Remembering the Son of the Soil of Singapore, David Marshall on his 21st Death Anniversary

David Marshall

(David Marshall (Mashal) Born March 12 1908-Death December 12 1995-19th of Kislev, 5756)


March 12, 1908, is the birthdate of David Marshall, the first head of government of a semi-independent Singapore. Although Marshall’s tenure as Singapore’s chief minister was short just 14 months, but many of his ideas were adopted by later governments, and he is remembered fondly in the island nation for his integrity, passion and great patriotism.

David Saul Marshall was born in Singapore, the eldest of the seven children of Saul Nissim Mashal (the family’s original surname) and Flora Eziekel Mashal, Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Baghdad.

When he was six, David’s mother took him and his siblings back to Baghdad for a family visit. Unfortunately, World War I had begun, and the Turkish forces occupying the city put them under house arrest. They would remain in Iraq for more than three years. On his return to Singapore, David was educated at St. Andrew’s School and at Raffles Institution, after which his intention was to claim a Queen’s Scholarship to study medicine in London. But after contracting tuberculosis, in 1925, he was instead sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland, after which he moved on to Belgium to study the business of textile manufacturing. Later he worked in the trade for a while back in Singapore before traveling to London to study law.


Marshall had become interested in politics years earlier, giving his first political speech at age 19, at a YMCA in Singapore. Responding to a recent statement by a British MP who called the crown colony a “pestilential and immoral cesspool,” Marshall turned to his audience and asked it rhetorically, “Who is responsible for making this cesspool?” Much later, he said he had become a politician in order to fight the racism that he felt characterized the “’white man, brown man’ relationship… Like you call me ‘Jowdy Jew, brush my shoe,’ and next thing I know is I hit you on the nose… I wanted to break the sonic barrier against Asians and especially against Jews.”

After graduating law at the University of London, he was called to the bar in 1937. The next year, following German’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, Marshall volunteered for the Singapore Volunteer Corps of the British army.


(David Marshall as Singapore’s first Chief Minister in 1955)

He was captured when Singapore fell to Japanese forces, in February 1942, and spent the next three years as a prisoner of war, passing through a total of 26 different camps, and for a period being forced to work in a Japanese mine in Hokkaido island. A lot of murder suspects go free, following his return to Singapore after World War II, Marshall began a career as a criminal defense attorney, and was an amazing success. He claimed to have won acquittals for 99 out of 100 murder suspects he defended. When Lee Kuan Yew abolished the jury system in Singapore, in 1969, he pointed to Marshall’s record as one of the reasons for the move.

David Marshall was a staunch believer in Singaporean independence from Britain. In 1953, that goal was partially attained, with the U.K. granting domestic self-governance. The Labor Front party tapped Marshall to be its leader and went on to emerge in the lead after the first election in April 1955. Marshall was named chief minister and formed a minority government.


(1961 David Marshall marries Jean Mary Gray in Singapore)


(David Marshall and Jean Marshall with their 2 Daughters)

His period in office was marked with labor unrest and severe racial tensions. In 1956, after failing to negotiate complete independence during talks in London, he resigned. The following year, he founded the Workers Party of Singapore, but had only limited success as its leader, and left politics for good in 1963, returning to his legal career. In 1978, Marshall was named Singapore’s first ambassador to France, and in the years that followed, he also became envoy to Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.


(In 1955 standing at the right in New Delhi with India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru)


(Putting a wreath At Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial New Delhi 1955)

He retired from the diplomatic corps in 1993. David Marshall died of lung cancer, on December 12, 1995. In its obituary, the London Independent praised Marshall as “an egalitarian, a humanitarian full of compassion, [and] a champion of the underdog,” who, “While he admired modern Singapore’s achievements … pleaded for more open political debate, a more independent-minded press, a more caring society and a kinder judicial system, free from emergency laws or capital punishment.”

On a closing note I was fortunate to get a copy of a book on the life of David Marshall by Kevin Tan when I visited Singapore in the month of September 2016 with whom I got in touch with who lives in Singapore and will be a part of my film.


( Author Kevin Tan’s book on the life of David Marshall)

After doing a couple of searches if there was any film made on his life I found non, so I decided to do some research on his life, apart from his role in politics in Singapore he was an amazing, interesting  colorful person, and a unique criminal lawyer, but to my dismay found that many who were born in Singapore after 1965, rarely know who he was, only if you were a law student, you may hear or read about him, it is then that I  felt that I should make a short film on his contribution to Singapore, which potrays that he was a true “Son of the Soil of Singapore”, titled in Arabic “Ibn el Balad of Singapore”, as his family had come from Iraq-Baghdad, and his original surname Mashal-means in Arabic-flame-torch in Hebrew-parable, which later was anglicised to Marshall.


(Jonathan Marshall second from left with his mother Jean Marshall)

I was very fortunate to also get in touch with his youngest son Jonathan Marshall who also lives in Singapore who agreed to meet up with me and known more about the project when I would visit Singapore before the 12th of December, as I had desired to go to his grave on the 12th of December and sing  and play the Erhu  on the  melody of Ravel’s Kaddish with a couple of Chinese musicians and some community members, which I unfortunately couldn’t make it to, but I hope to do so soon.


Because of my inability to attend and do what I had desired to do, I requested Rabbi Nathan Alfred from the UHC Singapore community, who readily obliged and agreed to go to the Jewish Cemetery at Chua Chu Kang Road in Singapore today morning and light a Yatzerit candle at the burial site of David Marshall, below and above are the pictures he posted to me today morning from Singapore, I am truly grateful to him and Mr Bill Gelman another member of the UHC Singapore community for taking the time and effort to go and pay their respect’s and remember David Marshall on behalf of many of us from the city of Mumbai-India, and Singapore.


(Rabbi Nathan Alfred of the UHC-Singapore at the burial site of David Marshall)


Bill Gelman member of the UHC-Singapore at the burial site of David Marshall)


Ravel’s Kaddish-Mourners Kaddish


Yitgadal V’yitkadash Sh’mei Raba

B’alma Di-v’ra Chirutei,

V’yamlich Malchutei B’chayeichon

Uvyomeichon Uvchayei d’chol Beit Yisrael,

Ba’agala Uvizman Kariv, V’im’ru: “Amen.”

(Y’hei Sh’mei Raba M’varach L’alam Ul’almei Almaya.)

Yitbarach V’yishtabach, V’yitpa’ar

V’yitromam V’yitnaseh, V’yithadar

V’yit’aleh V’yit’halal

Sh’mei d’kud’sha, B’rich hu,

L’eila min-kol-Birchata V’shirata, Tushb’chata

V’nechemata Da’amiran Ah

B’alma Ah! Ah! Ah!, V’im’ru: “Amen.”

(Y’hei shlama raba min-sh’maya v’chayim aleinu

v’al-kol-yisrael, v’im’ru: “amen.”

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu

v’al kol-yisrael, v’imru: “amen.”)


 Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world

which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,

and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;

and say, Amen.


(May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.)

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,

adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,

beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that

are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

 (May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us

and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,

may He create peace for us and for all Israel;

and say, Amen.)



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