WWII heroine Sybil remembered

PETALING JAYA: As Google doodle spotlighted the 117th birthday of Sybil Kathigasu, many Malaysians were reminded of the World War II heroine’s grit and sacrifices.

The homage to this historical figure yesterday led to calls by some to have the Malayan Eurasian nurse included in school textbooks.

But there were others who were unfamiliar with the role she played in the resistance during the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

The only Malayan woman to be awarded the George Medal – the second highest British award for civilian courage – Sybil, together with her husband Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu, was recognised for secretly supplying medicine and medical aid to resistance fighters until being arrested in 1943.

Sybil was awarded the medal some months before her death on June 12, 1948, at age 48. The couple had been running a clinic at Brewster Road (now Jalan Sultan Idris Shah) in Ipoh and escaped to nearby Papan town days before Japanese soldiers occupied the country.

Historical figure: Some people have called for Sybil to be included in school textbooks. (Right) Google’s doodle of Sybil’s 117th birthday.
Historical figure: Some people have called for Sybil to be included in school textbooks.

Yesterday’s colour sketch by Google, framed by the patterned ribbon of the medal, depicts Kathigasu in her nurse’s uniform outside her former residence in Papan. It was accompanied by a brief history of her bravery.

Despite several books, a documentary and a TV miniseries on her, some Malaysians said they were hearing about her for the first time.

“How did we not know about her? This is such an inspiring story,” said Facebook user Wendy G.W. Ng.

“Just Googled her and read the stories ... inspirational,” wrote Muhammad Badlishah.

Some social media users in Sybil’s home state of Perak knew more about her.

Lau Chee Kin said that her remains were interred at the St Michael’s Church cemetery in Ipoh while her former house in Papan had been turned into a memorial.

Another, Manvikram Singh, wrote on Facebook that he had visited the cemetery two years ago.

Many asked why Sybil did not figure prominently in our history books and school lessons.

“I’ve always wondered why we almost never hear of heroines in the Malaysian context when they have such an important role to play in teaching young boys and girls about breaking gender stereotypes,” Dinesh Kumaar posted.

Google was praised for raising awareness of Sybil’s contributions.

“Never knew about her story. Thank you Google for educating Malaysians on an important part of our history,” David Chak wrote on Facebook.

Sybil’s tale is told in her memoir No Dram of Mercy, first published in 1954 and last reprinted in 2006.

Her grandniece, actress and Miss Universe Malaysia 2003 Elaine Daly said what Google did really opened the minds of people to a woman who had sacrificed so much.

Daly notably played her grandaunt in the 2010 miniseries based on Sybil’s memoir, Apa Dosaku? (What’s My Sin?), for which she won the Best Actress award at RTM’s Anugerah Seri Angkasa.

She said her father had known Sybil and had recounted many stories about her.

“She was a tough, disciplined and no-nonsense person but she had a big heart,” Daly said.

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