Jeli Abdullah’s mother died from labour complications after giving birth to him and his twin brother. To his Bisaya tribe, this was seen as a bad omen, and his father did not know what to do with the twins.
Fortunately, an Australian missionary couple decided to adopt the newborns. But misfortunate fell upon the new family when the Japanese Imperial army invaded Borneo in 1941.
Together with other captured Europeans, Jeli and his family were sent to the Batu Lintang POW camp in Kuching when he was just one years old.
To pass time, Jeli remembers going up to the Japanese guards as a child to chat but they would shoo him away.
“There were other European children but what confused the Japanese is that they were surprised to see us locals with the Europeans,” he recalled.
Today, the Batu Lintang POW camp is a teacher’s training college.
As the last known child prisoner-of-war in Sarawak, 79-year-old Jeli feels that it is important for the younger generation to learn their history.
“But unfortunately, the younger generation are not really interested in history. They pay more attention to the latest gadgets,” he said.
As Jeli stands outside one of the remaining barracks from the war, he said “I’m happy that at least there is some preservation so people can come and have a look.
“This is what is left of Batu Lintang [camp]. And it is history.”