BB Headquarters at 105 Ganges Avenue
OR at the Bible Resource Centre, Bible House at 7 Armenian Street
FINALLY, A BOOK THAT DOCUMENTS the illustrious history of The Boys’ Brigade (BB) Singapore movement over 80 years is available. Mr Jimmy Ho Chee Meng, a member of the working committee, said: “We needed to do this quickly while former BB members and their families were able to recall events over the past eight decades! Otherwise such memories would be lost for good.”
A first draft was produced within 18 months by a working committee made up of Dr Lee Soo Ann and Mr Sam Tan, both former BB Presidents, together with Dr John Khoo Buan Hin (ex-8th Company, residing in Sydney) and Mr Ho (ex-2nd Company, residing in London). Mr Colin Cheong, an experienced writer, was then appointed to complete the writing of this well-researched history book on one of Singapore’s oldest youth uniform groups. Four of BB Singapore’s prominent Presidents had already passed on since 2007 – Mr Liau Nyuk Siong, Mr Tan Hoay Gie, Mr A. M. Cherian and Mr S. P. Chua. There was little information of BB activities between the British colonial era to the period after independence in 1959. Although the monthly Boys’ Brigade Gazette from the United Kingdom had carried some official records, much of what the BB did was not documented.
Launched on June 1, 2013, the 160-page hardcover book, entitled “Under the Banner – 80 Years of the BB in Singapore” traces the early roots of the BB from its beginnings in Glasgow in 1883, right through to how its Singapore chapter was started in January 1930 at the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church by Mr J. M. Fraser, a Scotsman who had been a member of the 23rd Aberdeen BB Company and had arrived in Singapore three years earlier as an architect with the Singapore Improvement Trust (precursor to the Housing Development Board).
The book is a rich compilation of facts and information drawn from past issues of Boys’ Brigade Gazette in the UK, anecdotes recalled by old Boys, and photographs of artefacts related to the early days of the BB Singapore right through to modern times.
The history of the BB in Singapore is also inextricably linked with The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS). Four of the first seven companies started at Methodist churches – the 2nd company at Straits Chinese Methodist Church (later Kampong Kapor), the 3rd company at Anglo-Chinese Continuation School at Coleman Street (subsequently transferred to Wesley Methodist Church), the 4th company at Geylang English Methodist Church and the 6th company at Paya Lebar Methodist Church.
Today, the BB is one of the key youth outreach programmes in the MCS. One third of the 117 BB companies in Singapore are sponsored by Methodist churches.
Some very prominent Methodists are BB “old Boys” – and they include former president of the Singapore Industrial Court, Mr Tan Boon Chiang; retired eye surgeon Dr Robert Loh; Group President of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, Mr Lim Siong Guan; former Commissioner of Police (1997-2010) Mr Khoo Boon Hui, and our very own Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup.
In the book, Bishop Dr Wee shared his personal experience of growing up with the BB, in the absence of his father who had passed away when he was just a youth, leaving his mother to care for seven children.
He said: “The most important thing that BB did to shape my youth was to provide me surrogate fathers in the Officers I had, and a company of brothers with whom I grew up, in a safe and nurturing environment. This was done in a Christian environment where we prayed, studied the Bible together and lived as Christian brothers.
“As I look back to those years, if it had not been for the BB, I would have been lost to the world. It was also during those years that I acquired the basic principles of leadership that have developed even more in the subsequent years by my involvement in church.”
Fascinating tidbits are hidden like gems among the pages. How did the BB movement first begin in Scotland? What was the purpose of including drill as a main activity of the BB? What were the habits that the BB aimed to promote? Which verse inspired the BB motto, crest and the hymn which is closely associated with the BB?
The book also traces the spread of the BB from the UK to Swatow, China, and how the communist revolution there sent Swatow BB Boys migrating to Singapore, eventually setting up a Company here. Snapshots of the various Companies are presented, such as the anecdote of how the 5th Singapore Company earned their nickname of “The Fighting Fifth”.
Particularly compelling is the tale of how the BB weathered the years of the Japanese occupation, with Officers and Boys risking their lives to stay in touch, hiding the Battalion Colours, and using the special BB handshake to secretly identify themselves to each other.
An entire chapter is devoted to the BB’s contributions to the community over the years, ranging from band performances to the BB Youth Centre to the renowned Share-a-Gift Project. The book notes that the latter has been such a regular success, even The Straits Times commented in 1995 that the last-minute rush to help the BB had become a sort of Christmas tradition in Singapore.
Mr Khoo had this to say about how BB training benefits the community: “For the community, the availability of a structured programmed activity to develop youths and nurture leaders will certainly enhance community engagement, help in social cohesion and promote harmonious multi-cultural relations. The social responsibility programmes of the BB also contribute to the community’s well-being.
“For the country, all of the aforementioned are in addition to the ability to expose youths to face-to-face, team-based interactions during their spare time, instead of the inward-looking, self-indulgent lure of the Internet.”
This positive impact of the BB was affirmed by the eagerness of schools to start a BB Company, such as the Principal of Keming Primary School inviting the BB to start the 38J Company in his school, and Tao Nan School and Nanyang Primary School hosting the 41J Company and the 42J Company respectively. The work of BB Singapore in other Asian countries is also recorded.
Notes Mr Tan: “This is a book which every old Boy and ex-Officer should read and have on his bookshelf!”
SUPPORT * through buying copies of the book – as a keepsake and as a gift to friends from around the world * by donating to BB’s social and fund-raising programmes.
PRAY * for more mentors and leaders to come forward to volunteer.
Picture courtesy of BB Singapore
Grace Toh is the Assistant Editor of Methodist Message.