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Mrs Elizabeth Choy (1910 - 2006) - Singapore's War Heroine

By Kevin Khoo, Assistant Archivist

Portrait Photograph of Elizabeth Choy in 1955

Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei won lasting fame for her courageous acts of resistance during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

During the Japanese Occupation, Elizabeth Choy worked as a canteen operator with her husband at the Singapore Mental Hospital. The couple secretly helped British internees at the hospital but were eventually caught and arrested by the Japanese military. Elizabeth was interrogated and tortured by the Kempeitai but she never admitted to being a British sympathizer. She was released after enduring two hundred days of suffering and constant threats of execution. After the war Elizabeth Choy was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of the valor she exhibited during the Occupation.

Elizabeth Choy subsequently led an extraordinarily varied and fruitful life. She was Singapore's first female Legislative Council member in 1951. She became a noted art model for several years. She became the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind in 1956 and was later a respected and much loved teacher at St Margaret's and St Andrew's schools. She was also instrumental in expanding the women's auxiliary wing of the Singapore Volunteers Corps which she joined in the 1950s.

Valuables Donated

Highlights of Bridget Choy's donation to NAS include 93 of Elizabeth Choy's documents including her personal correspondences and writings, news clippings, letters of commendation dating from 1929 to 2006. Also important are 14 artifacts belonging to Elizabeth Choy including various artwork she possessed, awards and gifts given by the Singapore government and the different organizations she worked with like the Geylang Methodist Schools and the Singapore Girl Guides Association.

Why is this collection valuable?

Bridget Choy's donation of her mother's belongings is a very significant acquisition for the National Archives of Singapore (NAS). It leaves in NAS' custody historical material that is likely to be of great interest to biographical researchers, historians of the Japanese Occupation, students of Singapore culture and society, and also future generations of Singaporeans. Elizabeth Choy was an iconic figure in Singapore in the 1950s to 1960s and remained an honored public figure throughout her life. She was a symbol of woman's liberty in Singapore and also a symbol of hope and possibility for many citizens (male and female) of the budding Singapore nation. She played an influential role in shaping Singapore's heritage.

The unique content of Bridget Choy's donation also contributes to its value. Elizabeth Choy's private papers in particular include very intimate personal writings that give us an insight into her private thoughts that cannot be obtained elsewhere. These papers complement the extensive oral history interviews NAS previously conducted with Elizabeth Choy which also documents the more personal side of Elizabeth Choy's life.

Together with a 9 hour oral history interview conducted with NAS in 1985, Bridget Choy's donation has given NAS the most in-depth and comprehensive collection of private materials publicly available on Elizabeth Choy.

Collection Highlights

1. 1986 Essay by Elizabeth Choy titled "My Humble Testimony"

In this 1986 essay, Elizabeth Choy wrote on the importance of her Christian faith which kept her hopes alive during her internment by the Japanese.

"God is my help and my Redeemer, my Guide and Counselor, the source of courage and wisdom... without the knowledge of God I would never be able to go through all the trials and tribulations of World War II - the Japanese Occupation of Singapore 1942-1945. I trusted completely in God and he delivered me from all my enemies. He gave me courage and hope."

"During the Japanese Occupation Kang and Poh-Poh were the only husband and wife team to be taken by the Japanese Kempeitai, put in cells, tortured and threatened with execution. The Lord gave us courage and delivered us from the jaws of death. Once anyone is taken by the Japanese Kempeitai, no human being can help, except God. When war ended and I asked my father, a very devout Christian, if he was worried when I was in the Kempeitai hands, he said, "No, I was not worried. I knew you would put your trust in God as there was no one else who could save you"...... All through my life I have been very conscious of God's goodness to me. I feel very unworthy. I seldom speak of my good fortune - sometimes too good to be true, e.g. I was invited to Buckingham Palace on 5 occasions".

2. Photograph of Elizabeth Choy with fellow Legislative Councilors Che Ahmad Mohamed Ibrahim and Mrs Vilasini Menon, c.1950