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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

2:8 War Refugee
As described above I was sanguine about the situation in Singapore for a few weeks after Pearl Harbour and even the sinking of the Repulse and Prince of Wales did not worry me too much, as I did not realize that they were the only effective British war ships east of Suez.

Note: Mr. Churchill had sent the battleship Repulse and the cruise: Prince of Wales to block the Japanese invasion of north Malaya. They were to have been accompanied by an aircraft carrier but this go left behind for repairs. The Japanese Air Force, already land based in Trengganu, was thereby given the opportunity to demonstrate the weakness of British arms.

Editor’s note: The Japanese sank the two battleships, which was a tremendous blow to the British. Some of the wounded sailors were brought to Singapore for medical care. My mother helped to nurse these wounded sailors, being among some women who volunteered to nurse them, as part of their civic contribution.

I was shattered when it was announced that Singapore had surrendered, and in despair until a letter from Rosie arrived from Bombay to say that she was on the way to Scotland with her Aunt Irene. Aunt Irene was a Scots lady who had married the brother of Rosie’s mother when he was a medical student in Edinburgh; he returned home when he could not pass Public Health (4th Year Medicine) and became a pharmaceutical salesman.

I learned subsequently, that when the Japanese landed in north Malaya, Rosie’s parents decided to evacuate with Rosie to Australia where Eu Jin was studying architecture. Rosie would not agree to go with them, however, thinking that she should remain in Singapore because she feared to lose me if I returned to Singapore and not find her there. She had learned that her Aunt Irene was being evacuated to Scotland and wanted to accompany her, which she did. Rosie, Aunt Irene and her four children, with Mrs K.T. Ooi and my sister Mimi, left Singapore on February 14, one day before the British surrendered to the Japanese, on the Felix Rousell which took them to Bombay where they stayed for some weeks awaiting passage to Scotland, their official destination.

Rosie had quite a tussle with officialdom before she could persuade them that she had someone waiting in Scotland to provide for her, and they probably let her accompany Aunt Irene because it meant they had one less refugee to look after. In the event they were given passages on a fast liner that brought them to Glasgow, evading the German submarine packs in the Atlantic. Fifty years later, I learned that my Aunt Gertrude, the wife of my Uncle Francis, was also on the Felix Rousell with her daughter Margie and her son Jimmy, barely three years old. Rosie never mentioned this.

“One fine day,” I got a telegram from Glasgow announcing that Rosie had arrived.

Note: “One fine day” is the title of an aria from the opera Madama Butterfly, in which the heroine Butterfly sings of the day when her lover, Pinkerton, an American diplomat will return to her. He did, but with his American wife.

I got on a train immediately and fetched her from the hotel where the refugees were lodged and brought her to Edinburgh. The sad news I had for Rosie was that her father never made it to Australia; he had died at sea. Until we got married Rosie stayed with my good friends Simon Ward and his wife Ella in Eilden Terrace near the Botanic Gardens. Simon was Principal Secretary (equivalent of our Perm Sec) in the Scottish Department of Agriculture. He had a degree in Classical Languages (First Class) from Oxford and told me harrowing tales of how rugby was played in the varsities. Simon kindled in me an interest in the Greek tragedies which he would quote in the original from memory but which I read in translation. As a civil servant he abstained from politics, but his sympathies can be seen from these lines from Shelley that he taught me:

Rise like lions after slumber in innumerable number
Shake your chains from you like dew; we are many, they are few.

It was near the time of my First Professional Examination (Anatomy and Physiology) to pass which made one a proper medical student, qualified to attend classes on patients. I arranged toget married as soon as my examinations were over and Rosie picked the actual date, July 2nd, 1942, a Thursday, and not as convenient as the following Saturday would have been. However, July 4th was Rosie’s birthday, and she did not want to have to combine wedding anniversaries with birthday celebrations!

We were married by the Edinburgh Registrar of Marriages with Chong Eu as my Best Man and Ella Ward as the Matron of Honour. Among the congratulatory messages that we received was one from the Chinese Students Association of Great Britain of which I was Hon Secretary for a year (Chong Eu was the President) with a wedding gift of a set of Rose China which we treasured for many years, and of which there remain one or two pieces. Rosie was married in a cheong-sam she had brought with her. It was white satin and covered with tiny nonya gold ornaments, that her maid spent a whole night stitching on. After the ceremony, Rosie asked to be driven down to the Edinburgh docks where she threw her wedding bouquet into the sea as an offering to her father. Rosie’s wedding ring was a narrow band barely wide enough to bear the engraving Rosie - Ann.


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