1940-1949

Singapore colonial police kill activists commemorating ‘wrong’ anniversary

Lord Louis Mountbatten inspects Malayan troops in 1946.
© IWM  (D 28023)

15 February 1946

At about 11 am on 15 February 1946, British troops and colonial police armed with loaded rifles and batons, charged into a crowd of  protesters assembling on Bras Basah Road in Singapore. Journalists witnessed demonstrators beaten as they lay on the ground.  Live fire was also used and one protester was shot dead in the street, while another died in hospital from his injuries.  The youngest victim, Lin Feng Chow, was just eighteen and his funeral was attended by an immense crowd of at least five thousand.1

Some days earlier, Lin Ah Liang,  a leading member of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army, had applied to the British Military Administration (B.M.A.) to hold a procession through the streets to commemorate the fall of the colonial city to the Japanese along with the capitulation of the British led army stationed there four years earlier on 15 February 1942.  Lin Ah Liang had himself been detained, tortured and sentenced to death during the Japanese occupation, but his execution was narrowly averted by the sudden surrender of Japanese forces in September 1945.2

The Malayan Communist Party, the General Labour Union and most of Singapore’s population backed his demand to declare 15 February a national holiday as a gesture of defiance against continued British rule, but the B.M.A. refused to accept such an inglorious reminder of their defeat.  They were, however, prepared to consider 12 September, the date British troops had landed, as a national holiday instead, a proposal which was rejected by activists, recognising it as an attempt to legitimate imperial hegemony. The  B.M.A.’s response might have been even more provocative. Lord Louis Mountbatten, commanding British forces in South East Asia, asked officials why they hadn’t suggested 27 February, the anniversary of the sook ching slaughter of Malaya’s Chinese inhabitants by Japanese troops.3

On 13 February, determined to prevent any sign of dissent,  the B.M.A. warned activists, many of whom belonged to Singapore’s Chinese community, that any person provoking strikes which interfered ‘with the due course of law’ would be ‘repatriated to the country of their origin or their citizenship.’  Everyone knew this meant either imprisonment or execution at the hands of Chinese nationalists.4 The B.M.A.’s next preemptive move, on the evening of the 14 February, was to raid the Singapore headquarters of the Malayan Communist Party as well as other union and student organisations, arresting key activists.  Lin Ah Liang was among several who evaded arrest, but he became the target of police batons the following day on Bras Basah Road, finally appearing in court, ‘his head swathed in bandages’, on 17 February charged with being a member of an unlawful assembly and resisting arrest.5

FOOTNOTES

  1. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Allen Lane, London 2007 pp. 206-207 and ‘Communist HQ Raided,’ The Gloucester Citizen, 16 February, 1946, p. 6.
  2. Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore, NUS Press, Singapore, 2012, p. 117.
  3. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Allen Lane, London 2007 p. 206.
  4. Ibid p. 207 and Cheah Boon Kheng, Red Star Over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict During and After the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, NUS Press, Singapore.
  5. ‘Communist Chief Remanded,’ The Gloucestershire Echo, 18 February 1946, p. 1.

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