Lim Bo Seng (27 April 1909 – 29 June 1944) was a World War II anti-Japanese resistance fighter based in Singapore and Malaya.Family background and early life:Lim Bo Seng was born in 1909 to Lim Loh (林路; alias Lim Chee Gee), a well-known building constructor, as the 11th child but the first male child in the family. In 1917, Lim Bo Seng came to Singapore at the age of 16 to study in Raffles Institution under the British colonial government. He went on to read business at the University of Hong Kong.
In 1930, Lim Bo Seng married Gan Choo Neo, a Nyonya woman from the Lim Clan association hall of Singapore. They had eight children, one of whom died in infancy. Initially a Taoist, Lim converted to Christianity.
Lim Bo Seng Anti-Japanese activism:When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Lim Bo Seng and many other overseas Chinese in Singapore participated in anti-Japanese activities, such as boycotting of Japanese goods and fund-raising to support their fellow countrymen in resisting the Japanese invaders in China.
Towards the end of 1937, hundreds of overseas Chinese working in Japanese-owned industries in Malaya went on strike. At that time, the Japanese government owned a tin mine in Dungun (龍運), Terengganu, Malaya, where nearly 3,000 Chinese labourers were employed. The tin was shipped to Japan and used as raw material to manufacture weapons. Lim Bo Seng felt that if the Chinese workers in the Dungun mine went on strike, the Japanese would suffer a huge loss, so he planned to make the workers go on strike. Around February 1938, Lim Bo Seng travelled to Dungun with Chuang Hui-chuan (莊惠泉) of the Singapore Anxi Association to carry out their plan. Chuang went to the mine to persuade the workers to go on strike while Lim Bo Seng contacted the local police and gained their support. By early March, Lim Bo Seng and Chuang achieved success as the workers left the mine and followed them to Singapore. On March 11, 1938, Lim Bo Seng and the Singapore Chinese community held a welcoming ceremony for the workers, who were later resettled and found employment in Singapore.
In December 1941, Lim Bo Seng was put in charge of organizing a group of volunteers to resist the Japanese, who were advancing towards Southeast Asia. The volunteers put up a fierce fight against the Japanese invaders during the Battle of Singapore in February 1942.
Lim Bo Seng Life in Force 136:On 11 February 1942, Lim Bo Seng left Singapore and travelled to Sumatra with other Chinese community leaders and made his way to India later. He recruited and trained hundreds of secret agents through intensive military intelligence missions from China and India. He set up the Sino-British guerrilla task force Force 136 in mid-1942 together with Captain John Davis of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Major-General Lim Bo Seng (b. 27 April 1909, Nan Ann, Fujian, China – d. 29 June 1944, Perak, Malaya) was a prominent Hokkien businessman who undertook active leadership in anti-Japanese activities during World War II and is recognised as a local war hero in Singapore.
Lim Bo SengEarly life:Lim was the 11th child but the first son of Lim Chee Gee (also known as Lim Loh). At the age of 16, he came to Singapore from China and studied at Raffles Institution. He discontinued his education at the University of Hong Kong in 1929 when, upon his father’s death, he inherited the senior Lim Bo Seng’s businesses which included biscuit and brick manufacturing. 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.
Lim Bo Seng Role during World War II:In the 1930s, Lim Bo Seng, under the alias Tan Choon Lim, participated in anti-Japanese activities in Singapore, particularly in supporting the China Relief Fund. Upon the request of Sir Shenton Thomas, then Governor, he also formed the Chinese Liaison Committee to assist in civil defence. With the fall of Kota Bahru in Malaya in 1942, Lim Bo Seng, as head of Labour Services of the Overseas Chinese Mobilization Council, and Tan Kah Kee organised more than 10,000 men for the British government to man essential services and to construct defences around the island. As Japanese troops descended upon Singapore, his men helped dynamite the Causeway.
Before Singapore fell to the Japanese, he escaped to India where he was joined by the British resistance group, Force 136, and was trained by the British for intelligence work. Force 136 was a special operations force formed by the British and Chinese governments in June 1942 to support resistance groups behind enemy lines and to coordinate guerilla operations in support of the eventual British invasion of Malaya. In 1943, Lim Bo Seng went to China to recruit men for Force 136. With a group of fellow Force 136 members, he landed in Japanese-occupied Malaya by submarine later that year and set up an intelligence network in the urban areas in Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh. The intelligence network – Operation Zipper – was aimed at recapturing Malaya with British support by 1945.
While on a mission in Ipoh on 27 March 1944, Lim Bo Seng was betrayed by the Malayan Communist Party leader Lai Teck, and was caught by the Japanese at a road checkpoint. He died in the Batu Gajah Jail, Perak, on 29 June 1944. Lim Bo Seng’s remains were disinterred from the jail in December 1945 and reburied in Singapore on 13 January 1946, on a hill overlooking the MacRitchie Reservoir. In February 1946, the Chinese Nationalist Government posthumously awarded him the rank of Major-General.
Lim Bo Seng Memorial (national monument):In 1946, the Lim Bo Seng Memorial Committee, which included representatives from the Chinese Nationalist Government, was established to raise funds for erecting a public memorial dedicated to him. The government rejected the committee’s proposal to build a memorial park around his grave, but granted permission for a memorial to be built at the Esplanade. The British Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia at the time, Malcolm MacDonald, laid the foundation stone on 3 November 1953, and the completed memorial was unveiled on 29 June 1954 by Sir Charles Loewen, then Commander-in-Chief of the Far East Land Forces.
Designed by Ng Keng Siang, the memorial occupies a 100ft-by-80ft (30m-by-24m) site donated by the government. The construction cost of $50,000 was funded by donations from the Chinese community. The memorial takes the form of a 3.6m-high octagonal pagoda made of bronze, concrete and marble. A bronze three-tiered roof caps the pagoda, while four bronze lions stand guard at the base. Four bronze plaques placed around the pagoda give an account of Lim Bo Seng’s life in English, Chinese, Tamil and Jawi (Malay). On 28 December 2010, the Lim Bo Seng Memorial was gazetted as a national monument.
Lim Bo Seng Timeline
1930s : Participated in anti-Japanese activities in Singapore.
Jan 1942 : Provided Chinese labour to British government to man essential services and build defence positions.
Feb 1942 : Escaped to India before Singapore fell. Underwent British intelligence training in Kahdakvasla, near Bombay, in the latter part of 1942.
Apr 1943 : Recruited Malayan Chinese students studying in Chongqing, China, for subversive work in Malaya.
Nov 1943 : Landed in Malaya by submarine and set up an intelligence network in Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh.
27 Mar 1944 : Captured by the Japanese.
29 Jun 1944 : Died in Batu Gajah Jail under Japanese torture and because of severe malnutrition.
13 Jan 1946 : The British brought Lim Bo Seng’s remains to Singapore and reburied him with full military honours at MacRitchie Reservoir.
29 Jun 1954 : Lim Bo Seng Memorial was officially unveiled at the Esplanade to remember his sacrifice.
LIM BO SENG – MY HERO, MY FRIEND:Mr Tan Chong Tee saw the Japanese torture famous war-time local hero Lim Bo Seng, to death.This was a most painful memory, as Mr Lim Bo Seng was not only Mr Tan’s leader, but also a friend.It was Mr Lim Bo Seng who recruited Mr Tan into Force 136 in Chungking. Before Mr Tan left for his mission in Malaya, Mr Lim Bo Seng even bought him an expensive art kit as a gift to show his appreciation for Mr Tan’s work.
Mr Lim was betrayed and captured, a day after Mr Tan himself was caught by the Japanese.From his cell in the basement of the Japanese counter-espionage headquarters, Mr Tan could hear Mr Lim Bo Seng being interrogated. Mr Tan could recognise Mr Lim’s voice saying, “Since I’m in your hands now, I have nothing to say. I’m prepared to die.”
Mr Tan recalled, “The Japanese tried to force Lim Bo Seng to cooperate with them but he refused. They even got his friends in Singapore to come over to persuade him, but he was not moved.”Instead he reminded the rest of us to remain firm and not to surrender to the Japanese.”
Mr Tan, Mr Lim Bo Seng and a few other anti-Japanese captives were later locked up in a prison. Mr Lim Bo Seng protested against the ill-treatment of prisoners-of-war by refusing food. He asked the warders to distribute his portion of sweet potatoes to the rest of his comrades.”Even when his life was hanging by a thread, Bo Seng still showed so much concern for his comrades. I was deeply touched by his noble character and kept pleading with him to eat. Bo Seng’s selflessness moved the warders, too.”
Mr Lim was later struck by dysentery, but he was refused medical treatment. A few days later, Mr Lim Bo Seng was bundled up in an old blanket and left without food or water in an empty room meant for dying prisoners.
For the next three nights, Mr Lim continued to struggle for his life. He finally died in the early morning of June 29, 1944.Mr Lim Bo Seng’s funeral.Mr Tan Chong Tee was the first person to inform Mr Lim’s wife that her husband had died.After the war, Mr Tan was the first person to inform Mrs Lim Bo Seng of her husband’s death. He also applied for compensation from the British and Chinese government on behalf of Mr Lim’s family.
Mr Tan still keeps in touch with Mr Lim’s family, including his son, Mr Lim Lian Yock. He will never forget Mr Lim’s loyalty and bravery.”I am very touched by what Mr Lim Bo Seng had done. He loved Singapore and Malaya with all his heart, and was even willing to lay down his life to win back his country. He is indeed a great man, a national hero.”