Lim Bo Seng
|Lim Bo Seng|
Lim in his 30s
27 April 1909|
Meilin Town, Nan'an, Fujian, China
|Died||29 June 1944
Batu Gajah Prison, Malaya
|Allegiance||Special Operations Executive, Allies|
|Years of service||1942–1944|
|Awards||Posthumously awarded the rank of Major General (少將) by the Republic of China Nationalist Government|
|Lim Bo Seng|
Family background and early life
Lim was born in Nan'an, Fujian, China, in the final years of the Qing Dynasty, as the 11th child but the first son in the family. His father, Lim Loh (林路; Lín Lù), was a building constructor. In 1925, Lim 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 married Gan Choo Neo (颜珠娘; Yán Zhū-niáng), 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 after his marriage to Gan.
As a businessman
Lim inherited his father's business when the latter died in 1929. He started with running two businesses in brick manufacturing and biscuit production before venturing into building construction together with his brothers. Apart from being successful in his business career, Lim was also a prominent figure in the Chinese community in Singapore, having been nominated to take on several posts in the community, including: Chairman of the Singapore Building Industry Association (新加坡建築業公會); Board Member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (新加坡中華總商會); Executive Member and Education Director of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (新加坡福建會館).
When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Lim and other Chinese in Singapore participated in anti-Japanese activities, such as the boycotting of Japanese goods and fund-raising to support the war effort 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 (龙运), Terengganu, Malaya, where almost 3,000 Chinese labourers were employed. The tin was shipped to Japan and used as raw material to manufacture weapons. Lim felt that if the 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 travelled to Dungun with Zhuang Huiquan (庄惠泉; Zhuāng Huìquán) of the Singapore Anxi Association to carry out their plan. Zhuang went to the mine to persuade the workers to go on strike while Lim contacted the local police and gained their support. By early March, Lim and Zhuang achieved success as many workers left the mine and followed them to Singapore. On 11 March 1938, Lim 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 was put in charge of organising a group of volunteers (part of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force) to resist the Japanese, who were advancing towards Southeast Asia. The volunteers put up a fierce fight against the Japanese during the Battle of Singapore in February 1942.
Life in Force 136
On 11 February 1942, Lim left Singapore and travelled to Sumatra, Indonesia, 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).
Operation Gustavus was aimed at establishing an espionage network in Malaya and Singapore to gather intelligence about Japanese activities, thereby aiding the British in planning their recapture of the colonies, codenamed Operation Zipper.
On 24 May 1943, the first group of Force 136 agents, codenamed Gustavus I and led by Davies, arrived in Perak on board the Dutch submarine O-24. The O-24 would rendezvous with Gustavus I again in September and November 1943, transferring supplies and personnel from Gustavus IV and V respectively. Its sister ship, the O-23, transported Gustavus II and III, under Captain Richard Broome, arriving on 25 June and 4 August 1943 respectively. Lim arrived in Malaya on 2 November 1943 as part of Gustavus V. He travelled under the alias "Tan Choon Lim" (陈春林; Chén Chūnlín) to avoid identification by the Japanese, claiming to be a businessman when he passed through checkpoints.
In Perak, Davies and Lim reestablished contact with Major Freddie Chapman, who was part of a British unit that stayed behind after the Malayan Campaign, carrying out small-scale attacks against the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. They also met guerrilla fighters of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), two of whom were Chin Peng and Lai Teck, where they reached an agreement that the resistance group would fall under British command, in exchange for weapons, supplies and training. One of the Chinese provision shops in Ipoh, Jian Yik Jan (建益栈; Jiàn Yì Zhàn), was used as an Allied espionage base. Communications between the agents were done by smuggling messages in empty toothpaste tubes, salted fish and diaries.
Operation Gustavus failed before the agents managed to achieve any results. A communist guerrilla was captured by the Japanese in January 1944, who revealed the existence of the Allied spy network operating on Pangkor Island. The Japanese launched a full-scale counter espionage operation on the island and by late March 1944, more than 200 soldiers were on the island. On 24 March, the Kempeitai arrested a fisherman, Chua Koon Eng (蔡群英; Cài Qúnyīng), at Teluk Murrek on the Perak coast. Chua was working on Pangkor Island when Li Han-kwang (李汉光; Lǐ Hànguāng) of Force 136 approached him and requested to use his boat for their communications. Chua told the Kempeitai what he knew when he was interrogated. Li was later captured by the Japanese and he confirmed Chua's accounts of Force 136 under torture and then began to feign cooperation with the Japanese in order to escape captivity. The entire spy network was destroyed by 31 March 1944, and was not re-established until February 1945.
Capture and death
Lim was captured by the Japanese under Marshal Ōnishi Satoru (大西覚) at a roadblock in Gopeng around March–April 1944. He was taken to the Kempeitai headquarters for interrogation and he refused to provide the Japanese with any information about Force 136 despite being subjected to severe torture. Instead, he protested against the ill treatment of his comrades in prison. He fell ill with dysentery and was bedridden by the end of May 1944. Lim died in the early hours on 29 June 1944. He was later buried behind the Batu Gajah prison compound in an unmarked spot. After the Japanese surrender, Lim's wife, Gan Choo Neo, was informed of her husband's death by the priest of St. Andrew's School. Gan travelled with her eldest son to bring her husband's remains home.
Lim's remains arrived at the Tanjong Pagar railway station in Singapore on 7 December 1945. Upon arrival, the hearse was sent off by a large procession of British officers and prominent businessmen, from the station to Hock Ann Biscuit Factory in Upper Serangoon Road, via Armenian Street. On the same day, a memorial service for Lim was held at the Tong Teh Library of the Kuomintang Association in Singapore.
A funeral service was held on 13 January 1946 at City Hall. Lim's remains was transported in a coffin to a hill in MacRitchie Reservoir (coordinates: 1°20'31.76"N 103°49'50.60"E) for burial with full military honours. Lim was posthumously awarded the rank of Major General (少將) by the Republic of China Nationalist Government.
In popular culture
In 1997, Singapore's Chinese-language television channel TCS Eighth Frequency (now MediaCorp Channel 8) aired a television drama, The Price of Peace, about the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Lim appeared as a semi-fictional protagonist in the drama, and was portrayed by actor Rayson Tan. An English-dubbed version of the drama was run on the English-language channel TCS Fifth Frequency (now MediaCorp Channel 5) in 1999.
- Singapore Heroes – Lim Bo Seng. Singaporeheroes.weebly.com. Retrieved on 2013-04-14.
- Remembering war hero Lim Bo Seng. Asiaone.com (2011-08-04). Retrieved on 2013-04-14.
- Clara Show. LIM BO SENG: Singapore's Best-known War Hero. ISBN 981-229-067-2.
- "John Davis: SOE leader in Japanese-occupied Malaya". The Sunday Times. 31 Oct 2006. Retrieved 6 Jan 2011.
- Dutch Submarines: The submarine O 24, Dutch Submarines, retrieved 6 Jan 2011
- Dutch Submarines: The submarine O 23, Dutch Submarines, retrieved 6 Jan 2011
- Boon Kheng Cheah (2003). Red Star over Malaya. Singapore University Press. ISBN 9971-69-274-0.
- "Activist, Leader, Patriot". Ashok Palaniappan. 17 Jun 2009. Retrieved 6 Jan 2011.
- "Col. Lim's remains in Singapore". Singapore: Straits Times. December 8, 1945. p. 3.
- Chapman, F. Spencer (1949), The Jungle Is Neutral, Chatto and Windus. Subsequently published in 1977 by Triad/Mayflower Books and in 2003 by The Lyons Press.
- Poh, Guan Huat (1972), Lim Bo Seng: Nanyang Chinese Patriot, Honours thesis submitted to the History Department, University of Singapore.
- Tan, Chong Tee (2001), Force 136: Story of a World War II Resistance Fighter (second edition), by Asiapac Books.
- Victoria School (2003), "Lim Bo Seng Memorial".