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Our Heroes

Singa, The Lion of Malaya:
Sardar Gurchan Singh




This is the story of a Malayan Resistance Movement which was created, organised and led by Gurchan Singh, a Sikh detective in the Malayan Police Force, who remained behind with his family in Kuala Lumpur when the British administration crumbled before the Japanese invaders.

Gurchan Singh was born in May 1914 and he was educated in the Methodist Boy School in Kuala Lumpur. After passing his Cambridge Examination, he joined the Police as a recruit constable and worked hard for five years, after which he was made a detective constable.

After the war he was promoted to a Police Inspector and later to Superintendent of Police.

Living with his family in Kuala Lumpur, and under the guise of a number of civilian pre-occupations, Gurchan Singh began his resistance movement against the Japanese invaders. True, at the beginning it could scarcely be described as a movement, since the whole organisation consisted of himself and two of his brothers.

But gradually the organisation grew, as trusted friends and associates were brought into the movement, and Gurchan Singh's sphere of influence widened from the immediate neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur and extended over a large part of Malaya.

The organisation did, at times, carry out telling acts of sabotage, but its main force was in the field of propaganda and psychological warfare. Leaflets written and produced by Gurchan Singh were regularly distributed throughout the area covered and these were so effective in telling the civilian population of Malaya some of the true facts about the war and the occupation that eventually the Japanese placed a price of 100,000 dollars on the head of the resistance leader they only knew as “Singa

At one time he organised cycle races and carried leaflets inside the hollow bars of his own machine. On another occasion he attended a race meeting and, with the greatest audacity and under the very noses of the Kempetei (the dreaded Japanese secret police), plastered the race course with the latest edition of his newsletter, Singa.

For several months, Gurchan Singh worked as a milkman and cowboy by day and a bill-poster by night. He felt that merely propaganda was not enough to cripple the Japanese activities. He became the mastermind behind more active operations like sabotaging the railways which resulted in the failure of the locomotive engines at  unexpected spots, not only delaying that one train but also holding up other transport. At that time breakages and delays of any kind meant a lot to the Japanese military machine.

He sought the help of a trustworthy friend, John Sandasamy, who was a 'second-class' engine driver with the Railways then. By delaying many trains and putting several locomotives out of action, John seriously disorganised much of the Japanese transport system by rail. His sabotage work was of considerable assistance to the Allied cause.

On another occasion, posing as a newspaper man from Kuala Lumpur, Gurchan Singh actually attended a Japanese Press conference in Singapore, and it is not surprising that his subsequent references in his newsletter to the proceedings of the conference led to even further intensification of the efforts of the Kempetei and its stooges to capture him.

The very simplicity of his organisation and audacity of his work contributed to its success and for a time gave a measure of protection. The Japanese were convinced that Singa was the name of a highly organised band with jungle headquarters and in constant touch with the Allies.

With due honour to Gurchan Singh's two brothers and to the many other helpers, some of whom were martyred for their efforts, Singa was to a large extent a one-man show.

Finally, perhaps, inevitably, Gurchan Singh was betrayed and his propaganda work came to an end but not his story. He was arrested by the Kempetei but his luck held and, audacious as ever, he escaped. He was in Moulmein when the war ended and he then returned, via Bangkok, to his family in Kuala Lumpur.

Honours are due to all those in the Singa Organisation who voluntarily and independently worked for the cause of the Allies during the Japanese occupation of Malaya at the extreme and real risk of torture and death. All rendered invaluable service and stood loyal and true under condition of grave danger and hardship. Some sacrificed their comfort and happiness, others gave up their lives. They all sincerely fought for freedom. In honour of them all, their names are given here.

Dr. Abdul Ghani , Anthony Ash, Arunasalem N., Aster Gunasekara, Augustin Lye Nyen Foo, Balakrishnan M. , Sub Inspector Behara Singh, Bhagat Singh Gill, Sargent Bughar Singh, Bhag Singh, Chanan Singh, Chong Tak Ngit, Inspector Dan Singh ,Gurdial Singh, Gurnam Singh Bull, Gurbachan Singh , Ismail De Silva , John Sandasamy, Kehar Singh, Khem Singh, Dr. Kok Ho Teik, Leong Hew Meng, Leong Kai Swee, Madame Lau Peng Kim, Inspector Low Ghee Beng,  Lall Singh Bull, Ramasamy Ganga, Ramasamy Pakry, Rodrigo, B. M., Sarjeet Singh, Inspector Sarmukh Singh, Suppiah P., Shanmugam M. , Tan Beng Hock, Tan Beng San, Thirunalan M., Toh Chin Guan, Teja Singh  ,Yap Ghim Hoe & Yeoh Chai Lye.

When the British administration ceased to exist, Gurchan Singh had the choice of going over to the Japanese for employment, as some of  his countrymen did, in an attempt to further, with Japanese aid, the ideas of Indian nationalism, or he might have settled down to some civilian occupation and remained outside political affairs.

But Gurchan Singh chose another, more hazardous course. Regarding himself as a British subject (and an extremely loyal one), he decided where his duty lay, and set himself steadfastly against the Japanese.


December 11, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), December 11, 2011, 11:54 AM.

I remember the book, 'Singa', when it first came out in the early 60's. It was quite a sensation. He was also the principal security officer and body guard of Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister. If I remember correctly, his brother is G.S. Gill who runs a successful sports business in Kuala Lumpur.

2: N. Singh (Canada), December 11, 2011, 7:31 PM.

This is fantastic! I didn't know this. Thank you. Time and again, our men and women make us proud ... Singhs and Kaurs are the best!

3: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), December 12, 2011, 12:12 AM.

Can we get hold of a copy of this book? Perhaps it is out of publication - if someone has a copy, we can scan and maintain a downloadable pdf so we can have a collection of our rich history. I remember a Sikh who led the Burmese uprising a few years ago - I believe there was an article on regarding the same.

4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), December 12, 2011, 2:11 PM.

When Burma fell to the Japanese in World War II and the British and Commonwealth Forces surrendered, the British Military Officers were made to take off their swords in humiliation but the Sikh officers were allowed to wear their swords! The Sikhs had 'kicked the Japanese teeth in' in the Far East where all the bloodiest fighting happened, but the Japanese requested the Sikhs to fight on their side to 'liberate' India from the Brits! Only now is the true horror of the war in the Far East being acknowledged because the British wanted ALL the glory for themselves and the 'native' soldiers were expendable to get the British out of the mess with Germany for the second time in 30 years.

5: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), December 12, 2011, 7:44 PM.

He was in our family circle, being brother-in-law of renowned Malaysia Police hammer thrower and athelete, the Sergeant Sarjit Singh (our mother's cousin.) We used to stay at Inspector Singa's place at Kuala Lipis, Pahang (about 1950). Recall him as a good looking, well built 6-footer. Heard many stories of Singa's exploits. He had cut his hair to hide his identity but the Japanese were aware of a large birthmark on one arm (have forgotten which) - reddish skin on the inside. Once he hid under a heap of coconuts as the Japanese were searching around. I am not sure if a film about him, "Singa of Malaysia", reported in the press before I left Malaysia for good in 1958, was ever made. Grateful that Harchand Singh has highlighted Singa's name as a Sikh hero of the Japanese era. Regret that a documented record based on first hand accounts of pioneer Sikhs in these countries, including the United Kingdom, has not been kept.

6: Gurpal Singh Bhuller (Chester, Virginia, U.S.A.), December 14, 2011, 11:09 AM.

I am glad to read this. On a recent visit to Malaysia, I put the word out among my friends that I would like to have a copy of the book and managed to get one. (It was prescribed reading in my Primary School days, but when Nationalism came to the fore, all non-Malay heroes suddenly disappeared.) I have managed to digitize the book and will be sending it to the PDL in Chandigarh. If others want a copy, they are free to contact me. Here was an authentic Malaysian hero. The other heroes were the men of the Sikh Regiment who fought at the Battle of Kampar Ridge (south of Ipoh) that is commemorated regularly now by Ipoh residents and others in the area. It would be good if others also made us aware of tales like these that we may not know.

7: Avninder Singh Cheema (Chandigarh, Punjab), December 15, 2011, 6:45 AM.

Would love to read "Singa". if anybody has got a copy of this, please upload it. There must be many people who would be interested in reading the brave story of Gurchan Singh. "Sheran di kaum Punjabi, tanhio akhwaunde ne".

8: Gurcharan Singh Kulim (London, United Kingdom), December 16, 2011, 5:14 AM.

I too have a copy of the book "SINGA", in my library. The story of SINGA was included in the literature book for Malaysian students at O level at one time, but has disappeared now. The paperback also contains a photo of Gurchan Singh. He was born in 1914, the eldest of three sons of Mihan Singh who arrived in Malaya in 1888, whne Kuala Lumpur was still a marshland and quite undeveloped. Mihan Singh became a ticketing agent for Boustead & Co before going into business for himself. He lived to the ripe old age of 107 when he passed away on the November 22, 1966, nearly two years after his son, Gurchan Singh. Gurchan went to the Methodist Boys' School, from where he established a record for his school by completing the 63-mile Malayan Long-distance Walk in 21 hours and five minutes. Two years later he joined the Mount Everest Expedition and climbed to 17,000 ft without the aid of an oxygen apparatus. He was 51 when he died in a car accident on the March 6, 1965 as his car went off the road at the 7th mile Yong Peng-Ayer Hitam Road at 6.15 pm. He died three hours later from his injuries at Batu Pahat district hospital. He was on his way to Singapore in his Borgward coupe car to look into security measures for the then Prime Minister Tnku Abdul Rahman. He had intended to fly by the 2.30 pm flight, but changed his mind and went by road. His body was sent to his Swettenham Road house, now Jalan Mahameru, and was cremated the next day at the Loke Yew crematorium. Among those who grieved at his death was Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, who called at the house to offer his condolences to the family. Gurchan Singh was an Assistant Superintendent of Police and Tangkak's OCPD, when he was appointed as Tunku's Personal Security Officer in June 1957. He had joined the Malayan Police as a constable in 1934, after having passed his Cambridge examination "unexpectedly with flying colours". Five years later, he became a special branch detective. "Due to some natural qualities I appear to have possesed," he wrote in his best selling memoirs, SINGA, the Lion of Malaya, which was first published in London by the Quality Press in 1949 and in Malaya in 1958 by Printcraft, Kuala Lumpur. A few months after the book was printed in Malaya, a Singapore film unit announced its plans to start shooting the story of "Singa, The Lion of Malaya" early the following year with Gurchan Singh himself in the hero's role. The film script was said to be written by Abdul Razak, whose wife, the popular Malay film star, Maria Menado [an Indonesian], was to play the role of Singa's wife. But the idea died down and nothing came of it. A third issue of the book was prompted by the growing interest in Malaysian literature among Malaysian readers, and the conviction by the publishers that the story of Singa should be once again reread anew. His war-time heroics were contained in a book widely used in the Malaysian schools in the 50s and late 60s, but this book and the stories have now disappeared as the contributions and achievements of non-Malays have been cast aside and forgotten, just like stories of Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat, when it emerged they may just have been more Chinese than what was previously speculated! Gurchan Singh acted independent of other Malayan fighting units like Force 136 and the MPAJA. He also did not seek help from the Commonwealth guerilla fighters or the communists who were also creating havoc against the Japanese occupation. Singa led a truly Malayan fight against the occupiers as there was no money to be had, his objectives were purely to fight for freedom of his land and people, as he had learned early in his young age from the great principles and shining values of his Sikh faith: "Nanak naam chardi kala", "sarbat da bhalla" & "Deh shiva bar moh ehe shubh karman to(n) kabhu na taro(n) ... culminating in the cry Guru Nanak uttered 480 years before him, "eyti maar payee kurlaane tai(n) ki dard na aya ... as the Japanese eexcuted a policy of the worst and harshest treatment upon the Malayan people.

9: Gurcharan Singh Kulim (London, United Kingdom), December 16, 2011, 5:39 AM.

Some may wonder why he called himself "Singa"? This was in direct challenge to the Japanese general in charge of the Japanese Forces - Lt. General Yamashita, who committed hara kiri at the end of the war. Yamashita had refered to himself as the Tiger of Malaya after defeating the British. The Japanese press lauded him with the title. Gurchan Singh then took over, aptly, the title of "Singa of Malaya"!

10: Jag Dhillon (Sydney, Australia (formerly of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)), January 10, 2012, 7:12 PM.

Bhagat Singh Gill was my maternal grandfather. He was captured and tortured by the Japanese army after someone leaked info about his bill postings at night. He was tortured by the Japanese by forcing him to swallow salt water and then jumping on his stomach to get info as they thought he was Gurchan Singh, the Singa. He was freed after the war, however he contracted umbilical hernia through the tortures he endured at the hands of the Kempetei and had to have operations every five years, till he passed away in 1992. Today his legacy lives on among his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Malaysia, Australia, Singapore and Canada. But we have not forgotten ans never will!

11: Jane K. (London, United Kingdom), January 30, 2012, 7:22 AM.

In response to Dr. Gurpal Singh Bhuller's kind offer, I would be very interested in having a copy of the book "Singa the Lion of Malaya". What is the best way to contact you?

12: Suresh Kumar (Johor, Malaysia), February 04, 2012, 4:34 AM.

Dear Gurpal Singh ji: I am teaching Malaysian Studies to private college students and part of the syllabus covers the Japanese occupation of Malaya. I would be grateful if I could get a copy of the book.

13: Surin (Malaysia), April 18, 2012, 1:20 AM.

I am very keen on getting a copy of "Singa, The Lion of Malaya". Many facts of contributions from all walks of life during the war efforts have been eroded. We need to set the record straight.

14: Hardev Singh (Malaysia), October 23, 2012, 9:51 PM.

Dear Gurpal Singh ji: I am managing a facebook acct on the Parliament Police Gurdwara here in Kuala Lumpur and would love to include the story of this great guy for the benefit of the future generations. I would be grateful if I could get a copy of the book. (

15: Gurpal Singh Bhuller (Chester, Virginia, U.S.A.), October 31, 2012, 11:16 PM.

I am sorry that I did not know of these requests for a copy of "Singa". If you wish to have a copy, please email me at

16: Puguan Singh (Tangkak,. Muar, Johor, Malaysia), December 11, 2012, 1:12 PM.

This is going to be a treasure.

17: Anisha Gill (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), April 15, 2013, 7:38 AM.

I happened to come across this page while browsing the net. I am the great grand-daughter of Singha and would be happy to assist anyone who wants a copy of his book.

18: V Balarajah (Malaysia), July 12, 2013, 8:21 AM.

I wish someone would publish a book on all the unsung heroes of Malaya. I remember reading such a book when I was young. Don't know if Malaysia has an archive of such books.

19: Jendaur Kaur (Selangor, Malaysia ), October 10, 2013, 9:30 PM.

Would like to get my hands on this book for a good read. How do I go about getting a copy? Jkaur

20: V. Bharathi (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 01, 2014, 12:06 AM.

With the untimely death of our Tiger of Jelutong, Karpal Singh, I have learnt of another Singa. I hope to visit Singa's brother who runs a successful sports business right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. If it is not there, then I hope he will find it right and indeed proper to have a framed picture of Singa hanging on the wall for all people to see when people visit the shop and in the process to understand our history. We Malaysians are slowly learning of our long forgotten heroes as their memories are being erased for reasons we all know.

21: Peter Chan (Singapore), July 23, 2014, 3:40 AM.

I read this book in 1965 as a young boy and grew fascinated with Malayan trains. So I spent my teenage holidays in the Brickfields and Sentul areas in the early 1970s watching the trains come and go. Could someone give me a pdf copy of the book again?

22: Peter Chan (Singapore), July 23, 2014, 3:51 AM.

To: Anisha Gill the descendent of Gurchan Singh: I read your offer of your elder's book. Yes, I would like a copy. How can I get in touch with you? I first read the book which was printed in 1959, around 1965. I was just a teenager. Because of the book I came up to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore during my school holidays to see the railway places mentioned by your elder, e.g., Brickfields, Sentul and Padang Besar.

23: Kirandeep Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 06, 2014, 2:06 AM.

To Anisha Gill: I read your comment about the book on "Singa, The Lion of Malaya: Sardar Gurchan Singh" and would like a copy of it. Please let me know how I can get in touch with you. Thanks.

24: Leahna Kaur Gill (Auckland, New Zealand), February 28, 2015, 12:18 AM.

My uncles and great uncles were all involved. I've always been told the stories but I believe the G.S Gill mentioned above is my grandfather S. Gurbakash Singh. However, only my uncle Amar Singh in Kuala Lumpur could confirm that.

25: Leahna Kaur Gill (Auckland, New Zealand), February 28, 2015, 12:22 AM.

To Jag Dhillon: I believe we are related. I know the story of Uncle Bhagat Singh from the Robinson building. I am Veriy Singh Gill's daughter and his parents were Gurbakash Singh and Prabh Kaur.

26: Noor (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), December 17, 2016, 3:34 PM.

I must have stumbled upon a treasure trove. I love history. Incidentally, my husband had mentioned a famous Sardar he recalls from his primary school history. That this man happened to be a friend of his late grandpa who was a Dr Perak. I searched the net at once and found this site. The National Archives of Malaysia should have a copy of this book under its depository book Act. Personally, I am against the manipulation of any fact, truth or history, regardless of race or faith. Although I am not of the Sikh community, I am proud that we had such a hero in our country who lived and died for his land and its people. God bless his soul. My best wishes to your website. I would love to get a copy of this book. Where can I get a copy?

27: Anisha Gill (Malaysia), March 08, 2018, 7:12 PM.

I am the great-granddaughter of Singha and currently still reside in Kuala Lumpur. I never met him as he passed away long before I was born but never a day passes by without us listening to stories about him at bedtime by his daughter (my grandmother, Kerpal Kaur). If anyone wishes to have a copy of the book, do let me know at

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Sardar Gurchan Singh"

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