Why Malaysians should visit war memorials in the country

Tugu Negara is the world’s tallest bronze freestanding sculpture grouping. — LOW LAY PHON/The Star

With modern-day comforts and the sight of skyscrapers in cities, it might be hard to fathom that Malaysia was once war-torn.

Some of us might have heard from our grandparents devastating stories of the Japanese Occupation during World War II. While those tumultuous times are now fodder for history textbooks, physical remnants of that past can still be found in some parts of the country.

For those interested in historical visits, consider visiting a war memorial or monument around the country. Today (Nov 11) is also Remembrance Day, which is observed annually in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries to remember the end of World War I.

The most obvious choice would be the National Monument or Tugu Negara in Kuala Lumpur. Dedicated to those who died in the country’s struggle for freedom, the monument is home to the world’s tallest bronze free-standing sculpture grouping.

The sculpture depicts seven figures. Five of them represent the allied forces in various poses: Holding the Malaysian flag, armed with a rifle and bayonet, armed with a machine gun and tending to wounded compatriot.

The other two figures on the ground represent the defeated communist forces.

With the surrounding lush foliage, the area where Tugu Negara stands is one of the few so-called “green lungs” in KL.

The popular Taman Tugu is located just beside the monument.

While the National Monument principally centres upon events during the Japanese Occupation and Malayan Emergency, the Ipoh War Memorial in Perak initially commemorates soldiers from Perak who perished during WWI.

The cenotaph in front of the Ipoh railway station. - FilepicThe cenotaph in front of the Ipoh railway station. - Filepic

The cenograph – which was unveiled in 1927 – has now also become a monument dedicated to the soldiers of the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation.

Located in Ipoh Heritage Square, those who arrive in the city via the train would be able to see the structure once they step out from the Ipoh Railway Station.

The memorial also pays homage to the victims of the infamous Thailand-Burma Death Railway, although the inscription on the plague only makes references to World War I and II.

Another grim reminder of how the war affected locals can be found at the Air Itam War Memorial Park in Penang.

The venue includes the World Peace Memorial and the Penang Chinese Relief Memorial. The latter depicts Penangite transportation workers who volunteered to help to build the road between Burma and China during WWII.

The small park is located off the Air Itam roundabout, which many locals and visitors would pass by when they make their way up to the famous Kek Lok Si temple.

Visitors can sometimes be seen at the  Air Itam War Memorial Park to commemorate World Remembrance Day which is celebrated annually on Nov 11 in Penang. - FilepicVisitors can sometimes be seen at the Air Itam War Memorial Park to commemorate World Remembrance Day which is celebrated annually on Nov 11 in Penang. - Filepic

There are also several war memorials in Sabah and Sarawak.

The clock tower behind the White Cat Statue in Kuching, Sarawak, is actually the state’s first war memorial.

Located by the roundabout at Jalan Padungan, it commemorates Sarawakians who lost their lives during WWII.

As its name suggests, the Sarawak Volunteer Mechanics And Drivers Memorial is dedicated to Sarawakian mechanics and drivers who had served in WWII. It is located in Tabuan Laru.

Then there’s the Batu Lintang PoW Campsite Memorial at the Batu Lintang Teacher’s Education Institution.

The teachers academy was once a prisoner of war (PoW) campsite during the WWII. Visitors here will find a memorial plaque dedicated to those who did not survive imprisonment.

Over in Sabah, two notable venues are the Kundasang War Memorial and Sandakan Memorial Park.

The former is dedicated to British and Australian soldiers who died in the Japanese PoW camp during the Sandakan Death Marches. Apart from a place of remembrance, the memorial is also home to beautiful gardens that feature local and international blooms.

The Sandakan Memorial Park also commemorates fallen soldiers during the Sandakan Death Marches. It’s considered a pilgrimage site for Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers.

Every year, the Australian and New Zealand embassies in Malaysia will come celebrate Anzac Day, which is observed on April 25, on the memorial grounds.

More than an educational detour on history, a trip to the war memorials in the country will also remind us of the hardships faced in the journey towards the country’s independence.

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