MacDonald House bombing survivor remembers attack

One of the court documents kept for decades by blast survivor Reverend Yeo Suan Kim.  -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
One of the court documents kept for decades by blast survivor Reverend Yeo Suan Kim.  -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
Photographs of Harun Said and Osman Haji Mohamed Ali (above) are among the 1965 documents. There are also photos of the three people who died and of MacDonald House shortly after the blast. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
Photographs of Harun Said and Osman Haji Mohamed Ali (above) are among the 1965 documents. There are also photos of the three people who died and of MacDonald House shortly after the blast. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
Aside from losing his right eye, Reverend Yeo Suan Kim (above) also suffered multiple cuts all over his body from glass splinters, some of which pierced his liver and diaphragm. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
Aside from losing his right eye, Reverend Yeo Suan Kim (above) also suffered multiple cuts all over his body from glass splinters, some of which pierced his liver and diaphragm. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
THE DAY PASTOR LOST AN EYE: He has kept the picture all these years, showing him in agony on the ground. Retired pastor Yeo Suan Kim, 72, survived the MacDonald House bombing in March 1965, but lost his right eye. He recalls that terrible afternoon,
THE DAY PASTOR LOST AN EYE: He has kept the picture all these years, showing him in agony on the ground. Retired pastor Yeo Suan Kim, 72, survived the MacDonald House bombing in March 1965, but lost his right eye. He recalls that terrible afternoon, and what followed, in an interview with The Sunday Times. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
Rev Yeo, now 72, at MacDonald House. It took him some years before he was able to walk past MacDonald House without fear. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM
Rev Yeo, now 72, at MacDonald House. It took him some years before he was able to walk past MacDonald House without fear. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF REVEREND YEO SUAN KIM

23-year-old theological student was steps away from MacDonald House in March 1965 when a bomb blast flung him across the road

Reverend Yeo Suan Kim remembers the day 49 years ago when he lost his right eye.

It was the afternoon of March 10, 1965.

He was 23 years old and was at Orchard Road, on his way to a bus stop after attending his theological college on Mount Sophia.

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He stopped for a drink from a makeshift stall steps away from MacDonald House and just as he walked past the building, there was a blast that flung him clear across the road.

"I screamed for help and prayed for someone to rescue me," recalled Rev Yeo, now 72. "I heard a voice beside me saying, 'Young man, I am a doctor, I will help you', and I was lifted up and carried to the pavement." But he could not see anything. His right eye had been shattered. "I lay there in total darkness," he said, in an interview at his flat in Sengkang. "I could hear people screaming in pain, footsteps rushing past me, cars honking and glass shattering." The bomb which went off at 3.07pm in the 10-storey building, which housed the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, had been planted by two Indonesian marines - part of Indonesia's Confrontation campaign against Malaysia from 1963 to 1966. Three people died, and 33 were injured.

Mrs Suzie Choo, 36, a private secretary to the bank manager and 23-year-old Juliet Goh, a filing clerk, died inside the building. A man who was sitting outside, driver Yasin Kesit, 43, died in hospital from his injuries.

MacDonald House was back in the news two weeks ago after Singapore expressed its unhappiness to Indonesia about the decision to name a navy frigate the KRI Usman Harun after the two marines.

The two men were convicted and hanged in Singapore in 1968.

Rev Yeo remembers lying in a Singapore General Hospital bed next to Mr Yasin. "The flesh on his back was ripped open by the blast. It was heartbreaking to hear him screaming out in pain every day," he said.

Rev Yeo spent two weeks in hospital, but needed multiple operations for his injuries. Aside from losing his eye,he also suffered multiple cuts all over his body from glass splinters, some of which pierced his liver and diaphragm.

Even years later, he said, a glass fragment would fall from his skin.

His 74-year-old wife, Soh Fong, was his girlfriend at the time. She said he was supposed to have attended a wedding dinner on the night of the blast but did not show up.

"He was the wedding photographer and everyone was puzzled. After the wedding we went to look for him in church but he was not there," she recalled. "It was only when we heard the news about the bomb that we decided to search for him at the hospital and eventually found him there."

By then it was past midnight.

"He had just come out of the operating theatre and the surgeons told us that he might not survive," she said. "Two days later, the man lying on the bed next to him died. I was so scared. I didn't dare tell him. He didn't know, as his eyes were bandaged."

The dead man, Mr Yasin, had been reading a paper outside MacDonald House when the bomb went off.

Another blast victim, 75-year-old chauffeur Zainal Kassim, told The Sunday Times that he was entering the building that afternoon and saw Mr Yasin. "If I had stopped to talk to him, I would have been killed," he said.

Mr Zainal was 25 at the time and working as an office assistant at the Australian High Commission, which was in the building too.

His boss, Mr Barry J.O'Donnell, who was waiting for the lift with him, was flung several metres when the bomb went off. Mr Zainal was thrown against a wall. He was kept under observation in hospital for five days before he was discharged.

Rev Yeo, now a retired pastor who conducts the Hainanese service at The Peoples Presbyterian Church, got married on the year of the blast while he was still recovering from his injuries. He and his wife have two children and two grandchildren.

It took him some years to adjust to his prosthetic eye and before he was able to walk past MacDonald House without fear. When his grandchildren came along and they drove past the place, he would point out: "That's where Grandpa lost his eye!"

But some shadows remain.

He has suffered from claustrophobia - the fear of enclosed spaces - ever since the incident.

"I will not enter a crowded lift. I would rather take the stairs even if it means climbing 23 storeys," he said.

joycel@sph.com.sg

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