War hero Lim Bo Seng's family to tell his story for generations to come

The Lim Bo Seng Memorial in Esplanade Park. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While a yearly family gathering to pay respects at Lim Bo Seng's grave in MacRitchie on his death anniversary is no longer practised, the World War II hero's grandson Lim Teck Yin said his grandfather's story will continue to be told in the family for generations to come.

Given his involvement in anti-Japanese activities from the 1930s - including fund raising for China during the Second Sino-Japanese War and leading more than 10,000 men in Singapore to support the British - Lim Bo Seng knew there would be a price on his head when the Japanese arrived in 1942.

The businessman thus made a painful decision to flee Singapore before their arrival, leaving his wife and seven children, aged two to 11, behind.

Mr Lim, 59, said of the yearly remembrance gatherings at MacRitchie: "It was always a proud but sombre occasion, and I remember my grandmother weeping. It was clear that her sadness, in spite of the years, had never really gone away."

"Thinking about it, I believe that it testifies to the depth of their sacrifice - having to leave behind his wife and seven children for his belief in the higher cause," he added in an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, ahead of the 80th anniversary of Singapore's fall to the Japanese on Feb 15.

Leaving was not an easy decision for Lim Bo Seng, who wrote in his war diary on Feb 11, 1942: "To leave the dear Mrs behind at the mercy of the enemy would go very hard against my own conscience.

"On the other hand, to remain with the family in the event of enemy occupation would not in any way improve the situation, but my presence may even make their lot very much harder."

He made his way to India where he linked with Force 136, a British secret service unit tasked to gather intelligence and conduct operations behind enemy lines in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation.

In 1943, Lim Bo Seng landed in Malaya in a submarine under the alias Tan Choon Lim and set up an intelligence network. His identity was betrayed in December that year, leading to his capture in March 1944.

Despite undergoing torture at the hands of the Japanese, he refused to reveal the names of fellow resistance group members, and eventually died of malnutrition, dysentery and torture on June 29, 1944, while he was interned in Perak. He was 35.

His wife Gan Choo Neo travelled to Perak to bring back his remains in late 1945. She died in 1979.

Mr Lim, chief executive of national sports governing body Sport Singapore, said the values his grandfather exemplified - duty, courage, love and sacrifice - remind him that "there is much to contribute to community, society and nation".

He added: "I know that this was the guiding spirit that my late father embraced in his career and as a parent, and later, as inspiration and encouragement in his battle against cancer.

"In moments of struggle, my father battled stoically and privately."

In 1943, Lim Bo Seng landed in Malaya in a submarine under the alias Tan Choon Lim and set up an intelligence network. PHOTO: HANDOUT

Mr Lim, who is married with four children - one serving national service and three who are in adulthood, said new stories of heroism will emerge to inspire Singaporeans' belief in the worthiness of the nation's sovereignty, even as a heartfelt connection to his grandfather's sacrifice is felt less with each passing generation.

But within his family, Mr Lim said the story of his grandfather - whose memorial stands in Esplanade Park - will be told for generations, at the right time and place.

"I hope that this will resonate and be found relevant as a compass for their lives," he added.

While the family no longer gathers at the MacRitchie grave as they used to, Mr Lim said caring for it remains an important duty to some in the family.

Asked if it is important for younger generations to remember Singapore's war years, the former army brigadier-general said: "I hope Singaporeans will remember our nation's challenges and struggles through the years, and never take our future for granted.

"In that process, I hope we will discover together why we choose to be Singaporean."

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