1943 - Double Tenth Massacre - The Elizabeth Choy Story
Posted: 07 Oct 2003, 0900 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)
.By: Germaine Foo-Tan .Volume 7 Issue 10
The worst of times can bring out the best in man. History offers many examples of bravery and heroism in the face of crisis. One such illustration is the Elizabeth Choy story in the Double Tenth Massacre of 10 October 1943.
On 27 September, seven Japanese ships were sunk in Keppel Harbour. Despite a thorough search of the surrounding waters, the Japanese failed to track down the saboteurs. The attack, dubbed Operation Jaywick, had in fact been the work of Force Z, a team of 14 Australian and British commandos. While Force Z celebrated its successful attack, Singapore was made to pay for the devastation to the Japanese ships.
Detainees of the Changi Prison internment camp as well as some hapless members of the public were singled out for the punishment. On the morning of 10 October, the internees were assembled for a roll-call. What followed was a search for radio sets hidden in the prison. Some of the internees had smuggled A young and beautiful Elizabeth in radio parts and assembled their own sets. That these radios taken in 1933 could only receive and not transmit information outside the prison, or that no one had even heard of Force Z were inconsequential to the Japanese. Someone had to pay for the betrayal and the kempeitai or secret police tortured and threatened the internees with unabashed vengeance.
It was during one of these interrogations that the kempeitai found out that some radio parts had come from a hospital canteen operator, Choy Khun Heng, Elizabeth Choy's husband. Choy Khun Heng was arrested first on 29 October at his Tan Tock Seng canteen. Days later, Elizabeth Choy was lured to the YMCA in Orchard Road on the promise of seeing her husband. She was to spend the next 193 days and nights there in a cell no bigger than three by four metres with only a narrow air-vent on one wall and no windows. This she shared with twenty other people, a mix of civil servants, doctors and businessmen, most locals with a handful of foreigners.
The interrogations were frequent at first and could take place any time of the day or night. The kempeitai liked to alternate between being civil and being beastly in demanding for names of collaborators. She was slapped, kicked and spat at, but it was the electric shock that was to leave her with a life-long fear for electricity. "During the torture, it was impossible to show defiance and be brave; it was impossible to suppress the screams, or to stop the tears and mucus from streaming down her face." But she refused to confess. To Elizabeth Choy, "she could not confess to something she knew was untrue. It would implicate others. It was not right and she could not do it. Not even if it meant more physical abuse at the hands of her jailors." No matter how severe the torture, she always managed to walk back to her cell with as much resolution as she could muster. Typically, she was far more concerned about the welfare of her cell-mates than her own suffering. Her compassion and selflessness, as well as the fact that she remained undefeated to the end won her the admiration of her fellow detainees. In recognition of her valour during the Japanese Occupation, Elizabeth Choy was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946.
There are many lessons that we can draw from the Elizabeth Choy story. One of them is that her psychological resilience and principled stand helped her in enduring her treatment and interrogation at the hands of her Japanese captors. In trying times, showing care and concern for our fellow man is a show of humanity that binds and unifies. From this unity comes strength to overcome the odds.
Adapted from "Elizabeth Choy, more than a war heroine" - A biography by Zhou Mei.
Footnotes: 1 "Elizabeth Choy, more than a war heroine" - A biography by Zhou Mei. Pg 78. 2 "Elizabeth Choy, more than a war heroine" - A biography by Zhou Mei. Pg 78.
Last updated on 18 Apr 2006
Singapore’s war heroine, Elizabeth Choy was imprisoned by the Japanese after being suspected of helping British internees. For 200 days, she was locked up in a small cell, where she was tortured. She recalls life in the cell.
"I was put into a cell only 10 by 12 feet (4m by 5m) big. There were more than 20 people crammed inside. Packed like sardines, we knelt from morning till night. Some of us suffered serious sores on our knees. I was the only female among them. Inside the cell was a tap and underneath it, a hole meant for toilet purposes. There was no privacy to speak of -- our daily business was conducted there in full view of everyone. The stench coming from our perspiration, human waste and stagnant water fouled up the small cell and was suffocating.
We had to crawl out through a small trap door at the side for interrogation. Our captors beat us up, subjected us to electric shocks and pumped us up with water as part of the interrogation routine. The feeling of having one’s belly pumped full of water and then seeing the water gushing out of the body was hardly bearable. When my interrogators could not get any information out of me, they dragged my husband from Outram Prison, tied him up and made him kneel beside me. Then, in his full view, they stripped me to the waist and applied electric currents to me.
The electric shocks sent my whole body into spasms. My tears and mucus flowed uncontrollably. Even now, anything with electricity, like microwave ovens and the television, puts me off. I cannot describe the pain, but it must have been thousands of times worse for my husband who had to see me being tortured. I was detained in the centre for more than 200 days. I wore the same outfit for that period of time. Getting a decent shower was wishful thinking; we considered ourselves very lucky to have a little water to wash our faces.
Our daily meals were shoved to us through the trap door. Ravenous, every one would eat up the last grain of rice. The portions were pathetic. My waist shrank to 18 inches (45 cm) from 25 inches. Outside the cell, badly tortured prisoners lied in the corridor. They howled in pain. The cries of the dying would pierce our ears and hearts. It was most distressing. Worse were the interrogation sessions. Monai Tadamori, a warrant officer with the kempeitai, would come chat with the prisoners as and when he felt like it. Just when you least expected it, he would deliver a few hard slaps on your face. The impact would leave you with giddy spells and feeling absolutely helpless.
I was finally released after more than 200 days in the cell. Not having seen sunlight during my imprisonment, my eyes could hardly open as I stood directly under the sun. My mind was a complete blank. The clothes that I had been wearing for 200 days smelt foul.
My body ached from my injuries. For a long while, I felt I had just returned from death."
Extract from: A shameful past in human memory: a verbal account by Elizabeth Choy, The Price of Peace.
Used with permission from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
A Message for the younger generation of Singaporeans from Mrs Elizabeth Choy. As one who had gone through the years of the Japanese War and Occupation, and as one who was subjected to extreme deprivation, physical abuse, torture, hunger, anxiety and untold sufferings, both physical and mental, now I have this message for you my younger fellow citizens and friends. You are young; you are our hope; the future is in your hands. Therefore, remember that War is a very wicked thing. It does nobody any good. On the other hand it causes untold sufferings, especially to the younger children, old people and those who are sick. Besides, war also causes irreparable damages to buildings and properties. Millions and millions of lives can be lost. Therefore I appeal to you to do your utmost to help to make this world a happy and beautiful one; especially here in Singapore, our beautiful country so that you, your children, your children’s children and all the nations on this earth can live and work in peace and harmony. Remember, in Singapore we must always have racial harmony because our country is multi-racial, multi- lingual and multi-religious. So let us pray and work towards this end – peace on earth and goodwill towards men. We should be proud of our country. Therefore let us be patriotic, considerate, honest and hardworking. Honour your father and mother, and all those who are put in authority over us. Walk in godly ways and hold fast to integrity. I am a Christian. I believe in God who has helped me to endure and overcome all difficulties and sufferings. Praise the Lord. He can help you too if you trust Him. May God bless all of you as He has blessed me. sam11.moe.gov.sg/racialharmony/download/MrsElizabethChoy_speech.pdf
Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei nee Elizabeth Yong a.k.a. Yong Su Mei (b. 29 November 1910, Kudat, Sabah - ), a Hakka from North Borneo, noted for being a war-time heroine during the Japanese occupation and the only woman member in the Legislative Council in 1951. She also posed as an artist's model for the famed sculptress, Dora Gordine, who did two works of her entitled Serene Jade and Flawless Crystal. She worked as a teacher and became the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind. She was also known for her qipaos and bangles, for which she was nicknamed "Dayak woman of Singapore". Early life Elizabeth was born in Kudat in British North Borneo (today Sabah). Her great-grandparents had been assisting German missionaries in Hongkong and their work had brought them to North Borneo. There, the Yong family set up a coconut plantation. Her father had been the eldest in a family of 11 children and after completing his early education in China with some English education in North Borneo, he gained employment as a civil servant. Marrying the daughter of a priest from a well-respected family in North Borneo, he was transferred to Jesselton and later promoted to District Officer and moved on to Borneo's interiors in Kalimantan. Elizabeth was looked after by a Kadazan nanny and acquired Kadazan as her first language. Education Later, Elizabeth's father was posted to Tenom where there were no educational facilities, so Elizabeth and her siblings were sent back to Kudat where her paternal grandfather ran the village school, teaching in Chinese. Her higher education was taken at St Monica's School between 1921 to 1929, an Anglican missionary boarding school in Sandakan. Because the teachers could not pronounce Chinese names, she adopted the English name Elizabeth. In 1925, she and her aunt Jessie became the first girls to sign up in North Borneo's inaugural Girl Guides Company. By 1927, she was teaching the lower standards even whilst she was studying. In December 1929, she came to Singapore to further her studies at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus at Victoria Street. She shone academically, obtaining the Prize of Honor in her first year of school in December 1930. She resided with her fourth uncle at Selegie where he ran a music shop, the original T. M. A. at High Street. The untimely death of her mother in 1931 and the onset of the Great Depression placed upon her the burden of raising her six younger siblings. Thus she forwent a college education, even a possible
scholarship, to start work so she could finance the education of her younger siblings. Japanese Occupation During the Japanese Occupation, she worked as a canteen operator with her husband at the Mental Hospital which was renamed Miyako Hospital (the predecessor of Woodbridge Hospital) where patients from General Hospital had been moved to. They secretly brought food, medicine, money, messages and even radios to British internees. Unfortunately, they were caught by the Japanese and Elizabeth was arrested on 15 November 1943, following her husband's arrest on 29 October a few weeks earlier. Believing their activities were related to the Double Tenth incident, she was interrogated by the Kempeitai but she never admitted to being a British sympathiser. She was released only after 200 days of starvation diet and repeated torture. Her husband was released much later. England years After the war, Elizabeth was invited to England as a celebrated war heroine noted as the only female local to have been incarcerated for such an extended period. She went there as part of the privileged few who were invited to Britain to recuperate from the war but her stay extended three more years, totalling four years there. In her first year, she was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth. In her second year, she took up Domestic Science at Northern Polytechnic and in her third year, she taught at a London Council School. Intent on studying art but without the finances for this venture, Elizabeth resorted to posing for art instead. The famed sculptress, Dora Gordine, made two sculptures of her Serene Jade" and Flawless Crystal. Elizabeth gave her copy of Serene Jade to her daughters who, in turn, donated it to the Singapore Art Museum. Her copy of Flawless Crystal sits in an art gallery in Leicester, Britain. Politics She returned to Singapore in December 1949 and was persuaded to stand for elections in December 1950 for the West Ward or Cairnhill constituency under the banner of the Labour Party, founded in 1948 by V. J. Mendis. However, she lost in the 1951 City Council Elections, to the Progressive Party representative, Soh Ghee Soon. However, she was nominated into the Legislative Council in 1951, becoming the only woman member there. She served for a full five-year term. As a member of the Legislative Council, she represented Singapore at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. She later stood for elections in Queenstown but bowed out from politics thereafter, believing she could do more for the country as a teacher. In the 1950s, she joined the women's auxiliary of the Singapore Volunteers Corps, and was instrumental in expanding the organisation when she recruited
many of her friends and colleagues. She hit the headlines in early 1998, when she included a nude photograph of herself at a local art exhibition. Career 1933 : Became a teacher at C. E. Z. M. S or Church of England Zenana Mission School (currently, St. Margaret's school) 1935 : Transferred to St. Andrew's Boy's School, probably the only untrained teacher at that time. 1949 : Began a stint as an artist's model, when she was 39 years old and was working in London. She posed for the famed sculptress, Dora Gordine, who did two works of her entitled Serene Jade and Flawless Crystal. 1950? : Returned to Singapore as Senior Assistant, or Deputy Principal at St Andrew's School. End 1953 - beginning 1954 : Conducted a lecture tour of Malaya in the US and Canada at the request of the Foreign Office in London. Prior to the tour, she took time to visit Malaya to get a better understanding of the country. At that time, it was in the throes of Emergency. 1956 - 1960 : Became the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind. 1960 - 1974 : Returned to St Andrew's Junior School and promoted to Deputy Principal in 1964.
Family Husband: Choy Khun Heng (b. Hongkong - ), whom she married on 16 August 1941, the brother of the fiancé of an old school friend. It was a double wedding held in conjunction with her brother, Kon Vui's wedding. Khun Heng worked as a book-keeper at the Borneo Company before the war. Daughters: Bridget Wai Fong (b. 1950), Lynette Wai Ling, Irene Wai Fun, actually her niece. All were adopted in the 1950s. Awards 1950 : Order of the British Empire Order of the Star of Sarawak The Girls Guide Bronze Cross 1973 : Pingkat Bakti Setia, Singapore, for her service of at least four decades in education
Author Bonny Tan
References Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO) Intisari, IV (1), 15-74. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5005 INT) A woman ahead of her time. (1998, February 15). The Straits Times. One must not be prudish. (1998, February 15). The Straits Times.
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
True Life Accounts
In keeping with the theme of remembering events of the Second World War and the tragedies that befell many Singaporeans during those dark days, Knowledge Net presents three individuals who survived the ordeals of the war. One of them is Elizabeth Choy. MPEG or Quicktime Player is needed to listen to the audio files. http://www.knowledgenet.com.sg/singapore/SG/OH/OH.html
This story was printed from channelnewsasia.com
: 96-year-old war heroine Elizabeth Choy dies from cancer By : Date : 14 September 2006 1838 hrs (SST) URL : http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/230370/1/.html
Title SINGAPORE: She was known as a war heroine, a humanitarian, a politician and a teacher. 96-year-old legend Elizabeth Choy died on Thursday, after a battle with cancer. Family members said she died at 2pm at home, surrounded by her loved ones. The wake will be held at the St Andrew's Cathedral. Elizabeth Choy was born Yong Su-Moi in Sabah in 1910, but moved to Singapore in 1929 to further her studies. Responsibility came early to this eldest of 6 children when her mother passed away early. Of Hakka descent, she became a teacher to support her siblings - a vocation she returned to later in life. In 1941, Elizabeth Choy got married, but life would soon turn hellish. Both she and her husband were captured by the dreaded Japanese Kempeitai when Singapore fell.Accused of passing food, medicine and messages to British prisoners-of-war, she was locked up and tortured for 193 days. In a recent documentary, she recalled these times to her grand-daughter, Andrea. "My most agonising torture was - besides all the kicking and punching - nothing compared to the electric shocks - they applied electricity to my bare body," said Elizabeth. After the war, the War Tribunal asked the war heroine if she wanted her torturers executed. Her answer was no. "If not for war, they would be just like me. They would be at home with their family, doing just ordinary things and peaceful work. Let us pray that there will be no more war," said Elizabeth. Elizabeth Choy went on to be awarded a number of medals for valour and service to the nation, including the Order of the British Empire. There were fun times as well, such as the little-known fact that she turned to modelling to supplement her income during a 4-year stint in the United Kingdom after the war. After returning to Singapore, this war heroine then turned to politics - making history by becoming
Singapore's first female legislator. She then stood for elections in the Queenstown branch but lost. Elizabeth Choy then left politics to go back to her first love - teaching. She spent 40 years doing this. Asked some years ago which part of her remarkable life she wanted to be remembered for, there was no hesitation. "Teaching is a noble profession. You have young people and you help to mould them so teaching is very important," said Elizabeth. In the end - perhaps that is indeed Elizabeth Choy's lasting legacy. She taught a nation what it is to live a life less ordinary. - CNA /dt
This story was printed from channelnewsasia.com
: President Nathan, PM Lee pay tribute to Elizabeth Choy By : Date : 14 September 2006 1838 hrs (SST) URL : http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/230390/1/.html
Title SINGAPORE: President S R Nathan has paid tribute to Elizabeth Choy who died earlier on Thursday. He said she was more than a war heroine, who had a hidden strength, evident despite her advanced age and frail physique in recent years. Elizabeth Choy continued to serve the community even after retirement and constantly encouraged the young to value what they have. President Nathan said Singapore lost a truly remarkable woman and a shining example of courage and compassion, and her memory will always be with all who associated with her. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee also sent their condolences to the family of Elizabeth Choy on her passing. In his letter, Mr Lee said Singaporeans remember Mrs Choy as a wartime heroine. During the Japanese Occupation, Mrs Choy secretly helped British internees by passing them food and radios. She was caught by the Japanese and endured almost 200 days of torture and deprivation by the Kempeitai. But never giving up, she showed extraordinary courage and strength. Mr Lee noted that after the war, Mrs Choy served the community in many ways. She became the first woman member of the Legislative Council. She also set up the Singapore School for the Blind in 1956, and was an active social worker and educator. Mr Lee said even into her 90s, Mrs Choy remained sprightly and energetic, going to schools to relate her wartime experience and drive home to young Singaporeans the vital importance of Total Defence like no textbook could. He said Mrs Choy led a full and remarkable life and her passing was a loss to all of us. - CNA /dt/ls