September 26th, 2016

Leslie returns to Singapore for emotional Boys Brigade anniversary

Updated: 10:45 am, May 07, 2015

A BROMSGROVE man travelled to Singapore for the 85th anniversary of the Boys Brigade (BB) he helped relaunch after the Second World War.

Leslie Irving was able to return to the country for the first time since he was 19 to be honoured as part of the celebrations.

The 87-year-old said his adventure first began in 1946 when he was 17 and the war in Japan had just finished so Singapore was still in ruins and struggling to find its feet.

He added then there were many problems – unemployment was high, wages were low, there was very little food available and law and order was at an all time low.

Mr Irving said he was in the Royal Navy, stationed in Singapore, when he was asked to help restart the BB because he had been in a group when he was younger.

He added coincidently that was at about the same time the man who originally started the BB in 1930, James Fraser, returned from Scotland where he had been evacuated to during the war.

Mr Irving said when the country was invaded in 1942 by the Japanese army – the white flag was shown and the BB was disbanded.

He added thousands of people in the volunteer corps including members of the BB were marched along a road to a beach and gunned down before prisoners of war from Changi Jail were forced to bury them.

Mr Irving said Mr Fraser joined the volunteer corps to give support to the army but was captured and taken to Changi jail before he was later transferred to work on the notorious Burma Railway where 200,000 people died – before he was eventually evacuated.

“Today many elderly local people will not travel along this road of fear,” he added.

“This once blood-soiled beach is today filled with laughter and peace – we pray those who were sacrificed have found their peace too.”

Mr Irving said during his two years in Singapore with Mr Fraser, before he returned to the UK in 1948, the number of members in the BB went from being about 36 to 300.

He added one of the most memorable things he did with the BB was when he and Mr Fraser visited a leper colony on St John’s Island to take medicine and food to them.

Mr Irving said at the end of last year he discovered a pile of photographs from his time in Singapore and decided to get back in contact with the Singapore BB who invited him to the special celebrations.

Mr Irving said they were taken to the heritage centre where he had his own display of photographs and notes which dated back to 1946 so people could come and have a look and see what it was like back then.

He added there were booths set aside for people to be interviewed and he actually ended up in one being asked about his involvement in the BB.

He said: “A rather nice surprise for me was when the president of the BB Professor Ho Yew Kee came to see me just before the ceremony.

“He wanted to thank me for my contribution in helping to re-establish the BB at such a difficult period just after the war.”

Mr Irving said he was very pleased to see the number of BB members had risen to more than 7,000.

“My visit back to Singapore since 1948 brought back so many memories like the difficulties people had to endure trying to get a normal living.

“Massive changes have taken place since I have been away – it was very impressive.

“Meeting so many friendly people too, that had not changed – I felt at home immediately.”

Leslie Irving and his son Martin talk about the Boys Brigade. Picture by Marcus Mingins 1115033MMR2

People take a look at Leslie Irving’s display at the event. (s)