Veteran recalls wartime memories on Remembrance Day

(From left) Penang Veterans Association committee member Datuk Stanley De Witt, Jeremiah and former Penang Eurasian Association president Gerald Green laying a wreath at the Remembrance Day event.

THE sole survivor of Eurasian ‘E’ Company of the Allied Forces during the Japanese Occupation has stories to make your heart bleed.

“I survived because I did whatever the Japanese said.

“I polished their boots, cleaned their swords and made them tea. Disobey and they would take you away.

“What happened after that was unimaginable,” said James Jeremiah, 92, now living in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

He said he had to bow to every Japanese soldier he crossed paths with. Every time he saw a Japanese flag, he had to sing the Japanese national anthem, the Kimi Ga Yo.

At the age of 18, Jeremiah became a volunteer in the army. There were several companies under the Penang and Province Wellesley Volunteer Corps, based on racial groups, when World War II first erupted in China in 1939.

Solemn tribute: Penang Veterans Association members and other former soldiers paying their respects to fallen heroes at the Penang War Memorial. —CHARLES MARIASOOSAY/The Star

They maintained law and order when the Japanese invaded in 1941. They prevented looting, protected property and helped remove the dead from the streets after Japanese bombings.

“I was among the many guards at the Bayan Lepas airport when it was bombed. So many of my comrades fell.

“A few days later, I was in Gurney Drive and saw dogfights (fighter plane combats in the air) over the sea between the Japanese and the Australians.

“Hundreds of people with me cheered when planes were shot down, assuming that Japanese planes were the ones downed.

“But it was the Australians who crashed. The Japanese fighter planes then turned around and swept the watching crowd with machine gun fire.

“So many people died on the spot,” he said.

Jeremiah said the Japanese Kempeitai (military police and intelligence arm) were heartless and ruthless.

“Women were raped and men had their legs tied on motorcycles and dragged along the road. Many were beheaded.

“I heard that those caught listening to the radio had both ears pierced with pencils.

“Each family was given only one cupak (675gm) of rice to survive for a week,” he recalled.

Jeremiah was among 300 present at the 14th Annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph (Penang War Memorial) at the Esplanade in George Town yesterday.

Army and navy officers, representatives of government and non-government agencies, High Commissions, embassies, organisations and veterans took part in the wreath- laying ceremony to honour fallen heroes.

Penang Veterans Association president Mej (R) R. Sivarajan said that in the last 101 years since World War I, the world had gone through numerous wars and in every one, soldiers defended the people.

“Thousands lost their lives in the name of freedom,” he said.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said: “We pay tribute to those who have fallen for freedom regardless of their nationalities and backgrounds. We salute their sacrifices and honour them by remembering the cause they fought for.”

Among those present were Acting British High Commissioner Paul Rennie, Canada High Commissioner Judith St George and Republic of the Fiji Islands High Commissioner to Malaysia Pita Taticakirewa.

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