GEORGE TOWN: He was just 16 when the Japanese Zero fighters zoomed overhead in December 1941 and started bombing and firing at the local volunteer troops.
As shrapnel flew, the fearful lad and his compatriots rushed from the Bayan Lepas airport back to camp.
The Japanese soon overran Penang and James Jeremiah, a member of the Eurasian ‘E’ Company of the Allied Forces, had to carry away bodies of the dead, help the wounded and labour for the conquerers.
He was posted at Batu Maung, a British fort which the Japanese turned into a torture chamber. It’s now a war museum.
He spent much of the war as a locomotive driver and worked at the Batu Ferringhi reservoir later.
The last surviving World War II veteran from the ‘E’ Company, a volunteer force similar to the British Home Guard, breathed his last on Thursday. He was 97.
His son, Gary, 60, said James died in his sleep at 4pm at his house in Chee Seng Garden, Tanjung Bungah.
“He was a firm believer in the old school of discipline,” he said.
“He was a very traditional person who rarely showed his affection but deep inside, we knew he was a caring and loving father.”
The Malayan campaign was fought between Allied and Axis forces from Dec 8, 1941, to Jan 31, 1942. It began with Japanese troops landing in Kota Baru and invading Malaya on bicycles.
It was a disaster for the British, Indian, Australian and Malayan forces defending the colony, with 138,708 casualties among the Allied troops and 9,800 Japanese casualties.
In 2017, James was invited to attend a commemorative service at the Cheras Road War Cemetery, which is the final resting place of 156 Commonwealth servicemen, along with other servicemen and their dependants not involved in WWII.
The High Commissioners of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, representatives of the Malaysian Armed Forces and veteran groups laid wreaths at the cemetery to honour the fallen.
Over the years, James would always be the first to lay a wreath for the fallen heroes at the Cenotaph in Esplanade here during Remembrance Day.
Gary said his father was also a romantic person who still kept the letters he received from his late wife.
“He always shared with us his love story with my mother, and how they met.
“He went through a lot when he lost my mum and our youngest sister, who was in a vegetative state for 31 years before she passed away in 2013,” said Gary.
He said his father was also an active member of Gerakan, and served in the then Tanjung Bungah Village Security and Development Committee for over 20 years.
“He even received a letter of appreciation from the first Penang chief minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee.
He was also conferred the Pingat Kelakuan Terpuji (PKT) and Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (PJK) medals,” he said.
Besides Gary, James leaves behind three other children – Joyce, Richard and James – and seven grandchildren.
His cortège will leave the residence at 10am today for a funeral service at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Pulau Tikus.