Our story started when Soon Ah Yoong had sailed to Malaya from Guangdong, China in the 1800’s. He had intended a “temporary migration” to escape the political and economic situations back home but had instead settled down for good in this country eventually. Ah Yoong had stayed put where he had first landed - Bukit Mertajam, Province Wellesley, Malaya. Our family ancestral records show that our “Soon” family line in Malaya started off from this very Soon Ah Yoong in his newly adopted homeland - Malaya.
In a quick summarised narration, which had been handed down by word of mouth from the old to the young throughout the years, Soon Ah Yoong, born circa 1790 and died in 1862, is the apex for the Soon family in this country. He is listed supremely as Generation One. Ah Yoong is buried in Kubang Semang, Bukit Mertajam. His only son, Soon Kuan Hin born in 1821, is Generation Two. Kuan Hin had three Generation Three sons - Seng Lee born in 1864 (was also known as the Soon Ah Lee of the Lunas, Kedah fame), Seng Kee born in 1869 and Seng Chiew born in 1873.
My great grandfather, Seng Kee the second born, is our third generation patriarch, and he had seven children (three sons and four daughters). My grandfather, Soon Kim Fook was the second born on 14th July 1893, is listed as Generation Four. (The graves of Kuan Hin, Seng Lee, Seng Kee and Kim Fook all still exist till this very day located in Kubang Semang, Bukit Mertajam). My late father, Soon Boon Sooi, the second born on 20th May 1919, continued as Generation Five and I, Soon Tet Leong born on 8th February 1951, belong to a very large and broad 6th Generation grouping. My sons, Kenneth Soon Pow Lee born 28th February 1982 and Lionel Soon Pow Yik born on 28th February 1986 belong to the 7th Generation category. My granddaughter, Hela Soon Yu Hui born on 10th April 2018, continues as the 8th Generation Soon in Malaysia.
This writer has often identified himself as a “6th Generation Immigrant” whenever questioned on ancestry, nationality, race or loyalty; he wonders - when do immigrants lose those “immigrant, Chinese or pendatang” tags, or after which generation of citizenry is one considered totally assimilated and by whom? Will we ever be dispensed with the “Chinese or Indian or Malay” tags in Malaysia? Can we not be simply insulted or labelled just a Malaysian? What does one have to do to prove oneself loyal and submissive to our beloved homeland?
Standing rear from left (adults only) - (4th) Hoo Eng Chong with pipe, (5th) Boon Sooi, (6th) Boon Siew, (10th) Tet Loy. Seated from left – (3rd) Boon Chin, (5th) Boon Foong, (9th) Tet Kah in mother’s arm, (10th) Tet Leong in mother’s arms. Seated front row from left – (2nd) Tet Khooi.
During WW II, the Japanese imperialists were truly ruthless. It had been widely reported that the Chinese Diaspora, in whichever country the Japanese had conquered, were summarily executed by mere suspicions of the Chinese assisting any resistance groups. The atrocities of the Japanese in China and the Korean Peninsula had filtered down to send shivers to the other regional Chinese Diaspora, long before the Japanese had reached the shores of Malaya or Singapore.
Despite these concerns, and answering to the calls for Malayan youths to enlist to help defend the country, two 5th Generation brothers, Soon Boon Leong born 17th November 1917 and Soon Boon Sooi born 20th May 1919 (the eldest and 2nd born respectively) enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) to help defend the nation. While in the RAMC, they had met and made friends with Hoo Eng Chong, who was born on 18th July 1922, he eventually married the brothers’ sister, Boon Foong born on 19th May 1922. The three of them enlisted at different times but underwent training together at the Tanglin Barracks in Singapore. Their training involved physical exercises, parade ground drills, and lectures in anatomy, physiology, hygiene and sanitation, first aid and wounds.
The Japanese forces had landed in Malaya at midnight of 8th December 1941. At day break, they had already taken control of Kelantan and Kedah. The speed and rapid advances of the Japanese Occupational Forces compelled the Allied Forces to retreat the only way they could - southwards. Malaya fell to the Japanese after the Allied Forces withdrew to Singapore, and thereon began the three years Japanese Occupation of Malaya.
What the two brothers and future brother-in-law had learnt during their training was immediately put into practical use. Trains were still running to and from the mainland battlegrounds; the British organized ambulance train services across the Straits of Johor and the Tanjong Pagar railway station in Singapore. Boon Leong was assigned as an ambulance driver, while Boon Sooi and Eng Chong were receiving and clearing casualties at the railway station and the military hospital.
Boon Leong was making ambulance runs into Peninsular Malaya itself. He had related his experience in one of his many educating the young episodes - "In my life I have not seen so much blood. If blood flows like river, that day was the closest one I've ever seen! Till this day, I cannot bring myself to take Marmite ever again, because the thing smells like blood."
The order had already been issued to all allied forces in Peninsular Malaya to pull back to Singapore. By 7th January 1942, the Japanese had already crossed the Johor Straits. Allied positions fell while others were quickly outflanked.
Boon Sooi had recalled, "Day and night, loud explosions were heard, and these were not direct results of the Japanese bombardments but the Allied Forces were busy destroying their own ammo dumps, fuel storage tanks and even their food storage facilities. The whole sky was blackened in thick smoke."
On 15th February 1942, the British surrendered to the Japanese. Boon Leong and Boon Sooi were already prisoners of war (POW) in Singapore as a result of the surrender. They had no idea where or how the other was (neither were the defeated and humiliated British, as anyone would have guessed), but both Boon Leong and Boon Sooi were eventually released (surprisingly paroled) after a short spell of interrogation while still in captivity. Boon Sooi had even related the facts of his captivity to his children, “Japanese soldiers were truly smaller in size when compared to most of the POW’s that were paraded daily, however, a pint sized Japanese Officer’s forceful slap to the face easily felled or spun the POW’s around. He truly understood what seeing stars meant after that experience!” On their release, they separately made their way towards home up north from Singapore, on foot joining many others following the railway tracks.
Boon Leong fell ill along the way and ended up homed around Kuala Lumpur for a period of time. Incidentally, Boon Leong who was a trained agriculturist in Serdang, Selangor became a planter and was employed as the General Manger of Nyalas Estate, Jasin Malacca during the Emergency Period. He had his hands full during the insurgency, as the communist were targeting plantations all over. He was always armed for his safety and had worked alongside the government to help counter the insurgency.
Boon Sooi managed to make it all the way home to Bandar Baharu, where his family was then located. Bandar Baharu is a town located along the Kedah-Penang–Perak borders. Soon Boon Chin born 13th March 1928, his youngest sister who still commands some good memories despite being 90 years old, described her brother on that day, "He was so dirty, his uniform all in tatters, and he had aged beyond the years! We burnt his uniform for fear of him being recaptured by the still lurking Japanese soldiers". Boon Sooi was then employed as a First Class Hospital Assistant in Bertam Estate, Kepala Batas until his full retirement. He assumed the role of the Medical Doctor for the entire Estate (British owned Empevan) throughout his service, qualified doctors were very scarce and they only make periodical visits to review once a week if not fortnightly.
To digress a little, it must be pointed out here that it was very uncommon for ladies to be educated in the 1940’s, leave alone being English educated. Surely, it is another story when a Chinese lady was employed with the Police Force. Boon Chin was the stenographer to the British Chief Police Officer (CPO) for Kedah & Perlis during the Emergency Period, and later with the Polis DiRaja Malaysia (PDRM) until she retired in 1983. In the days of old when computers and storage chips were not yet invented, stenographers were just equivalent to uniform or signals and radio operators, they were custodians and were all sworn to secrecy and extreme loyalty - they record minutes, typed correspondences, filed records and took notes of everything operational and sundry. 90 year old retiree Boon Chin still holds on to that oath till this day.
Back to the loyalty story, Hoo Eng Chong remained as a POW, and in June 1943 was dispatched by train to Siam. He was one of thousands who were forcibly recruited by the Japanese army to work on the Death Railway during WWII, and had survived.
Years later after my dad passed away, and on inquiring for more details related to my dad’s services in the RAMC during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, the UK Ministry of Defence had responded as follows: “….the record shows that your father was posted as missing at the time of the allied surrender of Singapore in February 1942. The next entry dates from July 1946. He is shown as formally discharged on 10th July 1946. I regret that his records do not confirm any details of your father’s actions for the period from early 1942 until his discharge in 1946.” I had wondered how British records were kept intact in Malaya during the war, more so if they were the defeated forces.
That being stated, all three were eventually reunited as a family after the war; they had re-joined RAMC when the British regained control after the Japanese had surrendered, only to then leave honourably from the RAMC, with their Cause of Discharge from the RAMC listed as follows – “Services no longer required for purpose for which he enlisted.” The Medals listed for them were 1939-1945 Star, Pacific Star and War Medal.
RAMC (Oct 1941 – Jul 1946) - Picture taken after his discharge from the RAMC.
After Boon Leong and Boon Sooi, the family tradition of Soon’s serving the nation continued through their children. Both Boon Leong and Boon Sooi had passed on in 1988, six months apart from each other.
Captain Soon Tet Loy RMN (Retired) N/400087
Captain (Capt) Soon Tet Loy RMN (Retired), the eldest son of Soon Boon Leong, was born on 21st July 1936 in Kuala Lumpur; he is incidentally the eldest offspring in the entire 6th Generation Soon family line. He completed his education and the Higher School Certificate in Bukit Mertajam High School in 1955. He had then joined the Royal Malayan Navy (RMN), on 1st April 1956.
He had joined as a Regular Service Commission Officer, and was the second batch of naval cadet officers (soon after Tan Sri Admiral Thanabalasingam’s first golden batch) to be despatched for overseas naval training. On completion of his initial cadet training in Singapore, he was packed off to Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) to commence Seamanship training from 6th January 1957 until 7th April 1959; he was re-categorised from the Executive to the Engineer Branch in the Navy on 13th January 1959. He received his Sub-Lieutenant (Sub-Lt) commission on 1st November 1960. Training continued for him at the Royal Naval Engineering College (RNEC), Manadon Plymouth in Devon until 29th June 1963. He acquired his Engineer Officers Watchkeeping Certificate and Certificate of Competency (COC) in September 1960 on-board HMS LOCH KILLSPORT. He was promoted Lieutenant (Lt) on 1st January 1962.
Incidentally, Tet Loy had many firsts in his career. He was the first ever Malayan Naval Officer to be admitted into the RNEC. He was the first Naval Engineer Officer. He was also the first Malaysian Chief Staff Officer Technical taking over from the British. He was the Commandant of TLDM Sungei Nyior. He was General Manager RMN Naval Dockyard Nucleus Team. But, the most prestigious and notable appointment for him was when he was appointed, starting initially as the Deputy before becoming the very first Inspector General of the RMN Naval Inspectorate General Organisation, a totally new set up in 1987.
His appointments throughout his naval career were as follows:
> BRNC & RNEC 1956-1963
> Patrol Craft Engineer Officer 1963 – 1964
> KD MALAYA Chief Technical Officer 1964 – 1966
> KD HANG TUAH – Chief Engineer Officer 1966 - 1968
> NAVAL STAFF DIVISION (NSD) as Staff Officer 2 Technical 1968 – 1969
> COMNAV WEST Chief Staff Officer (Technical) 1969 – 1972
> TLDM SUNGEI NYIOR – Commandant 1972 -1977
> NSD – Lumut Base Project Officer 1977 – 1978
> NSD – Head Lumut Base Progress Planning 1978 – 1981
> Malaysian Shipyard Engineering – On loan to shipyard 1981 – 1982
> RMN NAVAL DOCKYARD – General Manager 1982 – 1984
> FLEET MATERIAL COMMAND (FMC) – Panglima FMC 1984 -1987
> NSD – Deputy Inspector and Inspector General RMN 1987– 1991
Capt Soon Tet Loy (RMN) retired from the Navy in 1991 after 35 years’ service. He was awarded the KAT, KMN, AMN, PPA & PPM medals. As second career after the Navy, Tet Loy joined Muhibbah Engineering (M) Bhd as the Assets Manager and he remained in this job until he retired again on 21st July 2001.
He was an avid sportsman throughout his career in the service. In athletics, he participated in pole-vault while in the games category he played badminton and golf representing the Navy. A story goes amongst the older Navy folks was that left handed Tet Loy, then Engineer officer of KD HANG TUAH, had commenced a heaving line transfer at the forecastle by using a wedge golf club to pitch the heaving line across to the jetty – and successfully collected at the receiving end.
701767 Sergeant (Sgt) Soon Men Siong RMAF (Retired)
Sgt Soon Men Siong RMAF was born on 11th December 1946; he is the younger brother to Capt Soon Tet Loy RMN and the 3rd son of Boon Leong. He had joined the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) on 31st March 1966 and received his basic training at the Taiping base. He qualified (through his training in the Royal Air Force Base Seletar, Singapore) and served throughout as an RMAF Aero Fireman.
After completing a full service of 21 years in the RMAF, Men Siong retired as a Sgt on 31st March 1987. He was then gainfully employed as a Security Executive in the Genting Highlands, Pahang in a second career for another 19 years. He ceased working at the age of 60 years.
Sgt Soon Men Siong RMAF passed away on May 2017 soon after his 70th birthday. He was accorded a proper Veteran’s farewell with the send-off organised and executed jointly by the Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association (MACVA) and Persatuan Veteran India Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (PERIM).
200956 Soon Tet Khooi - Royal Military College (RMC), 1966-1969
Soon Tet Khooi born on 6th June 1949 is the eldest son of Boon Sooi. He had received his early education at Kepala Batas Primary and Secondary Schools after which he was successfully selected to join the Royal Military College (RMC) in the 1966-1969 intake.
On his exit from the RMC, he was successfully selected into another category of the uniform services – as a Pilot in Malaysia Singapore Airlines (MSA) in 1970, however, after Malaysia and Singapore had separated as a nation, MSA was broken up into two entities - Malaysia Air Systems (MAS) and Singapore International Airlines (SIA) - he was absorbed full time into the SIA. He eventually retired as Captain from the SIA in 2004.
He was a certified golf coach since 1978; and is today the Director of Golf Instruction RinavAGolf, training young aspiring golfers in Malaysia.
Lt Soon Tat Kong RMN (Retired) N/401956
Soon Tat Kong, born on 23rd October 1950, is the younger brother to Capt Soon Tet Loy RMN and the fourth son to Boon Leong. He received his early schooling in Jasin, Melaka and then his secondary education in St Marks Secondary School in Butterworth. From the Tunku Abdul Rahman College, Kuala Lumpur he decided to join the Royal Malaysian Navy in May 1969, when Malaysia was then in the middle of the May 13 racial riots.
Tat Kong graduated as a Controls Electrical Artificer (CEA) in 1974, at the Naval Electrical School in HMS Collingwood, Portsmouth United Kingdom. He spent the initial year at HMS Fisgard in Plymouth in 1969 where he graduated by capturing The Most Prestigious “Captain’s Prize”.
He was also awarded the Plymouth’s Command Certificate for Playing Hockey for the Plymouth. He had represented HMS Fisgard in indoor hockey and badminton. He was also awarded the Portsmouth Command in Hockey and represented the Royal Navy under 23 in Hockey in 1973.
On his return from the United Kingdom in 1974, he was assigned to various naval shore establishments and ships. He was commissioned a Regular Special Duty Officer after serving 11 Years in the RMN. His final eight years in the navy was with the RMN Naval Dockyard as an Assistant Workshop Manager looking after the Exocet MM38 Missiles, the Vega Pollux System, the PAP underwater unmanned submersible and the NAJA Laser Optical System. He served the RMN for a total of 21 years before retiring.
Tat Kong lamented that recognition and rewards in the Royal Navy were better organised and managed; he had not received any awards in his 21 years of service in the RMN. He had participated actively and representatively in hockey for the Malaysian Armed Forces (State Level hockey) and squash for the Navy. He noted that he had also been sailing competitive Optimist and 470 sailboats and sailboards for the Navy for over 10 Years. He was even a qualified Ship’s Diver and served as the Diving Officer for the RMN Naval Dockyard.
On retirement in 1990, he was employed in several manufacturing organizations serving in various capacities ranging from a Plant Engineer, Factory Manager to General Manager. In 1992, he was actively involved in an International Consultancy, managing productivity and quality related projects in Indonesia, Singapore, China and Malaysia.
Tat Kong obtained his Masters in Engineering Degree (Engineering Management) from the prestigious University of South Australia in Adelaide. He is the Co-Founder of JTF Quality Management Consultancy firm specializing in productivity and quality management, offering consultancy and training services in areas such as TQM, TPM, Kaizen, Poka Yoke, CIT, ISO 9001, process reengineering, JIT, 5S, SMED, SPC, cost reduction, RCM and project management. Due to his involvement and contribution in assisting the Dublin Metropolitan University in their MBA Program Project Management and TQM, both in Malaysia and Singapore, he was awarded the Honorary Doctor of the University with the use of title Dr over his name.
Tat Kong has been in the Consultancy and Training Business for over 20 years and he has provided his services to over thirty six organizations, ranging from small factories to multi-nationals such As Caltex and Fuji Xerox. Currently, Tat Kong is the Principal Consultant in his own firm - Titan Consultancy Sdn Bhd - providing Consultancy and Training Services in Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.
Lt Soon Tet Leong RMN (Retired) N/401733
Soon Tet Leong, born on 8th February 1951 is the 3rd son of Boon Sooi. He received his early education in Kepala Batas Primary and Secondary Schools. He undertook his Lower and Upper Six education at the Bukit Mertajam High School.
He had joined the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) on 8th May 1970 and was selected to be trained in a three and a half year Naval Artificer Apprenticeship Course at the Royal Australian Navy Apprentice Training Establishment (RANATE), HMAS NIRIMBA, New South Wales Australia.
On his return from Australia, his services continued in the following appointments:
> 1973–1977 – Fleet Technical Services as Technician in various Departments – KD Hang Tuah, RMN Slipway, Paint Shop, Woodwork Workshop, Welding shops, Fitting Shop, Glass Reinforced Plastic Workshop.
> 1977–1979 - Chief Technician as Staff Maintenance Authority, Fleet Technical Services, Singapore. Statistical compilation of defect lists, defect acquaints and urgent defects of navy vessels with the view of promulgating Planned Maintenance Orders preventing recurrences. Updating/Amending Technical Reference Document and Data.
> Was commissioned on 15th October 1979 after 9 years service.
> 1979–1981 – Appointed the Staff Maintenance Officer Grade 3, Ministry Of Defence, Technical Directorate, Navy. Roles and responsibilities include the evaluation and recommendation of tenders for refits and refurbishment of navy vessels in private Malaysian Shipyards. Act as Liaison Officer between shipyards, Naval Command and naval Operations during refits and refurbishments.
> 1981–1984 – Appointed as the Project Officer cum Staff Officer Maintenance Area One Command Peninsular Malaysia, Kuantan Pahang. Roles and responsibilities include the acceptance and setting up of the newly constructed Naval Command Area One Headquarters, Area Technical & Supply Support Bases.
> 1984 –1985 – Defect List Production Officer – Fleet Material Command HQ, Lumut. Roles and responsibilities include inspection and identifying defects of navy vessels for inclusion into the defects lists that are then tendered out to shipyards to conduct refurbishment and refits fulfilling Plan Maintenances schedules.
> 1985-1989 – Appointed as the DOCKMASTER of the RMN Naval Dockyard, Lumut. Roles and responsibilities include the berthing, dry docking and safe transfer of naval warships for repairs in the yard.
> 1989–1992 Staff Officer Grade 2 - Head of Operations (Technical) in Malaysian Armed Forces Cataloguing Authority (MAFCA), Ministry of Defence. A tri-services appointment where North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Codification System is used to help harmonize and standardize spares within the Army, Navy and Air Force and NATO friendly foreign nations.
> Tet Leong chose optional retirement at 40 years of age.
While in service, Tet Leong had continued the family tradition in participating representative sports throughout his naval career. He received sports colours from the Royal Australian Navy for Tennis and Hockey. In the RMN, he was awarded Sports Certificate and colours for hockey and cricket.
Tet Leong, an Incorporated Marine Engineer registered with the Engineering Council United Kingdom, opted out for early retirement from the Navy in January 1992 and was actively employed in various capacities from Manager, Senior Manager, and General Manager to Executive Director in the Oil & Gas Pipeline Intelligent Pigging profession and industries. He went into a full retirement in 2015, and now golf regularly to continue the love for sports.
Tet Leong is married to Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Carol Loo Lee Fum (Retired) of the Royal Intelligence Corps in December 1980 and they have two sons Kenneth Soon and Lionel Soon, all three are mentioned in Part Two of this article.
Compiled and Written by:
Lt Soon Tet Leong RMN (Rtd)
13 Aug 18