Person in Portrait: Joginder Singh
Born in 1919 at Malacca, Malaya, Joginder Singh was working as a clerk in the courts of Malacca when he received news on 1 December 1941 that the Second World War had reached Malaya. Not even twenty-two years old at that time, Joginder Singh left on that day for Singapore, where the majority of British forces in Malaya were to be concentrated. Part of his duties as a signaller with the Malaccan Volunteer Corps (part of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Forces) included the laying of telecommunications lines to the front, and Joginder Singh did so in many Singapore battlegrounds such as present-day Labrador Park.
On the morning of 16 February 1942, the day after British surrender, the Malaccan Volunteer Corps were marched over the course of two days from their rear headquarters on Mount Pleasant to Farrer Park. The park was in chaos, as groups of surrendered personnel entered without clear supervision from Japanese soldiers. Taking advantage of the situation, Joginder Singh and five other men escaped to Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital across the road, having first obtained the blessing of their officer and the others who stayed behind. They got rid of their military uniform at the hospital, in the process startling a European matron who threatened to call the police on them for deserting the army, before scattering across the island to seek refuge with family and friends. Joginder Singh stayed with his father at the Sikh police quarters on Pearl’s Hill for a few weeks, before travelling back to Malacca to resume his employment at the court there. The Japanese administration briefly imprisoned him and other returnees from the Malacca Volunteer Corps, but he returned to work after his release, continuing to work at the Malacca Civil District Court until 4 January 1944. Thereafter, he transferred to the Singapore Civil District Court.
In Singapore, Joginder Singh’s court work was chiefly as a clerk, but when the Punjabi or Malay interpreters were absent, he would act in their stead as court interpreter. Having learned Japanese during the Second World War, he could also interpret Japanese if necessary. In 1950, he was appointed as one of the court interpreters. His exposure to legal proceedings would prove useful even after the end of the Japanese Occupation, allowing him to represent himself in court against neighbours in property disputes, and even advise young lawyers on case tactics.
After the Second World War ended, Joginder Singh briefly returned to India with his father, during which time he married his wife. Joginder Singh worked with the Singapore District and Magistrates’ Courts for a further thirty-two years before his retirement. He remained active even after retirement, helping out at friends’ law firms and administrative offices. Even while he kept busy at work, he never neglected his family, being highly involved in his ten children’s upbringing as well as the maintenance of their family home.
While he did not directly participate in the Singapore War Crimes Trials, Joginder Singh remembered reading about it in the papers, remarking that “it served them right. They’re just paying for what they deserved.” Unable to forget the wartime suffering he experienced and witnessed, he continued to hold a grudge against the Japanese even into his later years, refusing to use even Japanese-made hearing aids.
Joginder Singh passed away at the age of ninety-four, in 2013.