In thinking about this week’s photo challenge, Singapore sprang to mind instantly. Singapore is a fabulous city. I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again. But I think the sunshine, sights and shopping sometimes mask the pain and horror which are evident in this tiny city state’s history if you scratch just a little below the surface. I normally tend towards levity, but the Lim Bo Seng memorial is a monument which really got me thinking about the bravery of being one person, doing what you believe in and making it count.
Walking through Esplanade Park there are a number of statues, but my eye was drawn to the cream-coloured marble pagoda, inlaid with decorative Chinese fretwork and guarded by four bronze lions. This elegant structure is the Lim Bo Seng Memorial. It is a Singaporean National Monument, and the only structure in Singapore built to commemorate the efforts of an individual during World War II.
Lim Bo Seng was a Chinese resistance worker, and a leading figure in the anti-Japanese intelligence and espionage efforts. He worked tirelessly to liberate Singapore from the Japanese, who occupied Singapore from 1942-1945. He is widely regarded as a hero amongst Singaporeans, although the memorial sits quietly on the city’s map, and many Singaporeans do not even know it is there. Perhaps that in itself is fitting, for a man who worked covertly for Force 136, the British Special Operations unit in the region,
Eventually captured and tortured by the Japanese in 1944, he died a few months later, still imprisoned and steadfastly refusing to provide any information which might support the Japanese occupation.
My knowledge of military history in South East Asia is admittedly very limited, although since my chance discovery of the Lim Bo Seng monument I have set out to learn more. What I do know is that Japanese invasions across South East Asia were swift, brutal and without mercy. During the week long Battle of Singapore in 1942, the previously British-controlled Singapore fell to the Japanese. A staggering 80,000 British and Commonwealth troops were taken as Prisoners of War by the Japanese invaders. It was a British military disaster and left Singapore entirely defenceless. The occupation years were a truly terrifying time for those left behind, and the atrocities, loss of life, and economic hardship were astonishing in their scale and horror. Monumental even.
Warfare has changed beyond all recognition since World War II, and perhaps such literal occupation and invasion are becoming obsolete. I think that, if anything, that makes it all the more important that there are monuments like the memorial to Lim Bo Seng. They remind us of the humanity of war. Of the cost to one person of believing in something, and dying for their principles. And their generosity and bravery in paying that price for the rest of us.