The day was Sep 26, 1958. The late Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, received a puzzling telegram from her husband. It read: “ARRIVING TODAY BATTLESHIP = LEEKUANYEW”.
It was sent from Sibu in Sarawak, when the late Mr Lee was practising as a lawyer in Lee & Lee, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Facebook on Monday (Apr 6).
“My mother did not understand the message. Was my father coming home on a battleship? The Lee & Lee secretary called the British Naval Base at Sembawang to check if any battleship was arriving from Sarawak, but they knew nothing about it,” Prime Minister Lee recounted.
Turns out, it was a dinner request.
“My father did arrive home that day, but not by battleship. He explained that he wanted steam boat for dinner, but as “steam boat” was two words, and telegrams were charged by the word, he wrote “battleship” instead, to save words and money!”
Mr Lee shared the childhood memory, after discovering the telegram while sorting through his father’s belongings at home.
“Sadly, since we had not understood the message, we did not have steam boat for dinner that night,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s anecdote drew hundreds of amused comments on Facebook. Many quipped that from now on, Singaporeans should refer to steam boat as “battleship”, as a nod to Mr Lee.