Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Our Darkest Hour Begins

This year, we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. I thought, therefore, it would be only appropriate for me to dig into my grandfather's oral history interview transcripts and feature some extracts of his interview on this blog (slightly edited by me).  By  way of background, my grandfather would have been in his mid-thirties at the time of the Occupation.  He had married a few years earlier, and had two children with a third on the way.  Sadly, he passed away a number of years ago, and so I no longer have the opportunity to ask him more about his experiences during the war.

To start off with, here is his impression of the Japanese bombing of Singapore, on 8th December 1941.

"Early that morning, at about 3 o'clock in the morning, I was then living in Jalan Eunos at the corner of Jalan Yasin and Jalan Eunos.  I heard booming of guns, rattling of windows and, I normally would have slept through it all because I was very, very tired.  When I heard all these guns and the rattling, I felt something unusual was happening and I came out and went out to the verandah there, and I saw search lights.  And all these gun firings seemed to have come from anti-aircraft gun-posts down near in Geylang Serai, at the corner of Joo Chiat Road and Geylang Road... ...We didn't hear the fall of bombs as I know them to sound but I said, "could it be that bombs are being dropped on Singapore?" ... Alright, I'll get into my MAS uniform, that is the Medical Auxiliary, and stand by the radio and see what we hear at six o'clock when the y start broadcasting.  And true enough the news came that Japanese planes had flown over Singapore...  so what I did straightaway was to get into my car and went straight to the Yock Eng Depot in Katong Road where I reported for duty."

Subsequently, my grandfather (a first-generation Eurasian) was interned by the Japanese.  His account of how this came about:

"Now, after the Japanese took over from the 15th of February, they brought out the Syonan Shimbun, which was printed I think in the Straits Times Office ...   ....I knew that all the Europeans had already much earlier assembled on the Padang to be brought in  for internment, we Eurasians didn't know whether we were ever going to be interned or not...  ... One day, we got news somehow, that we had to go to the Padang to report, and the Eurasians were to go to the SRC, where all our particulars would be taken... ... We had a long walk to get to this SRC from Jalan Eunos.  It's about five or six miles.  The eldest son was only two years old.   I carried him from the house until I reached the end of Grove Road, which is now Mountbatten road.  Tess, my wife  was going to have a baby, our third child.  And someone else carried our second child.  At Grove Road a certain Mr Ess, a friend of mine, came along in his car, took Tess and the children and all into the car.We went there we got all registered and then we walked back all the way again.

Then some days later now my name appeared in the Syonan Shimbun in thick block letters and so did many others, and we were told to report to the Toyo Hotel, just told to report to the Toyo Hotel which was in Queen Street.  And there, I had gone down that day, thinking, well, it need not be internment.  I brought about $66 or something down meaning to buy a new tyre for my wife's lady bicycle.  But when my name was called by Shinozak in the Toyo Hotel, he just rapped the table with his finger, and he said, "By order of the High Command you are to be interned." I said, "But I've only come down just as I am now." "Oh don't you worry," he said,when we take you to the place of internment, on the way we will drop at the houses and pick up things.  I had about, as I said $66 with me, I gave $60 to my brother in law  and I said, "Give this to Tess".   And I kept just six for myself because I felt, my good gracious, she needs money.

We were there up to about 12 or half-past twelve, and then all these registration of those that they intended to intern were ready... ... Well, we got into the truck and it must have come along Geylang road, and when it came to the head of Jalan Eunos, well of course we were all quiet, silent in the truck, wondering where we were going. That's the main thing.  We didn't know where we were going."

My grandfather would spend the rest of the war in Changi Prison.  My grandmother would subsequently be put in a camp together with her three young children.  Happily, the family was reunited after the war, all intact.

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