The NewEurasian magazine July - September 2015
COVER STORY – World War II: A Eurasian perspective
This September marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia. Some Eurasian survivors look back at that dark period in the nation’s history and explain how it has influenced their view of the world today
For most Singaporeans, World War II remains a forgotten period relegated to history. These days, we have cordial relations with our previous enemies, trade with them and visit their countries on holiday. Yet for some of our senior citizens, memories of the war remain vivid and form part of their own life story.
The Fall of Singapore to the Japanese took place on 15 February 1942. The island was renamed Syonan-To (Light of the South). Singapore became caught up in a war that in Asia was mainly between the British Commonwealth and Japanese. It ended after the signing of the Instrument of Surrender in Singapore on 12 September 1945. The war was one of the most definitive events in Singapore’s history; a period of hardship, confusion and painful memories.
While it is inevitable and right that we have moved on, we forget history at our peril. We talk to some Eurasians who remember the war about what it taught them.
Police inspector Halford Boudewyn escaped imprisonment by sheer chance. Fair-skinned Eurasian officers were all made prisoners of war (POWs) but being tanned and looking more ‘local’ he escaped the scrutiny of the Japanese army when they took control of the island. As his wife Tess, explains: “He used to tell me that he was happy that years of playing hockey had darkened his skin and this saved him from the prison walls.”
Halford soon joined an Allied spy ring and, working in disguise as a vegetable seller, he would supply produce for Indian Army POWs held in a camp in Upper Serangoon. But his real mission was to smuggle out handwritten copies of documents containing important details about the Japanese plans to invade India. He continued doing this for several months until all the intelligence needed was in the hands of the Allies. With his help, the 1944 Japanese invasion of India was repulsed.
During the Occupation years, Singapore was isolated from the outside world and Halford saw how the morale of the people was affected by the constant Japanese propaganda. Risking his life, he monitored news from a foreign radio station, which at that time was an offence punishable by death. He wrote his own news updates focussing on Allied victories in the Pacific and using an agar agar press – a crude printing method he learnt in school – he pasted these notices at bus stops and on lamp posts so that the people would know that the Allies were slowly winning the war. This boosted the spirits of his fellow countrymen.
Reinstated into the police force after the war, he received the rare Colonial Police Medal (Silver) by the British government in 1948 for his help during the war. Tess describes her late husband, whose career in the police force took him to the position of deputy superintendent, as a delightful and very charitable man who even offered shelter to homeless people. She says that despite his haunting memories, Halford had never wanted to migrate, insisting that Singapore was his home and he would always be happiest here.
Two years before his death in 1998, he asked his wife to help him type up his memories, which he hoped could be turned into a book one day. For many years, Tess was unable to find an author but last year, in The NewEurasian, she read a story on author David Miller, who was looking to document such local stories. And this year, on 11 April, the book, DutyBound – A Singapore War Hero Remembered, was launched at the Senior Police Officer’s Mass, attended by more than 150 people, who turned up to honour the late senior police officer and his contributions to Singapore during the Japanese Occupation.
David, a former newspaper correspondent, takes up the story: “Halford was one of Singapore’s few war heroes and yet up to that point in time, very little was known about him,” he says. Using Boudewyn’s notes as a basic framework for the book, he undertook the real challenge of verifying the information and completing the story with historical accuracy. For David, one of the most significant aspects of the book was the nightmares that Halford suffered for many years after the war.
David says: “Post-traumatic stress disorder was quite unrecognised at that time. It offers a very personal dimension to the book.” David has also recorded the story of his own Eurasian family’s experiences in Bahau during the war, in his book, Bahau, the Elephant & the Ham, and believes that the two books offer different perspectives of the trauma endured by the Eurasian community at that time. He says: “There is no doubt that Eurasians suffered considerably because of racial bias by the Japanese.”
He says: “As a small founding community, we have retained the essence of what makes us unique – from our food, to our traditions, to our stories of Halford Boudewyn and many others. We owe a duty to our future generations to record and share with them the struggles of our past even as we look forward with confidence to the future of our nation.”
Lianhe Zaobao (Singapore) 13th April 2015
|Former newspaper correspondent writes |
a book on war spy hero
(Caption) Tess Boudewyn, wife of Singapore World War II hero Halford Boudewyn, expresses her warm thanks to family and friends who showed up to support the launch of the book. (Chen Fuzhou photo)
By Chen Ye Wen
During World War II he worked in disguise to sneak into a Japanese prisoner of war camp to help steal intelligence documents for the Allies. Enduring mental torture from his actions, he would often wake up screaming from nightmares.
Not many people know that Singapore also has its own 007 spy – unsung war hero Halford Boudewyn. Today, the legendary story of the late Boudewyn has finally been written in the book so that future generations can recall his thrilling experience during his career as an Allied spy.
The book in English called DutyBound – A Singapore War Hero Remembered was launched on Saturday (April 11 2015) at Senior Police Officers' Mess in Mount Pleasant. More than 150 relatives, friends and retired police officers showed up to support the book launch. Responsible for writing this book was a former correspondent for The Straits Times David Miller. He took six months to complete the book based on notes Boudewyn left behind before he passed away.
The heroic deeds
In Miller's eyes, he was most impressed by the story of Boudewyn posing as a vegetable seller to sneak into the Indian National Army POW camp to steal the Japanese attack documents for their proposed invasion of India. Boudewyn was only 22 years old at the time. Boudewyn says Miller never thought about the consequences of being caught by the Japanese. If he stopped to think about it too much, he may not have dared to accept those tasks at the risk of losing his life but he felt it was his duty to help.
Born in 1920, Boudewyn worked as a police Inspector before World War II. During Japanese Occupation of Singapore, he took a job working for the Japanese administration here while secretly gathering intelligence for the Allies. He died in 1998. Miller based his book on the lifetime memoirs Boudewyn left behind along with his interviews of his wife Tess, to complete the novel.
|Retired Police Assistant Commissioner Melvin |
Yong (right) now a Member of Parliament with
author David Miller at the launch of DutyBound
Among his exploits Boudewyn also snuck into a civilian prison located in Bukit Timah where people suspected of being anti-Japanese were imprisoned. There he delivered potential intelligence about the war, brought food and told them that the war will end soon, encouraging them not to give up.
Boudewyn married his wife Tee soon after the war in 1946. She recalled the war nightmares he endured at night screaming in bed. His violent shaking of the bed caused it to break and the mattress had to be propped up with a box. Fortunately he did recover a little from his post-war trauma.
Said Miller: "Singapore’s World War II generation is getting older. If we do not record their heroic deeds, these may soon be lost. As Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, we should not forget all of those who fought for the country during the war. They are truly our heroes.”
The Online Citizen (Singapore) 18th December 2014
DutyBound – what you will not read in history text books
There have certainly been many efforts made to commemorate the sacrifices made by Singaporeans in the past 50 years and beyond. The government has unveiled a marker to memoralise the hardships endured by those who fought against the communists.
Movies like To Singapore With Love, while banned and not likely timed to coincide with our momentous birthday, have certainly made us more reflective and reminds us all that many from all walks of life have played a part in the development of our nation.
This year saw the release of a book, DutyBound – A Singapore War Hero Remembered by David Miller. It is an account of the war seen through the eyes of retired police officer Halford Boudewyn. Written in a lively and engaging manner, World War II is brought to life in nail biting fashion.
Having studied history all the way to my GCE ‘A’ Levels, I can quite honestly say that although I knew the war caused unspeakable hardships to many Singaporeans, it was never “alive” to me. Singapore does not actively commemorate Remembrance Day and my grandparents were reluctant to talk about this turbulent time.
The war therefore remained consigned to history and subconsciously to exams. There was no way to personalise the conflict. Of course, I knew the names of war heroes like Elizabeth Choy and Lim Bo Seng but their names do not resonate as much as Sir Stamford Raffles, when really they should!
It was therefore with a sense of intrigue, pride and shame when I read about the exploits of Halford Boudewyn and the immense risks he undertook to liberate Singapore from the Japanese. Shame that I have never even heard of him prior to the book, pride at the heroism displayed by a local and intrigue as the war and the toil it had finally came to life for me – an effect that our emotionless textbooks which lacked any human element never aroused.
The book also recounted the war from a Eurasian perspective – something that is clearly under represented in our historical accounts.
The mood of those days, the human connection and the sense of purpose felt by Halford Boudewyn are well captured and conveyed much sense of place. At certain chapters, I almost felt like if I closed my eyes, I would be transported back into the 40s, right into the thick of action.
Without revealing too much of the plot, I was impressed not just by Halford’s attitude but by his resourcefulness, discipline and resolve. Reading about his various disguises and harrowing near escapes as he smuggled out sensitive documents from Japanese hands for the Allied war effort – it really hit home just how much our pioneers have done for our nation and it is imperative that we remember these sacrifices when we contemplate our history. Nation building is not just the effort of one but a combination of efforts from the collective.
Names like Halford Boudewyn should not fade into the annals of time. As we enter 2015, DutyBound would be an interesting and opportune read.
The New Paper (Singapore) 18th March 2014
The NewEurasian magazine January - March 2014
People in the community
People in the community
Eurasian David Miller is enjoying what most new authors only dream of – a bestselling debut novel. Year of the Tiger, which is based on historical facts, is currently on Kinokuniya’s Top 10 International Best Sellers List . Here, he talks to The NewEurasian
How do you feel about Year of the Tiger being on Kinokuniya’s Top 10 International Best Sellers List for a year?
It’s a huge compliment to know that both books have been received positively; not just by Singaporeans but also by an international audience. It’s also gratifying to receive emails from readers.
How did you become a writer?
My writing career started in the late ’80s as a journalist with The Straits Times. I moved to become the managing editor for a stable of magazines and then started work in marketing and communications. I wrote a few commercial books and it took me only a month to pen Year of the Tiger. Initially, it was an experiment to see if I could do it. I put the manuscript away for two years before finally deciding to publish it with a grant from the Media Development Authority (MDA). My second novel, Advent, took six months to write.
The inspiration behind Year of the Tiger came about by chance in early 2010. I was talking to a friend about a recent archaeological dig at the Padang in which gas masks from World War II were found. From there, our conversation moved to germ warfare, the mystery of Yamashita’s Gold and the multi-billion dollar treasure looted across South-east Asia by the Imperial Japanese Army. The spectre of H1N1 virus was still fresh back then. Brewing these thoughts in my head, the storyline for the novel fell into place.
How would you describe your latest novel?
In Advent, a terrorist group smuggles components for a nuclear device into Singapore. An American task force is lured in and destroyed when the weapon is detonated on a desolate patch of land near Changi Naval Base. And just like Year of the Tiger, Advent has a sinister twist. Expect conspiracy theories and biblical predictions as the lines of good and evil are blurred. While my books are works of fiction, they incorporate a vast amount of factual and historical information. The novels are controversial given their political and religious overtones and they need to be read with an open mind.
What can our readers expect in the near future?
I am working on my third and final part of the book series. It will take longer as the storyline is intricate and much research has to be done.
What is your message for the budding Eurasian author?
I would like to see more novels written by Eurasians in Singapore. Write about what you know well; write about what fires your passion. But even good fiction requires an enormous amount of planning and research to make it believable. Don’t be intimidated by the blank page for there is a story in us all.
Do you have any particular ‘Eurasian’ experiences you can tell us about?
Years ago I interviewed Halford Boudewyn, a fellow Eurasian and he related how he played a part in spying for the British during the Occupation years. He spoke about how tough those times were; how the Japanese tried to exploit racial fault lines and the quiet resistance mounted in some quarters of the community. He spoke about the agar-agar press where ink on jelly was used as a crude copying device to print contraband flyers informing the people of the Allied victories overseas and these gave them hope that the Occupation would soon end. I’m sure there are many other gripping accounts out there which, if not told in print, may be lost forever. So if one of your readers has a compelling true-life story to tell, do drop me an email. I can be reached through my website www.dmbooks.org
“There is a story in us all and you are the only one who can tell it” – David Miller
Review by Alvin of Alvinology published on his site.
David Miller is a former Straits Times journalist and I got to knew him while he was working in corporate communications after he had left Singapore Press Holdings.
He had spent ten years with the Straits Times crime desk and as a correspondent, he wrote a number of articles about the discovery of World War II tunnels on the Singapore mainland.
Year of the Tiger, inspired in part by the mystery surrounding long-forgotten war relics in Singapore, is his first novel. The book was released last year in August and had remained on the top 10 International Bestsellers List at Kinokuniya Singapore between December 31, 2012 and August 1, 2013. Not bad for a Singapore book. The book follows the spirit of Dan Brown‘s worldwide hit, The Da Vinci Code, and is a mixed of facts and fictions, spun into a mystery narrative.
During the World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army under General Tomoyuki Yamashita looted untold amounts of gold and other valuables from across its occupied colonies in Southeast Asia to finance the empire’s ongoing military expansion. But when the tide of war turned against Japan in 1943, much of this treasure had to be buried in secret. Over the decades, the search for the legendary Yamshita’s Gold had been in vain, until now…
A group of foreign workers digging a tunnel under the Padang in present-day Singapore stumbles across a treasure vault and inadvertently triggers a biological booby trap. An unknown strain of anthrax is released threatening a global holocaust. It is up to Assistant Superintendent Gerald Loh of the Singapore Police Force to decipher a cryptic clue left behind with the loot to halt this deadly plague.
Year of the Tiger takes readers on a roller-coaster journey of political wrangling, murky history and secret organistions to discover the elusive cure for a seemingly unstoppable pandemic.
I like the idea and concept behind the book. Taking a narrative spin on Yamashita’s Gold is clever as the topic has always garnered keen historical interest globally. The very existence of the treasures remain debatable and is bound to get people excited to hunt it down in real life. This will help the book reach out to an international audience instead of limiting to just Singapore readers.
With his journalistic background, David’s writing is clear and concise. Reading the book felt like reading an extended newspaper report, giving it a sense of realism that makes the story extremely believable. So much so that I find myself googling on many items in the book to find out if they were fact or fiction!
To move the story along on a broader narrative on War World II history, conspiracy theories and world crisis, less in-depth characterisation was afforded on the protagonists in the book.
Overall, the book was an enjoyable read for me. I would recommend it to history buffs, conspiracy theorists and general readers who are interested to find out more about the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.