Location Scouting in British Newsreels made before the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1938-42) – Part 6

[continued from the last post…]

8. Nanyang Normal School (南洋师范学校) along Kim Yam Road (金炎路)

The Nanyang Normal School was established by philanthropist Mr. Tan Kah Kee (陈嘉庚) in 1941 as a chinese primary teachers’ training school. The school was located along Kim Yam Road in River Valley. In early 1942, it was used as a headquarters and training grounds for Dalforce, a Chinese volunteers’ army that was formed immediately before the overland attack of the Japanese army. The Nanyang Normal School ceased operations during the war and the campus was later used by a newly established Chinese secondary school — Nan Chiau Girls’ High School (南侨女子中学).

    “Dalforce, or the Singapore Overseas Chinese Volunteer Army (星华义勇军) as it was more popularly known among the Chinese community, was a volunteer army created just before the fall of Singapore in February 1942. It was made up of some 1250 Chinese volunteers from all walks of life and political persuasions. Dalforce companies, armed with limited weapons and ammunition, were sent to defend the different fronts of Singapore Island after only a short stint of training.”
– Kevin Blackburn and Chew Ju Ern, Daniel, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore in 1942: An Overseas Chinese Heroic Legend“, 2005.

The creation of Dalforce was the brainchild of members of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP;马来亚共产党), who had delegates in the Overseas Chinese Mobilisation Council of Singapore (星洲华侨抗敌动员总会) formed in December 1942. Headed by Huang Ye Lu (黄耶鲁, alias Huang Wang Qin, 黄望青) and Lim Kang Sek (林江石), the ten-member MCP delegation proposed that a civilian army be established under the wing of the Mobilisation Council to assist the British, Indian and Australian armies in the impending war with the Japanese. (At this point of time, the ban on MCP activities had just been lifted for the purposes of mobilising the staunchly anti-Japanese MCP members or pro-MCP members of the community for war; many Dalforce’s recruits were just released from political detention as well.)

With the agreement of the Mobilisation Council’s representatives, the Singapore Overseas Chinese Volunteer Army was established, led by Lim Kang Sek and Hu Tie Jun (胡铁君). The army was also known as Dalforce as it was coordinated by Colonel J.D. Dalley, Superintendent of the Malayan Police, Special Branch. Dalforce companies were responsible for the defence of the Kranji region in the northwest of Singapore –where enemy forces were least expected to land. Contrary to the British army’s speculations, the Japanese sent its main attacking force to cross the narrowest part of the Johor Straits near Sarimbun Beach on 8 Feb 2012. The attacking troops were met with resistance by one of the Dalforce companies and the Australian and Indian brigades that the company force was supporting. Dalforce also fought several bitter battles near Bukit Timah as the Japanese troops advanced towards the city center of Singapore.

On 13 February 1942, two days before the surrender of Singapore, Col. Dalley demobilised Dalforce and awarded each soldier a token sum of ten dollars. Following Dalforce’s disbandment, several of the key members escaped to Sumatra, and from there to India. Some of the remaining volunteers joined the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA, 马来亚人民抗日军) and continued resistance activities in Japanese-occupied Malaya.

By most accounts, the Dalforce soliders were poorly equipped and received minimal military training. Their uniform was supposedly blue, with a triangular piece of red cloth on the right arm. A yellow cloth was also wrapped around the head, because there were no tin helmets or other military headgear available in under-siege Singapore then. (The soliders had probably wore the blue uniforms in battle, and not during training as evidenced by the film-still above.) According to Frank Brewer, who was training members of Dalforce, the standard issue for each solider would have been a shotgun (or hunting rifle), seven rounds of ammunition and two grenades. According to Dalforce veteran Choo Kim Seng (朱金生), they were also equipped with a bayonet or parang, a water bottle and a towel/carpet around the waist. Indeed, we can tell, from the film-still above, that the training soliders wore the towel/carpet over their shoulders, was holding on to a shotgun each, and wrapped a piece of (yellow) cloth around their own heads.

According to Dalforce veterans who wrote about their experiences and published them soon after the end of the  war  — eg. Hu Tie Jun’s “War History of the Singapore Overseas Chinese Volunteer Army (星华义勇军战斗史)” — the volunteers of Dalforce have often been portrayed as being extremely brave, and because of their courage and steadfast anti-japanese spirit, they had been able able to overcome the odds stacked against them and dealt a significant blow to the enemy. These veterans’ accounts have become the stuff of heroic legends, and in the opinion of historians such as Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, they were often exaggerated and glorified Dalforce’s military achievements. They were part of the veterans’ attempts to compare Dalforce’s heroism with that of earlier nationalist Chinese heroes — eg. the Eight Hundred Heroes (八百壮士) of Shanghai in 1937.

We were not witnesses to the Dalforce’s battles with the Japanese, so we should leave the judgement of Dalforce’s heroics to historians who would match Dalforce veteran’s accounts with those of the Japanese, British, Indian or Australian army veterans. However, the enthusiasm of the Dalforce volunteers was not to be underestimated. Most had signed up immediately upon the Mobilisation Council’s call for volunteers and were raring for a battle with their enemies, the Japanese.

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[Update 29 December 2012]: I found a picture of the cover of a book published in 1945 to commemorate the heroics of Dalforce. Intriguing graphics…

99 1945年出版的%22星华义勇军战斗史%22

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According to war correspondent Ian Morrison’s account in his “Malayan Postscript” (1942): “The first volunteers left for the front on 5 February. There were scenes of tremendous enthusiasm as truck-loads of them left the training school (in Kim Yam Road). There were speeches, loud cheering, waving of flags. As they left, they sang a song which had been specially written for the occasion: ‘Arise, arise, those who do not want to be slaves. Build a new Great Wall with your flesh and blood.'”

Morrison had been mistaken. This song “Arise” (or “March of the Volunteers’ Army” 义勇军进行曲) has been composed and written way back in 1935 as an anti-Japanese song to be used in a Chinese film “Sons and Daughters in a Time of Storm (风云儿女)”. It is now the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China. The best and most unique rendition of the song, in my opinion, is by Paul Robeson, an American singer political activist.

In 1947, the Singapore Hokkien Huey Kuan (新加坡福建会馆) established Nan Chiau Girls’ High School in the Kim Yam Road school compound — former Nanyang Normal School and former headquarters and training grounds of Dalforce’s communist faction. (The Kuomintang faction was based in Chin Kang Huey Kuan 晋江会馆.)


Sports Day at Nan Chiau Girls’ High School, 1948. Note the similarities in the photograph above and the first film-still of this post — the two-storey building in the background and the raised grounds with chinese-style balustrade fence.

(Update on 15 May 2013: Another image of Nan Chiau Girls’ School, c.1950. I also found out that the building was formerly the house of opium farmer and philanthropist Cheang Hong Lim. He purchased the property on Morrison’s Hill around 1884.

Nan-Chiau-High-School-in-1950s-former-House-of-Cheang-Hong-Lim-Morrison's-Hill-built-in-1884

So, the hill on which the Dalforce training grounds, and subsequently Nan Chiau Girls’, were situated was formerly known as “Morrison’s Hill”. When did this name passed into history? No one calls the hill by this name anymore.)

I lived along Kim Yam Road during 1990-2000s and Nan Chiau High School was just a 100m walk downhill from the place where I lived. Some of my relatives had studied there — my aunt and one of her daughters are alumni of the school. I was rather astounded to realise, only recently, that the Dalforce had been based in Kim Yam Road and had used the school compound for training 70 years ago; that there was some communist (or as some might say, nationalist) fervour brewing in the same neighbourhood where I had lived, albeit some fifty years apart.

Nan Chiau Girls’ High School was immensely popular during the 1960s, and it was rebuilt at the same Kim Yam Road site in 1969 to accommodate the increasing student population — the buildings in the former school compound that are still standing today date from that period. However, in the late 1970s, the student intake started to drop as residents of the shophouses in Kim Yam Road and the vicinity moved to the suburbs or the new neighbourhood towns. Finally, in 2001, the school relocated to Seng Kang New Town. The former school compound of Nan Chiau High School remains unoccupied till today.


The former site of Nanyang Normal School (1941-42), Dalforce Headquarters and Training Grounds (1942), Nan Chiau Girls’ High School (1947-1984) and Nan Chiau High School (1984-2001) lies along Kim Yam Road.

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Former-Nan-Chiau-High-School-Compound Kim Yam Road,2012
The former Dalforce Headquarters and old Nan Chiau Girls’ High building was built on a hill. The topographical features of the site are probably mostly retained and unchanged until today.

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The school compound is currently fenced up and unoccupied. The buildings date from 1969, and the building design is typical of the post-independence architectural style of 1960s Singapore.

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Many skyscraper condominiums now surround the former school compound.

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Though unoccupied, the former school compound is kept clean and the buildings are regularly maintained.

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The former running track and basketball courts.

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A view of Kim Yam Road and the shophouses opposite the former Nan Chiau High School.

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The area in front the former school gate is currently used by The Singapore Buddhist Lodge (居士林) for motor vehicle parking. The temple is located about 50m uphill.

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An old school bench dating from 1970.

Only the terrain remains. The communist and nationalistic fervours of the Dalforce volunteers have long been displaced elsewhere. Chinese education is history in this country. I have since relocated to the outlying towns too.

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