George Edwin Bogaars
by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
George Edwin Bogaars (b. 25 October 1926, Singapore–d. 6 April 1992, Singapore), also known as G. E. Bogaars, was a prominent Dutch-Eurasian who served as the former head of civil service in post-independence Singapore, taking over from Stanley Stewart, another Eurasian, in 1968. During Bogaars’s civil service career, he helped set up a new intelligence unit and the Singapore army. Bogaars also served as chairman of the Keppel Shipyard and the National Iron and Steel Mills.
Bogaars’s father, George Edwin Bogaars (Sr), was the confidential secretary to four British governors including Shenton Thomas. Before the war, the Bogaarses lived on St Patrick’s Road at Katong. Bogaars spent a few months of his early education at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Katong before moving on to St Patrick’s School in 1933. There he studied for about eight years until 1942, when the Japanese invaded Singapore.1
The war disrupted Bogaars’s education. He and his family moved to Chancery Lane to be near his father’s office at Government House. Bogaars started recording the frequency of Japanese raids until the bombing got so intense that he could not keep track. They moved out of Chancery Lane and became refugees at the Singapore General Hospital before moving to College Road to stay with his uncle, who was a doctor, at his doctor quarters. Japanese bombs destroyed the quarters forcing the Bogaars to move again, this time to another uncle’s clinic at Sin Chew Hospital on Victoria Street. From here, the family witnessed the Japanese screening of the Chinese and heard the gunfire that followed attempts to run from the Japanese. The Bogaarses, as with other Eurasian families, were also called for screening at the Padang (or Esplanade). The Eurasians, known for their strict loyalty to the British, became suspects, but the Bogaarses, as well as most Europeans, survived the screening.2
The Bogaarses moved back to Chancery Lane and had a scare when the elder Bogaars was called up by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police). But he outwitted the Japanese into believing that he was just a low-ranking clerk when in fact he was privy to the correspondence between the Singapore governor and the London office. To steer clear of the Japanese radar, the family moved to Bogaars’s grandfather’s house on St Francis Road.2 The news that a Catholic community settlement was opened up at Bahau Negri Sembilan inspired the family to pack their belongings, expecting a better life away from the Japanese. But life was hard at the Bahau settlement as the family struggled to build a house and grow food for themselves. Hunger was a constant battle and so was malaria. The day the Allied forces landed on the settlement and told them that the Japanese were leaving Malaya and that they could return to Singapore, the settlement danced in celebration.3
Education and career
Two months after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the Bogaarses arrived in Singapore from Bahau. The family returned to their home at No. 1A Chancery Lane. Bogaars continued his education at St Joseph’s Institution and then progressed to Raffles College where he attained his general degree in 1950. He earned his bachelor’s degree with honours in history and a master’s from the University of Malaya in 1951 and 1952 respectively. He would have gone on to get a higher degree at the London School of Oriental and African Studies and become an academic if not for his father’s wishes for the younger Bogaars to pursue a career in the administrative service.4
In 1952, immediately after graduating, Bogaars joined the government. It was the start of the Malayanisation of the civil service, and the British were recruiting locals into the administrative service, making Bogaars one of the pioneers. He was assigned to several departments, starting with the Department of Commerce and Industry and then the Finance Department. By 1955, he was the acting deputy secretary in the Treasury. When Singapore obtained self-rule in 1959, he was approached to reorganise the Special Branch, becoming the first Singaporean to head it. He later ran the security operation known as Operation Coldstore in February 1963, which rounded up over a hundred left-wingers.5
When Singapore gained independence in 1965, Bogaars was appointed as the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Interior and Defence, where he served under Goh Keng Swee to build up the then nascent Singapore Armed Forces. He also contributed to the establishment of the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, or SAFTI. In 1968, Bogaars became the head of civil service and held that appointment until 1975. In 1970, he left the defence ministry to join the Ministry of Finance as the permanent secretary (economic development). This was followed by a stint as the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was then posted back to the Ministry of Finance in 1975 as the permanent secretary, a post he held until his retirement in 1981.6
In 1970, apart from his civil service duties, Bogaars also became the chairman of Keppel Shipyard, which used to be the dockyard department of the Singapore Harbour Board, the predecessor of the Port of Singapore Authority. This was the time when Singapore was in its early stages of industrialisation and the nation was trying to attract foreign investments. The government set up several industries and nominated senior civil servants to top appointments when they found it hard to find people to run them.7
During Bogaars’s tenure at Keppel, the company was involved in the Sentosa cable car disaster of January 1983. In 1983, while Bogaars was at the helm, Keppel also acquired 82 percent of the Straits Steamship Company at S$408 million. This was then the biggest corporate takeover in Singapore’s history. The acquisition was part of Bogaars’s plan to diversify Keppel’s interests, including expanding into property development. The acquisition was ill timed, however, as Singapore was facing a severe downturn in ship repair and property. As a result, Keppel paid a big price – a huge debt of nearly S$845 million and interest burdens of about S$75 million a year. Some criticised the government-linked company for overpaying to acquire Straits Steamship. Bogaars left Keppel in May 1984. His replacement, Sim Kee Boon, another head of civil service, was entrusted with the unenviable task of turning Keppel around. Despite the setback, Bogaars was recognised for turning Keppel from a mere ship repair company to become the biggest Singapore-incorporated industrial group.8
After leaving Keppel, Bogaars joined National Iron and Steel Mills as chairman but retired the following year. His health had begun to suffer, beginning in December 1984 when he had the first of three strokes, the second in February 1985 and the third in October 1985. The last left him incapable of walking and speaking, and it took him 15 months in hospital to recover before being he was discharged.9
Retirement and death
Bogaars lived out his retirement alone, spending much time in physiotherapy.10 He died of heart failure in 1992 at the age of 65.11 In 2015, some of Bogaars’s friends raised funds to establish a S$2.6-million professorship known as the George Bogaars Professorship in History at the National University of Singapore in honour of him.12
Bogaars was a divorcee with two daughters and one son. He had one younger brother.
Father: George Edwin Bogaars
Sister: Patricia Bogaars
1945–1950: Raffles College Scholar
1952: Shell Research Fellow
1962: Meritorious Service Medal
1965: Pingat Malaysia (Malaysia Medal)
1967: Distinguished Service Medal
1972: Honorary Doctor of Letters (University of Singapore)15
Bogaars, G. E. (1956). Tanjong Pagar Dock Company 1864–1905 [Microfilm no.: NL 10999]. Singapore: G. P. P.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
1. 50 years to remember. (2015, April–June). The New Eurasian, p. 11. .Retrieved from The Eurasian Association, Singapore website: http://www.eurasians.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/EA_Mag_apr_jun_2015.pdf
2. Low, L. L (interviewer). (1983, December 8). Oral history interview with George Edwin Bogaars. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000379/13/2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Low, L. L (interviewer). (1983, December 29). Oral history interview with George Edwin Bogaars. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000379/13/4]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
4. Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
5. A perfect boss who always had time to listen and explain. (1981, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewpaperSG.
6. A force for good. (2012, April–June). The New Eurasian, p. 14. Retrieved from The Eurasian Association, Singapore website: http://www.eurasians.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/April-June-20121.pdf
7. Rajamanikam, K. (1991, October). George E Bogaars: A man in a class of his own. Calibre, 28–30. (Call no.: RSING 052. C)
8. Rajamanikam, K. (1991, October). George E Bogaars: A man in a class of his own. Calibre, 28–30. (Call no.: RSING 052. C)
9. George Bogaars dies at 65. (1992, April 8). The Business Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ong, C. (1985, June 16). Bogaars: It doesn’t help to be vocal. Singapore Monitor, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. George Bogaars dies at 65. (1992, April 8). The Business Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. NUS receives S$2.6m to set up professorship honouring former civil servant. (2015, December 4). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Ong, C. (1985, June 16). Bogaars: It doesn’t help to be vocal. Singapore Monitor, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
15. National University of Singapore. (n.d.). Honorary degrees recipients. Retrieved from National University of Singapore website: http://www.nus.edu.sg/registrar/adminpolicy/list-hg.html
Lim, R. (1993). Tough men, bold visions: The story of Keppel. Singapore: Keppel Corporation, pp. 56–70, 81–86, 93.
(Call no.: RSING q338.762383095957 LIM)
Liu, G. (2005). The Singapore foreign service: The first 40 years. Singapore, Editions Didier Millet, p. 111.
(Call no.: RSING q327.5957 LIU)
Morais, J. V. (Ed.). (1976). Who’s who in Malaysia and guide to Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: J. V. Morais, p. 10.
(Call no.: RCLOS 920.0595 WWM)
Sabnani, M. (2007). More than mettle: The Keppel Offshore & Marine story. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with Keppel Offshore & Marine Limited, pp. 46–47.
(Call no.: RSING 338.762798 SAB)
Sidhu, H. (1990). The bamboo fortress: True Singapore war stories. Singapore: Native Publications, pp. 229–245.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57023 SID-[HIS])
The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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.