Elizabeth Choy



Elizabeth Choy Su Moi nee Elizabeth Yong,1 also known as Yong Su Moi2 (b. 29 November 1910,3 Kudat, Sabah–d. 14 September 2006, Singapore), is noted for being a war-time heroine during the Japanese Occupation and the only woman member in the Legislative Council in 1951.4 A Hakka from North Borneo,5 Choy was the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind in 1956,6 and was known for her qipaos (traditional Chinese dress) and bangles, for which she was nicknamed “Dayak woman of Singapore”.7 She also posed as an artist’s model for the famed sculptress, Dora Gordine, who created two works featuring Choy entitled “Serene Jade” and “Flawless Crystal”.8

Early life
Choy was born in Kudat in British North Borneo (today’s Sabah). Her great-grandparents had been assisting German missionaries in Hong Kong and their work brought them to North Borneo. There, the Yong family set up a coconut plantation.9 Her father was the eldest in a family of 11 children and after completing his early education in China with some English education in North Borneo, he gained employment as a civil servant.10 Marrying the daughter of a priest from a well-respected family in North Borneo, he was transferred to Jesselton and was later promoted to District Officer before moving to Borneo’s interiors in Kalimantan.11 Choy was looked after by a Kadazan nanny and acquired Kadazan as her first language.12


Education
As there were no educational facilities in the town of Tenom, Choy and her siblings were sent back to Kudat where her paternal grandfather ran the village school, teaching in Chinese (Hakka). Her higher education was taken between 1921 and 1929 at St Monica’s School, an Anglican missionary boarding school in Sandakan. Because the teachers could not pronounce Chinese names, Choy adopted the English name Elizabeth. In 1925, she and her aunt, Jessie, became the first girls to sign up for North Borneo’s inaugural Girl Guides Company.13

In December 1929, Choy came to Singapore to further her studies at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus at Victoria Street. She shone academically, obtaining the Prize of Honor in her first year of school.14 She resided with her fourth uncle in a double-storey shophouse at Selegie where he ran a music shop, the original T. M. A. at High Street.15 The untimely death of her mother in 1931 and the onset of the Great Depression placed upon her the burden of raising her six younger siblings. She gave up a college education, even a possible scholarship, to start work so she could finance the education of her younger siblings.16

Japanese Occupation
During the Japanese Occupation, Choy worked as a canteen operator with her husband at the Mental Hospital which was renamed Miyako Hospital (the predecessor of Woodbridge Hospital). This was where patients from General Hospital had been moved to. Choy and her husband secretly brought food, medicine, money, messages and even radios to British internees. Unfortunately, they were caught by the Japanese and Choy was arrested on 15 November 1943, following her husband’s arrest on 29 October, a few weeks earlier. Believing their activities to be related to the Double Tenth incident,17 Choy was interrogated by the Kempeitai but she never admitted to being a British sympathiser. She was released only after 200 days of starvation and repeated torture. Her husband was released much later.18

England years

After the war, Choy was invited to England as a celebrated war heroine, being noted as the only female local to have been incarcerated for such an extended period.19 She was part of the privileged few who were invited to Britain to recuperate from the war, and stayed there for four years.20 In her first year, she was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth. In her second year, she undertook Domestic Science at Northern Polytechnic and in her third year, she taught at a London Council School. Intent on studying art but without the finances for this, Choy resorted to posing for art instead.21 The famed sculptress, Dora Gordine, made two sculptures of Choy – “Serene Jade” and “Flawless Crystal”.22 Choy gave “Serene Jade” to her daughters who, in turn, donated it to the Singapore Art Museum. “Flawless Crystal” sits in an art gallery in Leicester, Britain.23

Politics
Choy returned to Singapore in December 1949 and was persuaded to stand for elections in December 1950 for the West Ward, or Cairnhill constituency, under the banner of the Labour Party, founded in 1948 by V. J. Mendis.24 She lost in the 1951 City Council Elections to the Progressive Party representative, Soh Ghee Soon.25 However, she was nominated into the Legislative Council in 1951, becoming the only woman member there. She served for a full five-year term. As a member of the Legislative Council, she represented Singapore at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. She later stood for elections in Queenstown but bowed out of politics thereafter, believing she could do more for the country as a teacher.26

In the 1950s, she joined the women’s auxiliary of the Singapore Volunteers Corps, and was instrumental in expanding the organisation when she recruited many of her friends and colleagues.27 She made headlines in early 1998, when she included a nude photograph of herself at a local art exhibition.28

Career
1933: Became a teacher at Church of England Zenana Mission School (currently St Margaret’s School).29
1935: Transferred to St Andrew’s Boys’ School, probably the only untrained teacher at that time.30
1949: Began a stint as an artist’s model when she was 39 years old and working in London. She posed for the famed sculptress, Dora Gordine, who created two works of her entitled “Serene Jade” and “Flawless Crystal”.31
1950–1955: Returned to Singapore, took part in two elections while teaching at St Andrew’s School.32
End 1953–early 1954:33 Conducted a lecture tour of Malaya in the United States and Canada at the request of the Foreign Office in London.34 Prior to the tour, she visited Malaya to get a better understanding of the country. At the time, Malaya was in the throes of Emergency.35
1956–1960: Served as the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind.36
1960–1974: Returned to St Andrew’s Junior School and promoted to Deputy Principal in 1964.37

Family
Husband: Choy Khun Heng,38 whom she met through an old school friend and married on 16 August 1941.39 It was a double wedding, held in conjunction with her brother, Kon Vui’s, wedding.40 Khun Heng worked as a book-keeper at the Borneo Company before the war.41
Daughters: Bridget Wai Fong, Lynette Wai Ling and Irene Wai Fun (biologically her niece). All were adopted in the 1950s.42

Awards43
1950: Order of the British Empire / Order of the Star of Sarawak / The Girl Guides Bronze Medal
1973: Pingkat Bakti Setia, Singapore, for her service of at least four decades in education

Choy passed away on 14 September 2006 at the age of 95, at her home at MacKenzie Road. She had been diagnosed with advanced cancer of the pancreas one month before her death.44



Author

Bonny Tan



References
1. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei as told to Shirle Gordon. (1973). Intisari, IV(1), 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5005 INT)
2. Page 30 advertisements column 1. (2008, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: more than a war heroine: a biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
4. A woman ahead of her time. (1998, February 15). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
6. Lim, L. C., et al. (2007). Many pathways, one mission: Fifty years of Singapore education. Singapore: Ministry of Education, Curriculum Planning & Development Division, p. 103. (Call no.: RSING 370.95957 MAN); Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
7. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, un-numbered page opposite p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
8. Li, X-Y. (1998, February 5). One must not be prudish. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 3–5. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
10. Lim, P. H. (2008). Sybil Kathigasu and Elizabeth Choy. In Blackburn, K., & Hack, K. (Eds.). Forgotten captives in Japanese occupied Asia. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, p. 248. (Call no.: RSING 940.547252095 FOR-[WAR])
11. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei as told to Shirle Gordon (1973). Intisari, IV(1), 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5005 INT)
12. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
13. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
14. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 31, 33, 37. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
15. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO); The Autobiography of Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei as told to Shirle Gordon. (1973). Intisari, IV(1), 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5005 INT)
16. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 38–39. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
17. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy:More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
18. A woman ahead of her time. (1998, February 15). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 88. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
20. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 89. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
21. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 92. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
22. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
23. Li, X-Y. (1998, February 15). One must not be prudish. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 97, 99. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
25. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei as told to Shirle Gordon. (1973). Intisari, IV(1), 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5005 INT)
26. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 102, 105. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
27. PRESENTING GUNNER CHOY: She is in the army now. (1953, August 7). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women's Hall of Fame. (n.d.). Elizabeth Choy: War heroine, politician and teacher. Retrieved 2016, June 30 from the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/9-elizabeth-choy
28. Li, X-Y. (1998, February 15). One must not be prudish. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
30. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
31. Li, X-Y. (1998, February 15). One must not be prudish. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 145. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
33. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Choy Su-Mei as told to Shirle Gordon. (1973). Intisari, IV(1), 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5005 INT)
34. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 107,114–115. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
35. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 108–109. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
36. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 44–45. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
37. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: more than a war heroine: a biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 45–46. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
38. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography.. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 55. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
39. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 47–48. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
40. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 48. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
41. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
42. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 122–123. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
43. Zhou, M. (1995). Elizabeth Choy: More than a war heroine: A biography. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 163. (Call no.: RSING 371.10092 ZHO)
44. Tan, T. (2006, September 15). War heroine Elizabeth Choy dies at 96. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 30 June 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Women heroes--Singapore
War personalities
Choy, Elizabeth Su-Moi, 1910-2006
Personalities>>Biographies>>War Personalities>>War Heroes
Women politicians--Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders
Politicians
Teachers--Singapore
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
People and communities>>Social groups and communities