My grandfather, a war hero

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01 Feb 2019 | PEOPLE

My grandfather, a war hero

// Story Koh Eng Beng

// Photos Chai Sian Liang & Courtesy of CFC (NS) Tay

English 华文

A volunteer soldier who died at the hands of the Japanese during World War II — his sacrifice inspired his grandson, Corporal First Class (CFC) (NS) Andrew Tay, to continue serving as a citizen soldier today.

Bakayaro (“idiot” in Japanese)! Where are the British supporters and Chinese Nationalists?”

A squad of Japanese soldiers yelled as they went door-to-door, brandishing their rifles with bayonets attached.

Terrified, someone raised his hand and pointed next door.

The soldiers then stormed into that house. They dragged out a young man, ignoring the pleas from his wife to let him go.

That young man was Corporal (CPL) Tay Tiang Wah, a soldier in the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (SSVF). This would be the last time his wife saw him. His body was never found. He was likely executed, along with thousands of others during the Japanese occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945.

In recognition of his sacrifice and contributions to the war effort, the British later awarded a scroll and four medals to CPL Tay posthumously.

The medals and scroll awarded to CFC (NS) Tay’s grandfather in recognition of his sacrifice and contributions to the war effort.

Family inspiration

This story was recounted by CFC (NS) Tay at the Kranji War Memorial, where his grandfather’s name is inscribed alongside the names of other war heroes.

His late grandfather is the reason why the 47-year-old continues to serve as a citizen soldier today, despite having already completed his National Service (NS) duties in 2013.

“We don’t want to get to the point where everyone becomes complacent about defence. We don’t need another war to create more heroes.”

According to a historian, his grandfather likely served in the SSVF Headquarters at Beach Road, but his role and responsibilities were not known, CFC (NS) Tay added.

Strong commitment

An owner and director of a hotel in Cambodia, CFC (NS) Tay is based there with his wife and three children. They have a seven-year-old boy and two girls, aged five and two.

Despite the distance, the Company Quarter Master of Headquarters, 56th Singapore Armoured Brigade, makes it a point to fly back to Singapore for all in-camp training sessions, even for briefings that last only half a day.

He also put in place NS-friendly policies in his company, such as providing Singaporean staff with free gym membership as well as incentives for completing NS duties.

Even though he is based in Cambodia, CFC (NS) Tay returns to Singapore every year with his family to attend the SAF Day Combined Rededication Ceremony.

Inspiring the next generation

CFC (NS) Tay, who is also the grandnephew of war hero Lim Bo Seng, first heard about his grandfather from his grandmother when he was a secondary school student.

“At that point, it wasn’t so impactful. But when I got older and served my NS, it started to dawn on me more and more the importance of this piece of history.”

Before the photoshoot with PIONEER began at Kranji War Memorial, a group of officer cadets arrived for a visit. CFC (NS) Tay walked towards them, and gave an impromptu talk about his grandfather.

Asked why he spoke to the cadets, CFC (NS) Tay said: “In my earlier days, I served out of duty. Nowadays, the terror threat has come so close to home.

“I want to help the next generations to understand (that) we should always be prepared.”

CFC (NS) Tay sharing his grandfather’s story with officer cadets who happened to be visiting the Kranji War Memorial.
CFC (NS) Tay with his platoon mates from his full-time national service days in 46 SAR.

During his younger days, CFC (NS) Tay served in 433rd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (433 SAR). An armoured infantry trooper, he operated the 84mm recoilless rifle as a loader.

He remembers well the tough days where he had to carry the 84mm rounds which weighed over 3kg each.

On Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day, which falls on the first of July each year, CFC (NS) Tay returns to Singapore with his wife and children, and brings them to the SAF Day Combined Rededication Ceremony.

It is an event where national servicemen gather to reaffirm their pledge of loyalty and dedication to Singapore and the SAF.

The reason?

“I want my son to know that we are Singaporeans, and (that) one day he has to serve NS.

“I want him to know that this is an important part of being Singaporean.”

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