Love and Terror
Stories of Separation
During the Japanese Occupation
Prelude: Calm Before the Storm
BIRDS catching the sea wind, wide open roads and clear skies: a perfect date is in order for Gerard and his girlfriend Margret. Earlier in the day, he had borrowed a friend’s car to drive to the beach in Katong. The district and its dissecting Telok Kurau Road are ulu. Houses are far and few in-between, and the heavily forested road, leads directly to the East Coast. Before reaching the beach, the couple decide to make a pit stop – a Chinese man is selling noodles by the roadside, and they are hungry. So, they sit and eat, not a care in the world, watching the occasional car pass by.
Gerard Clarke is a rising sports star in Singapore. From an early age, Gerry (as his friends called him) took a liking to sports. Maybe it was a passion that was passed down by his father – who donated generously to sports clubs around the region. But by the age of 17, he was well-known for his competency in hockey, cricket and the athletics, and was heavily decorated.
Gerry has big dreams. A career in sports and a life with Margret Cockburn are just the start. He has been seeing her for a while now. Their families are getting close and the relationship is getting serious. Dates to confectionaries, ice-cream shops, diners and open-air cinemas are becoming more frequent. The question of a marriage loomed large over the couple. Sadly, they weren’t given the opportunity to answer that question for many years to come.
ELSEWHERE in Singapore, a young Paul Abisheganaden is pursuing a forbidden love. He first met Theresa– a part Eurasian, part Chinese girl – in Church. By apparent luck, they get thrusted into various activities together. Playing badminton, attending church meetings, organising fun fairs and events -- they do it all, together. Sadly though, both parents get word of the growing interracial relationship, and they aren’t pleased. Paul’s father is planning on arranging his son’s marriage – with a prospective bride cum cousin in mind. Theresa’s parents are not comfortable with marrying their daughter to an Indian man.
The Indian man in question, however, isn’t just anyone. Taught to play the violin at the age of four by his father, Paul came from a family of musicians. At six, he started receiving lessons from the leader of Singapore's first home-grown orchestra. In just a few decades, Paul will be credited with reviving classical music in Singapore. But for now, he is a mere English teacher, at Geylang English School.
IT was lunchtime at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. Students flooded Bras Basah Road, trying to rush home for a quick mid-day meal. School timetables in the 1930s were more like a marathon, with lessons spread throughout the day, instead of being concentrated in the morning or evening. Thus, lunchtime was an important avenue for relaxation and socialisation.
Unlike the other students though, Elizabeth didn’t have a family to return to. She came to Singapore at the age of nineteen because academic opportunities were scarce back home in Borneo. Her mother had tragically passed away a few years back and her father was still working in Sarawak. So, she followed a friend, Florence, as she headed to her future in-laws house for lunch. As the wedding got closer, Florence became increasingly excited. Daily trips to the Choy family residence had become commonplace, with Elizabeth tagging along.
It was during these lunchtime meetings that Florence’s future mother-in-law took a liking to the well-mannered and responsible Elizabeth. Knowing that her parents were not in Singapore, the woman always insisted on Elizabeth having lunch with her before returning to school. The appreciative schoolgirl did not realise then that the elderly woman had designs on her: as a daughter-in-law, a wife for her second son.
Elizabeth was hesitant at first. After all, as a surrogate mother of sorts to her siblings, she was more focused on getting them educated. But from a young age, through her missionary upbringing in the convent, Elizabeth was taught to serve and make others happy. She couldn’t bear to see the old woman disappointed – so eventually, she agreed to the wedding.
‘It would be the right thing to do,’ she said to herself
Sadly for these couples, the world as they knew it would soon vanish. Singapore - the supposedly invincible British fortress – would be abandoned and then seized by a fascist regime, hell-bent on creating a South-East Asian Empire.
The three couples now face an uncertain future with fear and trepidation.
"All is not fair in love and war"
Love and Terror is a multi-part series that tells the real stories of three couples as they grasp with a changing and terrifying world. Follow Kopi on Facebook to be notified when the next chapter drops.
- Interviews and Photographs: National Archives of Singapore (NAS)