accolades for Lim Bo Seng began to flow in. The Nationalist Government in China accorded to him a posthumous rank of Major-General and a grand funeral procession was held on 13th January 1946. His grave is situated at MacRitchie Reservoir. On the 10th Anniversary of his death, in 1954, a memorial was unveiled at the Esplanade to commemorate him.

Lim Bo Seng attained everlasting fame not only becuase he gave up everything, including his life, to fight against a foe he deemed to be tyrannical and wicked but also because of his steadfast disagreement under pain and torture to tell the information which would harm the lives of his comrades and the cause he was fighting for.

Force 136

Lim Bo Seng's name is inextricably linked with that of Force 136, for he had a hand in setting it up and bringing it to fruition. The British regrouped after their disastrous capitulation and plans were afoot to regain their lost territories. However, they have no enough intelligence on the Japanese troops in Malaya and this could only be remedied if they had a good intelligence network on the ground. For this reason, Lim Bo Seng was persuaded by the British to help set up a clandestine spy network in Malaya. With Lim's help, the British joined forces with Nationalist China to recruit and train the Force 136 members, which comprised mainly of overseas Malayan Chinese. From China, these men were sent to the Far East Military School in Poona, India where they were taught shooting and surviving skill, jungle and guerilla warfare and intelligence gathering techniques.

Upon graduation, they were sent to Malaya in batches, in the beginning by submarine. The first team, Gustavus I, departed for Malaya on 11th May 1943 and landed in Tanjong Hantu on the 24th. The first base was set up at Bukit Segari. Subsequent batches were landed along the west coast of Malaya. Later on in the war, Force 136 members were parachuted into various Malayan states. As the war dragged on and it became apparent that Japan was losing the war, more and more British officers and Force 136 members were parachuted in, along with weapons and supplies. However, before Operation Zipper (the planned British invasion of Malaya) was launched, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. Soon after the surrender, Force 136 was disbanded, but not before its members had been feted as liberation heroes who had put their lives on the line of freedom.Life as a Force 136 veteranTan Chong Tee and Lim Bo Seng. At the time of the Second Sino-Japanese war, Lim, a loyal Chinese patriot, took part in fund-raising on Japanese resistant forces and boycott activities of Japanese goods planned by the Nanyang Federation. On February 11, exactly before the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, Lim left his family for the last time to the care of his wife and fled from Singapore to Sumatra with other Chinese community leaders. Before he went to India, where he took over and trained hundreds of secret agents through thorough missions from the military and intelligence point of view in India and China. Around this time, together with Captain John Davis, they set up the Sino-British guerilla group Force 136 in mid-1942. One of his best friends and students, Tan Chong Tee, participated actively in anti-Japanese activities until his capture on 26 March 1944. Operation Gustavus

Soon after he organized everything in China and India, Lim sent the first batch of Force 136 agents to Malaya to set up an espionage network to gather the military intelligence about the Japanese. This updated the Force 136 against the Japanese. One of the Chinese provision shops in Ipoh, Jian Yik Jan who was an Allied espionage base. According to historical sources, messages were smuggled in empty tubes of toothpaste, salted fish and also in their own diaries. Lim passed himself through checkpoints as a businessman, using the alias Tan Choon Lim to avoid identification by the Japanese.However; there were many traitors that led to the downfall of Lim Bo Seng and Force 136. An unknown communist guerilla was captured in January 1944, who told the existence of an Allied spy network operating on Pangkor Island. The Japanese later began a full-scale counter-espionage operation on the island. By late March, more than 200 Japanese soldiers were swarming all over Pangkor. Tan Chong Tee encouraged Lim to leave Ipoh in view of the situation, but he diagreed to flee until he had heard from Wu Chye Sin, another agent who had gone to Singapore to look for funds. On March 24th, the Kempeitai arrested a fisherman working for Force 136, Chua Koon Eng, at Teluk Murrek on the Perak coast. Chua was merely a fisherman working on Pangkor when a member of Force 136, Li Han Kwang, approached him, asking permission to use his boat to help them with their spy network. He told the secret police everything, from the spy network and members of Force 136, without even being interrogated. The Japanese then used Chua as bait to lure Li. Under torture, Li confirmed Chua's story. Then the Japanese were hoping to make Li work for them, and began to treat him quite good. He was held at the Kempeitai headquarters in Ipoh. Li was still determined to run away, and on the pretext of taking a bath, he jumped from the second floor bathroom. He then got into a taxi, telling the driver that he was an anti-Japanese guerilla making his escape. The driver responded magnificently as he was an Allied sympathizer, and rushed to Bidor. But he was not able to escape to hold back the Japanese. Within a few hours of Li's escape, the Japanese had raided the network's headquarters, capturing Tan, and later Lim Bo Seng. The entire network was destroyed by March 31. John Davis and Richard Broome were blissfully not aware that their spies had fallen like dominoes until the escapee Li staggered into their camp on March 29. The destruction of the network was a huge blow to the British. It destroyed their plans to develop spy networks in Malaya and hopes of an early invasion by military force. It was not re-established until early 1945. After going through the situation, Broome found out that Chua Koon Eng was the man to blame. He noted that Chua was released early by the Japanese and that his business in Pangkor thrived under Japanese rule. He was privy to the whole network of agents and he knew where the hideouts were located. He also noted that Chua had not been screened when he was roped in to help with the rendezvous arrangements. He was never seeing again when the Allied forces returned to Malaya and Singapore.

Tortured to Death, Lim Bo Seng Memorial in Singapore, on March 26, 1944, Tan Chong Tee was captured by the Japanese. Upon hearing this news, Lim initially wanted to escape straight away, but was convinced to wait till the next morning. This proved to be a deadly mistake, because the Japanese had blocked all the roads out of Gopeng immediately after Tan has been captured. Marshall Onishi Satoru, the man who captured Lim, suspected that Tan was trying to convince Lim to escape. Lim was caught and taken to the Kempeitai headquarters for interrogation. Strong as he was, Lim battled through all sorts of physical and mental torture and duress daily but he never uttered a single word about pain and refused to give up information about Force 136. Instead, he protested against the ill-treatment of his comrades in the prison. However, Lim soon became ill with dysentery and was bedridden by the end of May 1944. In his final letter, Lim bade farewell to his wife: Don't grieve for me, but take pride in my sacrifice. Devote yourself to the bringing up of the children. As his condition worsened, Lim was taken to a small terraced prison-house a little away from the main prison building. In the last days of his life, Lim was not given food, water or medicine; although he received some porridge, but his condition was so bad that he could not even swallow the porridge. Many of his fellow prisoners cried to the Japanese soldiers to give him some medicine. The Japanese, however, did respond to their pleas. In the early hours of June 29, 1944, Lim's groans gradually faded away until there was complete silence. Lim was later buried at the age of 35 behind the Batu Gajah prison compound in an unmarked spot. However, after the death of Lim Bo Seng, many of the Japanese authorities softened their stance a little. The prisoners, for a period of time had better food. Simple medical treatment and daily exercises in the prison compound were provided for the prisoners. After the Japan had surrendered, Lim's wife, Choo Neo, was told of her husband's death by the priest of St Andrew's School. Choo Neo later traveled with her eldest son to bring her husband's remains home. A funeral ceremony was held on January 13, 1946 in front of City Hall to mourn the death of Lim. In his eulogy, Colonel Richard Broome said of Lim: He died so that Singapore and Malaya might be the home of free people who could once again enjoy peace, prosperity and happiness.
The coffin containing his remains was brought to a hill in MacRitchie Reservoir for burial with full military honours.

Done by : Nurul Nazurah , Claire Chiam , Sharaladevi