It’s easy to overlook the Japanese Occupation-era Singapore when the country is so peaceful and stable these days. During World War II, Japan captured Malaya and held it from 1942 until 1945. Lim Bo Seng, one of Singapore’s most notable war heroes, was among the many resistance fighters who fought against the Japanese.
Lim Bo Seng is honoured in local history books and television series such as The Prince of Peace, but the fact that there is a monument to him at Esplanade Park goes largely unnoticed.
The Lim Bo Seng Memorial is a 3.5m tall octagonal pagoda constructed of bronze, concrete, and marble. A golden-domed, four-tier edifice stands as a pavilion in the lotus position. The base is guarded by four bronze lions, and a bronze roof caps it. Lim’s death is also recounted in four bronze plaques with English, Chinese, Tami, and Jawi inscriptions that briefly commemorate his brief but illustrious existence.
On November 3, 1953, Malcolm MacDonald, Commissioner General for Southeast Asia, laid the cornerstone for the memorial. The memorial was unveiled on 29 June 1953, the tenth anniversary of Lim’s death, by Sir Charles Loewen, the Commander-in-Chief of the Far East Land Forces. The Lim Bo Seng Memorial is the only surviving building dedicated to a person’s efforts in World War II in Singapore.
“In 1942, a group of British officers began gearing up men for Force 136. There were also men drawn from the Malayan and Chinese refugees in India and China, in addition to British officers. Among the individuals recruited was Lim Bo Seng, a Singapore Chinese who had fled from the island just ahead of the surrender.” (Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese, 1942-1945, Lee Geok Boi)
The British government formed the Malayan Resistance Association (MRA) on January 19, 1950, to advance guerilla warfare against the Japanese Empire in Malaya. This ship was captained by John Davies and Richard Broome. Lim recruited around 100 agents, both Malayan Chinese and Kuomintang supporters. In November 1943, Lim Bo Seng returned to Malaya and rallied support and funds for the resistance.
However, in March 1944, Lim was arrested and tortured in jail. He eventually died at 35 years of age in the Batu Gajah prison in Perak on 29 June 1944. Following the Japanese surrender, Lim’s remains were exhumed and taken to Singapore. He was laid to rest in the grounds of MacRitchie Reservoir, where a military-style funeral service occurred and he was dressed in full battle regalia. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major-General. The Lim Bo Seng Memorial was erected to commemorate his wartime exploits.