The Lee Kuan Yew I remember: Bukit Ho Swee fire victim James Seah Kok Thim

The Lee Kuan Yew I remember: Bukit Ho Swee fire victim James Seah Kok Thim
Four years after the Bukit Ho Swee fire, when the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited again, it had become a modern housing estate of high rise-flats.

My parents, two elder sisters and I lived in Beo Lane at the Bukit Ho Swee kampung until I was 13.

On May 25, 1961 - it was a public holiday - when the big fire broke out, my mother and I were at my second auntie's house.

We reached home before the fire reached it and my mother managed to take away a sarong with our birth certificates. My family was among the 16,000 fire victims left homeless that night.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew promised that in nine months we would all have new flats to live in.

The Housing Board (HDB) had taken over from Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) for only three months.

SIT, after over 30 years, had built only 23,000 flats. So people were asking if the PAP Government and Prime Minister Lee would be able to do better than the British government.

So when we got the Jalan Bukit Ho Swee HDB flat less than a year later, we were really grateful. We were saying, at least this Government can keep its promise.

In 1962, Mr Lee visited our estate to see how the fire victims had settled in. My friends and I followed him around.

A neighbour had a provision shop in the kampung, so he made his new flat like a shop. We bought flavoured ice tubes, sweets and cookies for 10 cents from him.

The Prime Minister was quite understanding. It was not right but people had to make a living. He also inspected the communal toilets. He was a very simple guy. When he visited, he wore short sleeves.

Many from the kampung were very poor, uneducated, a lot of coolies, port workers. They approached the Prime Minister with job problems.

Kampung people keep their gratitude in their hearts, they didn't say it. But the respect we have for him is because Mr Lee got things done.

He was not the kind who cared about popularity... He gave my family a house, he was our benefactor.


This article was first published on March 23, 2015.
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