Recalling a turbulent era

I have been following The Straits Times' The Pioneer Club series as I belong to that generation of Singaporeans, and I read the interview with ballet teacher Goh Lay Kuan with particular interest ("The ballerina who overturned tables"; May 3).

As a police officer from 1961 to 1988, I still have vivid memories of Singapore during those days. I remember ST reported extensively on Madam Goh's detention in 1976. The report ("The red plot..."; May 28, 1976) stated that 50 people were detained for communist activities that sought to undermine Singapore's stability.

It gave a detailed account of how Madam Goh had been recruited into a splinter group of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), and that she had stayed at a CPM jungle camp in Betong along the Thai-Malaysia border, where she observed about 60 armed persons training with guns.

The report even had a photo of this camp, which was recovered from one of the other arrested persons.

Related online articles described the links this group had to an ultra-violent splinter cell of the CPM that had assassinated the Malaysian Inspector-General of Police in 1974, and the Chief Police Officer of Perak in 1975.

In fact, according to former senior Malaysian Special Branch officer Aloysius Chin's book, The Communist Party Of Malaya: The Inside Story, this same group had sent agents to tail the late Mr Tan Teck Khim, a former commissioner of the Singapore Police Force, under whom I had served, for an assassination attempt that fortunately never materialised.

These events may seem distant, but they are still very real to me.

The 1970s was a time when the Red threat was high. South Vietnam had fallen to the communist North. We were in the midst of the Cold War, and there was a fierce communist insurgency in the Malay peninsula where hundreds were killed in the 1970s. The CPM leader, Chin Peng, nicknamed the "Butcher of Malaya", made peace only in 1989 from his base on the Thai-Malaysia border.

It is good that ST has been reporting on the experiences and memories of the pioneer generation, so that younger generations of Singaporeans can understand the challenges we had to overcome, and the choices we had to make as individuals and as a country to arrive at where we are.

Lionel De Souza

This article was published on May 16 in The Straits Times.

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