3. Tan Chong Tee
Tan Chong Tee (left) with the more well-known Lim Bo Seng (right) during a Force 136 training. He is basically Singapore’s James Bond, because he assumed the cover of a rich businessman to carry out his espionage activities.
As a student in China, Tan actively participated in anti-Japanese activities such as boycotting Japanese goods since the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.
In 1942, he was recruited by Tan Chong Chew to join a special training camp and participate in the British counter-offensive programme, known as Force 136.
After his training in India, Tan was sent to infiltrate into Malaya to liaise with a group of guerrillas from the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). He was then assigned to operate as a spy under the cover of Tan Tien Soong, a rich businessman, to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment via economic sabotage.
Tan’s identity was eventually revealed after intense investigations by the Japanese Military Police (Kempeitai) and he was arrested on 26 March 1944.
He spent the next 18 months in captivity and had to endure harsh interrogation and torture by the Japanese. He held his silence and never provided information about Force 136 and his comrades.
On 24 April, he was transferred to the Batu Gajah Prison with Lim Bo Seng — who eventually succumbed to the mistreatment and died in this prison.
In February 1945, as the Japanese Occupation was ending, Tan and his comrades were planning a jailbreak that never took place because the Japanese had surrendered on 14 August 1945.
After the war, he received several medals and accolades including a certificate of service by Order of the British Empire in recognition for his efforts. Tan eventually became a businessman and retired in 1985.
In 1994, he wrote a memoir on his experiences with Force 136. He passed away on 24 November 2012 at the age of 96.
4. Arthur Ernest Percival
If the name sounds familiar to you, you probably know him from your Singapore history textbook.
He is the circled man in this iconic photo of the British surrendering Singapore to the Japanese at the Old Ford Factory.
General Arthur Percival was the General Commanding Officer of the British Empire troops in Singapore during the Battle of Singapore. He surrendered Singapore to the Japanese a week into the Battle of Singapore.
General Percival will be the most controversial addition to this list, since he was the general who surrendered Singapore.
But if we consider his position, General Percival was actually a hero for doing all that he could for Singapore.
Before General Percival had accepted the appointment as the General Commanding Officer in Malaya on 1941, he had already seen bad omens.
In going to Malaya I realised that there was the double danger either of being left in an inactive command for some years if war did not break out in the East or, if it did, of finding myself involved in a pretty sticky business with the inadequate forces which are usually to be found in the distant parts of our Empire in the early stages of a war.
– General Arthur Ernest Percival
He was made a Scapegoat
When Singapore fell to the Japanese, General Percival was the most convenient scapegoat for the fingers of critics to point to.
1. His Looks
General Percival towered at six feet in height and was a lanky man. He had a straight moustache, two protruding teeth, and was rather unphotogenic.
There was no doubt his (General Percival) presentation lacked impact as “his manner was low key and he was a poor public speaker with the cusp of a lisp.
– Clifford Kinvig
Scapegoat: General Percival and the fall of Singapore
His awkward appearance made it easy for critics to attach the reputation of being ineffective, lacking aggression, bravery, and determination on him.
2. His Superiors weren’t very good
General Percival’s request for reinforcement of war machines were constantly rejected by his superiors in the United Kingdom (UK).
When the Japanese invaded Malaya with over two hundred tanks, General Percival’s forces did not have a single armoured tank.
His superior in the British Far East Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, was not helpful either. Sir Brooke-Popham had a reputation of being inattentive at meetings and not being able to secure the reinforcements required to defend Malaya.
General Percival’s request to advance into neutral Thailand in preparation for the imminent arrival of the Japanese troops was also denied from the UK.
Nonetheless, General Percival displayed heroic acts after he had surrendered Singapore to the Japanese.
1. He did not run away
Despite knowing that Singapore was a lost cause; General Percival was told a day before the surrender that ammunition and water supplies were running out. He did not take the chance to flee Singapore unlike some of his subordinates such as General Gordon Bennett.
Upon signing the surrender terms with General Yamashita, the Commanding Officer of the Japanese troops, General Percival made sure that the Japanese couldn’t run amok by insisting that the British keep 1,000 men under arms in Singapore to preserve order. General Yamashita concede and granted General Percival that wish.
2. He kept the hopes of POWs high
When Singapore fell, General Percival was taken as a Prisoner Of War (POW), he had routinely shared his feelings with his fellow POWs in hope of boosting their morale.
With the desire to keep his fellow prisoners’ hopes and discipline high, he reconstituted a Malaya Command that was completed with staff appointments and occupy their time with lectures on history lessons that he taught personally.
3. He sent a “message” to General Yamashita on Singapore’s behalf
After the war, General Percival returned to the Philippines to witness the surrender of the Japanese army. In a coincidence, General Yamashita was the commanding officer for the Japanese to complete the surrender in Philippines.
General Percival refused to shake General Yamashita’s hand, angered by the mistreatment of people in Singapore under the Japanese.
General Percival is a Singapore hero in the sense that he did whatever he could to defend Singapore. Although Singapore fell, General Percival certainly did tried his best.