Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Friday, July 11, 2008

1:19 Special Class

I had not given serious thought to what I would do when I finished school, vaguely imagining I would try to join the Medical College where Swee Law was already studying. I suppose I was somewhat confused when it was suggested to me that I should join the Special Class in Raffles Institution to study for the Queen’s Scholarship Examinations. This possibility had not occurred to me before but I was encouraged by my father to give it a try.

The Queen’s Scholarships were instituted in 1886 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria with handsome donations by loyal subjects of the Queen in the Straits Settlements, and of course, Lim Boon Keng was one of the earliest Queen’s Scholars. After a brief suspension when funds ran out during the First World War, they were reinstated in 1924 with government funds. Two scholarships were awarded each year to candidates in the Straits Settlements, and two to candidates in the Federated Malay States which adopted a similar scheme with one of the scholarships being reserved for Malay candidates. In 1936 the Scholarship was worth 400 Pounds annually and was tenable for study in any British University for a maximum of six years.

We had to indicate what studies we would pursue should we win a scholarship and, at first wanted to sign on for mathematics as my uncle Say Koo had done, but my father counselled me against it. If I studied mathematics, he said, the best I could do would be to finish as a Chartered Accountant like my Uncle Say Koo and be employed by some financial institution; better to learn be a doctor and be your own master. No doubt my father was speaking with his own circumstances in mind, but what attracted me to the idea was that to study medicine would require six years, so would be benefitting to the maximum from a scholarship should I win one.

The Queen’s Scholarship Examinations were based on the British Higher School Examinations that prepared students for entrance to the universities and they served very well the purpose of preparing our scholarship winners for admission to the British universities. We had to study four subjects for the Queen’s Scholarship Examinations: English Language and English Literature which had to be taken by all, then for the “Arts” people, History and Geography, and for the “Science” people, Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. We had to sit two papers in each subject, questions for which were set and marked by the Cambridge Syndicate which did the same for Senior Cambridge Examinations.

I naturally opted for the Science syllabus and one fine day went to attend the class in Raffles Institution where I found I was a member of a class of twelve, six Arts and six Science students. After the Japanese Occupation the Queen’s Scholarships were awarded to graduating students of Raffles College and the Medical College which changed its competitive nature as factors other than examination results were taken into account. When the Republic of Singapore was established the scholarship was renamed the President Scholarship and ten were awarded annually.

To my surprise, I found that two members of the Special Class were old acquaintances of mine: my play-mate Seow Eu Jin, and Kwa Geok Choo whose mother was related to both the Gaw family and the Tan Poh-Li family. I had visited the home of the Kwas in Pasir Panjang with Swee Keng and Swee Law who knew Geok Choo’s brothers in college. Geok Choo, of course, later became Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew, and Eu Jin your Uncle Eu Jin.

Other members of the class whose subsequent careers were noteworthy were Eddie Barker, one-time Minister for Law, and Choo Jim Eng, Senior Surgeon in Singapore General Hospital. Another was Balachandran Menon who joined the Indian diplomatic service. Jim Eng was the youngest in the class, only 16, and was with us only because he was not old enough to go to College. In the event, he went to the Medical College.

Our English teacher was a Mr. Moncur who led us through the writers of the Romantic period and Shakespeare, of course. The finer points of literary criticism were beyond me at first and in my first year a large amount of the time was taken up by discussions between Moncur and Emily Sadka (QS 1937). Here again my Chinese school experience, scant though it had been, came to my assistance, for I started to memorise chunks of the prescribed texts as the first step to understanding and appreciating them.

For English Language in which we were given weekly essays to write, I had the benefit of a book I discovered in my father’s library, English Prosody. Though it was over 20 years old as it was one of the books he had bought before he returned to Amoy in 1924, I imagine that how to write English prose correctly had not changed much. And, to my surprise, my father’s library also had much of the texts of our required reading as well as commentaries on them, including the "complete works” of Shakespeare, Browning, Shelley, Byron, etc. I had little need, therefore, to visit the Raffles Library to borrow the texts as my class-mates did.

While the Arts students remained in the Special Class room to study their subjects, the Maths class used a space behind the school auditorium for our lessons. Our Maths teacher was Mr. Menon, whose son, Balachandran was a member of the class. I was always interested in puzzles and solving mathematical problems was great fun for me. My collaborator in this was Choo Jim Eng and very often we would have the solution to a problem before anyone else. It took me the better part of the first year to master the bones of the subject and by the second year 1 was on top of it.

Though all of us took the Examinations at the end of the first year, it was recognised that a first-timer rarely succeeded. Emily Sadka topped the Examinations in the Straits Settlements, and Lim Chong Eu of Penang took the second and other place. I did not know how I stood.


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