Today’s Chinese newspaper Zaobao,   reported on a significant find  of Lee Kuan Yew’s  maternal ancestry  in the depths of the forest  of Bukit Brown. It is the find of the year (2014) for Bukit Brown  researchers and bloggers  Raymond Goh and Walter Lim.

Please click on image to enlarge

Zaobao 29 Jul

Zaobao 29 July, 2014 : report by Chia Yen Yen

“The  4 related tombs ranging from 70 to 127 years in Bukit Brown and Greater Bukit Brown (Lao Sua)  has been rediscovered by local historical researchers and are valuable resources for the study of our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal grandfather,  Chua Kim Teng  family  history “

The find was discovered on 1 st July.  From photos sent to Raymond by a tomb keeper in the area,  Raymond subsequently on the same day,  verified it on site as belonging to  Lee Kuan Yew’s family.  The find was  kept under wraps to allow Zaobao correspondent Chia Yen Yen, time to conduct further research with family members of Lee Kuan Yew, specifically his brother,  Dr Lee Suan Yew contributed this family  photo to the article.

Family Photo Lee Suan Yew

Chua Kim Teng (LKY’s maternal grandfather – centre row, 4th from left), Leong Ah Soon (centre row, 4th from right)  Lee Kuan Yew’s mother Chua Jim Neo (centre row, 2nd from left) and her brother Chua Kheng Hoe (last row, second from left) was also related by marriage to Lee family (Family Photo from Lee Suan Yew)

This extended family portrait was  taken at 92 Kg Java Rd bungalow where Lee Kuan Yew was born. 

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Zaobao Article in Full.
李光耀外家先人四古墓密林中寻获
谢燕燕
2014年07月29日

苏亚明、吴安全和李志强(左至右)摄于建国总理李光耀曾外祖父蔡应昌的墓前,这个藏在深山老林的古墓已有127年历史。(严宣融摄)
新恒山亭与武吉布朗四座有70年至127年历史的老墓,最近被本地文史工作者重新发现,成了研究建国总理李光耀外祖父蔡金鼎家族的重要史料。

李光耀的曾外祖父蔡应昌、外祖父蔡金鼎和蔡金鼎第二任妻子萧玉銮的墓,多年来深藏在新恒山亭的深山老林里。蔡金鼎的第三任妻子,也是李光耀的亲外祖母梁亚顺则葬在武吉布朗坟场内。

这四座能为蔡家的家族史提供珍贵史料的老墓,是在本报于6月29日刊登了李光耀与人力车夫高长古的故事后,被本地著名寻墓人吴安全和文史工作者林志强找到的。

谢燕燕 报道

chiayy@sph.com.sg

蔡应昌、蔡金鼎父子的墓,吴安全其实过去见过,但没多加留意,也不清楚墓主人身份,直到阅读了本报《寻找人力车夫高长古》一文,才想起建国总理李光耀在回忆录中提到的外公蔡金鼎和外婆梁亚顺。

更巧的是,他的朋友苏亚明(51岁)正好在那个时候用手机,把蔡应昌墓和蔡金鼎墓的照片传给他,马上引起了他的兴趣。专门帮人打理墓园的苏亚明,从小在陈 牛廊(武吉布朗昔日村子)长大,对新恒山亭和武吉布朗了如指掌。他认识吴安全后,每次发现大型古墓,就会拍照传给吴安全看。

古墓藏在密林里

本月中的一个早上,本报记者随吴安全、苏亚明和林志强走入被喻为“老山”的新恒山亭后,发现蔡应昌、蔡金鼎和萧玉銮的墓确实藏在人迹罕到的密林里,蔡家后人恐怕早已找不到那里。苏亚明是因为经常在山里走动,加上他曾祖父的墓刚好与蔡金鼎墓为邻,才会发现这一组古墓。

吴安全、林志强找到蔡家三位先人的墓后,发现李光耀外婆梁亚顺的墓不在其中,于是翻查旧档案,通过下葬记录册找到她位于武吉布朗的墓。

本报后来走访李光耀的弟弟李祥耀医生,从李医生那里拿到蔡家后人所整理的一份简单家谱,再把这家谱与墓碑上的名字对比,理出了一个头绪来。

蔡家另外两位后人,退休会计师薛强发和薛强和告诉本报,他们每年清明都会到外祖母梁亚顺的墓拜祭,但早已不清楚外祖父和曾外祖父的墓在哪里。如今被重新发现,他们将找时间到坟前祭拜。

这两兄弟的母亲蔡修娘是蔡金鼎与梁亚顺所生的最小女儿,即李光耀母亲蔡壬娘(又作任娘,过去译成认娘)的妹妹。蔡修娘是在1937年与薛清江举行华人婚礼,当时还上报。

李光耀曾外祖父百年古墓极大

《李光耀回忆录》中说,在传统华裔家庭里,结了婚的女儿与丈夫、孩子若住在外家,通常不为社会所容,但对来自马六甲的土生华人家庭来说,这却是常有之事。

能找到的资料很有限

蔡金鼎虽是在新加坡出世,他父亲蔡应昌却是来自马六甲的土生华人,他们可说是典型的峇峇家庭。蔡应昌位于新恒山亭的127年古墓非常大,估计长40英尺,宽24英尺,显示他生前显赫,只可惜今天能找到的资料很有限。

蔡金鼎和第二任妻子萧玉銮的墓就在蔡应昌墓旁边,但规模小得多。

根据旧地图,这三座墓所处的位置就在原来的布朗山。

蔡应昌墓碑上记录着他是在“光绪丁亥年岁次梅月吉旦”即1887年4月去世,碑上面有朱雀浮雕,墓肩有龙的雕刻,供桌下有麒麟、仙鹤和鹿的图案。

墓前对联则显示这是很讲究龙脉与风水的古墓。里头的对联写着“龙挺旗鼓天门开、虎拒艮宫地户闭”,外面的对联是“排衙之砂真有情、癸向艮流富贵龙”。

蔡应昌的墓碑上刻着孝男金鼎和孝女妙娘、淡娘和贞娘,不过蔡家后人所整理的家谱则显示他还有另外两名儿子蔡金忠和蔡金泰。他们的名字为何不在墓碑上则不得而知。

比三名妻子长寿的蔡金鼎(1865-1944),墓碑上刻着六男八女的名字,当中少了梁亚顺所领养的敬成,却不清楚为何还少了两名小女儿心娘与修娘的名字。一个可能性是刻碑文时“抄袭”萧玉銮的碑文,以致漏掉两名小女儿。

萧玉銮是在中国刚“变天”,辛亥革命推翻满清王朝之际离开人世的。她逝于“辛亥十月十六日旦”(1911年12月6日),孙中山当时正从美国回返中国途中,所搭乘游轮一个多星期后抵达新加坡,他还在陈武烈位于花芭山腰的金钟别墅住了一晚。
中国是在1912年1月1日才改年号为民国元年,但萧玉銮的墓已率先启用民国年号,只不过当时情况有点混乱,把国号、年号颠倒用,以致出现“中华辛亥十月十六日旦”和“民国故妣谥玉銮萧氏墓”。

李光耀在外公别墅出世

李祥耀医生说,他祖父李云龙和外公蔡金鼎都是在日本占领新加坡期间离开人世。外公去世时他11岁,至今还记得母亲蔡壬娘操办丧礼的情景。

生于1865年,卒于1944年的蔡金鼎,墓碑上的祖籍是福建漳州海澄陈莊。

在李祥耀印象里,外公相当有钱,住在很大的房子里,为人很慷慨,经常给孙子们钱去买橄榄、酸梅等零食。

洋房很有气派

他说,大哥李光耀是在外公位于甘榜爪哇92号的两层楼别墅出世的,他至今还有一张旧照片,是他外公、外婆、母亲、众多阿姨和舅舅们在那栋大房子前拍摄的全家福。

蔡家后来搬到直落古楼罗弄L的另一栋大房子。根据1928年7月27日刊登在《海峡时报》的一则出租广告,甘榜爪哇的别墅有煤气、水、电话、车库和网球场,是很有气派的洋房。

李医生说,外公娶过三名妻室,第一任妻子萧翠銮和第二任妻子萧玉銮是姐妹,他和萧翠銮生了一男三女,和萧玉銮育有二男三女,和第三任妻子梁亚顺生了三男四女。

根据《李光耀回忆录》的记载,梁亚顺是来自印度尼西亚坤甸的客家妇女,嫁给蔡金鼎之前是育有两名年幼孩子的年轻寡妇。李光耀的母亲蔡壬娘是她与蔡金鼎所生的长女。

李医生说,外公除了拥有甘榜爪哇和直落古楼的洋房,还曾买下克雷摩路(Claymore Road)的好多栋房子,但后来受到经济大萧条影响而将之变卖。

林志强找到的旧报章资料显示,蔡金鼎曾是东海岸巴刹的业主,李光耀在回忆录中则曾提到外公在菜市拥有大片树胶园,他们家有时会坐牛车到园丘度假。

蔡金鼎虽是成功商人,但从旧档案看,他只活跃于1893年创立的互助组织正气轩(Cheng Kee Hean Association)。1921年11月,这个组织庆祝25周年时,曾在蔡金鼎上述甘榜爪哇别墅举行盛大庆祝会,他当时任正气轩副会长。

外婆梁亚顺坚持

要李光耀读中文

李光耀外婆梁亚顺的墓,坐落武吉布朗半山腰,不是很大,却也不小,维持得相当好。根据《李光耀回忆录》,梁亚顺生过9名儿女,但墓碑上却刻着7名孝男和10名孝女,共17名儿女的名字!另外还有7名内孙和6名内孙女。

李祥耀医生说,外婆墓碑上的一名儿子蔡敬生其实是她结拜姐妹的儿子,本姓陈,后来被外婆领养。另一名女儿发娘(也有写成活娘)则是梁亚顺与前夫所生女儿。梁亚顺墓碑上的众多儿女,包括蔡金鼎与两位萧氏所生儿女。

最有意思的是墓前的对联,把原本指为官清廉的“眼前皆赤子、头上是青天”改成“源前皆赤子,益上是青天”。这是否在比喻她公平对待众多儿女,把他们视为“赤子”?另一对联是“自得山中趣,谁论世上名”。

梁亚顺与蔡金鼎除了把女儿蔡壬娘许配给李光耀的父亲李进坤外,还让两人所生的大儿子蔡敬和迎娶李进坤的妹妹李金娘。

李光耀在回忆录中说,这位外祖母对他的教育很有一套看法,还不满6岁便坚持把他送到设在亚答木屋内的私塾,老师每天让孩子背诵古书。

他向母亲诉苦后,母亲代他向外婆说情,但外婆坚持他一定要读些中文书,于是送他到如切台浚源学校。这学校设施像样多了,有10间课室,每班35至40名学生,但年幼的李光耀还是觉得华文难学。两三个月后他再向母亲恳求,这一次外祖母终于答应让他转到英校。

根据坟墓上的记录,李光耀这位坚持要他读点中文的外婆是在民国二十三年九月初二,即1934年10月9日与世长辞。她生于1881年,比蔡金鼎小了16岁。

从旧档案中还知道梁亚顺曾于1916年,即第一次世界大战前夕,联合其他马来亚妇女购买战机送给英国政府,她当时捐了10元。

本报后来走访李光耀的弟弟李祥耀医生,从李医生那里拿到蔡家后人所整理的一份简单家谱,再把这家谱与墓碑上的名字对比,理出了一个头绪来。
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 Romancing Taiping (Part 1)

A photo essay by Simone Lee

 “I was a little apprehensive at the beginning. Even as a Malaysian, I’ve never heard of anyone raving about a visit to Taiping. But while we were there, I fell in love…………” Simone Lee (Brownie*)

Taiping History (in brief)

Plagued by fierce feuds ( The Larut Wars)  between 2  prominent Chinese secret societies(Ghee Hin and Hai San,   this  once flourishing town in Perak, which prospered from tin mining was said to have been named Taiping – 太 (tai – ‘great’) and 平 (ping – ‘peace’) – after a truce was brokered in the Pangkor Treaty. The treaty was the result of a politically motivated call for British intervention  aided by a friend from Singapore, Tan Kim Ching (son of Tan Tock Seng).

Day 1: Taiping Town and Kuala Sepetang

At the sleepy town, we met our guide, Ah Kew (Lee Eng Kew),  a freelance writer and field historian.  Our first stop: The Old House Museum. One of the earliest 3-storey shophouses built in Taiping, the museum/antique shop retains much of its original architecture.

(please click on images for full size photos and captions)

T1 I_Ah Kew

Our very knowledgeable and generous guide Ah Kew (pictured on the right) , who was to share with us personal insights into Taiping’s history and cultural links (photo Simone Lee)

Taiping 1 1 The Old House Museum

The Old House Museum (photo Simone Lee)

T1 Pic 2

Clockwise from left): – 1) Much of the shophouse, including the wooden spiral stairs are retained  2) A room filled with miniature cars and dolls – 3) Posters of artists and celebrities from the 60’s and 70’s line the corridor (photos Simone Lee)

Charcoal Factory

The next stop surprised everyone. As we drove into the compound of a charcoal factory, the scene took our breath away. The smoke from the kilns filters the sun rays, reminding me of movies with scenes of a dreamy, foggy mornings by the lake, embraced by mountains.

T1 Pix 3 Charcoal Factory

The Chuan Seng Charcoal Factory, Kuala Sepetang (photo Simone Lee)

Here, Ah Kew explained the charcoal making process which typically takes several weeks before it is ready to be marketed. In the process, a by-product  “‘charcoal water” is distilled from the baking wood. It is bottled and sold as a beauty product – slightly acidic but gentle enough to be used on the skin. I tried some on my face and arms, and instantly my skin felt supple, toned and smooth! Feeling vain, I wanted to order a bottle, which was selling at just RM5, the retail outlet was closed.

T1 Pix 4

(clockwise from top-left): – 1) Ah Kew explains how logs from the mangrove trees are brought to the factories by boat via the stream.2)  Steam from the kiln gushes out as the wood is baked  so moisture, evaporates.  3) The igloo-shaped kilns in one of the factories (photos Simone Lee)

T1 Pix 5.png

Kuala Sepetang’s Matang Mangrove Forest is the largest mangrove forest reserve in Malaysia and was gazetted as a Permanent Forest Reserve in 1906.  (photo Simone Lee)

At the mangrove forest,  Ah Kew regaled us with stories of 2 notorious pirates with  fearsome reputations in the post war era.

Tan Lian Lay once hid bags of rice in a mangrove forest but they were destroyed when the tide rose. After his death, he was immortalised as a deity because his spirit was giving out winning numbers in repentance for his sins. It has been said Tan Lian Lay was also a trouble maker in Singapore. When he was killed in Bagan Api in Riau, Sumatra, a well- wisher from Singapore sent gifts as a reward for slaying Tan Lian Lay’s reign of terror.

T1 Pix 6.png

The fishermen’s village (photo Simone Lee)

Tan Hua Siea  aka Raja Laut (King of the Sea) monopolized the shellfish farms and was on Perak’s most wanted criminal list. Despite that, he eluded capture, sheltered by the locals. Even though he was always dangerously armed, he never terrorised the villagers and was revered  as the Robin Hood of the coast. What happened to him remains a mystery to this day.

T1 Pix 7.png.jpg

The idyllic village belies its checkered sometimes violent past as hideouts for pirates. (photos Simone Lee)

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Look out for Romancing Taiping Part II next week

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*The Brownies’ yearning to connect to history and thirst for adventure, brings them to various locations within and beyond Singapore. The objectives of these retreats are, to study the historical and cultural links to Singapore, and to strengthen kinship amongst the brownies.

(Brownies are the volunteers who conduct regular weekend guided walks and independent research on heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown Cemetery.)

 

 

Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge

Location: NLB 9th flood from now until 10 October’14 and thereafter it will travel to other regional libraries.

The exhibition was officially opened on Saturday 19 July,2014 by MOS (Ministry of National Development) Desmond Lee.

It represents almost one and half years of research and working the ground documenting some 4,153 tombstones which are affected by the building of a new highway across Bukit Brown, by a team under the leadership of Dr. Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist with ISEAS.

We have observed the team hard at work over these years, joined some of them during Qing Ming and exhumations as observers and friends of the family of descendants,  and the exhibition is a comprehensive and compact  expression of what they have uncovered, shared with the public with insight and interesting artefacts , enhanced by new technology.  We recommend it as a “must see” and “ground breaking”  for insights shared of customary practices and traditions of burial customs and respect for ancestors.

An extract from the media release:

Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge” assembles a diverse range of documents,maps, photographs and objects to demonstrate how a cemetery can open a window to Singapore’s historical past and cultural present. Through a multi-disciplinary approach employing cutting-edge methods, techniques and technology, the exhibition will bring to the fore new horizons of knowledge unveiled through the documentation of Bukit Brown.

The exhibition  opens with the origins of the cemetery, as a project of the Municipal Commissioners in early 20th in 1973, will be illustrated through maps and aerial photographs. Next, through explication of  tomb inscriptions, tomb typology and the material culture of the cemetery, the exhibition will demonstrate Singapore’s connectivity to the region, China and the world.

While the cemetery is a burial space for the dead, it is also a space for the living at different points of Singapore’s history and ritual calendar. This will be illustrated through the life of kampongs that used to be situated in the vicinity of the cemetery and the life of the cemetery during Qing Ming and the Seventh Month Hungry Ghost Festival.

As data for the graves was collected and organised within a Geographic Information System (GIS) framework, the exhibition will present a Centrepiece where visitors will be able to access data related to specific graves through a map-based database on a touch screen monitor.

Finally, visitors will get a glimpse behind the scenes of documentation work, to get a sense of the different methods, techniques and technologies that were employed in the course of documentation. These range from balloon photography to 3D scanning, from interviewing to filming, and from the work of architects to the work of archaeologists.

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Highlights of the Exhibition Opening

Show and Tell photo Ang Hock Chuan

Dr Hui Yew-Foong, explaining material culture to MOS Desmond Lee during the curator’s walk through (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 1 (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Dr. Natalie Pang (NTU) who worked on the IT applications for the centerpiece map demonstrating how it works to MOS Desmond Lee (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 3  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

The urn which used to house re-interred remains from other cemeteries to Bukit Brown (photo Raymond Goh)

This urn was used to re-inter bones exhumed from an older cemetery. It was from the grave of Madam Khoo Siok Hui, who died in 1836. Her grave was the oldest among those documented at Bukit Brown. Madam Khoo and her son Chee Yam Chuan were among the early settlers of Singapore. Mr Chee later returned to Malacca and made his fortune in tin mining in Selangor. Today, the Chee Yam Chuan Temple Trust continues to flourish in Malacca and Madam Khoo’s ancestral tablet can be found in the temple. The story behind this family shows the close links between Malacca and Singapore in the early years. It was Raymond Goh who first deciphered the inscription and unraveled  the connection.

Show and Tell 2  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Treasure trove of jade bracelets worn by the women and traditionally buried with their wearers. (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 4  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Descendant Serene Tan of pioneer Tan Quee Lan, gets one for the album when MOS Desmond Lee sportingly agrees to walk with her to visit her “great great grandfather’s road” ( photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 5  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

They were accompanied by a entourage of brownies who have been sharing Serene’s journey of reconnecting with her ancestors since Raymond Goh found the Tan Quee Lan cluster re-interred from another cemetery at Bukit Brown (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

A video at the exhibition features Serene Tan and her family observing the first Qing Ming at Bukit Brown in 2012 after Raymond Goh discovered the cluster of  Tan Quee Lan tombs, and shows how the cluster underwent a renovation makeover by Serene and her cousin LT Tan who met at Bukit Brown itself.  Serene’s story can be read here

The cluster is not affected by highway.

Show and Tell 6  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Brownies, academics, descendants, members of the documentation team at the exhibition (photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

“….to everyone who came and supported the launch, and most importantly, supported us and helped us generously with our research over the last 33 months. One of the purposes of the exhibition is to acknowledge all your contributions and I hope it accomplished that.” Dr Hui Yew- Foong, Curator of Exhibition on a FB posting.

Look out for 2 specially curated walks by the Brownies in conjunction with the exhibition in August (English) and September (Mandarin).

Photos taken of the exhibition courtesy of  Brownie Ang Hock Chuan on Facebook  here

Read more about the exhibition by the Rojak Librarian here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today marks the 70th anniversary of  Lim Bo Seng’s martyrdom (29 Jun 1944)

An excerpt from Singapore war hero Lim Bo Seng’s diary:

“My duty and honour will not permit me to look back. Every day, tens of thousands are dying for their countries. You must not grieve for me. On the other hand, you should take pride in my sacrifice and devote yourself to the upbringing of the children. Tell them what happened to me and direct them along my footsteps.”

Family members attended a remembrance ceremony organised by Changi Museum, at the Kranji War Cemetery this morning.

Read the Today report here

Lim Bo Seng 70th Anniversary _Photo Ang Yik Han

Lim Bo Seng 70th Anniversary . Flowers at his grave in MacRitchie  Reservoir photo Ang Yik Han)

Memorial Service Force 136_Khoo Ee Hoon

Memorial Service for Lim Bo Seng at Kranji War Cemetery (photo_Khoo Ee Hoon )

 

by Norman Cho

Norman Cho_2

The grave of great grand father Cho Boon Poo (photo Norman Cho)

In 2011, I discovered the grave of my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since then, I have been trying to locate the tomb of his father, Cho Boon Poo (Cho Poo), who was laid to rest in Malacca. I had absolutely no clue as to which cemetery he was buried. Bukit Cina and Jelutong cemeteries came to mind but these are huge cemeteries with more than a hundred thousand graves each. They are maintained by the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple but pre-war records are unavailable. It seemed that I had hit a dead-end!

However, miracles do happen. To me, these are little blessings from above. Perhaps, the old man had wanted his descendants to visit him and had influenced how things turned out. It must have been decades since the last time any descendants paid their respects at his tomb. He must have known my sincerity and had helped me along without my knowledge. The breakthrough came in April 2014. A relative whom I had never known, contacted me via Facebook to introduce himself as the maternal great-grandson of Cho Poo, after he had discovered that we have matching ancestors from an online Family Tree software on the internet. 70 year old Vincent Lee was descended from Cho Poo’s eldest son, Cho Kim Choon, while my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong, was the third son. He resides in Australia and was planning a trip down to Singapore in April 2014. He requested my assistance to put him in touch with the relatives in Singapore.

It turned out to be a blessing for me! I talked to my eldest aunt, Rose Cho (88 years old), to ask for the contacts of other relatives from the Cho clan. That was how I found aunt Elizabeth Cho (62 years old), who was the only child from the fifth son, Cho Kim Hock, a famed state badminton player for Malacca in the 1930s. We organised a dinner for our overseas relative and his wife. During dinner, I had a nice chat with Elizabeth – whom the family affectionately calls Bert – about Cho Poo. She told me that her only visit to his grave was when she was a child of 9 years old. That was more than 50 years ago! Her father who was the only surviving son at that time dreamt of his father asking him why he had not visited him in such a long time. Heeding the call, he brought his wife and daughter to pay their respects to his father. Since then, he had visited the grave alone every year till several years before his death in 1990.

Aunt Elizabeth, had the memory of an elephant! She vividly recalled that the cemetery was about a 40-minutes-drive from the Malacca Town, but had no inkling about the name of the cemetery. She further described that the cemetery was sliced into two by the main road, there was a cemetery on the left and another on the right, and Cho Poo’s was on the right. The tomb was relatively large and on a gentle-sloping plain. It faced a vast and beautiful paddy field. She added that the cemetery was on the land which once belonged to Cho Poo and was probably the private burial ground of the Cho family. Later, when the family was not doing well financially, it was sold to the Malacca’s Eng Choon Hway Kwan and it became a cemetery for the Eng Choon community. She thinks that the tomb should still be there, given the leisurely pace of development in Malaysia. She asked if I would be able to find the tomb. I told her that I could try. All her clues were useful, except for the paddy field. I told her that I doubt the paddy field in her memory still exists. Nevertheless, I took whatever clues that I could use and converted them into intelligent information.

Firstly, I eliminated Bukit Cina as it was near Malacca Town and therefore could not be a 40-minutes-drive. Next, I looked at the map of Jelutong cemetery but it was not sliced into two by any road. I asked a few Malaccan friends of other lesser-known cemeteries and searched the Google Map for them. Finally, I found a relatively small cemetery, probably no larger than 20 acres, which was dissected by a main road. It was away from the Malacca Town and would probably take about 30 minutes to get there by car. This was the Krubong Cemetery. To be certain that I had located the correct cemetery, I contacted a Malaccan friend who verified that this cemetery is indeed managed and owned by the Eng Choon Hway Kwan. He helped me to obtain the mobile contact of the tomb-keeper to locate the grave. With modern technology, I communicated with the tomb-keeper via Whatsapp to economize on the phone bill. Amazingly, he found the tomb the very next day. The search was completed successfully in less than a week since I started piecing the information together!

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Locating Krubong Cemetery in Malaya on Google Map ( photo Norman Cho)

I informed aunt Elizabeth who was extremely excited and delighted with the news. We decided to go on a trip to Malacca to pay our respects to our common ancestor, Cho Boon Poo. He was the first ancestor who came to this part of the world to carve a better life for himself and his family. By braving the elements to come to the land across the Southern Seas, he had changed his destiny and that of all his descendants. It was through sheer grit and hard work that he built a successful business and owned vast plantations in Malacca and Seremban dealing in palm leaves, gambier, tapioca and rubber. We all had to be grateful to him for being able to lead good lives in Malaya and Singapore for six generations and counting. He married nyonya wives and that was how my Peranakan roots came about. Being a strict father, all his children were well-brought up and a few of his descendants took on key positions in the civil service.

I was told how strict he was about punctuality. The family would have dinner at 7pm sharp and everyone was expected at the table. Nobody could join in once dinner was served. If you missed dinner, it meant that there would be no dinner for you. During one occasion, his fourth son, Kim Tian came home late but the kind servant saved some food for him. When found out, the servant was sacked. He had a strong character and was on the board of the executive committee of the Eng Choon Hway Kwan.

We arrived at his grave on the morning of 23 June 2014 and I noticed that his tomb was the largest amongst the 50-odd tombs in the vicinity.

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Among the largest grave in the area (photo Norman Cho)

What captivated me were the Peranakan tiles (Majolica tiles) which adorned his tomb. No other tombs in the surrounding area had this feature. I was told that having Peranakan tiles on the tombs was not widely popular with the Malaccans. Unlike in Singapore, figurines of the Golden Boy and Jade Maiden were conspicuously absent in Malaccan tombs of even the very wealthy. The tomb used to face water-filled paddy fields which are supposed to be auspicious – water and rice. Unfortunately the paddy fields had since given way to modern development. Cho Poo’s tomb seems to be steep in Fengshui elements : the front courtyard of the tomb forms part of a hexagon instead of the normal rectangle or semi-circle. Along the perimeter of the front courtyard lies a water catchment channel which would collect water when it rains. This had since been covered with soil. The tomb shoulders are angular but eventually taper to form convoluting arms that seem to embrace the courtyard. Likely, it symbolizes a firm hold on wealth.Through the tomb inscriptions, I found the names of one of his wives (Lee Hong Neo) and that of the male descendants – sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons! He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1930. My aunt offered joss-sticks and joss-paper as a form of respect to our ancestor.

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(photo Norman Cho)

This trip has been very fruitful not only about finding out more about Cho Poo and paying our respects to him, but it has built a closer bond between aunt Elizabeth, her husband and I, even though we had known each other only recently.

More on Norman Cho’s journey of discovery, here

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Family photo taken with the tomb-keeper. (L-R): Norman Cho, Elizabeth Cho-Tan, Peter Tan, Tomb-keeper Liow. (photo Norman Cho)

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The shrine of the Earth Deity for the tomb (Norman Cho)

 

 

 

“Moving House”

The Story behind the Painting

 by Alvin Ong

The story of 3 affected graves at Bukit Brown not too long ago inspired a revival of family interest; Tan Yong Chuan (Blk 4, Div C), Tan Tiam Tee (Blk 3, Div B), Wee Geok Eng Neo (Blk 4, Div 6) were exhumed in May 2014. Old photos were unearthed from family albums, and heirloom objects from another era suddenly came to light. For the first time in decades, stories and narratives unlocked themselves from these objects and brought new layers of meaning to the notions of home and identity.

Tan Tiam Tee was the son of the magnate Tan Hoon Chiang (buried in Bukit China, Malacca), one of the founders of the Straits Steamship Co. His wife, Wee Geok Eng Neo, and his son, Tan Yong Chuan were all affected by the proposed highway.

(click on images for a bigger view)

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Funeral of Wee Geok Eng Neo, nee Mrs Tan Tiam Tee. Upper Thompson Rd, 1926. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Funeral of Tan Tiam Tee, 1930. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Funeral of Tan Yong Chuan, died age 29, 26 November 1937, Neil Road (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

 

Funeral of Tan Yong Chuan, died age 29, 26 November 1937, Neil Road. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Descendants at the tomb of Tan Tiam Tee, holding his portrait during Cheng Beng -tomb sweeping festival, 2012 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Descendants at the tomb of Tan Yong Chuan, Cheng Beng-tombsweeping festival , 2012 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

Miniature cooking pots were interred in Mrs Tan Tiam Tee’s tomb, presumably for her to cook in the afterlife, along with a pearl sanggul, and bracelets. According to my relatives, a set of gold teeth with an engraved heart shape was also found in Tan Yong Chuan’s tomb.

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Tan Yong Chuan (son of Mr and Mrs Tan Tian Tee) was finally reunited with his wife for the first time in Holy Family Columbarium after 77 years. The columbarium has an unusual regulation that all photos of the deceased must be in color.

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Original photo of newly-wedded Tan Yong Chuan and his wife. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

No color photographs of the deceased had existed at that time, so with the help of numerous correspondences, scans were digitally emailed, and the photos doctored and hand-painted.

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Painted portrait of Maria Anna Seet Chow Neo by Artist (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Painted Portrait of Tan Yong Chuan by Artist (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Reunited Mr. & Mrs Tan Yong Huan (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

 

Studying overseas has allowed the artist the space, physically and emotionally, to explore ideas of home and identity. These graves were only re-discovered shortly after the redevelopment plans were announced. The sight of the many abandoned tombs on the artist’s first visit to Bukit Brown had sparked questions about what happened to the descendants of the people who were interred there, which in turn, prompted the artist to explore if there were indeed any family connections to the cemetery at all. Beyond the historical and material significance of the place, it also felt like a site where mystery, the past, and present all came together. Reuniting with the tombs for the first time in many years became an emotional moment for some, and it also made us feel as though we have touched history, an experience that is becoming exceptionally rare in Singapore.

These were ideas that all came together in the painting, which were almost auto-biographical in that they featured vignettes of the artist’s experience with the discovery of the pioneers of Singapore and his roots. One random memory was a trek with Raymond Goh to Seah Eu Chin’s grave; One of the Teochew stone lions guarding the perimeter of the tomb eventually found its way into the picture. Raymond was featured in the early stages of the work, but in the end, this idea of displacement, loss and discovery surfaced in the final version titled, “Moving House”.

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“Work in progress” by artist Alvin Ong (image courtesy of the artist)

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Final work, “Moving House”, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 61cm (courtesy of Alvin Ong

This is not the end of the road. There is yet another tomb whose story remains waiting to be told, my maternal great grandfather, Peck Mah Hoe, pictured here. The artist will be heading to the Peck clan temple in attempt to uncover more. And hopefully, there will be more paintings to come.

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The grave of the artist’s maternal great grandfather, Peck Mah Hoe(photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Stele in Peck clan temple with the name “Peck Mah Hoe” at the top, although the character for “Hoe” differs from the one on the tomb. Photo courtesy of Yik Han.

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About  the writer who is an  artist :

Alvin Ong is reading fine art in Oxford, and did architecture at the National University of Singapore. In 2004, he was the youngest winner of the UOB painting of the year award at the age of 16. He had his first solo exhibition at 17, in the presence of His Excellency President S R Nathan.

 

 

 

 

 by Ang Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) photo Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) (photo Yik Han)

Born in Kulangsu Island off Amoy, Chua Chwee Oh came to Singapore at the age of 14. He studied till 17 or 18, after which he went into business. Beginning with trading between Singapore and Medan, he founded the firm Hock Heng in 1920 which had branches in Rangoon, Annam and other cities. It dealt mainly in local produce like dried fish and provisions. The biggest segment of his business was in French-controlled Annam, followed by British Malaya and the Dutch Indies. He was the second chairman of the Amoy Association (1940-1941) after its founding, and also a chairman of the Goh Loo Club.

Active in the China Relief Fund’s efforts in raising funds to support the Chinese forces against the Japanese, he was known for donating $100,000 single-handedly under his firm’s name. He also encouraged others to contribute by setting an example when the need arose. It must have been a bitter blow for him during the Japanese Occupation when he was forced to join the Hokkien section of the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA), the umbrella body set up by the Japanese to force the Chinese community to pay war reparations.

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) 1 photo Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) (photo Yik Han)

Chua Chwee Oh died in 1960 at the age of 64. His first wife Mdm Tan passed away at the young age of 32 and is buried together with him. His second wife was Mdm Ng. The place of origin inscribed on his tombstone is “Si Ming” (思明), another name for Amoy coined by Koxinga when the island was his base of operations against the encroaching Qing forces. This name evokes Koxinga’s longing for the glory days of the Han Chinese Emperors in the  Ming Dynasty. Barred from use after the Qing Dynasty consolidated its control over all of China, this place name was revived after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown.

The tomb is at Hill 3, about 10m behind and to the left (facing uphill) of Tan Boo Liat’s tomb.

 

Tan Ean Teck  (1902-1944)

Tan Ean Teck (photo: Family Archives)

Tan Ean Teck (photo: Family Archives)

According to “Biographies of Famous Personalities in the Nanyang,” Tan Ean Teck came to Singapore from Tong Ann, China at the age of 16. He worked for about four years in his brother’s (Tan Ean Kiam) company before striking out on his own,  setting up  his own rubber trading firm.

He was a strong supporter of the anti-Japanese war effort in China, and contributed to charitable causes in both China and other lands. He also contributed to the Hokkien Huay Kuan, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Tong Ann District Guild, as well as many schools and social institutions,

But Tan Ean Teck’s life was tragically gunned down when he became a casualty of WW 2. On 19 April, 1944, the MPAJA (Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army)  ambushed officials of the OCA ( Overseas Chinese Association)  en route to visit the Chinese settlement of Endau in Johor.

A member of the OCA convoy,  captures vividly what happened:

Extract:: Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier: The Reminiscences of Dr. Yap Pheng Geck

Extract:: Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier: The Reminiscences of Dr. Yap Pheng Geck

Tan Ean Teck’s body was taken back to Singapore and  4 days later on 23ed April , he was buried in Bukit Brown, close to his brother Tan Ean Kiam.  He was 42 years old.

Tan Ean Teck (photo Raymond Goh)

Tan Ean Teck (photo Raymond Goh)

Prologue: Endau and World War II

In August 1943, in order to ease the food shortage problem in Singapore, the Japanese authorities mooted the idea of setting up new settlements outside Singapore and encouraging Singaporeans to relocate to these settlements to cultivate the land there. These settlements were planned to become self-sufficient in food supply. A settlement was created for Chinese settlers at Endau in Johore. (Source: Iinfopedia)

From Alex Tan Tiong  Hee

My understanding, based on my late father’s (Tan Yeok Seong)  account:

The OCA was not popular with the anti-Japanese elements that went underground to survive. Those living an open unconcealed life in public were natural targets for the Kempeitai who sought revenge against the Chinese, hence the pogrom.

The pacification of Japanese antagonism was the OCA’s raison d’etre and which had to be traded by the raising of $50million from the Chinese community as a gift for the Japanese emperor’s approaching birthday. This being done, the persecution or ‘sook ching’ then ended.

The communist terrorists were enterprising enough to merge with the anti-Japanese underground group to form the MPAJA. They accused the OCA as collaborators and monitored the Endau Project. Their opportunity came when they ambushed and fired at a convoy killing all except Lee Choon Seng who was Vice President of the OCA.

The $50 million ( Tan Yeok Seong family archives)

The $50 million “ransom”( Tan Yeok Seong family archives)

Extract from Collaboration during the Japanese Occupation : Issues and Problems focusing on the Chinese Community by Han Ming Guang (Hons thesis for history):

Even though Endau was administered by the Chinese, the fact that it was sponsored by the Japanese military and established by the O.C.A whom the MPAJA saw as an organisation of collaborators, meant that the Chinese administrators that administered the settlement were now targets for the MPAJA guerrillas. The MPAJA guerrillas ambushed the O.C.A officials that were on their way to visit Endau and in the process wounded Mr Lee Choon Seng, the chairman of the Overseas Banking Corporation. They also managed to kill Mr Wong Tatt Seng, who was in-charge of maintaining peace and order within the settlement, along with other Chinese administrators who were also living in Endau at the time of the attacks.

While it was clear that the MPAJA viewed the members of the O.C.A as well as the Chinese leaders of Endau as collaborators and traitors, in general the people who were living in Endau did not share those views. They understood that the Endau plan was conceived by the O.C.A and Mamoru Shinozaki in order to save Chinese lives from the dreaded Kempeitai , by giving the Chinese community a piece of land in Johore, for them to live separately and free from the Japanese military.

Pat Lin on life in Endau:

According to my parents, Maggie Lim and Lim Hong Bee (H.B. Lim) both of whom were actively involved with the MPAJA in the Endau settlement (Yes, I was there too) there were people in the OCA who were what we may today call double agents. They included some very prominent local people who on the surface professed to be anti-Japanese, but who were informers who were usually rewarded by the Japanese.

As with the French resistance, it was a very difficult time as people all lived under a climate of uncertainty as to who was about to betray them to the Japanese. My mother also had her suspicions as to those who carried out the covert assassination of informers.

She has a vivid story of having to deal with someone who was brought into the Endau clinic (she was the Endau doctor) one evening with a bullet in his head. As a physician she was duty bound to do everything to save him. She was filled with the reluctance to do anything as it was known by the Endau leadership that he fed information to the Japanese that led to people being taken away for execution or disappearing suddenly. Possession of any sort of weapons was punishable by death, but people like my father possessed hand guns that they somehow received from some source and were very carefully hidden.

Endau was located in healthier environs and there were more people who managed to make a go of farming. The staples were kangkong and ubi kayu. My little family brought chickens up from Singapore piled up In chicken coops on top of a lorry. Some of them ran off into the jungle, and others fell prey to wild animals. Wild animals including roaming tigers were a real threat.

The first year in Endau and Bahau were particularly bad before the first harvests. OCA members from Singapore would make periodic visits with whatever they could scrounge up including medicines. Some within the community tried being entrepreneurial by trying to sell black market food stuffs they somehow managed to obtain. Mom recalled being so hungry from having to work and nurse me but my father being ever the man of high ethical standards refused to allow the purchasing of black market goods.

An Epilogue on a Life Miraculously Saved

The metal badge of the OSA worn on the chest, deflected the bullet  that could have fatally wounded  the Vice President of the OSA,  Lee Choon Seng. He believed he was saved for a reason and his life took on a spiritual quest in the aftermath of war. Lee Choon Seng subsequently founded the Poh Ern Shih to  dedicate merits to people killed during the occupation. His grandson transfromed the monastery into Singapore’s first green temple.

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Editor’s Acknowledgement : This blog post is a compilation of first hand accounts and research from the  Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown  Facebook Community.

 

 

by Ang Yik Han

白心正, Pek Sim Jia (photo Yik Han)

白心正, Pek Sim Jia (photo Yik Han)

The tomb  of 白心正 (probably Pek Sim Jia in romanised Hokkien) at Hill 3. Hailing from Anxi (安溪 – An-khoe) county of Fujian, he was the proprietor of Pek Sam Choon (白三春) -  a tea importer who was one of the founding members of the Singapore Chinese Tea Importers and Exporters’ Association in 1928.

No longer in operation today, the firm was known to still exist in the 1950s when it was run by one of his sons, Thiam Hock, whose name appears on his tombstone. As Anxi county is famed for producing tea especially Ti Kuan Yin (铁观音), a sizable proportion of local Chinese tea merchants hail from that county. Some old firms founded before the war are still around today.

advertisement for Pek Sam Choon in the 30th anniversary commemorative publication of Singapore Ann Kway Association 1952

Advertisement for Pek Sam Choon in the 30th anniversary commemorative publication of Singapore Ann Kway Association 1952

Registered trademarks of Pek Sam Choon (ST 12 Dec 1931)

Registered trademarks of Pek Sam Choon (ST 12 Dec 1931)

 

By Claire Leow

This week marks the second anniversary of this blog, started to support a volunteer effort to raise awareness of Bukit Brown’s intrinsic value: its heritage, habitat and history. More importantly, it marks the 72th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore to Japanese occupation during World War II. The two anniversaries dovetailed neatly as All Things Bukit Brown hosted a special tour to mark the Remembrance of the War Dead, tracing the routes of the Japanese advance and the British retreat to defend the city as the battle spilled over from Bukit Timah and Adam Park to Sime Road and into the cemetery grounds, a prelude to dreaded hand-to-hand combat in the thick forest. This is the battle at Bukit Brown in the last hours before the fall of the “Impregnable Fortress” that was Singapore, the jewel of the British empire. James Tann contributed a moving chronology of events.

 

battlefield: where the dead lay (Photo: Claire Leow)

battlefield: where the dead lay (Photo: Claire Leow)

 

On Feb 15, 2014, we were able to guide 55 participants in an energising walk to retrace the steps of the soldiers as Bukit Brown is unique as a battle site from WWII that is still largely intact, according to the findings of battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper, who serendipitously landed in Singapore to find himself living at Adam Park, the site of a battle and near to the Sime Road prisoners-of-war (POW) camp during Japanese Occupation (February 1942 to September 1945). This has enabled Jon to advance his research and fieldwork, reinforcing the historic value of the endangered heritage site, as the government has started its project to exhume more than 4,000 graves to make way for an 8-lane highway despite arguments for alternatives.

In January last year, we discovered his research had taken him to Bukit Brown and collaborated with him to start battlefield tours and talks.

 

The building that was the Japanese headquarters still stands today (Photo: Claire Leow)

The building that was the Japanese headquarters still stands today (Photo: Claire Leow)

 

 

Indeed as exhumations started in recent months, Jon accelerated his search for missing soldiers, initially the nine missing Suffolks soldiers. His research recently led him to archival materials from a Reverend Eric Cordingly about a massacre of five Indian soldiers, with burial records that they were laid to rest at a now-defunct village on the outskirts of Bukit Brown. Their last known resting place is unknown.

As Jon writes, “it was noted in the initial report that we only had details for missing Suffolk men and that most likely there are many more of other units who could have gone missing on Bukit Brown. This addendum to the report is a great case in point. Here we have independent reports which tie in nicely with the existing documents and shed light on more missing soldiers. The fact that they were Indian troops reminds us of the global heritage that is encompassed in this battlefield site. Also the suggestion that men were rounded up bound together and then shot is a vivid reminder that the Kheam Hock road was a scene of one of the horrific atrocities that were taking place across the island at the time.”

 

Fig 2 – The six figure grid reference for the burial site of the executed Indians (815143) places the grave at the southern foot of Hill 130 within the village.

Fig 2 – The six figure grid reference for the burial site of the executed Indians (815143) places the grave at the southern foot of Hill 130 within the village.

 

Tomorrow, February 18, marks the 72th anniversary of the start of the Sook Ching massacre, after the Japanese forces conducted an island-wide scourge to execute able-bodied  Chinese men aged 18 to 50, partly in revenge for the overseas Chinese support during the Sino-Japanese war. There are no records of the final numbers killed but the official estimate stands at 50,000 men.

 

15 February 1942: The British surrender Singapore to Japan. (Photo: Imperial War Museum, London)

15 February 1942: The British surrender Singapore to Japan. (Photo: Imperial War Museum, London)

 

Chinese males rounded up an interrogated by Kempeitai (Asia Pacific Journal)

 

Grace Seah is one of many descendants of the victims of Sook Ching, as she tells here in this blog post, Sook Ching: Our Loss, of how her uncle Tan Kim Cheng failed to heed her father’s plea to flee. Our tours to the ornate tombs of Tok Cheng Tuan and his widow Oon Tuan Cheng always moved participants, in a personal tragedy in reported in “Oon Tuan Cheng: A Life of Loss” as a young widow with six children to raise, only to lose her sons to Sook Ching. A young lady Soh Koon Eng was cut down in her prime in a bomb raid. Her story was brought to light after a niece opened up to the volunteers. These are moving stories of the civilians caught up in the throes of war.

 

Tan Kim Cheng - Civilian War Victim

Tan Kim Cheng – Civilian War Victim

 

Tok Kim Seng (Photo: family archives)

Tok Kim Seng (Photo: family archives)

 

Tok Kim Choon (Photo: family archives)

Tok Kim Choon (Photo: family archives)

 

Among the most wanted on the Sook Ching list was Wong Chin Yoke. Wong, a decorated police inspector (he received the Coronation Medal) who had escaped Singapore with 10 men before the fall in 1942, fleeing to Indonesia to start an underground resistance movement. He was betrayed and then caught and eventually killed by Japanese in 1943. His body was whisked away by a friend from the Japanese Military hospital and buried. It was not for another 11 years before this war hero was re-interred in Singapore. Nonetheless, his remains were buried with full police honours in Bukit Brown on 21st September 1954. Suitably, a fearsome pair of Sikh guards stands guard at his tomb. They never fail to wow visitors.

 

A striking Sikh guard at Wing Chin Yoke's final resting place (Photo: Amardeep Singh)

A striking Sikh guard at Wing Chin Yoke’s final resting place (Photo: Amardeep Singh)

 

Next on the most wanted list was another war hero, Tay Koh Yat, a community leader. Tay was admired for his patriotism and daring-do in leading a 20,000-strong self-defence force which he formed just before the Japanese invasion to aid those injured by the Japanese air raids. His rallying cry was “20,000 people, one heart.”  The force helped to maintain order and prevent panic and chaos  as people started to flee the country with the invasion of the Japanese forces.

Tay stood his ground until the eleventh hour and fled to Indonesia to escape certain death only on the eve of the fall of Singapore. After the war, Tay returned and immediately started to compile the fatalities from his volunteer force and lobbied the colonial government for the same compensation given to widows and children of servicemen who died during the war. Tay next went on to form the Singapore Chinese Appeal Committee for the Japanese Massacre victims to seek justice and compensation for the estimated 50,000 people massacred. In March 10, 1947, the War tribunal committee found Lieutenant General Kawamura Saburo, Singapore garrison commander and Lieutenant Colonel Oishi Masayuki Kempeitai commander guilty of war crimes and sentenced them to hang.

Tay was one of only six people to witness their execution; such was his standing in the community. And, on seeing the two generals, he burst out in anger and sorrow: You have committed big sins and really deserve to die, but even when your soul descends to hell to suffer further punishment,  still it is not enough to atone for your sins.”

His great granddaughter Jaime Ho read of his exploits on this blog and wrote her of her mother’s emotion. It was equally prescient that as we ended our tour at Tay’s tomb, the Civil Defence siren went off at noon, very similar to the air raid sirens that haunted Singapore in 1941 and 1942. We held a minute of silence for Tay.

There were notable volunteers, such as Tan Chow Kim, one of the original members of the Singapore Voluntary Infantry (S.V.I) , a company within the Singapore Volunteer Corps. Another was  Tan Huck Wan, a Corporal of the Singapore Voluntary Field Ambulance, Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, who probably died as a prisoner of war on 31st May 1944. That same year, his daughter Ruby Tan died on the 26th Oct 1944. She was only 6 months old. His widow had to raise two sons alone. (Sadly, both father and daughter have been exhumed to make way for the highway.)

The losses were great during the war. Many died in unmarked tombs. Norman Cho found his grandfather’s grave after 66 years, and retells the story of a man of wealth and repute who lost his fortune during the war. Though Cho Kim Leong survived the occupation, he died a broken man mere months after Singapore was liberated. His bereft widow was too impoverished, a single mother with two young sons, and had no money for a tomb. Norman built a tomb for his grandfather only in 2012.

Many others are remembered only as burial entries which record that “SMC” (Singapore Municipal Council) trucks dumped their bodies in trenches at Bukit Brown in March and April. It is not clear how they died. We are still searching for these mass graves.

 

Tombkeeper Chua has spoken of seeing mass graves for the war dead (photo: Claire Leow)

Tombkeeper Chua has spoken of seeing mass graves for the war dead (photo: Claire Leow)

 

***

From the civilian defence force to the police force, community leaders to defenceless civilians, many were felled during the war. Families suffered. Children died premature deaths. Poverty, disease and malnutrition were rife.

Bukit Brown is not just another cemetery. It is the final resting place of pioneers from the 1830s right up to victims of the war in the 1940s. It represents universal heritage and a reminder of our frailty and also a measure of our resilience.

The volunteers have now guided more than 10,000 visitors to Bukit Brown. As much as this is a testimony to the dedication of these amateur historians and researchers, it is a greater testimony to the intrinsic value of Bukit Brown as a repository of historical artifacts and resources as well as heritage values. It would not have been possible to move so many with mere passion. Once there, the participants recognise immediately the natural serenity and lushness of the habitat, bird calls rising from the forests. With the aid of some story-telling, the meanings of the sculptures, inscriptions, motifs and tomb designs become clear.

With research comes deeper knowledge of the lives and times of those interred there, a story arc of Singapore from the early years, through good times and bad. Fortunes were made and lost. Lives ordinary and deeds extraordinary came to pass. It would be a great loss to the nation and to students of history to have Bukit Brown lost to a highway and housing.

 

Bukit Brown landscapes III (Photo: Ang Hock Chuan)

 

Bio:

Claire PortraitClaire is a co-founder of All Things Bukit Brown. Her grandfather survived the Sook Ching massacre.

 

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