Lim Bo Seng

Singapore Infopedia



Lim Bo Seng (Major-General) (b. 27 April 1909, Nan’an, Fujian, China–d. 29 June 1944, Batu Gajah, Perak, Malaya) was a prominent Hokkien businessman who undertook active leadership in anti-Japanese activities during World War II. He is recognised as a local war hero in Singapore.1


Early life
Lim was the 11th child and the first son of Lim Chee Gee (also known as Lim Loh and Lim Hong Leong).2 Lim came to Singapore from China at the age of 16 and studied at Raffles Institution.3 He later enrolled in the University of Hong Kong, but discontinued his education there in 1929 when his father passed away. Lim returned to Singapore to take over his father’s businesses, which included biscuit and brick manufacturing.In 1931, he married Gan Choo Neo, a Straits-born Chinese, with whom he had seven children.5

Role during World War II
In the 1930s, Lim, under the alias Tan Choon Lim, participated in anti-Japanese activities in Singapore,6 particularly in supporting the China Relief Fund.7 Upon the request of the then governor of Singapore, Shenton Thomas, Lim formed the Chinese Liaison Committee to assist in civil defence.After the fall of Kota Bharu in northern Malaya in December 1941,9 Lim, as head of Labour Services of the Overseas Chinese Mobilisation Council, organised more than 10,000 men for the British government to man essential services and to construct defences around the island.10 As Japanese troops began to approach Singapore from Johor, Lim and his team helped to blow up the Causeway to impede the Japanese advance.11

Before Singapore fell to the Japanese, Lim escaped to India where he was joined by the British resistance group Force 136, and was trained by the British for intelligence work.12 Formed by the British and Chinese governments in June 1942, Force 136 supported resistance groups and coordinated guerrilla operations.13 In 1943, Lim went to China to recruit men for Force 136.14 With a group of Force 136 members, he landed in Japanese-occupied Malaya by submarine later that year, and set up an intelligence network in the urban areas of Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh.15 The intelligence network, known as Operation Zipper, was aimed at recapturing Malaya with British support by 1945.16

While in Ipoh, Lim’s whereabouts and espionage involvement were betrayed to the Japanese. On 27 March 1944, he was caught by the Japanese while fleeing.17 Lim died in Batu Gajah Jail, Perak, on 29 June 1944.18 After the war, Lim’s remains were disinterred from the jail in December 1945 and reburied in Singapore on 13 January 1946, on a hill overlooking MacRitchie Reservoir.19 In February 1946, the Chinese Nationalist government posthumously awarded him the rank of major-general.20

Lim Bo Seng Memorial
In 1946, the Lim Bo Seng Memorial Committee, which included representatives from the Chinese Nationalist government, was established to raise funds for the construction of a public memorial dedicated to Lim.21 The colonial government rejected the committee’s proposal to build a memorial park around his grave, but granted permission for a memorial to be built at the Esplanade.22 The British Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia at the time, Malcolm MacDonald, laid the foundation stone for the structure on 3 November 1953.23 The completed memorial was unveiled on 29 June 1954 by Charles Loewen, then commander-in-chief of the Far East Land Forces.24

Designed by Ng Keng Siang, the memorial occupies a site measuring 30 m by 24 m, which was donated by the government.25 The construction cost of $50,000 was funded by donations from the Chinese community.26 The memorial takes the form of a 3.6-metre-high octagonal pagoda made of bronze, concrete and marble.27 A bronze three-tier roof caps the pagoda, while four bronze lions stand guard at the base. Four bronze plaques placed around the pagoda give an account of Lim’s life in English, Chinese, Tamil and Jawi (Malay).28 On 28 December 2010, the Lim Bo Seng Memorial was gazetted as a national monument.29

1930s: Participates in anti-Japanese activities in Singapore.
Jan 1942: Provides Chinese labour to British government to man essential services and build defence positions.30
Feb 1942: Escapes to India before the fall of Singapore. Undergoes British intelligence training in Kahdakvasla, near Bombay, in the latter part of 1942.
Apr 1943: Recruits Malayan Chinese students studying in Chongqing, China, for subversive work in Malaya.31
Nov 1943: Lands in Malaya by submarine and sets up an intelligence network in Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh.32
27 Mar 1944: Captured by the Japanese.33
29 Jun 1944: Dies in Batu Gajah Jail under Japanese torture and due to severe malnutrition.34
13 Jan 1946: The British bring Lim’s remains to Singapore and rebury him with full military honours at MacRitchie Reservoir.35
29 Jun 1954: Lim Bo Seng Memorial is officially unveiled at the Esplanade to remember his sacrifice.36

Wong Heng and Valerie Chew

1.  “The Life of Lim Bo Seng,” Straits Times, 16 February 1992, 2; “Lim Bo Seng: A Hero’s Death, 50 Years On,” Straits Times, 28 June 1994, 21; “In Memoriam: From Family Man to Fighter,” Straits Times, 30 June 1994, 24. (From NewspaperSG); David Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1991), 54. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS])

2.  “The Life of Lim Bo Seng.”; “General: The Lim Bo Seng Story,” New Nation, 24 May 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG); “Esplanade Park Memorials,” Roots, last updated 29 March 2023.; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 54.
3. “In Memoriam: From Family Man to Fighter.”
4. “The Life of Lim Bo Seng”; “General: The Lim Bo Seng Story”; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 54; N. I. Low, When Singapore was Syonan-to (Singapore: Times Books International, 1995), 37. (Call no. RSING 959.57023 LOW-[HIS])
5. “Papa The Hero”; “General: The Lim Bo Seng Story.”
6. Romen Bose, “A Traitor Unmasked,” Straits Times, 11 September 2005, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Singapore Monuments,” Straits Times, 14 February 1988, 14. (From NewspaperSG); Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 56.
8. Low, When Singapore was Syonan-to, 41.
9. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore 1819-1988 (Singapore: Oxford University, 1989), 165–66. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
10.  “The Life of Lim Bo Seng”; “General: The Lim Bo Seng Story”; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 56; Low, When Singapore was Syonan-to, 41; K. Mulliner and Lian The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991), 89–90. (Call no.  RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS])
11. “Singapore Monuments”; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 56.
12. “Memorial Planned for Lim Bo Seng,” Straits Times, 4 January 1951, 5. (From NewspaperSG); “Papa The Hero”; “The Life of Lim Bo Seng”; “In Memoriam: From Family Man to Fighter.”
13. “Lim Bo Seng: A Hero’s Death, 50 Years On”; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 54; Dalit Singh and V. T. Arasu, eds., Singapore: An Illustrated History, 1941-1984 (Singapore: Information Division, Ministry of Culture, 1984), 39. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
14. “The Life of Lim Bo Seng.”
15. “General: Lim Bo Seng Story Part Three,” New Nation, 26 May 1971, 9; Karamjit Kaur, “War-time Fighters, Lunch-time Buddies,” Straits Times, 1 December 2001, 12. (From NewspaperSG); “Singapore Monuments”; Bose, “A Traitor Unmasked.”
16. “The Life of Lim Bo Seng.”
17. Bose, “A Traitor Unmasked.”
18. “Papa The Hero”; “The Life of Lim Bo Seng”; “Lim Bo Seng: A Hero’s Death, 50 Years On”; “In Memoriam: From Family Man to Fighter”; Bose, “A Traitor Unmasked.”
19. “Remains of Mr. Lim Bo Seng,” Straits Times, 4 December 1945, 3; “Remains of Col. Lim Bo Seng Laid to Rest,” Straits Times, 14 January 1946, 3. (From NewspaperSG); Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 54.
20. “Col. Lim Promoted Posthumously,” Straits Times, 15 February 1946, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
21. National Heritage Board, ”Two New National Monuments Celebrate Singapore’s Post-independence Years and Contributions of Notable Individuals,” press release, 27 December 2010. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 20110103003)
22. “Memorial Planned for Lim Bo Seng,” Straits Times, 4 January 1951, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Lim Bo Seng – ‘He Died for Malaya,” Straits Times, 4 November 1953, 7; “Memorial to Start at Last,” Straits Times, 3 November 1953, 1; “War Hero’s Memorial,” Straits Times, 3 November 1953, 7. (From NewspaperSG); Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 58.
24. Roots, “Esplanade Park Memorials.”; “Lim Boh Seng Memorial,” New Nation, 22 October 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
25“Lim Memorial Approved,” Singapore Free Press, 27 June 1951, 8; “Rains Hold Up Lim Bo Seng Pagoda: A Hero’s Memorial,” Singapore Free Press, 5 February 1954, 5. (From NewspaperSG); Roots, “Esplanade Park Memorials.”
26. “Rains Hold Up Lim Bo Seng Pagoda: A Hero’s Memorial”; “Work Starts on $50,000 Pagoda,” Straits Times, 18 September 1953, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Singapore Monuments”; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 54.
28. “Singapore Monuments”; Roots, “Esplanade Park Memorials.”
29. Roots, “Esplanade Park Memorials.”
30. “The Life of Lim Bo Seng”; “General: The Lim Bo Seng Story”; Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 56; Low, When Singapore was Syonan-to, 41; Mulliner and The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore, 89-90.
31. “The Life of Lim Bo Seng.”
32. “Singapore Monuments”; “General: Lim Bo Seng Story Part Three”; Kaur, “War-time Fighters, Lunch-time Buddies.”
33. “In Memoriam: From Family Man to Fighter”; Singh and Arasu, eds., Singapore: An Illustrated History, 1941-1984, 39.
34. “Lim Bo Seng: A Hero’s Death, 50 Years On”; “The Life of Lim Bo Seng.”
35. “In Memoriam: From Family Man to Fighter.”
36. Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore, 54.

Further resources
Ann Parkinson, Heroes of Malaya (Singapore: D. Moore, 1956), 107-112. Call no. RCLOS 920.0595 PAR)

Clara Show, Lim Bo Seng: Singapore’s Best Known War Hero (Singapore: Asiapac, 1998). (Call no. RSING 940.5425092 SHO-[WAR])

F. Spencer Chapman, The Jungle is Neutral (Singapore: Times Books International, 1997), 225-256. (Call no. RSING 940.53595 CHA-[WAR])

Meng Hao Wan and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 75. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

N. I. Low and H. M. Cheng, This Singapore: Our City of Dreadful Night (Singapore: City Book Store, 1947), 52-53. (Call no. RCLOS 940.54825957 LOW)

The information in this article is valid as of June 2023 and correct as far as we are able to 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.



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