A veteran remembers the impact of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 1961 radio speeches

Mr Patrick Ng (left) listened to his family's discussions of Mr Lee's radio broadcasts while Mr Lim Eng Chuan recalled the conviction with which Mr Lee delivered his speeches.
Mr Patrick Ng (left) listened to his family's discussions of Mr Lee's radio broadcasts while Mr Lim Eng Chuan recalled the conviction with which Mr Lee delivered his speeches.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Veteran trainer Lim Eng Chuan was a Primary 5 pupil when Mr Lee Kuan Yew's radio broadcasts became the talk of his household.

Then aged 11, he and his 10 siblings lived with their parents in an attap hut in a Sembawang kampung where water came from a well, kerosene lamps lit their home and the toilet was a bucket in an outhouse.

They did not even own a radio.

Important news was relayed to them by his uncle Joseph Yeo, who was then an editor at The Straits Times.

Now aged 65, the senior training consultant recounted how the adults would have intense discussions after each evening broadcast.

Sitting in the hall of their cramped home then, he said he "could not but pay attention" to what they were discussing, he told The Straits Times yesterday at the book launch of the reprint of the Battle For Merger, a collection of 12 radio broadcasts by Mr Lee in 1961.

His father, an immigrant from Fujian province in China, opposed the union with Malaya as he believed the Chinese would lose their identity.

"My father felt (the government) was taking a huge step backwards. Why were we giving up our Chinese heritage to the Malays, because Malay would become the national language?

"In fact, my mother had a very difficult time convincing him to send me to an English school," said the former pupil of St Patrick's Primary School.

Often, communists armed with pamphlets would visit the kampung to coax the villagers not to support the merger.

"They came in small groups and spoke convincingly in Hokkien. They said communists are part of China and that if you are loyal to China, you should align yourself with communism."

But his father slowly came around, as Mr Lee's radio talks exposed the workings of the communists on the ground. Said Mr Lim: "The most memorable was when Mr Lee spoke of his meeting with the Malayan Communist Party's representative in Singapore."

The representative was Mr Fong Chong Pik, whom Mr Lee dubbed The Plen, short for plenipotentiary.

Eventually, Mr Lim's parents and all his relatives voted for the merger in the 1962 referendum.

Retiree Patrick Ng, 72, who was also at the event, recalled the conviction with which Mr Lee delivered his speeches. Then aged 19, he would wait eagerly for the broadcasts on Radio Singapore. He said: "Mr Lee is a very effective orator and I listened attentively to every one of his talks."

The speeches made quite a splash because Mr Lee named names and revealed much about the communists' workings, said Institute of Southeast Asian Studies visiting senior research fellow Leon Comber.

Dr Comber was then in his 30s and reporting on the radio talks for a British magazine.

Earlier, as a British officer in charge of the Johor police intelligence branch, he knew of the communists' tactics and ploys in Malaya. Still, he was surprised by the extent of Mr Lee's revelations.

"There were many details he gave that were not available to the man in the street. Some would have been restricted from the security point of view but Mr Lee decided to reveal what was going on, and the serious threat posed by the communists," he said. "It helped (his cause) enormously."

Also at the launch and exhibition were 30 secondary school students and their teachers.

Secondary 2 student Ang Shermaine said the exhibition helped her understand how the Government rooted out communism.

"Hearing the actual speeches is really different from reading a book about them," said the 14-year-old. "It's interesting to see and hear history come alive."

yanliang@sph.com.sg