Heart and Soul: Life during the Japanese occupation and the Emergency period

Inhabitants of a new village lining up for their daily ration of food supplied by the British. Photo: Filepic

Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of the Japanese surrender on Aug 15,1945, was the greatest news to the suffering people of Malaya.

After the war, my father recounted to me that thousands of overjoyed people lined the roads to welcome the British back. As the long column of army trucks passed by the major towns of Kinta Valley, the British and Australian soldiers threw their food rations to the crowd.

There were loud cheers and applause. Although it was just dry bread and biscuits, my father and the townsfolk happily accepted them. They had all been starving during the Japanese occupation.

After the war, the Malayan economy rebounded due to the restarting of the tin and rubber industries.

My grandpa had lost a bundle, thanks to his worthless “banana” notes at the end of the war. Sensing an opportunity, he scraped together whatever was left of his savings to venture into the transport business by putting a down payment for a small lorry.

My father regaled me with stories of his lorry trips to the various tin mines and rubber estates all over the Kinta Valley.

After the war, the roads were few and in bad condition, and the rubber estates were located deep in the jungles. He had to watch out for wild boars, tigers and communists. He always kept a parang with him in his lorry, just in case.

During the war, the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) had fought a brave guerrilla war against the Japanese. Immediately after the war, they hunted down Japanese spies and “running dogs” (servile followers).

My father described to me how the MPAJA punished and then shot them in broad daylight. While many of the MPAJA members gave up their armed struggle and rejoined society, some of the stubborn members instead joined the Malayan Communist Party (MCP).

The communists tried to sabotage the fledgling economy by attacking the tin and rubber industry. My father said the whole country was shocked when the communists assassinated the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, in 1951.

The following year, Sir Winston Churchill appointed General Sir Gerald Templer as the successor.Some 70 years ago, new village settlements were set up to combat the communists. Today, these new villages and many of their wooden houses still stand. Photo:FilepicSome 70 years ago, new village settlements were set up to combat the communists. Today, these new villages and many of their wooden houses still stand. Photo:FilepicIn his heavy-handed manner, Templer accelerated the implementation of the New Village plan involving the instant relocation of almost half a million people.

The new villagers were forced to live within barbed wire compounds and put under 24-hour strict surveillance by armed guards. They were also subjected to strict rations and curfew hours.

Father shared with me the challenges and difficulties he faced with his job and life in the New Village. Once, he was caught in a thunderstorm while on his way to Sungei Siput to pick up some rubber wood.

Due to the heavy rainfall, his lorry wheels got stuck in the soft mud when he was deep in the jungle. He had to single-handedly unload all of the heavy goods before getting his lorry out of the rut. After that, he had to reload all of them, one piece at a time, into his lorry again.

As it was already late and getting dark, he had to give up his trip to Sungei Siput and rush back to his New Village to beat the curfew hours. However, the misfortune of getting stuck in the mud and rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The next day, my father found out that he had narrowly escaped an ambush. The communists had ambushed and killed some planters in Sungei Siput. Had he gone there on time, he could have been killed in the attack, too.

Besides the communists, the British also conducted massacres during the Emergency period. In 1948,24 unarmed innocent civilians were killed in cold blood by the British army.

In 2012, the High Court in London ruled that Britain was responsible for the killings in Batang Kali.

Besides the tiring and back-breaking task, my father recounted that he often faced hunger. The little ration of food that he was allowed to bring with him each day was not enough to fill his young and hungry stomach. But he had no choice as his family depended on him for daily sustenance.

Despite the strict control and severe penalties involved, my father described how some communist sympathisers smuggled rice or flour by hiding them in the bicycle or car tyres or under false bottom of their bags or baskets.

Each family was given a rice licence and everything was recorded. The offence of smuggling rice carried a heavier sentence than smuggling drugs then.

Once, a communist sympathiser approached my father, asking him to smuggle some items out of a nearby village. Father was caught in a real dilemma. He knew that if he refused to help, he could be killed.

However, if he got caught by the police or army for doing so, he would be thrown into jail for a long time. He could not sleep for a few nights.

In the end, father decided to sell the lorry and change his job. He reasoned that losing a livelihood was better than losing his life.

There were numerous road blocks and inspections by the Malayan army. Once, a bus carrying passengers from Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan) to Kampar was stopped at Air Kuning and set on fire by the communists. Luckily, all the passengers and the driver were unharmed.

Father heard several gun battles taking place between the Malayan forces and the communists in the jungle surrounding Air Kuning. He once saw two communist guerrillas – both beautiful young women – shot dead by the army.

Thousands of young men and women wasted their lives fighting and dying for a lost cause as members of the MCP. The MCP ceased operations in 1989.

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