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Nov 15, 2009

Open Letter from Singaporean Historian Dr Loh Kah Seng

Dr Loh Kah Seng, a Singaporean historian, is embarking on his new book about the British bases and their withdrawal from Singapore in the 1970s.

His open letter is reproduced below and on his blog.

Please contact Dr Loh and help him to preserve this important milestone of Singapore history for posterity; and to help future generations of Singaporeans to understand that the birth of our nation was not an easy one.

Thank you.


Dear fellow Singaporeans

I am a Singaporean historian looking to speak to people who remember the British bases and their withdrawal in the early 1970s. The withdrawal was the first major crisis independent Singapore faced. The 56 bases, contributing a fifth of the country’s GDP, were its largest industry, and the pullout threatened the livelihood of one-sixth of the labour force, including an estimated 8,000 amahs.

The pullout also transformed the economy, society and landscape of Singapore in the 1970s. Most of the bases were converted to commercial use, while many base workers underwent a 3-month retraining crash course. Technical and vocational education also expanded, as new laws sought to increase labour productivity and attract foreign capital investment.

These developments resonate with us today: the retraining programmes, the mobilisation of the young, the philosophy that ‘no one owes Singapore a living’. There is also a forgotten social history to unearth: how retrenched base employees coped with the crisis and how workers adjusted to new work routines.

If you remember the British bases and rundown, or have a family member, relative or friend who does, kindly contact me to lend your voice to an important episode of our national story.

Please pass this message along to those who might be interested.

Thank you.

Loh Kah Seng (Dr)
Visiting Research Fellow
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
Mobile: +65 81981172
Loh Kah Seng
Visiting Research Fellow, ISEAS
Adjunct Assistant-Professor, NTU
New book, Making and Unmaking the Asylum



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