Whenever Allied planes bombed Sandakan town as part of its campaign to liberate Borneo, Daniel Chin Tung Foh’s grandfather would rush the whole family into a bomb shelter behind their house. 

During its heyday, the British North Borneo Company had developed Sandakan into a major commercial and trading hub for timber, as well as the main administrative centre for North Borneo (now Sabah).

When Daniel was five, he and his seven-year-old sister were given a task to inform relatives and friends not to go to work on October 24, 1944 because the Allies were going to bomb the saw mill factories. 

On that fateful day, Daniel’s grandfather was not around and so the feisty boy decided to watch the bombing episode from his house atop Trig Hill.

“There were about 100 planes swarming across the sky. I was so excited because I’ve never seen so many planes and so much bombing action. I wish I had a camera to film it,” said Daniel, now 81.

“I didn’t feel scared at all, but if my grandfather found out, it would have shocked him,” he said with a laugh. 

His wartime experiences would later inspire him to pen three books on the Japanese Occupation.

The air raid aside, the war would leave Daniel with many bitter memories. His mother went into shock after witnessing her cousin being tortured by the Japanese Kempeitai police, widely feared for their ruthlessness during the war.

“She got so scared that she became speechless, because she thought her cousin was killed. I was five at the time, but I could see her dying. She passed away after a week,” Daniel explained. 

“It was May [1945], almost the end of the war, but she couldn’t overcome it, couldn’t get through it,” he said.

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