My father seems to be on an inspired roll. Ever since his first contribution to Fusion View, about his first experience of coming to England as a young man, he has been writing down his memories for our family. Here, he writes about his experience of the Japanese occupation of Malaya as a very young boy - stories that I never knew about at all before the email he sent earlier this week.
For people of my father’s generation, their childhood / young adulthood were indelibly marked by the Japanese occupation of Malaya during the Second World War. However, I think it’s important to make the point that these days the relationship between Japan and its Asian neighbours is peaceful and there are many Japanese families living in modern Malaysia, thriving and co-operating together with Malaysians.
My father writes:
When the Japanese in their conquest of South East Asia reached Malaya in 1941 I was 4 years old. Certainly not old enough to read about or understand the politics that gave rise to the war with Japan or the European war. This account is merely that of a family of the professional class in a British Colonial possession in the Far East which underwent about 3 years of the Japanese occupation and survived without any death in the family through torture or other atrocities.
I had 3 other younger brothers each younger by 1 year than the next. My Father was a medical practitioner who graduated in the 1920s from the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. It was one of the two finest medical colleges in the British Empire, the other one being in Hong Kong University. It produced solidly competent doctors. My Father’s elder brother and their brother-in-law also graduated from the same college. My Father-in-law was also a graduate of the same college at a slightly later date. My Father’s Father (i.e. my paternal grandfather) taught Latin in the secondary school.
The earliest memory of the state of the war was our fleeing to Singapore by train when the reputation of Singapore as an impregnable fortress was still intact. We went to our maternal grand aunt’s house in Bukit Timah where she and her family of her grown-up children lived in a large rambling wooden house in the midst of a pineapple plantation with fruit trees of rambutans and also chickens. A new experience for us was to live in such a large open space with so much greenery and fresh air without electric lights and having to draw water from a well for our baths. Soon the myth of the impregnable fortress was eroding and we fled back to Kuala Lumpur by train and the journey took hours, stopping every time there were hostile planes overhead. My parents must have heard of the rapes and atrocities committed by the Japanese in Shanghai and other parts of China and we then moved deep into a rubber estate with the whole family and livestock (mainly chickens and ducks.)
Here life was quite idyllic. We lived together with other families in rooms one next to the other. There was no electric light again and had only kerosene lamps so we went to sleep very early. The rubber trees kept the temperature cool and there was a stream with clear and clean water in which we could bathe. We were disturbed by the Japanese only once when they came in trucks. We heard the rumbling of their trucks when they went over a bridge which they had to cross to reach the rubber estate. All of us then ran deeper into the jungle which surrounded the rubber estate. All the younger women would put on ugly torn and patched peasant clothes and make themselves as uninviting as possible by rubbing ash or mud on their face or arms and were the first to run away for everyone had heard of their rapes. In this instance none was raped. They were after men who were alleged to have been conducting anti-Japanese activities.
Each one of us had a few clothes and some homemade biscuits tied up in a pillow case standing in the bedroom to be picked up when we had to flee from the house. The peasant clothes were also always ready to be put on.
Other than this disturbance, life was without any untoward event although at all times there was at the back of our minds the worry as to what would the next day bring. The adults must have had a great deal of anxiety especially people like my Mother who had four very young children to feed and bring up.
Next Friday: Japanese school
Written by Guest Blogger Ooi Boon-Leong