Duty Bound – what you will not read in history text books

Duty Bound book cover - DM Books
Image from the cover of Duty Bound – A Singapore War Hero Remembered (DM Books)

By Ghui

As the year draws to a close, it is normal to reflect on the events that have taken place throughout the year. This is all the more so as the coming year will usher in our nation’s 50th milestone birthday. As we near our fifth decade, it is only natural to contemplate upon the achievements, difficulties, contributions and failures that have brought us to this day.

There have certainly been many efforts made to commemorate the sacrifices made by Singaporeans in the past 50 years and beyond. The government has unveiled a marker to memoralise the hardships endured by those who fought against the communists.

Movies like To Singapore With Love, while banned and not likely timed to coincide with our momentous birthday, have certainly made us more reflective and reminds us all that many from all walks of life have played a part in the development of our nation.

This year saw the release of a book, Duty Bound – A Singapore War Hero Remembered by David Miller. It is an account of the war seen through the eyes of retired police officer Halford Boudewyn.  Written in a lively and engaging manner, World War II is brought to life in nail biting fashion.

Having studied history all the way to my GCE ‘A’ Levels, I can quite honestly say that although I knew the war caused unspeakable hardships to many Singaporeans, it was never “alive” to me. Singapore does not actively commemorate Remembrance Day and my grandparents were reluctant to talk about this turbulent time.

The war therefore remained consigned to history and subconsciously to exams. There was no way to personalise the conflict.  Of course, I knew the names of war heroes like Elizabeth Choy and Lim Bo Seng but their names do not resonate as much as Sir Stamford Raffles, when really they should!

It was therefore with a sense of intrigue, pride and shame when I read about the exploits of Halford Boudewyn and the immense risks he undertook to liberate Singapore from the Japanese. Shame that I have never even heard of him prior to the book, pride at the heroism displayed by a local and intrigue as the war and the toil it had finally came to life for me – an effect that our emotionless textbooks which lacked any human element never aroused.

The book also recounted the war from a Eurasian perspective – something that is clearly under represented in our historical accounts.

The mood of those days, the human connection and the sense of purpose felt by Halford Boudewyn are well captured and conveyed much sense of place. At certain chapters, I almost felt like if I closed my eyes, I would be transported back into the 40s, right into the thick of action.

Without revealing too much of the plot, I was impressed not just by Halford’s attitude but by his resourcefulness, discipline and resolve. Reading about his various disguises and harrowing near escapes as he smuggled out sensitive documents from Japanese hands for the Allied war effort – it really hit home just how much our pioneers have done for our nation and it is imperative that we remember these sacrifices when we contemplate our history. Nation building is not just the effort of one but a combination of efforts from the collective.

Names like Halford Boudewyn should not fade into the annals of time. As we enter 2015, Duty Bound would be an interesting and opportune read.