Dad's World War II mystery finally solved

Malaysian researcher Andrew Hwang, who is with the Malayan Volunteers Group, helped Mr Tony Wee (above) to find out more about his father, Pte Wee Swee Beng, who won five medals for his service during World War II. Pte Wee, who later became a busines
Malaysian researcher Andrew Hwang, who is with the Malayan Volunteers Group, helped Mr Tony Wee (above) to find out more about his father, Pte Wee Swee Beng, who won five medals for his service during World War II. Pte Wee, who later became a businessman, had died in 1963 at age 52. Mr Wee was then 13.
Malaysian researcher Andrew Hwang (above), who is with the Malayan Volunteers Group, helped Mr Tony Wee to find out more about his father, Pte Wee Swee Beng, who won five medals for his service during World War II. Pte Wee, who later became a busines
Malaysian researcher Andrew Hwang (above), who is with the Malayan Volunteers Group, helped Mr Tony Wee to find out more about his father, Pte Wee Swee Beng, who won five medals for his service during World War II. Pte Wee, who later became a businessman, had died in 1963 at age 52. Mr Wee was then 13.

During World War II, Private Wee Swee Beng braved the bombs raining down on Kallang Airfield to rescue the injured, as a member of the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (SSVF).

But Mr Tony Wee, 69, is only now learning this, more than five decades after he started trying to uncover the mystery of what his father did during the war.

Pte Wee, who later became a businessman, had died in 1963 at age 52. Mr Tony Wee was then 13.

His father left behind five medals that he had won during World War II - and the mystery of why he was so bemedalled.

In 2013, Mr Tony Wee learnt through the National Heritage Board that his father had served in the SSVF. All a few older relatives could offer was that his father had "defended the Kallang area".

But now, that mystery has finally been solved.

His father was recruited in 1939 and attached to the 1st (Singapore) Battalion, SSVF, as a stretcher bearer. The information was retrieved from a 1939 SSVF yearbook and a 1940 newspaper report in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser.

The 1st Battalion was broken into smaller groups and tasked with guarding important military installations, including Kallang Airfield.

As the airfield was used by the Royal Air Force, it was frequently bombed by Japanese planes. Mr Wee's father would have evacuated many of the wounded at the airfield and people living nearby.

Mr Wee told The Straits Times: "I feel very happy that after 69 years, I can make my remaining brothers feel proud."

Mr Wee learnt about his father's war efforts from Malaysian researcher Andrew Hwang, who read about his quest in ST on Jan 21.

Mr Hwang wrote an e-mail asking to be put in touch with Mr Wee. The researcher with the Malayan Volunteers Group - which, among other things, helps families and interested parties research Malayan Volunteer wartime efforts and connections - had done some digging after reading the article and uncovered Pte Wee's story.

The 1940 news clipping stated that the late Mr Wee, who was unsuccessful in getting an "exemption from training with the St John Field Ambulance", had been a foreman for contractor Ban Teck Hup Co.

Mr Hwang, 53, said: "Most Malaysian and Singaporean inquirers want to find out what happened to their fathers, uncles or grandfathers in the war... They are usually seeking closure, for volunteers who died during the war, or to understand why their fathers were tight-lipped about the war years.

"Not all stories are the same."

Mr Hwang joined the group about 11 years ago while trying to learn about his two grand-uncles who had served in the war.

Now, fellow researchers in Britain help to reply to numerous inquiries on the Malayan Volunteers Group website. Said Mr Hwang, who lives in Kuala Lumpur and is not paid for his services: "I have an arrangement with British researchers who will check documents for me at the British National Archives in Kew, London. At my end, I personally research in Arkib Negara Malaysia (Malaysian Archive), where I am a registered researcher."

He keeps a database of volunteer soldiers, originally compiled by the late British volunteer history researcher, Mr John Brown.

Following the article, Mr Don Derrick Ng from Eng Leong Medallic Industries contacted Mr Wee. He has offered to create replicas of the medals Pte Wee won.

Mr Wee's father had received the following medals: the 1939-1945 Star, the Pacific Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal 1939-1945, and the Efficient Service Medal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Dad's World War II mystery finally solved'. Print Edition | Subscribe