Sarawak had just approved a new constitution in September 1941 – a constitution that would see an end to Brooke autocratic rule and see itself transitioning to self-governance – when the Japanese invaded in December that year.
Japanese forces attacked and occupied Miri on December 16, and then Kuching on Christmas Eve, and would not surrender until 1945.
Throughout this brief occupation period, Sarawak was very much affected, and as a result, war and hero memorials were erected to honour those who sacrificed their lives for freedom.
Here are five war and hero memorials in Kuching honouring those who lost their lives during WWII that you should definitely know about.
If you pass by the roundabout at Jalan Padungan, you will see a clock tower just behind the White Cat Statue.
Many might not know this, but it was actually Sarawak’s first war memorial.
It was declared open in November 1952 to commemorate all Sarawak residents who lost their lives during World War II.
The idea of building a war memorial came from former Chief Secretary of Sarawak, J.B. Archer who spent years as a civil internee at the Batu Lintang Camp.
The clock tower remained as a war memorial until 1961 when a new war memorial was built at the Central Padang.
This was because the authorities thought that the space at Jalan Padungan was too cramped for big parades.
2. Sarawak Volunteer Mechanics and Drivers at Tabuan Laru
The monument was erected for Sarawak volunteer mechanics and drivers who had served in World War II.
The word ‘Nanyang’ means Southern Ocean, which refers to Southeast Asia. The Nanyang Volunteer Drivers and Mechanics was an important group that offered support to China during the war.
From February to September 1939, about 4,000 young men from Southeast Asia, or ‘Nanyang’ left their families and homes voluntarily to travel to China to work as mechanics and drivers during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
About 100 volunteers came from Sarawak, who registered through the recruitment committee of the China Relief Committee in Kuching.
Known as “’Nanyang Huaqiao Jigong’, the volunteers also came from other parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Out of the 4000 volunteers, about 1,144 survived and 20 returned to Sarawak.
Sarawak is one of the locations in Malaysia where a monument was erected for Nanyang volunteers. Others include Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Penang.
3. Heroes Monument at Sarawak Museum ground
The museum ground has one of the most well known war and hero memorials in Kuching.
The monument was laid by Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.
While it may not be exclusively erected to honour those during WWII, the monument was erected to commemorate fallen heroes from past wars in Sarawak.
The museum ground is said to an old burial ground of the Chinese community in Kuching.
Its most distinguished feature are the plaques of Sarawak’s fallen heroes who fought in different military battles.
However, over the years the monument has lost many of its plaques. Out of nine plaques, the only remaining one is of Datuk Patinggi Ali.
4. World War II Heroes Grave at Jalan Taman Budaya
The War World II Heroes is probably one of the most well known war and hero memorials in Kuching.
It was built to honour 13 men who sacrificde their lives to help the prisoners of war (POW) of Allied Forces held in Batu Lintang and Sandakan POW camps during WWII.
Eight were executed at Stapok Road in March 2nd in 1944 by the Japanese for assisting the Allied POW at Sandakan POW Camp.
The other five were arrested and imprisoned by Japanese ‘Kempetai’ until their deaths at Jawa Road Prison in Kuching.
The hero memorial also honoured 21 Iban trackers and Sarawak Rangers who fought in battlefields during the Malayan Emergency.
5. Batu Lintang PoW Campsite Memorial at the Batu Lintang Teacher’s Education Institute
The Batu Lintang Teacher’s Education Institution was once a PoW Campsite during the World War II.
A memorial plaque was made to commemorate those who did not survive during imprisonment.
One of the detainees in the Batu Lintang PoW Campsite was Bishop Peter H.H Howes.
His experiences is documented in books ‘The Lintang Camp’ and ‘In a Fair Ground’.