Wartime Charity from Singapore
On 1 October 1918, 96 years ago today, a short notice was printed in the Straits Times—a Singapore-based broadsheet—detailing the recent charitable efforts of the Singapore St Andrew’s Society. The Society’s Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, A.M. McNeil, had written to the publication to inform readers that recent donations from Society members to the Scottish Soldiers Comfort Fund had amassed a total of $5,540—a sum which was to be sent directly to the St Andrew’s Society in Edinburgh (Straits Times, 1 October 1918). A subsequent article about the charitable activities of the Scots in Singapore, printed the following year in the Singapore Free Press, indicated that the money raised by Scottish expatriates had been ‘expended in providing “Comforts” for Scottish troops on active service and, also, for Scottish Prisoners of War’ (Singapore Free Press, 21 May 1919). The funds that had been sent back home to Scotland—‘proof of the affectionate regard and vigorous loyalty which characterises Scotsmen in far distant lands’—were gratefully received: acknowledgements were sent to Singapore directly from the front but also from Regimental Societies at home. One particular expression of thanks came from the War Work Party in Callander, a small town in Scotland known as the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’, which had been gifted a sum of £25, money that had been ‘entrusted to the Edinburgh Society by its namesake, the St Andrew Society of Singapore’. For the recipients of this sum, which would be spent on ‘comforts for local men on active service’, the creation of the Scottish Soldiers Comfort Fund was ‘a striking testimony to the close bond of fellowship which unites Scotsmen all the world over, and which finds expression in so practical a form of sympathy with the men “at the front”’ (Callander Advertiser, 8 March 1919).
Naturally, during wartime, it was not only the Scots that were involved in benevolent activities; indeed, many expatriate residents of Singapore actively engaged in charitable endeavours. A report sent from the High Commissioners Office in March 1918 listed the ‘various private subscriptions raised in the Colony and Malay States for purposes connected to the War’ (Singapore Free Press, 13 June 1918). Alongside the $8,143.77 raised for the Scottish Soldiers Comfort Fund were sums of $2,723.02 for the Prisoners of War Royal Muster Fusiliers, $2,147.82 for the Queen’s Work for Women and, collected in Penang, $1,807.81 for Pineapples for Troops (Singapore Free Press, 13 June 1918). Of course, Singapore and its immediate environs were not the only sources of charity. In the early months of the war, nine ‘Welsh ladies of Shanghai’ including the wife of William Hopkyn Rees, President of the Shanghai St David’s Society, sent the men of the South Wales Borderers and ‘any Welsh sailors there may be at Tsingtau and Weihaiwei a present of 4,500 cigarettes, 200 tins of smoking mixture, forty hard plugs of tobacco and sixty-one pipes’ (Singapore Free Press, 13 November 1914). While presents of this nature boosted the morale of those involved in the conflict, the activities of expatriates did more than that. Above providing practical manifestations of support, their activities brought to life a global network of ethnic associations and connected those in distant lands with those at home.