Chua Hock Yong was born in Singapore, but his grandfather moved the family to British North Borneo (now Sabah) to establish their business in 1939 when he was a year old. 

The Japanese invaded Borneo shortly after, but the family continued living in their shophouse in Gaya Street, Jesselton, now known as Kota Kinabalu. 

On October 10, 1943, Chua woke up to the smell of burning rubber and a sky shrouded in thick, black smoke.

“I asked my grandmother, ‘granny, why is the sky so black?’ And she said ‘oh it’s going to rain’. I guess she didn’t want to scare us,” said Chua, now 81. 

Chua’s family shop was in the epicentre of the fighting between Japanese troops and guerillas forces, so his father decided they should flee to Penampang where it would be safer. 

During their journey on foot, they passed by Japanese soldiers carrying their wounded comrades.

“I was still quite playful and joking around but the adults were very scared because the Japanese were very fierce,” said Chua.

It was much later when Chua grew up that he found out the Kinabalu guerillas, as part of the “Double Tenth” revolt, had set fire to the customs warehouse in Jesselton Pier, where the Japanese had stored rubber to be shipped back to Japan.

Chua also learnt more about the uprising when he met Chia Yit Teck, one of the guerillas who escaped and served as the right-hand man of the guerilla commander Albert Kwok, who was later massacred with 200 others during the Japanese retaliation. 

Reflecting on his wartime experience, Chua said: “The younger generation will be the ones ruling our country next. We should let them know that war is cruel and painful for everyone.”

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