Major-General Lim Bo Seng alias Tan Choon Lim (b. 27 April 1909, Nan Ann, China - d. 29 June 1944, Batu Gajah Jail, Perak, Malaya) was a prominent Hokkien businessman who undertook active leadership in anti-Japanese activities during World War II and is recognized as a local war hero.
Lim was the 11th child but the first son of Lim Chee Gee. At the age of 16, he came to Singapore and studied at Raffles Institution. He discontinued his education at the University of Hong Kong in 1929 when, upon his father's death, he inherited senior Lim's businesses which included the Hock Ann Biscuits and factories for brick manufacturing. In 1930, he married Gan Choo Neo, a Straits-born Nonya with whom he had seven children. Theirs was a love marriage, unusual in those days.
In the 1930s, Lim under the alias Tan Choon Lim participated in anti-Japanese activities in Singapore, particularly in supporting the China Relief Fund. Upon the request of Sir Shenton Thomas, the Governor, he also formed the Chinese Liason Committee to assist in civil defense. With the fall of Kota Bahru in Malaya in 1942, Lim, as head of the Labour Services of the Overseas Chinese Mobilization Council, and Tan Kah Kee organised more than 10,000 men for the British Government to man essential services and to construct defenses around the island. As the Japanese troops descended upon Singapore, his men helped dynamite the Causeway.
He escaped to India before Singapore's fall where he was joined by the British resistance group, Force 136, and was trained by the British for intelligence work. In 1943, he went to China to recruit Kuomintang colleagues for Force 136 - a special operations force formed by the British and the Chinese governments in June 1942 to support resistance groups behind enemy lines and to coordinate guerilla operations in support of the eventual British invasion of Malaya. With a group of fellow Force 136 members, he landed in Japanese-occupied Malaya by submarine in 1943 and set up an intelligence network in the urban areas in Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh. The intelligence network - Operation Zipper - was targeted at recapturing Malaya with British support by 1945. While on a mission in Ipoh on 27 March 1944, Lim was betrayed by Lai Teck, the Malayan Communist Party leader, and was caught by the Japanese at a road checkpoint. He died in Batu Gajah Jail on 29 June 1944 under torture. Lim was posthumously awarded the rank of Major-General by the Chinese Nationalist Government and his remains reburied in Singapore at the MacRitchie Reservoir.
1930s : Participated in anti-Japanese activities in Singapore
Jan 1942 : Provided Chinese labor to British Governments to man essential services and build defense positions.
Feb 1942 : Escaped to India before Singapore fell. Underwnet British intelligence training in Kahdakvasla, near Bombay in the latter part of 1942.
Apr 1943 : Recruited Malayan Chinese students studying in Chongqing, China for subversive work in Malaya.
Nov 1943 : Landed in Malaya by submarine and set up intelligence network in Pangkor, Lumut, Tapah and Ipoh
27 Mar 1944 : Captured by the Japanese.
29 Jun 1944 : Died in Batu Gajah Jail under Japanese torture and because of severe malnutrition.
13 Jan 1946 : The British brought Lim's remains to Singapore and reburied him with full military honors at MacRitchie Reservoir.
1954 : The Lim Bo Seng memorial, a 3.5 m high pagoda, was officially unveiled at the Esplanade to remember the sacrifice he had given for the country.
Force 136 was led by British officers and senior ranks, who were specially trained in espionage, surveillance and sabotage tactics. Because they could not move about these Asian countries disguised as locals or speak the local languages, they had to recruit local men into the Force. Canadians and Australians of Chinese or Japanese descent were similarly recruited to operate in these countries.
Suitable local men were often difficult to find. Many of them were either indifferent towards their Japanese occupiers, or were antagonistic toward the British who were their former colonial masters. Those who were accepted, mostly Burmese, Indians and some Chinese and Siamese; were trained in India and sent secretly into Malaya to help organise and support local resistance movements in their fight against the Japanese. One of these men was Lim Bo Seng, a prominent Singapore businessman who was actively involved in fighting the Japanese.
Members of Force 136 would contact and co-operate with local resistance movements such as the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) to harass the Japanese. They were regularly supplied by submarine and airdrop. Hit-and-run guerrilla warfare ensured that the Japanese were kept busy maintaining law and order.
Besides conducting anti-Japanese activities, Force 136 was also involved in laying the groundwork for a planned Allied invasion of Malaya. However, the surrender of the Japanese after the bombing of the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant that the invasion never took place. Force 136 later assisted in the search and recovery of former Japanese prisoners-of-war (POWs) scattered about in prison camps. They also served to accept the surrender of Japanese units and helped maintain public order until a civilian government could be restored.