“On a Little Street in Singapore” 1935-1941
In 1935 at the age of 14, Wong Tze-Fatt left his hometown Jesselton on the West Coast of British North Borneo and travelling as a deck passenger on the Straits Steamship’s SS Kimanis, he sailed for Singapore where for his first 3 years he would school at the Chinese Middle School in Cairnhill, before travelling into neighbouring Johor Sultanate in British Malaya to complete his next 3 years of high-school education at the prestigious Muar Chinese High-School.
On arriving in Singapore Tze-Fatt lodged at a boarding house run by the Singapore’s Chinese Hainan Clan Association, located near the junction of Orchard Rd and Bras Basar Rd. Tze-Fatt would use his Raleigh bicycle to cycle the two miles from his lodgings to his Chinese Middle School located further up Orchard Rd towards Tanglin District at Cairnhill.
In his free time out of school, Tze-Fatt would often bicycle to explore the vicinity of Orchard Rd and Bras Basar Rd which was then a quaint colonial confluence of British, Europeans, Straits born Chinese “Pernakan”, Indian, Malay, Arab and Jewish emigre communities. Orchard Road begins at Singapore’s Tanglin District which was then an exclusive British colonial residential area. Then the Orchard Road runs south-easterly down to Doby Ghaut with both sides of the road lined with a variety of services and retail businesses run by Straits born Chinese “Pernakan” or Towkay business owners. Past Doby Ghaut, Orchard Rd continues as Bras-Basar Rd where British colonial establishment, institutions, churches, schools, services social clubs, sports clubs and cricket pitches were located.
On the north-eastern side of the Bras-Basar Rd divide was Singapore’s Geylang District which was as it is now a patchwork quilt of Arab, Jewish, Indian and Bugis Malay communities, while on the south-western side of the Bras-Basar Road lies Singapore’s seafront financial and commercial district where the major banks and entrepôt trading houses were located.
Further west along the seafront was Singapore’s Harbour Terminal buildings which provided berthing for both passenger liners as well as merchant steamers. The seafront Harbour Terminal area continues further west until it reaches the estuary of the narrow Singapore River where shipping companies and goods warehousing activities were located. On a typical working day lighters and barges would line the banks of Singapore River and coolies and stevedores would be continuously loading and off-loading goods and merchandise discharged from the holds of cargo ships anchored just offshore in the Singapore Harbour Roads. Further west again is Tanjung Pagar town which was in British colonial days the China Town of Singapore where more recent arrived Chinese immigrants largely from Southern China would live and work in the adjacent Singapore Port Area.
The British Empire before WW2 still ruled the waves and over a third of the globe was British domains and coloured pink in the Philips Atlas; hence the truism “the Sun never sets on the British Empire’. Singapore’s was both an important strategic port for the British Empire, guarding the Straits of Malacca which was already one the world’s most busy seaway and a shipping hub and terminal handled the transhipment of raw materials from British Colonial interests located on the Peninsular of Malaya for onwards shipment to London and the industrial heartlands of England.
As a young man Tze-Fatt dreamed of making a career in the glamorous commercial advertising business. In pursuit of his dream he would explore the shopfronts lined up along Singapore’s Orchard Rd and Bras Basah Rd. During the day Orchard Rd was a cacophony of shoppers and bicycle trishaws all attracted by the multitude of shop signages and advertising hoardings which came alive at sunset, with the seductive glow of neon and the flashing lights advertising popular fizzy drinks, cigarettes and movie billboards. (7-Up; Bubble Up, Green Spot, Red Lion, Marlboro, Lucky Strike, and the billboards of Cathay Cinemas)
On his exploratory bicycle excursions along Orchard Road, Tze-Fatt was drawn to the newly renovated Singapore Cold Storage Supermarket on Orchard Road as this was quite unlike any shop that he has seen before. Unlike the usual traditional shophouse which typically housed a single business on the ground floor and had the business owners’ living quarters located in the floors above; Singapore Cold Storage Supermarket in contrast housed a multitude of businesses on one premise and the shop floor providing a variety and range of branded goods and products from food-stuff to children toys, household goods to stationary, a frozen meat butchery and chilled dairy produces and creameries.
Later in the early 50’s when Tze-Fatt visited Singapore on his annual business trips he would observe the evolution of Singapore’s Cold Storage Supermarket which added its Magnolia Restaurant and Milk Bar to its upper floor. Instead of having a multitude of sales staff serving customers, Cold Storage Supermarket was first store in Singapore to introduce self-service where customers would help themselves to goods on display shelves which were all well packaged and presented to attract the eye of the shopper. Tse-Fatt noticed that expatriate British families readily adapted to a life in Singapore’s languid tropical humidity and heat but they hankered for modern air-conditioned supermarkets where they could shop for their familiar imported home brands of canned, chilled and frozen foods.
On completing his middle school education at Singapore Chinese Middle School Cairnhill in 1938, Tze-Fatt then traveled to Muar in neighbouring Johore Sultanate and he completed his high-school year at the Muar Chinese High-School in 1941. This was the year the Winds of War caught up with Tze-Fatt when on the 8th December 1941 Japan’s infamous 25th Imperial Army under Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita invaded Malaya and the advent of WW2 interrupted Tze-Fatt’s high-school graduation ceremony which was to have been held at end of that same year.
Kismet Muar’s Lee Kongsi. 1941 -1943
Japan’s infamous 25th Army formed for the invasion of Malaya and Singapore was pulled together from Japanese army units soldiers who fought in the second Sino-Japan War where they rampaged through China’s civilian population and a pattern of extreme brutality towards Chinese civilian populations emerged that continued through to the invasion of Malaya. It was a deliberate military fear tactic for Japanese soldiers to summarily execute unarmed Chinese population in Malaya and Singapore on the slightest of pretext.
When news of Singapore’s Sook Ching massacres reached Tze-Fatt in Muar town, it became clear to those concerned for Tze-Fatt’s safety that it would be suicidal for him to attempt a hazardous journey home through a war torn S.E.Asia. Furthermore all regular shipping between Singapore and British North Borneo had been disrupted as merchant ships were commandeered for the evacuation of British and Europeans civilians living in Malaya and Singapore.
Tze-Fatt was at the time courting his high-school classmate Lee Bee-Hee, who was later to become his bride and wife. When the couple realised that Tze-fatt was stranded in Muar by the war, Bee-Hee asked her father Lee Soon Eng permission for Tze-Fatt to take refuge in their family home until such time he could travel safely home to Jesselton North Borneo.
Thus with the beginning of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya in 1941, Tze-Fatt took refuge living in Lee Bee-Hee’s family home in Muar town which was a four storey shophouse facing the Muar River. During his stay with Bee-Hee’s family he worked for his keep as a book-keeper for the Lee Soon-Eng family rubber trading business.
Rubber was an essential strategic military resource and the Japanese Occupation Administration was happy not to disturb the well established trading relationship that the British enjoyed with local clan based companies or “Kongsi’ which acted as intermediaries and conveyancing agents in a delivery chain that began at the British Rubber Plantations in Northern Malaya. The rubber was tapped and the harvested and processed into smoked Rubber Sheets. Then the Rubber Sheets would be baled and traded in Muar town before distribution by road to the Port of Singapore. At Singapore the smoked rubber bales would be loaded onto cargo steamers bound for London Dockland and the factories of industrial Britain; which during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya was simply redirected by the Japanese Imperial Occupational forces to Japan.
It was while taking refuge and working for the Lee Kongsi that Tze-Fatt acquired an understanding of Straits Chinese family Kongsi business model which was a practical mix of the values of Lee Patriarch’s Christian family beliefs and the greater Straits Chinese Hokkien Lee Kongsi’s Confucius beliefs. It was at this time that Tze Fatt learnt to drive the trucks and utility vehicles which transported the rubber bales by road to Singapore for transhipment to Japan.
In early 1943 Tze-Fatt received a letter written by his uncle Leong Sheng-Foo on behalf of his sister Wong Sen-Lan (nee Leong & Tze Fatt’s mother) informing him of his father’s Wong Tun-Hiong’s death. His father has died earlier in 1942 and the letter had taken a few months to reach him in Muar town in Johor Malaya. The letter urged Tze-Fatt to return home as soon as possible as with the death of his father and family patriarch he became the sole beneficiary of his father’s estate and the new patriarch.
In late 1943 Tze-Fatt took leave from Lee Bee-Hee’s father (the Lee family patriarch) to return home to Jesselton to fulfil his Confucius obligations as patriarch to secure the well being of his family and promised that as soon as he had secured his father’s estate and his mother and siblings were safe and taken care of; he would return to Muar and to take Bee-Hee’s hand in marriage. The Lee Patriarch agreed and he secured the necessary travel documents from the local Japanese Occupation Government to travel from Malaya to Borneo as his trading agent; and so Tze-Fatt was able to embarked on a hazardous journey home through Japanese occupied territories of Malaya and transiting in Singapore where he boarded a cargo ship heading for Kuching Sarawak.
In Kuching Sarawak Tze-Fatt stayed a little over 8 months working with the Japanese Occupation Administration as an accounting-clerk in order to obtain an onwards travel permit to Jesselton North Borneo and to earn enough Japanese Military wartime currency to purchase a sea ticket fare to board a Japanese tramp streamer sailing for Jesselton. Thus after an arduous and hazardous 9 months journey Tze-Fatt finally reached a relatively unscathed Jesselton around the middle of 1944.
The Winds of War in the Pacific Theatre 1943 – 1945
When Tze-Fatt embarked on his journey home, it soon became clear to him that Japan’s Pacific War was reaching its final throes with the Japanese Empire retreating in the face of General McArthur’s superior forces. General MacArthur had broken out of Japanese stranglehold on the South Pacific Islands and Australia and the allied frontline was moving rapidly northwards and nearing North Borneo. General McArthur’s island hopping strategy to liberate Japanese Occupied Territories in the South Pacific had originally plan to bypassed North Borneo putting the invasion of the Philippines Islands as its military priority. Prior to 1944 long-range bombing missions by Liberator bombers operating from captured airfields in Morotai were restricted to attacking military and strategic targets on Borneo’s Northern East Coast such as the airfields and the oil fields at Balikpapan. Therefore until the end of 1944, Jesselton town on North-Borneo’s West Coast was largely spared Allied air-bombing attacks.
However once General MacArthur’s Philippines Campaign began to close in on Manila and Japanese air-bases nearer to North Borneo fell to the allies and captured runways were available for allied medium bombers; General MacArthur approved a secondary Borneo Campaign to liberate European prisoners held in Borneo. Then allied US land based fighter planes and medium bombers began to attack all airfields, military installations and any building that could provide shelter for the Japanese Forces and secure air-superiority for a relatively small division of Australian Ground Troops to liberate North Borneo; while the main US aircraft carriers flagship task force concentrated on the closure of the main Philippines Campaign.
From the beginning of 1945 Jesselton was no longer spared aerial bombing and US Bombers operating from closer air-bases in Palawan Island bombed Jesselton town as a prelude to the liberation of North Borneo. Under the superior air cover provided by US Medium Bombers and Fighter Bomber Planes operating out of the Philippines, Australian ground troops quickly liberated North Borneo. The Borneo Campaign began with the invasion landings on Labuan Island which acted as a secure beachhead for the liberation of Brunei and North-Borneo Territories on the mainland of Borneo Island.
It was late in 1944 that Tze-Fatt reached the Port of Jesselton and to a relatively calm and unscathed township which still under Japanese occupation although the frontline of MacArthur’s Philippines Campaign has swept past North Borneo and reached Luzon Island in the Philippines.
On reaching home, his widowed mother was relieved to see him and handed Tze-Fatt the documents of his father’s estate and recanted the families traumatic experiences since the death of the family patriarch almost 3 years ago. Tze-Fatt immediate action was to despatch his widowed mother and siblings by road and rail to take refuge with her relatives living in the little town of Bongawan 100 Kilometres south of Jesselton. Tze-Fatt himself remained at the family shophouse in Jesselton and with the help of his two family retainers looked after their business property and home. But as the US Bombers from Palawan would punctually overfly Jesselton at midday to target Japanese military installations as targets of opportunity along the West Coast of North Borneo; each morning he would leave his home in Jesselton town with his retainers and walk and bicycle the 20 kilometres to the northern shores of Likas Bay. Then he and his retainers would take shelter with the local native villagers and hide in the copra plantations amongst the coconut trees and natural foliage. In the late afternoon they would retrace their journey to return home before sunset and secure his family home and business property.
However the relative calm and daily routine dodging allied bombing was to be a very short respite as from the beginning of 1945 when the Allied Philippine Campaign was well underway; Allied bombing of North Borneo’s West Coast began to target Jesselton town centre and timber shophouses thus to deny the Japanese military any opportunity for cover.
It was a bitter sweet experience for Tze-Fatt to have safely returned home to take his place as the patriarch of his family just in time to care for his widowed mother and siblings but only to soon witness the levelling of his family’s timber shophouse home to the ground by fire from allied air-bombing and reducing what family fortunes that survived Japanese Occupation to a pile of ash.
Thankfully General MacArthur’s Borneo Campaign which brought upon the levelling of Jesselton township as a prelude for the liberation of North Borneo by Australian ground troops came to a swift end in 1945. Tze-Fatt’s hopes were raised that restoration of British Sovereignty over North Borneo would bring a far more humane rule over Chinese people and an end to the chaos of war and the utter waste of human lives that he had witnessed during Japanese Occupation of British Malaya and North Borneo.
Restoration of North Borneo; Charles Robert Smith; NBCC Governor (1937 to 1942) (Reinstated 1945 to 1946).
In 1937 Charles Robert Smith was appointed by The North Borneo Chartered Company as Governor of the British Colony of North Borneo. His Governorship was interrupted in 1942 by WW2 when Japanese Imperial Armed Forces occupied British North Borneo. In 1945 after the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces he was reinstated as Governor of British North Borneo.
The Colony of British North Borneo after WW2 was a ferment of conflicting political interest groups all vying to fill a momentary power vacuum created with the departure of the wartime Japanese Occupational Administration and before British sovereignty and mandate to rule could be effectively restored over the Colony North Borneo.
The political threat to the Colony of British North Borneo in the immediate Post War period was that of political ideological unrest brewing amongst the Chinese residents. There were some who felt loyal to the People Republic of China Communists lead by Mao-Zedong and others that felt loyal to Taiwan China’s Kuomintang Nationalists lead by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. Certainly amongst the Chinese resident community there were active political operatives all waiting to take opportunity in the anticipated power vacuum left behind with the surrender of Japan at the end of WW2.
Before WW2, the North Borneo Chartered Company successfully kept the peace amongst the different ethnic resident communities in the North Borneo Colony. But during Japan’s Wartime Occupation Military Administration, British North Borneo’s arguably harmonious ethnic divides was exploited by the divide and rule administrative policy of the Japanese Wartime Occupation Military Administration which left North Borneo at the end of WW2 with a highly fractious and fragmented polity that manifest as a great potential for internecine sectarian conflict arising. However, it was knowledge of the brutality of Japan’s Imperial Army foisted on S.E.Asia’s Chinese population during WW2 that resulted in a genuine commonly held desire amongst all the people of North Borneo for restoring the peace North Borneo enjoyed under British Colonial rule.
During Japanese Occupation North Borneo’s food supply chain had been severely disrupted by Japan’s wartime economy and as the war years rolled on, North Borneo’s residents in its coastal urban townships were brought to the verge of starvation as the Japanese Army commandeered the bulk of food supplies. The effort of Charles Robert Smith’s Governorship and the interim Post War Allied Military Administration in immediately addressing the widespread hunger and malnutrition manifest in North Borneo immediately after the surrender of Japan did go a long way to tempered North Borneo’s fractious ethnic clan divisions and ideological fissures.
North Borneo’s coastal town were easily accessed by resumption of Allied Military shipping allowing immediate relief food supplies to be sent to relieve the shortage of food in coastal townships. Inland communities that lived on Plantations that had a modicum of subsistence farming and could forage in the jungle for food were spared the experience of starvation during the Japanese Occupation of British North Borneo. However there were reports of deaths from starvation in small isolated settlements in the interior and malnutrition would continue to be a public health problem in urban area for the next decade to come.
With British Sovereignty restored over North Borneo by 1946 a humanitarian disaster in the making was avoided and the hopes of the people in the territories were raised in the commonly held belief that British Colonial rule offered the best chance in the interim for a return to civil law and order and a chance for its people to look towards a better future and to buy some time for an authentic democratic polity to be established.
Charles Robert Smith’s government stabilised the rural plantation communities in restoring North Borneo’s commodity export economic activities. His government built simple town market stalls where nearby farmers could bring locally grown fresh vegetables and livestock foods to sell to feed Jesselton’s town folk. Timber temporary buildings were hastily constructed in the urban areas and the martial law imposed for the protection lives and property. Potable public water supply was piped into Jesselton town centre and North Borneo’s economy began to revive itself.
On the whole, the people of North Borneo rallied together under a British Colonial Government to address a common humanitarian disaster in the making and setting aside their personal political ideologies, in cooperating as a community to feed the hungry, heal the sick and wounded and to clothe and house a community. The voluntary St John’s Ambulance Services was revived in 1945. With support from the Allied Military Forces using Jesselton airport and seaports, his government secured supply of canned and dried food-stuff which delivered by air and sea for direct distribution through appointed local groceries. Jesselton’s General Hospital located at hills south of Jesselton and now called Karamunsing were restaffed initially with Military Medical Corp which later were rotated out of Jesselton and replaced with Civilian Doctors and Nurses.
Sunset for The North Borneo Chartered Company
The plight facing the Colony of North Borneo in 1945 was humanitarian as well as a political concern for Britain’s progressive liberal socialist Labour Post-War Government at the time. The post-war humanitarian response by the British Government’s Colonial Office who took over responsibility for North Borneo was critical to avert the internecine sectarian conflicts that began to show its hand at the end of WW2.
The North-Borneo Chartered Company at the end of WWII was a colonial business model well past its due date and which belonged to an Empire Victorian era long gone and marked with the sunset of Great Britain’s East India Company. Crucially, the North Borneo Chartered Company was a shadow of its former commercial power and its treasury lacked the significant financial and resources needed to address an impending humanitarian disaster in the making, let alone to restore North Borneo’s essential social and business infrastructure as needed to begin forging a new beginning for North Borneo.
As a mutually agreed solution the North Borneo Chartered Company reached an agreement with the British Government to sell its commercial interests granted under its North Borneo Charter to the British Government and to put the North Borneo Territories and people directly under the administration of the British Colonial Office.
From then on the fate of North Borneo’s people no longer lay with the North Borneo Chartered Company but was in the hands of the British Colonial Government and Tze-Fatt’s destiny was swept into the perfidious and fickle changing geo-political landscape of a sunsetting British Empire and the sunrise of a new self-confident US Imperial military industrial economic power in the Far East.
In the period between the end of the war in 1945 and the independence of North Borneo in 1964 as Sabah State of Malaysia; Tze-Fatt’s future and that of his family lay in the hand of the successive Governors appointed to North Borneo’s administration and China as a homeland soon receded to a distant past as merely memories of his place of birth.
Tze-Fatt 1945 – 1946
Tze-Fatt’s family shophouse at the edge of Kampong Ayer fronting the Jesselton Town-Padang Train-Stop was levelled by allied bombing in the liberation of North Borneo from Japanese Occupation. Tze-Fatt stayed on in Jesselton with his two family retainers who lived just outside the township and thus their home was spared destruction from Allied Bombing during the liberation of North Borneo. Tze-Fatt’s mother and young siblings were still living with extended family members in Bongawan, a town 35 miles south-west of Jesselton where he had sent his family to live in relative safety on his return from being stranded as a refuge in Malaya.
Governor Charles Robert Smith’s Government built temporary timber shophouses replacing the shophouses that were levelled to the ground by allied bombing during the liberation of North Borneo. And soon Tze-Fatt was able moved his business and home back into one of the temporary shophouse units built by the North Borneo Government located opposite Jesselton’s Town Padang Train-Stop.
The good reputation of his father in the local business community and his expression of filial piety was the only collateral he had with which to secure personal loans borrowed from the wealthy Taipans or business and clan cabal leaders in Jesselton. With their financial support, Tze-Fatt picked up what little that was was left of his father’s business and became the sole bread winner for his family and a “Tokay” business leader in his own right.
While studying in Malaya, Tze-Fatt’s wife to be Lee Bee-Hee had taught him to read and write basic English. Later while taking refuge with her family home in Muar Malaysa during the Japanese Occupation Malaya; Tze-Fatt had learnt to drive the trucks that transported rubber bales by road from Muar to Singapore.
The ability to drive motorised vehicles was a qualification in short supply in North Borneo at the end of WW2 and the Post War Allied Military Government soon saw the advantage in appointing Tze-Fatt as its local authorised food distributor and loaned him a van for him to drive and use as means to convey grocery supplies to the local British residents.
With the help of the North Borneo Government, Tze-Fatt secure a few freezer cabinets and ran a cold store grocery business and as an Authorised Agent for the Allied Military Government began to distribute food to the Jesselton township. This perhaps was the very beginning and founding of his highly successful Tong-Hing Cold Storage Grocery business.
Humanitarian; Francis Twinning Crown Colony Governor (1946 – 1949) First Crown Colony Governor.
Francis Twinning was the first Governor of British North Borneo appointed by the Crown, whereas his predecessors were appointed by the Shareholder’s Board of the North Borneo Chartered Company.
Under his predecessor Governor Charles Robert Smith, Law and Order was established to stabilise the urban communities in North Borneo. Governor Francis Twinning followed on his predecessor’s post-war humanitarian work in constituting the essential Civil Services Administration and Non Governmental Civic Institutions that were needed in a Civilian Government which was to follow on when the interim post-war Allied Military Administration was to end.
The North Borneo Red Cross was established in 1948 as branches of the British Red Cross Society in the former British North Borneo (now the Malaysian state of Sabah) and Sarawak. The United Nations was newly founded and by 1949 and the humanitarian work of UN’s WHO trickled down to North Borneo which was in the throes of a re-birth and by 1950 Jesselton began to have an urban environment with relatively high standards and well managed public health standards.
By the 1946 the resident of North Borneo were no longer living at the edge of starvation however malnutrition remained a problem in the urban area well into the late forties.
Tze-Fatt 1946 – 1949
Tze-Fatt has sent his family to 34 miles south-west of Jesselton by rail to take refuge with relatives living in the small Bongawan township. In 1946 widowed mother and three siblings were still living in Bongawan town where he had sent them by rail to take refuge during the liberation of Jesselton. (The eldest of the 3 sisters having been married before the war to a Chinese Hainanese family living in the Celebes)
It would be a couple of years before Tze Fatt’s hard work could secured a steady line of businesses and enough for him to recall his widowed mother and her chattel and companion lady serf Ms Wong; and his three siblings to live in Jesselton where he had secured rented premises in Kampong Ayer. Fatt Tze-Fatt’s immediate priority was to support his widowed mother and to house and arrange for his two young siblings who had lost 6 years of formal education to get back back into school.
Tze-Fatt was the sole bread earner for his family and for the next three years Tze-Fatt worked very long hours in building up his own business running a coffeeshop speak; distributing food supplies and continuing from where his father left off to provide “Awallah” financial and remittance services to Jesselton’s small Hainan community. But as Tze-Fatt’s business steadied and grew; the singular thought that drove him was his promise to his fiancee Lee Bee-Hee that he will return as soon as possible to Muar in Malaya and fulfil a promise to marry her and to raise a family together.
By 1947 the hard work Tze-Fatt had put into rebuilding his general groceries business and a life devastated by WW2 was beginning to pay off and he could begin to think about raising his own family. Since leaving Muar, he had kept in touch with his fiancé Lee Bee-Hee through letters and they would exchange photographs of themselves from time to time. Tze-Fatt spoke to his widowed mother Sen-Lan and informed her of his decision to marry Bee-Hee and that as in the traditional Confucius way his future wife would be her companion, he had decided to repatriate Sen Lan’s serf Ms Wong back to Hainan and release her from a life of servitude.
Sen Lan’s companion chattel and lady serf Wong was born in Hainan to a poor peasant family who could no longer afford to keep her in the family; and as was very common at that time in China was to sell young girls as chattel and commit them to a life of servitude as a serf. Tze-Fatt’s father Tun-Hiong was the District Officer for the district of Hainan came to know of her family’s plight and as his bride Sen-Lan had her bound feet at the age on 13 as was a customary practice for ladies born to a feudal land owning class; he foresaw that there will come a time when he would have to flee Hainan as China’s communist were winning the civil war against the Nationalist forces and the chaos of civil war was approaching southern China. As his wife Sen-Lan had bound feet she will need a serf to attend to his wife and to assist her in walking and cope with the hardship that an exodus out of Hainan would pose to Sen-Lan.
Wong Tun-Hiong had promised the parent’s of that she would be treated as one of the family and gave her their surname of serf Wong. Thus this was how Serf Ms Wong came to accompany Tun-Hiong’s wife Sen-Lan on their exodus from Hainan. On the trip out of Hainan which entered walking much of the way to the port nearby, she attended to Sen-Lan who had recovered the use of her partially bound feet and could walk unassisted although slowly and not for long stretches of time Thus her companion lady serf Ms Wong main task during their exodus and sea voyage from Hainan was carrying and nursing Sen-Lans daughter Yeh Hsiang who was a baby when they journeyed to North Borneo as refugees.
When Tze-Fatt had made arrangements and sent Sen-Lan’s lady serf Ms Wong back to Hainan China, he then travelled to Malaya and returned to Muar to formally proposed marriage to Lee Bee-Hee who had been waiting for him since he had left Muar in 1944. Both had remained single and were in their late twenties, which was late considering the social norms at the time.
Tze-Fatt and Bee-Hee were married in the family’s Muar Church and then left for Singapore where they stopped over for a weeks honeymoon and where had a formal Registration of Marriage at the YMCA with the Taiwan China Kuomintang Consul as a public notary for the China Nationalist Government in Taiwan.
The newly wed couple then boarded a Straits Steamship Kimanis on a third class cabin and returned to Jesselton. The newly wed lived in a timber shop house above Tze-Fatt’s business on the ground floor located between Jesselton’s Api Api town and its Kampong Ayer “water village”. It was a difficult time as life in Jesselton was austere in comparison with the relative comforts of her family’s urbane middle class life in her hometown of Muar.
Post-War Urban-Planner; Ralph Hone – Governor (1950 – 1954)
In 1945 to 1950, urban reconstruction of both Japan and the European colonies by the Allied US Occupational Administration contributed to maintain a high global demand for key strategic commodities such as rubber and the various derivatives of petroleum. The geo-politick pushing and shoving of the major powers had the further collateral effect of driving the industrialisation of the Far East, Japan, Korea and the modernisation of S.E. Asia. The partition of Korean by the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 followed soon after cessation of WW2 hostilities and the outbreak of war between North and South Korea in 1950 resulted in massive resources poured into the Far East by the United Nations and USA, which kicked-on and woke up a slumbering South East Asia and British North Borneo.
The U.N. military activities in S E Asia remained at a high level the the Far East and S.E. Asia communities experienced rapid post-war economic growth from foreign investments in regional economic development . The development of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore’s owed in no small way to a Neo-Imperialist grab for power and influence in the Far East on the part of newly independent nations and former colonies such as the Philippines, India and Indonesia. The old European Imperial powers responded in a program for winning the hearts and minds of indigenous people which became the new Neo-Colonial mantra for co-prosperity replacing a pre-war laissez faire Colonial Economy
In British North Borneo the economic socio and political challenges that faced Governor Ralph Hone were two fold in the immediate post war years. The first was to reinstate law and order which came hand in hand with humanitarian need to alleviate malnutrition in British North Borneo’s urban communities and the pockets of starvation in rural areas as the result of Japanese wartime occupation. Both were important to win the hearts and mind of North Borneo’s diverse ethnic communities which lived in parallel existences with respective cultures and delineated economies; and where law and order was largely a function of sectarian cabalist justice, rather than of an authentic shared common law, though nor was it comparable to apartheid justice as experienced in South Africa!
The second was economic and that although British North Borneo’s plantation based communities employed in the economic production of the commodities; rubber, copra and hemp remained largely intact after Japanese Occupation; its agricultural produces depended on it’s two main ports and supporting export townships at Sandakan and Jesselton for shipping services and these important townships were devastated during the liberation of North Borneo and thus rebuilding Sandakan & Jesselton was critical to reviving North Borneo’s economy.
During his term Governor Ralph Hone reinstated Jesselton’s Public Works Department, which undertook the construction of piped potable water scheme to the outskirts of Jesselton township towards Tanjung Aru, Kepayan and the Likas area and the beginning of a free or heavily subsidised Public Health Medical and Dental services. His Government planned the construction of Hone Place in the Tanjung Aru area which was home to an army of Anglo-Burmese and Indian Civil Servants, Teachers and Medical staff recruited largely from British Burma and British Malaya.
To encourage the reconstruction of Jesselton’s Bond Street which was its financial and commercial high-street, Governor Ralph Hone had invited a consortium of Hong Kong entrepreneurial businessmen, building contractors, builders and artisans to develop two rows of shops fronting Bond Street. His Government as the land freeholder and town planner provided land lots at a nominal price and attached quit rent to the development consortium, on condition that they complied with new building bye laws in the construction with more fire resistant reinforced concrete frame and brick infill construction and roof ceramic roof tiles. The pecuniary benefits to the government was from property value gains and increased quit rent that would eventually accrue for the colonial government with urban development.
Similarly Governor Ralph Hone invited Chartered Electrical Engineers who in the pre-war years were working with public utilities private companies in Hong Kong and Shanghai and to come to North Borneo as entrepreneurs to form local private equity Chartered Electricity Generation Companies to generate and supply power to Jesselton and rural inland towns such as Ranau and Keningau. With successful electrification of Jesselton; cinema were built and first post war Karamunsing Cinema, Cathay Cinema and Capital Cinema and London’s Pathe News began to usher Jesselton and its community into the twentieth century! Cable & Wireless began to set up international communications and Radio Jesselton services began to re-broadcast BBC programs directly into the homes of North Borneo’s British subjects. The British Council held weekly open-air “Cinemas on the Green”, both on the town’s Sport’s Club cricket grounds and at the “Padang” or common green at Hone Place and Pathe News was always screened before a popular movie. In this way the worlds news and current political affairs was brought to the homes in North Borneo.
During Governor Ralph Hone’s Government, the Jesselton Tanjung Aru Government Primary English School was established in 1952 to provide English curriculum education primarily for children of families serving in the colonial administration, but who were still too young to be sent back to England to be educated at public boarding schools (which was an essential component of the British Colonial Overseas Service). Miss Jane Newsom the first school head for Jesselton Primary English School, was the sister of John H Newsom (Joint Managing Director of Longman Green & Company and formerly the County Education Officer of Hertfordshire). John H Newcom was Committee Chairman of the 1963 Newsom Report that set the ground for Britain’s Post-War comprehensive school system when free secondary education became a right.
The British Commonwealth was formed in the fifties and began to be a major influencer of cultural development and current affairs in its Colonies and in British North Borneo.
Tze-Fatt 1949 – 1954
In 1950 Tze-Fatt’s home town in Hainan island was overrun by Mao-Zedong’s Communist forces which marked the reality on the ground that Mao’s Communist effectively controlled the whole of China; having chased the retreating and near defeated Generalissimo Chang Kai Sheik’s Kuomintang Army from the North of China to its southern island of Taiwan. In response to the threat of the spread of Communism from Mao-Zedong’s newly founded People’s Republic of China, the British Government began to scrutinise and restrict the flow of funds materials and people between North Borneo and the newly formed People’s Republic of China.
The British North Borneo Colonial Government began to regulate the Colony’s banking sector and restrict currency movement between North Borneo and Communist China and new foreign currency exchange laws and foreign account transfer regulations. The imposition of fiscal financial regulatory rules effectively stopped Tze-Fatt’s continuation of his father’s informal Awallah financial remittance services.
Fortuitously Governor Ralph Hone had suggested that Tze-Fatt purchased larger freezer cabinets and begin importing Frozen Meats Cuts from Singapore for wholesale distribution to the Britain’s expatriate families living in Jesselton. The Cold Storage business more than compensated for the loss of his father “Awallah” remittence business and was in time to become his core groceries business in Tong Hing Supermarket. By the 1950 when his first child and daughter Kah-Poh arrived his groceries business was well established and his finances sufficiently robust for him to purchase a Morris Van and to expand his market in distribution of Frozen Meats and Groceries to the British families resident in Jesselton.
Life in British North Borneo the late forties and early sixties was a respite from the inhumanity and chaos of WW2. However the apparently slow paced colonial lifestyle hid the spectre of nationalist and communist ideological undercurrents sweeping across the Far East at the time. Tze-Fatt was aware of the political frissons of that turbulent post war era but ignored their ideological solicitations and promises; and holding to his Confucian upbringing to set aside any engagement with partisan politics and focusing on building up his business and as a sole bread winner for his extended family to provide food, clothes, a roof over their heads and most importantly the best education he could afford his dependants.
Ralph Hone’s tenure as Governor of North Borneo was characterised by establishing a high standard for civic institutions, public health services and education. Tze Fatt observed the civic accomplishments of Ralph Hone’s Government and could begin to believe that a democratic future was possible under British Colonial rule and which could bring he and his family into a modern era. In response to the Colonial Government’s community building program, he worked with other Chinese Community Leaders and was a founding member of the Jesselton Chinese Middle School and was President of the Hainan Association and was Chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Liberal Neo-Colonial, Evelyn, Turnbull – Governor (1954 – 1959);
At the end of WWII as with other great European Imperialist Nations, Britain’s national wealth; thus its military and imperial powers were greatly diminished. In the place of the first world European Imperialist Nations dividing the globe and colonising African and Asian countries; the new world order saw the rise of two modern confronting modern industrial superpowers which was the USSR and USA and their respective spheres of influence to the West and East of Europe. Western European nations would soon form the European Union initially as a common market and then later to cooperate in macro economic planning for member nations. Gradual political union was inevitable and perhaps a bridge too far for United Kingdom and hence her recent Brexit referendum to exit the European Union. The formation of the US lead NATO was founded to prevent war occurring again amongst the Western European nations and as a sub-text to confront the perceived threat of a Stalinist Soviet lead Warsaw Pact of Eastern European and Russian Slavic nations grouped under the USSR and Comecon nations.
With the USSR pre-occupied on its Western European flank where the East-West divide of Germany remained a potential hotspot for a renewal of global conflict; in the Pacific theatre it was the USA who rose as the undisputed dominant uni-polar Pacific Superpower to eclipse the sunsetting European and British Empires in the Far East. In a new world order a mix of nationalism, capitalism and socialism replaced European Imperialism with a continuation of the West’s Democratic nations’ war against fascism in its various left and right wing forms were the main drivers of global geopolitical affairs.
North Borneo’s moniker as the “Land Below the Winds” was changed forever as the winds of globalisation wafted in by modern communication, first by Marconi’s Cable & Wireless; then Hollywood’s cinema and the jet-setting age. From the Middle East, India and though to British Malayan and Singapore, Britain’s former colonies began to fall like dominoes in seeking self rule and independence and to sever politically with British Sovereignty. For a moment, British North Borneo seemed to be left out of the maddening rush for independence as on the whole the people and residents in North Borneo were content to exist in its own quiet backwater eddy.
Britain’s Labour Government’s post war political social consensus sowed the seeds for a liberal progressive neo-colonialism which saw self rule under a British Legal & Administrative system as a compromise solution to temper the cries for independence resounding throughout the British Empire’s Far East and to avoid her colonies falling to communism.
In sunsetting British Empire Commonwealth Institution and the British Council were the best proponent of British Post-War neo-colonialism and regarded as the best approach for Britain to keep is former colonies as friendly Anglophone markets with British Industry as its global primal centre. The Commonwealth Institution best exemplifies and embodied Britain’s neo-colonial liberal progressive values and the British Council promoted a wider knowledge of the UK and the English language; encouraging cultural, scientific, technological and educational co-operation with the UK; and changing people’s lives through access to UK education, skills, qualifications, culture and society.
Evelyn Turnbull has been described in the annuals of North Borneo as British North Borneo’s most accomplished Governor. Whereas his two predecessors guided Britain’s post-war humanitarian aid, restoration of civic order and the urban reconstruction of its capital Jesselton. Evelyn Turnbull’s nation building accomplishment was in overseeing the construct of North Borneo’s administrative establishment and laying the progressive foundations for North-Borneo’s liberal democratic political and social development which took North Borneo from being a backwater colony through to its independence as Sabah State of Malaysia.
Governor Turnbull is well remembered for his Governor’s Children Christmas party where Primary 6 students form the Government English primary School would be invited to the governors residence for a Christmas party and toys specially flown in from London would be given as a gift to each child. Under Governor Turnbull Sabah College was established in 1957 as the first science based middle and high school from Secondary One through to Upper Six (and its Assembly Hall was named as the Turnbull Hall). In the pre-war years education was largely provided by the Roman Catholic La-Salle order. Both schools were the best examples of a comprehensive British Progressive Education and a strategic idea at the time to prepare the next generation for greater autonomy in self government as a British Protectorate. During his tenure the Anglican Cathedral was completed. The Colombo Plan was extended to North Borneo and The British Council began to promote British Education with the opening of a branch office in Jesselton.
Governor Turnbull initiated the greening of North Borneo in his gazetting of National Parks as an environmental conservation measure
which saved much of Sabah’s primary forests and which was only fully appreciated much later during the rampant deforestation of a newly independent Sabah State of Malaysia during the heydays of North Borneo (Sabah) timber industry and after which when remaining primary forests were clear felled to make way for Palm Oil and Cocoa Plantations.
Following the rebuilding of Jesselton during Governor Turnbull’s tenure; arguably the Jesselton enjoyed one of the most modern urban living environment in S.E Asia certainly surpassing Peninsular Malaya and arguably comparable with living standards in Singapore in terms of public health facilities and sanitation utilities provided as Civic Services and as a Human Right.
Tze-Fatt 14/05/1955 Inferno
The fire that gutted Tze-Fatt’s business premises in 1955 was another turning point in Tze-Fatt’s trials and tribulations which would test his will and a tenacity to survive progress and prosper.
On that fateful day Tze-Fatt had woken up his two young sons early in the morning and with their nanny looking after them, had driven to town getting there to see the dismal sight of his shop burnt to the ground. His two young sons who were with him were thankfully oblivious to the existential meaning of the carnage that laid before them.
Tze-Fatt’s wife Bee Hee had been away in Muar to attend her father’s one year memorial service and to pay her respects at her father’s grave. This was perhaps one of the most difficult times for Tze-Fatt when he had to relive the horrors and destruction WW2 brought him and that on her return to Jesselton his wife Lee Bee-Hee was overcome by a mental breakdown arising from the traumatic events for the last two years.
Post-Script Pomp & Ceremony, Allmonde, Codrington, Goode; Governor (1959 to 1963).
By 1959 when Allmonde, Codrington, Goode became Governor of North Borneo it was generally understood at the time that he was to be largely a Ceremonial Caretaker Governor in North Borneo’s transition towards greater self rule or independence which were the political narratives at the time throughout the British Empire.
By the late fifties, it was clear to Britain’s Parliament that in a post war new world order, it was not longer politically tenable for her to retain her Colonies in the Far East and independence would have to be granted. However, in North Borneo at the time there was a lack of an authentic nationalist pressure for the British Government to grant North Borneo independence. However with Malayan Sultanates, Penang and Singapore independence; North Borneo would be effectively an isolated outpost should it remain as Britain’s Colony. In Kuala Lumpur Tunku Abdul Rahman was championing the formation of Malaysia of Singapore, Brunei and the British Malayan Federation on the Peninsular of Malaya. However he had concerns that under a democratic government, the inclusion of Singapore Chinese population would result in a demographic balance that threatened the political primacy of the Malays in Peninsular Malaya. His solution to this problem was to suggest adding Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo to the Independent Malaysia equation and which seemed a simple idea at the time but perhaps was extremely naive in hindsight considering the ethnic diversity within North Borneo’s Malay speaking communities.
The Cobbold Commission of Enquiry headed by former Bank of England governor Lord Cobbold was set up under the auspices of the United Nations to determine whether the people of North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak supported the proposal to create the Federation of Malaysia consisting of Malaya, Brunei, Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak. It was also responsible for the subsequent drafting of the Constitution of Malaysia prior to the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
History will record and to quote; about one-third of the population of each territory strongly favours early realisation of Malaysia without too much concern about terms and conditions. Another third, many of them favourable to the Malaysia project, ask, with varying degrees of emphasis, for conditions and safeguards varying in nature and extent: the warmth of support among this category would be markedly influenced by a firm expression of opinion by Governments that the detailed arrangements eventually agreed upon are in the best interests of the territories. The remaining third is divided between those who insist on independence before Malaysia is considered and those who would strongly prefer to see British rule continue for some years to come.
Tze-Fatt had belonged to the one third identified by the Cobbold Commission that preferred to see British rule continue for some time to come. As a Chinese Community leader Tze Fatt was involved in presenting the proposal to the Chinese community. However he was aware that Tunku Abdul Rahman had personally solicited the support of Haji Mustapha bin Datu Harun who would later become the first governor of the Malaysian state of Sabah and he guessed that the Independence of North Borneo was a fait accompli. Tze-Fatt was therefore not surprised when North Borneo was fast tracked to independence as Sabah and immediately joined in 1963 as one of the 14 Federated State of Malaysia; (Singapore ceded from Malaysia in 1965).
The Independence of North Borneo as Sabah and a State of Malaysia marked another turn in Tze-Fatt’s fortunes and a fin-de-siecle of an earlier life. It was a time of existential uncertainty for Tze Fatt who had to quickly understand the political economic and social changes and adapt to make the critical business model changes needed to prosper in a new political social and economic paradigm.
The British Commonwealth was perhaps an attempt for London to regain the initiative and win back the hearts and minds of its former colonial subjects. But perhaps by then political will from Parliament was stretched a bridge to far and the pivot of the United Kingdom towards the new European Union left its former colonies feeling stranded in a US dominated Pacific.
The establishment of the Commonwealth was perhaps too little and a little too late and forced the community leaders in the Far East to think critically for themselves and out of existential necessity to innovate politically and which mainstream Western Media at the time naively mistook as nationalism. In particular the West feared their own western derived communism ideology becoming the basis of nationalism in the Far East and armed conflict ensued between the Western Powers and former Colonies without a full appreciation that freedom for critical thinking and political innovation is perhaps Mankind’s fundamental existential necessity and right.
Perhaps the one event that marked the turning point in the shift of political powers in the Far East and the heralding of a New World Order in the sixties was the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961 as President of The United States which soon after saw the presence of the US Peace Corp Service in British North Borneo.