Remembering the Thirteen
THERE ARE thirteen names marked on a white marble tablet. Thirteen names of people from different backgrounds, nationalities, races and religion. Yet these thirteen names had one thing in common; they all perished to save others.
These thirteen names were part of a group of an effective civilian underground movement formed in 1942. Their goal was to assist the prisoners of war (POWs) in the Sandakan and Batu Lintang camps and to sabotage the Japanese war effort.
Of 13 gallant men, eight of them; Jemader Ujagah Singh (Head of the constabulary on Berhala Island), Alexander Clarence Leonard Funk, Sergeant Abin, Detective Ernesto Lagan, Heng Joo Ming (Geologist from Miri), Wong Moo Sing (Heng’s father in-law and a trader), Felix Azcoma (Lieutenant in the American-Filipino guerrillas) and Matusup bin Gungau (a Dusun watchman of the former Agriculture Experimental Station) were executed at Stapok Road on March 2, 1944.
They were helping Allied POW at the Sandakan POW camp to escape before being shipped to Kuching and sentenced to death by Japanese secret police (Japanese Kempeitai).
Another five; Soh Kim Seng, Amigo bin Bassan, Kassim bin Jumadi, PC Kasiu and Sidik bin Simoen, most of whom were Sarawakian, were apprehended and imprisoned by the kempetai for rendering assistance to Allied POW at POW Alexander Camp at Batu Lintang. They died in prison at Jawa Road Kuching during torture and interrogation.
In 1957, the late Johnnie Funk (brother of Alexander Funk) raised $2,180 in donations after his request to the British Government to erect a memorial to honour these people was turned down. With the money, he put up the marble tablet with the inscription “In memory of the eight gallant men of all races, who were loyal to the cause of freedom, rendered assistance to the Allied prisoner of war at Sandakan and were executed in Kuching on March 2, 1944 and also the five who died in prison for the same cause.”
On April 19 during the Easter season, a solemn and beautiful sunset dedication service complete with a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Heroes’ Grave to honour these WWII heroes. The service was attended by some 50 people.
A group of 33 delegates from Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) and Heritage Exchange students were also present during the service. There were 13 students, ranging from 12 to 19 years old.
Audrey Wan Ullok, president of Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) said, “This strong assembly in a peaceful atmosphere strengthens our shared spirit to commemorate and pay tribute to our departed WWII Heroes and all those who lost their lives for the peace we have today.”
This year marks the 69th anniversary of the Second World War. During the service, a moment of silence was observed followed by the playing of the Australian and Malaysian national anthems.
One of the ANZAC delegates is 90 year-old Ron Hatch from Western Australia who was there for the 12th time since 1996. The first time he came to Kuching was during WWII when he served with the Australian Armed Forces as part of the Australian Liberation forces which released the POWs at Batu Lintang Camp and rounded up the remaining Japanese soldiers.
Hatch gave an ode of dedication to these 13 unsung heroes during the ceremony:
‘They shall not grow old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, for the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them’
Everyone present responded:
‘We will remember them, lest we forget’.