Tay Koh Yat (1880-1957) C.H., O.B.E, was born in Kinmen in 1880 and came down to Singapore in 1902 at the age of 22 as a poor immigrant and got a job as a $2-a-month clerk in a Chinese shop were his duties include sweeping floors. He then joined Chop Guan Seng Hin as a partner.At the age of 32, he established Guan Soon (branches in Indonesia and Penang), followed by Aik Seng Hin and finally Chin Joo Seng and Co. His name (to a much older generation of Singaporeans) is linked to his namesake bus company called Tay Koh Yat Bus Company. Starting from just 2 buses in 1921, it went on to become one of the largest in the colony.
He was also a director of the Chung Shin Jit Poh, a Chinese newspaper and committee member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Hokkien Huay Kuan. Tay Koh Yat was also a chairman of the Thong Chai Hospital at Eu Tong Sen Street.
|Tay Koh Yat (montage)|
|1951 advertisement (source: NewspaperSG)|
A lesser known fact was Tay Koh Yat's involvement and contributions in the war effort and post war claims making him a war hero in every sense. He was an important personality involved in War Fund collection and assisted in the war resistance against the Japanese. He, together with other prominent leaders helped mobilised the Singapore Chinese civil defence force in the critical months before the fall of Singapore in February 15, 1942. The numbers were estimated about 10,000. When the Japanese invaded Singapore, it made him a wanted person. He, however managed to evade capture by going into hiding in Indonesia.
He was the Chairman of the Singapore Appeal Committee during the trials of Japanese war criminals. He together with the committee of prominent Chinese men were tasked to provide and gather eyewitness in the proper prosecution of the war criminals. In a Singapore War Crimes court ruling in 1947, two war criminals were sentenced to hang for being directly responsible for the massacre of 5,000 Chinese after the fall of Singapore. (what is better known as the Sook Ching massacre). They were Lieutenant-General Kawamura and Lieutenant-Colonel Oishi. Five other japanese officers served life imprisonment. Tay Koh Yat was allowed to witness the hanging.
The 50's was also difficult years for Singapore with the growing threats of anti-colonialism, communist sentiments and labour unrest. The article below dated 1951 describes Mr Tay Koh Yat, then already at his 70's rushing to the site where 4 arsonist from attempting to burn his bus and shouting "Tangkap!" which is Malay for Catch!
|A Tay Koh Yat bus that was destroyed by arsonist|
(Unfortunately for us with more historical hindsight this was not the exact truth).
Tay Koh Yat received the Certificate of Honour in 1950 for his outstanding duties as a citizen of Singapore and for being a great benefactor of various charities. He was conferred the Order of the British Empire in 1952 for his courage in keeping the bus service in operation despite Communist threats and repeated arsons.
Tay Koh Yat passed away at midnight, January 29, 1957 (Chinese New Year eve) at his home at No 58 Tras Street. He is survived by his wife, seven sons and 3 daughters. On Sunday, February 3, a huge procession of 100 buses,cars, lorries followed his hearse.
Miss Tay Suat Eng (third daughter) married Mr. Ong Say Yeo (eldest son of Mr and Mrs Ong Choon Kew ) on November 27, 1938. The dinner was held at the bridegroom's house in no 103, Pasir Panjang Road.
His tomb is in Block 5 Division D (from the main gate, turn left and walk about 50 meters)
Advertisement. (1920, August 19). The Straits Times, page 10
Day and Night working for coronation procession. (1937, April 16). The Singapore Free Press, page 11
Massacre trial sentences to stand; 2 to die . (1947, June 14). The Straits Times, page 1
Four women watch hangings request to see face. (1947, June 26). The Straits Times, page 1
Hospital Seek Aid. (1949, September 6). The Straits Times, page 5
Honours for 16 People. (1950, November 21). The Straits Times, page 5
Owner 71, beats bus arson bid. (1950, December 28). The Straits Times, page 1
Mr Tay Koh Yat. (1951, January 4). The Straits Times, page 6
Give Franchise to China-born Chinese in Singapore' Plea. (1951, January 6). The Straits Times, page 5
Advertisement.(1951, November 17). The Straits Times, page 2
Traders Honor Tay Koh Yat. (1952, January 23). The Straits Times, page 8
Untitled. (1952, December 21). The Straits Times, page 9
Leaders of business in Malaya. (1953, April 14). The Straits Times, page 10
Estimate of Malaya war dead fair, correct. (1955, March 7). The Straits Times, page 5
100 cars in bus owner's funeral procession. (1957, February 4). The Strait Times, page 7
Death. (1957, February 1). The Straits Times, page 7
Pioneer Bus Company Chief Dies Aged 79. (1957, January 31). The Straits Times, page 5