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Elizabeth Choy – Singapore’s War Heroine, Politician and Teacher

Mrs Elizabeth Choy (1910 - 2006)
Mrs Elizabeth Choy (1910 - 2006)

Today (3 March) is International Women's Day. This Women's Day, let us celebrate the life of one of our own heroine, Mrs Elizabeth Choy Yong Su Moi.

Mrs Choy's psychological resilience and valor helped her endure the relentless Kempeitai* during the Japanese Occupation.

She spent almost 200 days at the hands of the Japanese occupiers but never once did she even show signs of conceding. The torture she went through at the hands of the Kempeitiai made even the hardest of men break down, but her spirit was indomitable.

"I was put into a cell only 10 by 12 feet (4m by 5m) big. There were more than 20 people crammed inside. Packed like sardines, we knelt from morning till night. Some of us suffered serious sores on our knees.

When my interrogators could not get any information out of me, they dragged my husband from Outram Prison, tied him up and made him kneel beside me. Then, in his full view, they stripped me to the waist and applied electric currents to me.

The electric shocks sent my whole body into spasms. My tears and mucus flowed uncontrollably.

I cannot describe the pain, but it must have been thousands of times worse for my husband who had to see me being tortured.

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It's impossible not to cringe when one hears what Mrs Choy went through.

For her courageous actions, Mrs Choy was rewarded the Order of the British Empire Medal (OBE) in 1950.

Mrs Choy being presented the OBE
Mrs Choy being presented the OBE

Many of us may only remember her as a War heroine, but she also made history by being the first Singaporean woman to be elected to the Legislative Council in 1951. She served for a full five-year term. As a member of the Legislative Council, she even represented Singapore at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953.

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

When asked about what prompted her to enter politics, she said that she was persuaded to do so as Singapore was an emerging country working towards self-rule and independence and felt that she must, with her experience, play a part in promoting the political growth of Singapore.

Her foresight, leadership and willingness to step up to the plate when the nation needed her are ideal traits of political leaders.

In 1956, she broke new ground by founding the Singapore School for the Blind and working as its first principal. Mrs Choy, together with Mr. Ron Chandran-Dudley, secretary of the Disabled People's Association, made visits to the villages to convince skeptical parents of blind children to allow them to go to school

Mrs Elizabeth Choy with Minister for Culture, Mr S Rajaratnam enjoying a performance by the children from Singapore School for the Blind during a Christmas party, 1959.
Mrs Elizabeth Choy with Minister for Culture, Mr S Rajaratnam enjoying a performance by the children from Singapore School for the Blind during a Christmas party, 1959.

She also served as a teacher in St. Margaret's School and later in St. Andrew's School. Her dedication to teaching saw her through a 40 year-long teaching career. She retired from teaching in 1974.

By the time of her retirement, she had been awarded several medals not just for her bravery but also for her contribution to society. On top of the OBE, she also received the Order of the Star of Sarawak (OSS) from the Raja of Sarawak.

Mrs. Choy has been a shining example not only to women but for all Singaporeans. I'm sure all of us can learn many valuable lessons from colorful the life of Singapore's very own heroine.

Happy International Women's Day to all!

*Kempeitai ("Military Police Corps") was the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1881 to 1945.