Celebrating Batu Lintang Camp liberation day on Sept 11
By Patricia Hului
9/11 is widely known as the series of four coordinated terrorist attacks on the US back in 2001.
Here in Sarawak, September 11 marked a different meaning for us as it was the day the Batu Lintang Prisoners of War (POW) Camp was liberated from Japanese forces back in 1945.
Batu Lintang camp during Rajah Vyner Brooke’s reign between 1917 and the 1940s was originally the Punjabi Regiment’s Barracks before 1942, when it was extended by the Japanese to cover about 50 acres and serve as an internment camp housing both allied POWs and civilian internees.
Life in the camp was harsh with prisoners being forced to endure food shortages, disease and sickness with scant medication, forced labour, brutal treatment and lack of adequate clothing and living quarters.
The Japanese announced its official unconditional surrender to the Allied powers on Aug 15, 1945 but remained in control of the Batu Lintang camp until Sept 11.
While waiting for their freedom, the prisoners did not suffer any beatings, extra food was provided and good amount of medicines were provided.
When the camp was liberated, the population was 2,024, 1,392 of whom were POW mainly British and Australian soldiers, 395 were male civilian internees and 237 were civilian women and children.
The haze did not stop the gathering of some 15 delegates from Australia to pay tribute to those who suffered and sacrificed their lives for peace and freedom during Second World War (WWII) in conjunction with its 70th anniversary on Sept 11.
The commemoration was held at Batu Lintang Teachers Training Institute Memorial Square where a plaque had been erected in 1989.
In his opening remark, chairman of Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) heritage development committee Lim Kian Hock shared that it was a blessing to be able to assemble on the former site of Batu Lintang POW Camp to reflect and relive the historical moment of 70 years ago.
“In 1945, September 11, Sarawak witnessed the twist of her dark World War II history on the final surrender by the occupying Japanese forces led by its commander, Major Hiryoe Yamamura who signed the surrender document on board the ship HMAS Kapunda at Pending point, witnessed and received by Brigadier General Sir Thomas Eastick,” he said.
Dr Bruce Eastick, son of the Brigadier General Sir Thomas Eastick was also present during the commemoration.
Australian commander Eastick was the one who received surrender documents from the Japanese and liberated the camp.
He shared his father’s handwritten notes to the crowd which which provided more details on what happened when the Japanese surrendered that day.
Bruce read, “The surrender was in fact taken aboard HMAS Kapunda at Pending few miles down river from Kuching, a force about 8800 (Japanese) at the garrison which surrendered and I was taking down a force of approximately 250.”
The Japanese, he continued, gave no trouble and neither did Yamamura who was told to surrender but refused to come up to the HMAS Kapunda in the first instance. Once he did surrender, the document was duly signed.
Assistant Minister of Heritage, Liwan Lagang who officiated the event stated that this historical moment on September 11, 1945 paved the way for the peace and freedom of today.
“It is heartening to note that POW Frank Bell with the collection of his fellow POWs returned to England and established the Frank Bell School of Language in Cambridge.”
During his imprisonment, Bell founded what was known by the prisoners as ‘Kuching University’, secret classes which taught seven languages (Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Urdu), history, public speaking, navigation, chess and even poultry keeping.
According to Liwan, with this achievement of peace, there was a new horizon of peace and hope upon which the Batu Lintang Teachers Training School and College was also established in 1948 as an educational institution that rose from the ashes of war.
Those who suffered and sacrificed were remembered during the event with a moment of silence and a wreathe-laying ceremony.
During the event, Liwan also launched a book titled ‘Batu Lintang WWII Memorial (Former Batu Lintang POW Camp) 1942-1945 –Roll of Honour’.
Another reason to celebrate the camp’s liberation on Sept 11, 1945 was the discovery of two ‘Death Orders’ issued by the Japanese papers at the camp .
Both described the proposed method of execution of the POWs and internees of the camp.
Thankfully, the first order which was scheduled for execution for Aug 8, 1945 were not carried out.
In this particular order, the Japanese had planned all POWs and male internees to be marched to a camp and bayoneted there, all sick to be treated similarly in the square of the camp and all women and children to be burnt in their barracks.
The second one was scheduled to take place on Sept 15, 1945 detailing plans for women internees, children and nuns to be given poisoned rice, male internees and Catholic priests to be shot and burnt, the POW to be marched into the jungle, shot and burnt and the rest who were sick and weak were scheduled to be left at Batu Lintang main camp to be bayoneted and the entire camp to be destroyed by fire.
If the liberation had not happened on Sept 11, over 2000 men, women and children could have died a mere four days later.