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Lim Bo Seng Memorial

Lim Bo Seng Memorial (29)

A walk in the Esplanade Park is full of surprises. Among the many historical pieces in this park you will find the Lim Bo Seng Memorial. A modest monument, it was erected in honour of this local hero tortured to death by the Japanese to protect the lives of his comrades. Even today Lim Bo Seng’s courage is praised and used as a way to teach the people of Singapore the importance of unity. 

Major General Lim Bo Seng was born in China on 27 April 1909, the son of Lim Loh, a wealthy businessman.  Out of 11 children, he was the first son. In 1917, during the British colonial era, he came to Singapore to study at the Raffles Institution continuing his studies at the University of Hong Kong. Like his parents, Lim married and had many children but he is primarily known for his military prowess. 

During the war between China and Japan from 1937 to 1945, Lim Bo Seng participated in the Nanyang Federation’s boycott of the Japanese. He also travelled to Sumatra and India to train in the jungle, later recruiting hundreds of secret agents while carrying out military intelligence operations from China and India. Finally, with Captain John Davis of the British forces, he established Force 136, which operated in Southeast Asia against the Japanese. 

In May 1943, Lim Bo Seng launched operation Gustavus with the goal of establishing an espionage network in Malaysia and Singapore.  This was important for obtaining essential information about the enemy and launching Operation Zipper to help the British regain their colonies. His espionage tricks are still well-known and they were as varied as they were original. For example, communications between agents were smuggled in toothpaste tubes or salted fish. 

In November of the same year, Lim Bo Seng came to Malaysia posing as a businessman named Tan Choon Lim. Operation Gustavus was soon discovered, however, after the betrayal of the triple agent Lai Teak, the Malayan Communist Party leader. The Japanese learned about the spy ring and slowly began to find and kill these spies until Lim Bo Seng was taken prisoner by Marshall Onishi Satoru. 

Though he suffered 3 months of the most horrible torture imaginable, he never revealed any information. Moreover, he continued to protest against the mistreatment of his fellow prisoners. Finally, Lim fell ill and died on 29 June 1944 and was buried behind the Batu Gajah prison in Perak, in northern Malaysia. 

After Japan's surrender, Lim's wife, Gan Choo Neo, was informed of her husband’s death by the priest at St. Andrew's School. Gan flew to Singapore with her eldest son to take her husband’s remains home. At last, on 13 January, 1946, his remains were brought to Singapore where he was buried with full military honours after a well-attended funeral at City Hall. Today he lies in the MacRitchie Nature Reserve, a little over 7 miles from here.

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