Speaking to the last survivors of World War II in Malaysia, and bringing you to where it all happened.
Come February 2016, it will be 70 years since the final surrender of the Japanese army in Kuala Lumpur.
Sadly, the compelling stories of World War II in Malaysia are often lost, or hidden in plain sight. While other countries have fascinating war museums and guided tours of WWII sites, memories of the war in Malaysia seem to be fading away along with its last survivors.
The Last Survivors is an interactive online documentary project that hopes to bring those stories back to life, by speaking to survivors of the Japanese occupation, and bringing them back to the locations which hold the deepest memories for them.
In season two, the grandchildren of survivors go on a journey of discovery, and find there’s more to their grandparents than meets the eye.
As a small child in Tangkak, Johor, Mustapha’s peaceful childhood was disrupted by the arrival of the Japanese. In this audio recording, he recalls a soldier threatening to kill his father over a packet of cigarettes, men forcefully recruited to work on the infamous ‘death railway’, and Japanese troops stabbing villagers with bayonets to force them to collect coconuts.
Yap Ser Jin shares his tale of how he miraculously survived a Japanese execution after blowing up one of their army vehicles to avenge his father and uncle’s death, who were members of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army.
This WWII survivor from 峇株巴辖 Batu Pahat, Johor, saw his neighbour being stabbed to death by Japanese troops, simply because he was Chinese.
Former child labourer John Robson said while he’s forgiven the Japanese for the atrocities committed in Malaya during WWII, he’ll never forget. His uncle was never the same after being taken away by the Kempeitai, and as a young boy he witnessed a public execution in Kuala Lumpur.
After his brother was taken, Arumugam was forced to work on the infamous ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand, which claimed an estimated 42, 000 Malayan lives during WWII. Out of the 50 men from Linggi recruited as labourers, only seven were to return.
When he was 17, Lim Chung Bee was captured by the Japanese while en route to Australia. He would spend three hellish years working in a copper mine, spending 12 hours every day mining 1,000 metres underground. Conditions were horrendous, and the POWs often had to endure beatings, starvation and torture.
A few weeks after we filmed this video, Chung Bee passed away peacefully. We would like to thank him and his family for the honour of being able to tell his remarkable story of strength, perseverance and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Kicking off season two, filmmaker Ineza Roussille follows her grandmother, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah, around Kuala Lumpur in order to find out how she survived the war.
Click on any pin on the map to read its World War II story. Red pins are stories by R.AGE, yellow are stories contributed by readers. If you have a World War II story you’d like us to upload to this map, email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) along with the exact location of your story on Google Maps.
Pictures of locations from during the war or comparison pictures can also be emailed to us.
Video submissions are encouraged so get out there and talk to a survivor. Interesting stories and videos stand a chance to be filmed as an episode of The Last Survivors.
While Michael was Sarawakian, he was adopted by an Australian couple and held in a prisoner of war camp along with his parents and other expats. He and his brother were the only Sarawakians inside the camp, and said while he was sure it was hard for his parents, he had a happy childhood. The camp was saved from death by the Japanese commander in charge, who ignored the order to send them on a death march. The death march order letter was found in a desk after the camp was liberated by Australian soldiers. After liberation the whole camp went and stood in the local square and sang a song together.
Was 14 and living in KL when the war began, but fled to Ipoh when the Japanese arrived. To make a living, he and his father would sell joss sticks in (Ipoh) Central Market. They woke up at 5am every day to cycle 5 miles from their small village to Ipoh.
He remembers people being executed at Ipoh padang in 1943.
Born in 1916, Lim was in Penang during the war. He said the Japanese soldiers roamed around looking for local girls. The editor of the local newspaper, the Echo came up with an idea and rounded up all the prostitutes in Penang and brought them to one location, where he presented them to the Japanese commander. He told him - please tell your men to stop disturbing our local girls in the streets, just use these prostitutes. So they did and all the (non-prostitute) girls of Penang were safe and could cycle around town safely.
Kee Ah Lek and her siblings hid among the grass to avoid being caught by the Japanese, who were looking for Communist sympathisers. Read her full story at rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
Victor Amaloo was on night duty here where he freed some locals, who were tricked into becoming laborers. "Just before the train left, I selected a few off the train, telling others in the goods train that I'm giving the few selected men a food pass for all of the men when the train arrived in Prai. I took them to the end of the railway station and told them to escape," said Victor. For more on Victor's WWII experiences, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution.
Victor Amaloo ran to a nearby banana plantation for cover as he heard Japanese planes approaching. All of a sudden, he heard a loud bomb blast. He looked around for the bomb site and there he saw a woman's decapitated body falling to the side, awning to a bomb shrapnel.
Young Victor Amaloo remembers the most frightening day during the Occupation - when the Japanese planes bombed the goods shed, where retreating British forces were loading ammunition, gasoline drums, tanks and military vehicles into freight and open flat rail cars to go to Singapore. Victor, who was carrying his one-year-old sister, ran with the rest of his family to safety in Jalapan. "As we ran, it was so frightening to be pushed down by the air pressure of each bomb blast. The scary part was to see metal shrapnel of all sorts flying above and whistling by," said Victor, who wrote in via email. He added: "However, what was dangerous to say the least and what all of us could not bear at the time was the fact that at every bomb blast, hot burning oil droplets fell on us."
A Japanese citizen Kazué Yano lived in Malaysia for a while in hopes to hear firsthand accounts from World War II survivors in Malaya. Last year, she met Constance Choong, 95, who grew up in KL during the Occupation. In her email submission, Yano recalls Choong's story where she had to run away from the Japanese guards because she refused to bow and say, "thank you, sir" in Japanese as she passed a checkpoint. The guard yelled and pointed a gun at her. Afraid, Choong's first instinct was to run! She managed to escape by hiding from the guards, who after a while, stopped searching.
Reader Vicky Chia said: My late grandfather’s encounter with the Japanese, as told to me by my mother. All need to bow on seeing the Japanese soldiers as a form of respect. On one occasion, they accused my grandfather of not bowing and forced him to hold up his bicycle high in the air as punishment. For more reader's stories, head to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
Vicky Chia's husband's late grandmother was in her early 20's during WWII. Her village was somewhere near Salak South and while they stayed indoors during the day, they would sleep in the jungle at night. For more stories by readers, head to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
Eugenie Lariche and her family were rounded up and taken to Hospital Kuala Lumpur as workers for the Japanese. Her father carried food trays, her mother washed bandages, her brother made tea, and she and her sisters worked in the wards. For her full story head to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
Patricia Lariche remembers hiding in toilets to escape being raped by the Japanese. Her father was working as the chief clerk of Cheriot Estate, but was taken away to work on the infamous 'Death Railway' in Thailand. For her full story, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
Mohd Iqbal Rashim said his grandmother lived in Ranau throughout the Occupation. She used to take his mother to hide from bomber planes whenever she heard them approach.
Tan Thai Hong (right) says the field - Jacobs Green - at Bukit Mertajam High School was used as a killing field. The Japanese used to shoot 'traitors' there. For her full story, head to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
Survivor Tan Thai Hong (right) remembers the Japanese using a house on Jalan Asmara for 'interrogation.' Traitors or people they didn't like were given water torture among other things. According to Tan, the house is now haunted. For the full story go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution/
N. Pushparani (pictured)'s father was helping a hospital assistant here to care for the wounded soldiers and run errands for the Japanese. "Numerous Japanese soldiers occupied the lower floor (of the bungalow turned mini hospital) and it was always very noisy," she said.
Casey Liu recalls the time her father was confined in a foetal position under a big jar at a police station after the Japanese soldiers found a badge - which was given to her father in recognition of his financial contribution to a political party in China, Kuomintang - at her family's two-storey shop here.
According to an email by Chan Vy Sing, his father Chan Peng Fook avoided arrest by the Japanese as he skipped a night of Mandarin lessons, where the Japanese Kempeitai raided the class on suspicion of subversive activities, and arrested the teacher and some students. They were imprisoned at the Pudu Gaol in KL for the duration of the war. He heard some of them died from torture.
On the morning of Christmas eve 1941, Japanese warplanes bombed Port Swettenham (now known as Port Klang). After that, they bombed Klang Town, where then 14-year-old Chan Peng Fook happened to be at that time. He survived by following the instructions of the Air Raid Precaution (ARP), which is to lay flat on the ground, underneath a table.
The great grandfather of a BRATs participant Choo Xin Er was blindfolded and captured by the Japanese before he was taken to an unknown location for a couple of nights. After that, he became depressed and committed suicide. For the full story, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution
Reader John Robson witnessed the execution of three Chinese people, who were accused of being spies for the British force. For the full story, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution
Reader Yatasha Yusof's grandfather Johari witnessed the landing of the British forces here on September 9, 1945. For the full story, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution
In October 1943, reader Yatasha Yusof's grandfather Johari worked as a labourer at the Japanese Naval Shipyard in Telok Datok. It's now known as Stadium Jugra. For the full story, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution
According to reader Yatasha Yusof, the Japanese invading forces reached her grandfather Johari's kampung on Jan 1942, searched their house, and took their bicycle and watch. For the full story, go to rage.com.my/survivors-contribution
The former Istana Negara was originally owned by a Chinese businessman, Chan Wing. Taken over by the Japanese during the Occupation, it was used as their headquarters.
During the Japanese Occupation, the padang was used as a training ground for the Japanese and the Indian National Army (INA). Tan Sri Chong Hon Nyan recalls seeing the Japanese practicing kendo and INA recruits marching with wooden rifles.
The official residence for the Sultan of Johor provided a bird's eye view of Singapore for the Japanese, who were welcomed as friends and allowed to use the palace. General Yamashita was right in his prediction that British would not dare attack the royal palace. For more stories, go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
Behind Wesley Methodist Church was a house, used by the Kempeitai. Survivor James Jeremiah said the horrors he witnessed working under the Japanese pushed him to work in the railway instead. For the full story, go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
Members of the public were rounded up and forced to stand in front of a stage, where a blindfolded informer pointed out those who were 'anti-Japanese'. Sadly, the informers were often Malaysians themselves, driven by either fear, greed or revenge to rat out their own people. For more stories head to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
Now a Malaysian military base, this site used to house Fort Auchry, which was later turned into a military school after the war. Survivor James Jeremiah was posted here a guard by the Japanese. For the full story go to rgae.com.my/lastsurvivors
The Penang War museum is filled with remnants from the Occupation. When the fort and airport fell to the Japanese, many of the rooms and chambers were used for torture. Survivor James Jeremiah, 92, ran for his life as the bombs fell on the old airport. For the full story go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
"Five bodies, five trees," said Ethelin Lee, a survivor of the Japanese Occupation. While only two remain today, she remembers thieves being hung there by the Japanese as a warning to all would-be thieves. For the full story go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
The site of the original Chung Hwa school, survivor Ethelin Lee said it was the former HQ for the Kempeitai. For the full story go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
A sprawling Cantonese Cemetery, in between the tombstones you can still see the remains of pillboxes built by the British and their Allies. For more stories, head to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
Bombed by the Japanese during their invasion of Malaya, the Fort remains as a tourist attraction today. Survivor James Jeremiah tells his tale at rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
The brightly coloured fast-food chain holds a dark past - survivor Ethelin Lee claims that the bodies of traitors are buried beneath. For the full story go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
Now a Chinese charity hall, the Meng Seng building was an infamous place of torture by the Kempeitai. Survivor Andrew Carvalho said those who went in, never came out. For the full story go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
One of the landing points of the Japanese when they first invaded Malaya. Survivor Omar Senik, 85, was singing songs with the Allied forces on the beach when gunfire erupted around him. To watch Omar's story go to rage.com.my/lastsurvivors
When I was young my grandma (deceased) used to relate the suffering of the local citizens under the Japanese rule. My mother-in-law now aged about 85++ years old, still fresh in her mind while referring to the Japanese era. She lives in Jelebu ( locally known as Titi Kang) - state of Negeri Sembilan, where villages was forced to dig their own graves - many were simultaneously beheaded, some even buried alive.
I'm Hanisom. My mother, Timah binti Abdullah is a survivor of WWII Japanese Occupation. She has a lot of stories on her survival as little girl during the hard time in Kelantan. She is now ~75 yrs old.
Sadly though, during WWII my mum lost her mum when she turn 5 years old due to illnesses ..to support her young children . My mum said her mum used to walk on foot from Tanah Merah, Kelantan to Machang, Kelantan to sell kuih and laksa to local workers at that time were constructing small airport field in Machang..in modern day, such journey will take at least 30 minutes by car. My late grandfather could not exposed himself for him being afraid to be found and send to construct railway in Thai-Burma.
On her final day, my late grandmother did not get paid because all of the workers were not getting their salary from the Japanese.. became sick from fatigue and lack of nutrition and eventually passed away.
My grandma has 9 siblings. She's the third child in the family. When the Japanese came, she was only 9 years old, and her two older sisters followed her dad to work outside (cutting wood). So she has to be the one to manage the family, cook for them, do all the house chores, all at 9 years old.
Every day, her mom would walk from Kamunting to Parit Buntar, and wait by the train tracks. They would stealthily go to the train which carries packets of rice, and poke a hole in the gunny sack. When the train moves, the grains of rice would spill across the railway tracks, and the villagers would get as much rice as they can from the train tracks. From this small amount of rice, my grandma managed to cook porridge with a little tapioca inside, That was a luxury. Occasionally, she would fry tapioca with flour.
Once, word about how Japanese soldiers are going to every village to take away girls had come to my grandma's family's ears. My grandma's mom brought my grandma and her sisters to a corner and rubbed mud and soot all over their faces, and cut all of their hair extremely short. All of them looked like boys. In the end, when the Japanese came, they didn't get taken away.
Another event that happened at their household was that, one day, two Japanese soldiers came in with their swords. They wanted to kill/behead a boy who was caught doing something deemed unsatisfactory to the Japanese. The boy was in their house at the time. My grandma's father acted swiftly by immediately reaching into his pockets and taking out a picture of the Japanese King from his wallet. The two Japanese soldiers saw the picture, thought my grandma's family was loyal to the Japanese, immediately bowed to the picture, and left the house. My grandma's father said he kept the picture just in case something like this happened.
All the children were rounded up to be brought to Japanese schools. My grandma could still remember the Japanese National Anthem really clearly in her mind as they were forced to sing it. That time, they were taught Japanese, but my grandma didn't have a clue on what the teachers were talking, so in the end the students made the Japanese teacher mad instead, haha! Also, she has a very big hatred towards the Japanese until now (she would go anywhere in the world except Japan), she will never forget the Japanese soldier who gave her a piece of chocolate undercover.
Erica Tan's grandmother was only 6 when the Japanese invaded Cameron Highlands, rounding up and killing all the men. Erica's great-grandfather was lucky enough to be be released, and one of his friends, Ah Keong, was rescued after being shot. The Japanese would also ask the villagers to go to an empty field to watch an execution - a grim warning. Like many other female survivors, Tan's grandmother disguised herself as a boy to escape being raped. Unfortunately, her neighbour wasn't as lucky and was raped by three soldiers who killed her husband.
During the war, Chan Peng Fook was forced to attend Japanese school - but his knowledge of Japanese later helped him get a job at a Japanese company.
In the mornings, the employees would have to do “taiso” – physical exercises and oath-taking to swear loyalty to the company. His Japanese bosses were kind, and even bought instruments so the staff could form a band.
When a local colleague was slapped by a Japanese officer, his boss went to see the commander, who had the officer reprimanded. When a female relative of Peng Fook’s was abducted by the Japanese to be used as a comfort woman, her husband’s Japanese boss helped obtain her release.
the late Chee Keong was a photographer in Seremban during the war – an occupation which later helped saved his life. When the Japanese took over Malaya, they ordered that every photo that was sent to be developed be submitted for censorship by the Japanese authorities before the photo studios were allowed to give the processed photos to their customers. He was also among those who were put into Japanese language classes and did very well in the language school.
How did this save his life? One day, Japanese soldiers came into the part of Seremban that he was in. They ordered that all the men line up in the middle of the street. Nobody knew what was happening and they were kept standing there for 2 hours.
Suddenly, a Japanese Kempetai, Akai-San called out to Chee Keong, “Photographer! what are you doing there? Go home!” He had interacted with Akai-San before because of the photos he had to deliver for inspection every day. This encounter saved his life, because later on, all the young men from that day were never heard of again.
Lee Soo, 95, was living in Batu Talam, Raub, Pahang when the Japanese invaded. With a family of 7 to support, he had to work as a black market trader. Once, as punishment for disturbing the peace, the Japanese chopped off the heads of 4 villagers who had gotten into an argument. The heads were later hung at the corners of the town as a threat to the villagers.
He also remembers how his former headmaster was forced to become a farmer, and when he saw him again two years later, the headmaster’s body was skinny and covered in scabs. Lee Soo felt sorry for him and gave him a bag of millet, and the ex-headmaster was so grateful he fell to his knees.
Abdul Manaf, 94, was a small boy living in Lubuk Cina, Negeri Sembilan, when he heard from the other villagers that the Japanese were making their way through Malaysia to get to Singapore.
He heard that the British wanted to set up bombs to destroy bridges, to slow down the Japanese advance, so he and his friends helped set up a bomb to be placed on the Linggi bridge. They pulled the bomb cables to the bridge, and took cover before the British blew the bridge up.
Abdul and his friends wanted to follow the British to Singapore, to fight the Japanese, but eventually stayed in Negeri Sembilan.
He remembers only 4 – 5 people surviving the explosion. After the war, Abdul became a police officer, working in Butterworth, Teluk Tawar, Brunei and Ipoh, until he retired in 1992.
(First row, far right): Abdul Manaf as a policeman after the war.
Help us document Malaysia’s WWII stories! If you know a WWII survivor, or a place of WWII significance in your city, please let us know.
Send us short stories, photos or videos, and we’ll add it to our Last Survivors interactive map.
If the stories are really good, we’ll even send our video crew to you and turn it into one of our Last Survivors documentaries.
For more info, drop us a comment, or email us at email@example.com.
“The bombing blasts were ferocious, shaking the ground vigorously and sending a hail of shrapnel. The atmosphere was clouded with thick phosphorous fumes. Then there was a brief moment of eerie silence broken by the noise of raging fire and the cracking of buildings. Pathetic screaming was heard and people, including myself started running away from the devastated area to safety.” — Chan Peng Fook, 88.
“A Japanese soldier had come in and bought biscuits. When my father asked for payment, the soldier got angry and hit him with a bayonet.” — Gooi Cheng Kim, 86.
“(The Japanese major) went to the first Chinese, who was kneeling blindfolded with a white cloth, and with one swing he slice the head off. The body fell forward twitching and turning. It was a sight I can never forget till this very day.” — John Robson, 84.
Released in February 2016, the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in Kuala Lumpur, survivors took us around the country and revealed their deepest memories.
SHARON Tan knew her grandmother lived through World War II, but she never knew how horrifying some of her experiences were until she came across The Last Survivors .
Low, 93, remembers a neighbour who was gang-raped and killed.
“We thought she’d be left alone. They usually left you alone if you were married,” said Low.
14-year-old Yap Chwee Lan saved countless of people from execution during the Japanese Occupation of Johor Baru.
“A lot of them called out my name, begging me to save them. Then the Japanese asked if I knew these people,” she said.
“I said, ‘Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neighbourhood. When I identified them, they were freed.”
Staring out to sea on Fort Cornwallis, James Jeremiah cuts a lonely figure.
“Before the fighting started, we were so excited to shoot the Japanese. We had never seen war; we had only seen it in the movies,” said Jeremiah. “But the first time I heard a real bomb, I was scared to death.”
Walking hand in hand with her husband on Teluk Cemepedak beach, Kuantan, Ethelin Teo’s smile reveals none of the pain she has lived through.
When the Japanese attacked Kuantan during World War II, she was only 13. “The British soldiers were lying dead all around town, the bodies scattered and broken up,” she said.
WATCHING wildlife documentaries in his son’s house, Andrew Carvalho looked like any other elderly man enjoying his twilight years.
But his memories of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, and the hardships his family faced during those dark days, have been seared into his memory.
“We went to sleep hungry many times,” said the former civil servant. “I had to shoot birds with my catapult for food. Today, if you give me anything that crawls, I will eat it. The Japanese time taught me to do so.”
Omar Senik was on Sabak Beach the day Japanese troops arrived in Malaya, marking the start of World War II in Malaysia. R.AGE brings him back to the beach to hear this story.
‘The Last Survivors’ is a R.AGE interactive documentary project featuring the stories of #WWII survivors in Malaysia. Find out how you can contribute to the project on the link below.