The transgressor

Our peaceful life was brutally brought short by the Japanese. Whilst we had been aware of the war, since it was elsewhere, it did not seem to bother our parents. Perhaps they were calm in the atmosphere generated by our masters – that they ruled the seas, and that they could and would defeat any aggressor. Based upon their experience in China, the Japanese obviously did not pay too much attention to this claim.

… … My uncle … took us all into a rubber estate, hopefully for complete safety. Living conditions there were absolutely awful. The three families occupied the quarters of the rubber tappers who had fled earlier but we had only one room per family. … The British were on the run, shopping was hazardous, and the supply of food uncertain. Security against robbers was non-existent. All that the families were saved from at that stage was the bombs.

Washing was done in the river quite a distance away from our living quarters, as the water was restricted. Each day, the older children carried the clothes to be washed to the river and helped the three women to wash them. We were thirteen, twelve, and eleven, respectively. We helped with the grinding of the curry-paste and the jobs around our quarters. All this was a new experience for us. The younger children lived their normal lives.

… … One day, while we were hiding in the rubber plantation, we children noticed not the usual flow of British trucks going south, but trucks containing Japanese soldiers. We were terrified. The Japanese, seeing us, waved with gusto as they went past. This was their first line of troops. … … My family and I lived in peace and hunger for the rest of the Japanese occupation, except for one occasion when two relatives and I were listening to a short-wave radio. We heard a sound outside the front window at three o’clock in the afternoon. To our horror, there was the incredible sight of a Japanese soldier looking in. … … After the war, we heard some terrible stories about people who had been caught by the Japanese using a short-wave radio, especially to assist the anti-Japanese Underground. One was hung by his legs for days. In the end, he could not use his legs at all. Reportedly, he had to survive until the end of his days without any compensation from anyone.

… … What was really terrible during the period of hunger was seeing the beggars slowly dying where they lay. No one had spare food or money. Worse still was the sight of some of the dying men masturbating and some of the women producing babies. As the Russian saying goes: when you live next to a cemetery, you cannot weep for everyone.

Against this background, I could not believe my ears when (years later) Australians talked about how they suffered from food rationing. Even the British, with their harsh food rationing, seemed to have been better off than we Malayans, who lived mainly on tapioca and a few vegetables. We had tapioca boiled, tapioca sliced and fried (if oil was available), tapioca scraped and steamed. What else could you do with tapioca? We grew tapioca in every available space. The vegetables available were limited in variety, quality and quantity. Occasionally, we obtained corn (maize); if we were lucky, we could buy maize bread – one could use a small loaf for the shot-put.

… … From the same military police headquarters, we had seen emaciated and beaten bodies carted out in wheelbarrows, from time to time. We had heard terrible beatings and piteous cries from those beaten, as we rushed past in fear and agony. We had been told that water treatment was common in that complex. This treatment involved a suspect’s digestive system being filled with water, using a hose, and the interrogators jumping (boots and all) on the midriff of those who had been well filled this way.

… … I arrived at the family home one day to be told that the family had received a friendly little note from the local branch of The People’s Anti-Japanese forces. (To this day my hackles rise when I hear of a group whose title contains the words “the people’s…”) My family was required to make a small contribution of three thousand dollars (a fortune for us) by a specified date. That was early in 1945. I noticed, when I walked into town with my father for our regular shopping, that no one stopped to talk to anyone else. There was an unearthly silence about the place. Everyone seemed to be watching everyone else without appearing to look. One could smell the fear of the people.

… … After that experience, the whole area lived in complete terror until the Allied troops arrived. … … There was a quiet sense of joy at the prospect of the return of the British, the lesser of two evils (as my father said). The British had been almost forgiven for the damage they had caused to civilian property when they missed their military targets. On one occasion, the British planes flew so low without any opposition from the Japanese, and yet kept missing a key target – the railway yards. (Years later someone suggested that the pilots must have been Americans – that represented the average Australian’s assessment of the competence of their favourite allies.)

(The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ are intended to give the reader a feeling of living under the Japanese military occupation of Malaya. Greater detail can be found in my second memoir, ‘The Dance of Destiny,’ published in 2010 – ebook with Amazon)