6 Things About WWII Hero Lim Bo Seng That You Probably Have Forgotten

Still remember this man you have seen in your social studies, history or nation education books? As we look back on Singapore’s growth, how can we forget about honourable people like him? Read on and refresh you memories.

He actually came to study
Being born in Nan’an, Fujian, China, in the final years of the Qing dynasty, Lim Bo Seng was the 11th child but the first son in the family. In 1925, he came to Singapore when he was 16 to study in Raffles Institution under the British colonial government. He went on to study business at the University of Hong Kong.

He was a businessman
Lim Bo Seng inherited his father’s business when his father died in 1929. He started with running two businesses in brick manufacturing and biscuit production before venturing into building construction with his brothers. Apart from being successful in his business career, Lim was also a prominent figure in the Chinese community in Singapore. He was nominated for and held several key positions in the community, including: Chairman of the Singapore Building Industry Association, Board Member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Executive Member and Education Director of the Singapore Hokkien Association.

His efforts for WWII were unimaginable
Lim Bo Seng was the head of the Labour Services Corps and he provided the British government with labourers for the war effort before the Japanese invasion. When the Japanese troops began advancing towards Singapore from Malaya, he and his men attempted to destroy the Causeway. Right before Singapore fell, Lim Bo Seng left his seven children to his wife and went to India. He trained to fight in the jungle and later recruited resistance fighters for Force 136, which was a special operations force formed by the British in June 1942 to infiltrate and attack enemy lines. After Lim Bo Seng had organised everything in China and India, he sent the first batch of Force 136 agents to Japanese-occupied Malaya in 1943 to set up an an intelligence network in the urban areas in Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh. To avoid detection by the Japanese, secret messages were smuggled in empty tubes of toothpaste, salted fish and even in the Force 136’s members’ own diaries. Lim Bo Seng even pretended to be a businessman at checkpoints under disguise. He also had an alias, Tan Choon Lim.

He was betrayed and died in prison
Lai Teck, one of Force 136’s members who was a triple agent between Force 136, the British and Japanese, betrayed Force 136 and Lim Bo Seng. He leaked out valuable information that allowed the Japanese to pick up coded messages from Force 136. In March 1944, Lim Bo Seng was captured by the Japanese. Even when he was being cruelly tortured by the Japanese, Lim Bo Seng refused to reveal the names of the people who worked with him against the Japanese. In prison, he often shared his food with the other prisoners. Unfortunately, the lack of food and unhealthy living conditions in the prison made him very ill. On 29 June 1944, he died in Batu Gajah jail in Perak at the young age of 35.

He was also a loving husband and family man
In 1930, he married Gan Choo Neo, a Straits-born Chinese, with whom he had seven children. Their’s was a love marriage, unusual in those days. His children revealed in an interview that he was a faithful husband that made his wife love him and trust him wholeheartedly. He was also a very kind and protective father towards his children.

He has his own memorial
The Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park is a tribute to Major-General Lim Bo Seng. On 13 January 1946, the British brought Lim’s remains to Singapore and reburied him with full military honours at MacRitchie Reservoir, where his grave still lies today. There is a 3.6-metre-high octagonal pagoda made of bronze, concrete and marble which is the only structure in Singapore that commemorates an individual from World War II. The pagoda has a three-tiered bronze roof, with four bronze lions at the base. Do take the time to read the four bronze plaques that give an interesting account of Lim’s life in English, Chinese, Tamil and Jawi (Malay).

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