May 8, 2014

Sibu: Post WWII Stories

What about some mud skipper soup?

 During the Japanese Occupation my paternal grandparents lived in Binatang/ Bintangor at their Mee Ang Sawmill. From a young age I heard stories about how my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping built bomb shelters ,using raw rubber sheets and old rubber tyres, for my great grandmother, and other members of the family in the back portion of the Sawmill compound. He built four bomb shelters altogether. A very well remembered incident was when the bomb sirens were once  sounded in a rather odd hour in the morning. The planes were already heard overhead but  Grandfather was quick to put Great Grandmother on his back and he dashed across the backyard towards the shelters. The rest of the family ran helter skelter. Later on when the scare was over , they sat down , not knowing to cry or to laugh. A bomb was dropped not far way from the sawmill a little further down the stream. And no one was reported killed.

My mother on the other hand lived in the Nang Chong house by the river side. My maternal grandfather passed away in 1943 while my maternal grandmother was still stranded in China for during the war years no boats plied between China and Sarawak. So my mother and her siblings had to look after themselves, with only the eldest brother who was over 20 years old and married with a young daughter and son. Life was tough for them but they scraped through because my mother at age 17 was able to grow enough padi for the whole family. Bombs were feared and Japanese raiding the farms were tragic.
Japanese War Planes (courtesy : Sarikei Time Capsule)

Why was Binatang not sacked by the Japanese? Could my grandfather and great grandmother have been wiped out by the killings while the Japanese were retreating? According to e-Sarawak Gazette, (p.229) Binatang or Bintangor was not sacked by the Japanese (another posting sometime later)by a strategy created by the Dayak Headman of Rumah Legak and one or two Cantonese leaders . That heroic decision by the Tuai rumah Legak and the Cantonese leaders saved the whole town. That of course saved the Mee Ang Sawmill and my Grandfather and the rest of the family. What a close shave!! Kapit, Kanowit and Song fared the worst because they were sacked by the Japanese.

What about Sibu? My father and his siblings were guarding the Hua Hong Ice Factory so to speak during the Japanese Occupation which also saw the passing of my Great Grandfather.  A great story teller, my father often shared with us some very outstanding stories. He had told us stories about the bombing in Sibu. Right opposite the Ice Factory was the Tua Pek Kong Temple . Sadly the temple was badly damanged by the Allied Forces in 1945 while he and his employees watched in horror. On the other hand the  Sibu Airport which was actually built by the sweat and tears of the people of Sibu, under duress (including my father and his siblings,cousins and friends), supervised by cruel Japanese soldiers, was bombed badly too. The Allied Forces would spare no Japanese planes or parts. In fact a few bomb sites in Sungei Merah can still be easily identified today.

CAT Boat
Photo From Special Z Forces . Catalina plane which dropped Allied soliders along the Rajang

Actually by the time the Allied bomber planes arrived in Sibu the Japanese solders had already burnt most of their vehicles, armaments which they could not carry away, uniforms and other goods in their godowns. The Japanese soldiers left by motor launch and sailed towards the sea. Those Japanese soldiers who went up river were purportedly all killed by the natives and/or the Allied soldiers.(Re: My War by Brian Walpole).

One of the storehouses the Japanese used was the Lido Cinema along Blacksmith Road. However by the time the Allied forces came to Sibu, this particular storehouse was empty,according to an elder who has been living in Blacksmith Road all these years!! Some one (he does not want to reveal the name) who had known the movements of the Japanese must have taken the goods and hidden them from public knowledge. This man or this group of men would have been able to sell the stuff and made a fortune!!

Right across the Sibu wharf was the rice mill operated by the Japanese. A quick thinking Foochow man, who was English speaking welcomed the Allied Forces when they arrived at the mill,although he was not the real owner of the machinery and the mill. The machinery actually belonged to the Japanese but the shed and office were built by the local Chinese supervised by the Japanese according to a local elder. This enterprising man was only too happy that he was able to make the "claim" the rice mill as his and he happily operated the rice mill from then on. He was a lucky English  speaking man!!

Another post-war story came from a relative who lived nearer the mouth of River Rajang. When ships came into the Rajang, many people would paddle out in their small boats to sell rice,fruits and vegetables to the sea men. Many of these seamen were British or other white men. A very enterprising young lady, accompanied by her English speaking friends, picked up all the Irish potatoes the cooks deemed not fresh enough. She resold these "European potatoes" to the villagers who found these potatoes a novelty. Her enterprising idea helped her family to slowly collect quite a fortune.

Many war stories and episodes can be read from books like this one by Brian Walpole:

My War

(Thanks to my Sibu friends who told me some of the stories above.)

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