Here’s What Lee Kuan Yew Did When WW2 Hit Singapore 75 Years Ago

February 15 is the day when the British surrender to the invading Japanese forces in Singapore, and this year marks the 75th anniversary of one of the darkest period in our island nation’s history — the Japanese Occupation (1942 to 1945).

Many of S’pore’s past leaders, such as Lee Kuan Yew and David Marshall, were young men during that period. They experienced the hardships, felt the hunger brought on during that period, and lived through the uncertainties with some narrow escapes.

Following our previous story on what these founding fathers did at the outbreak of war,  let’s now take a look at some of their experiences during the Occupation.

1. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister (1959 to 1990): He had a lucky break as he escaped theSook Ching massacre.

Lee was 18 years old when the Japanese Occupation of Singapore began.

Source: NAS


Recording his Japanese Occupation experience in his memoirs, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Lee wrote that a few days into the Occupation, the Japanese carried out the Sook Ching operation to cleanse the local Chinese population of anti-Japanese elements. He reported to Jalan Besar stadium together with his family friend and helper, Koh Teong Koo, for registration and screening. He narrowly escaped being one of the many Chinese rounded to be massacred in the operation.

“Soon after the Japanese soldiers left my house, word went around that all Chinese had to go to a registration centre at the Jalan Besar stadium for examination. I saw my neighbour and his family leave and decided it would be wiser for me to go also, for if I were later caught at home the Japanese military police, the Kempeitai, would punish me. So I headed for Jalan Besar with Teong Koo.

As it turned out, his cubicle in his coolie-keng, the dormitory he shared with other rickshaw pullers, was within the perimeter enclosed by barbed wire. Tens of thousands of Chinese families were packed into this small area. All exit points were manned by the Kempeitai. There were several civilians with them, locals or Taiwanese. I was told later that many of them were hooded, though I do not remember noticing any.

“After spending a night in Teong Koo’s cubicle, I decided to check out through the exit point, but instead of allowing me to pass, the soldier on duty signalled me to join a group of young Chinese. I felt instinctively that this was ominous, so I asked for permission to return to the cubicle to collect my belongings.

He gave it. I went back and lay low in Teong Koo’s cubicle for another day and a half. Then I tried the same exit again. This time, for some inexplicable reason, I got through the checkpoint. I was given a “chop” on my left upper arm and on the front of my shirt with a rubber stamp. The kanji or Chinese character jian, meaning “examined”, printed on me in indelible ink, was proof that I was cleared. I walked home with Teong Koo, greatly relieved.”


Images of Sook Ching screening centres, taken at the Syonan Gallery.
Images of Sook Ching screening centres, taken at the Syonan Gallery.


Source: Extracted from

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