Please find references and additional notes for “The long shadow of Operation Coldstore” below.
“Coordinated by the British, Malayan and Singaporean governments, Operation Coldstore saw the detention without trial of over 120 trade unionists, politicians, journalists, teachers and students.”
Estimates vary, but this number is derived from former political detainee and elected MP Loh Miaw Gong who collected a list of all of Singapore’s political detainees from 1950-2013. See Loh Miaw Gong (Loh Miaw Ping), “The Historical Truth Will Be Revealed: Political Detainees in Singapore, 1950-2013”, in The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years, (Malaysia: SIRD, 2013), p. 426. The full list can be found online here.
“Consider first that many of those who were later labelled “communists” were instrumental in the PAP’s rise. This includes Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, S Woodhull and James Puthucheary. When they were detained without trial by the Lim Yew Hock government in 1956, Lee demanded that they “be brought to trial in open court or released unconditionally.” He pledged to “to fight for their democratic rights.””
The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew - Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues: Volume 1, 1950-1962, p. 57.
“Just before the 1959 General Election, in which the PAP swept to power and Lee became the nation’s first prime minister, he told voters that if his party won the election, it would release all PAP members who had been detained without trial: “We don't abandon our comrades-in-arms.””
The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew - Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues: Volume 1, 1950-1962, p. 87.
“As far as the PAP was concerned—at least publicly—the attempt to call political detainees “communists” was an excuse to curtail democratic rights. The PAP refused to take office until the British released eight of its most senior party members from prison.”
These included Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, S Woodhull, James Puthucheary, Devan Nair, Chan Chiaw Thor, Chen Say Jame and Chan Chong Kin.
“It was expected that in the subsequent weeks and months, the remaining ones would also be freed. They were not. Declassified British documents indicate that: “Although Lee has publicly demanded release of detainees and attacked [the] detention order under which they are held, he has, in private, recognised that maintenance of detention order is essential.””
National Archives of Australia, Series A1838, Item 3024/2/1 Pt 9: BTSEA - Colony of Singapore - Political - General, 2 June 1959 cablegram.
“I can reveal now that I only accepted Singapore because of Britain’s unequivocal stand, which was that unless we could take Singapore in they would not relinquish their hold on the island colony…So it is evident I had no choice.”
Tunku Abdul Rahman, Looking Back: Monday Musings and Memories, p. 77.
“They went on to form Barisan Sosialis, which took with it “35 of the [PAP’s] branch committees, 19 of the 23 organising secretaries, and an estimated 80 percent of the membership.” According to British declassified documents, Barisan were “the strongest political force in Singapore.””
British National Archives, FO 1091/104, p. 136, para 3. Cited in The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore, p. 179.
“At that stage, merger with Malaya was not expected soon, but in about five to six years. Philip Moore, the deputy British commissioner, recalls a worried Lee: in order to avoid the Communists taking over, he would create a situation in which the UK Commissioner would be forced to suspend the Constitution. This might be done either by the Singapore Government inviting a Russian trade mission to Singapore thus forcing a constitutional crisis, or by instigating riots and disorder, requiring the intervention of British troops. I did, however, form the impression that he was quite certain he would lose a general election and was seriously toying with the thought of forcing British intervention in order to prevent his political enemies from forming a government.”
British National Archives, CO 1030/1149, p. 95, para 3. Quoted in The Fajar Generation, p. 171.
“Yet, Lee Kuan Yew was anxious about taking responsibility for the arrests. In another declassified British document from late 1962, we see Lee toying with the idea of: resign[ing] as Prime Minister and hand[ing] over to Goh Keng Swee. This would achieve two objects [sic]. First he would be able, as Secretary-General of the P.A.P, to concentrate on recovering the lost ground in the trade union movement, Secondly he would be absolved of any personal responsibility for the arrest!”
Secret memorandum, from Moore to Selkirk, November 1962, CO 1030/1158, ‘Singapore Internal Security Council 1962,’ document 33. Quoted in Geoff Wade, “Operation Coldstore: A Key Event in the Creation of Modern Singapore” in The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years, p. 29.
“After Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaysia in September 1963, many more arrests followed. Poh wrote in his memoir that “that this was the primary reason for [the creation of] Malaysia: so that the Tunku could take responsibility for wielding the Internal Security Act against the left which Lee could not do without alienating a significant segment of his electorate.””
Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception, p. 288.
““Was there really a tiger? Did the tiger want to swallow anybody? Or was there a movement with a wide range of political views from extreme left to social democratic right which attempted to create an alternative to a colonially-designed society, an embryo for creating a new Malaya?” asked Dominic Puthucheary, who had been a senior member of Barisan Sosialis, in an interview in the early 2000s.”
Men in White: The Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party, p. 320.
“In 1959, Singapore’s Special Branch estimated that the strength of the Malayan Communist Party in Singapore was low: “40 full party members, 80 ABL [Anti-British League] cadres; 200 or so ‘sympathisers’ and less than 100’ ‘released’ for ‘White Area work.’””
T.N. Harper, “Lim Chin Siong and The ‘Singapore Story,’” in Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History, Eds. Tan Jing Quee and Jomo K. S., p. 31.
“There’s also no evidence that Barisan Sosialis had any formal dealings with the MCP. “Contrary to the countless allegations made over the years by Singapore leaders, academics and the Western press, we never controlled the Barisan Socialis,” said Chin Peng, the MCP’s leader, in his memoirs.”
Chin Peng, My Side of History, p. 438.
“According to Chin Peng, Lee himself had approached MCP members in 1954 “to send cadres to help him” establish a new political party.”
Dialogues with Chin Peng: New Light on the Malayan Communist Party, p. 195.
“Almost all of those arrested under Coldstore were immediately placed in solitary confinement. “Many were physically tortured. Not a few went mad. Almost all suffered from what today would be called post-traumatic stress syndrome,” said Poh in “The Fajar Generation:The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore”.”
The Fajar Generation, p. 195.
Two months after the arrests, Marshall was finally given access to the detainees. He said that the conditions in prison were “radically worse than conditions imposed in the past either by the Imperial Government or by any previous Singapore Government.””
Quoted in Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History, pp. 44-45.
If you enjoy Jom’s work, do get a paid subscription today to support independent journalism in Singapore.