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How little we know about Joseph Middleton, Sarawak’s first police officer

Joseph Middleton might be an unfamiliar name to Sarawakians today, but he was actually the first police officer of Sarawak.

He was one of the two boys who departed England with James Brooke on the Royalist in 1838.

Unfortunately, there is a little we know about Middleton during his first arrival to Sarawak.

However, we do know that he was referred to in 1852 as ‘Constable’.

It is also known that he married a local woman. One record showed that he had a son named Peter who was baptised in Kuching on Dec 3, 1848.

Apart from this, we know that he was almost killed during the Bau rebellion.

Joseph Middleton was one of the three targets of the Bau Rebellion

On Feb 18, 1857, some 600 Chinese came down through the Sarawak River to attack the White Rajah in Kuching.

By the time the group had reached Kuching, Brooke already fled from his home.

This did not stop the rebels from burning down properties including Brooke’s house.

According to The Gospel Missionary issued in June 1884, the Chinese announced they did not want to make war on the English or the Malays, only on the Rajah’s government.

The report stated, “It did seem as if it was chiefly a rebellion of revenge, for the only three people they had been anxious to kill were the Rajah himself, and Mr Crookshank, and Mr Middleton, who were the chief constable and the magistrate who had sentenced the offending Kunsi and actually done the flogging. If they could kill these three they did not seem to care how many others they killed.”

Joseph Middleton during the Bau Rebellion

Bau rebellion
Illustration depicting the Chinese Insurrection from Harriette McDougall’s Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak. Credit: Public Domain.

The rebels certainly did not care how many they killed that fateful night as in the end, they took the lives of Middleton’s two young children.

The Sarawak Gazette revisited the event in an article published on Mar 1, 1929.

It stated, “Two little boys, John and Charles Middleton, aged six and four years, were killed and ‘the fiends kicked the little heads with loud laughter from one to another’. Richard Wellington, a clerk in the Borneo Company, lost his life in gallantly attempting to defend Mrs Middleton and her children.”

So where was Middleton when his house was attacked?

According to Brooke who published his own narrative of the event in the Wellington Independent on Sept 5, 1857, Middleton’s house was one of the earliest places where the attack took place.

The Rajah wrote, “He (Middleton) escaped with difficulty. His poor little wife hid in a bakery till the burning rafters fell about her, and from her concealment saw the assailants kicking about the head of her eldest child. The mother was paralyzed; she wished, she said, to rush out but could not move. The youngest child was murdered and thrown into the flames.”

Joseph Middleton and the second class Europeans in Sarawak

Other than the Middleton family’s tragic fate during the rebellion, there was no significant information about the constable.

According to archivist Loh Chee Yin who wrote for the Sarawak Gazette in 1960-70s, Middleton presumably still held the roll of Constable until his death in Kuching in 1866.

Middleton is unlike some of Brooke’s early officers whose names are immortalised through street names in Kuching such as Crookshank.

Hence, it is easy to forget there was a man named Middleton who came to Sarawak from England as a boy and lived here till his death.

Perhaps it was because Middleton was considered a “second-class European” in Sarawak at that time.

During the resistance led by Syarif Masahor in 1857, Bishop Francis McDougall wrote a letter to his brother in-law.

McDougall narrated in the letter, “I hear that there has been a regular panic at Sarawak among the wives of the second-class Europeans, who all packed up and wanted to start for Singapore, but their fears have been allayed, and only Mrs Middleton, who suffered so much in the insurrection, persists in going.”

The so-called ‘caste system’ among the Europeans in Sarawak is believed to have started due to the different systems of salutes during Brooke time.

At that time, there were three forms of salutes given. The first class was full arms salute, the second class was arm across body to rifle butt, and third class was simply attention.

Those who were entitled for the first class salute included the Bishop, the Commandant of Sarawak Rangers, the Treasurer and the Principal Medical Officer.

Posts such as Magistrates, Superintendent of Works and Surveys Department, Medical Officers, Inspector of Police and Prisons were given the second class salute.

Finally, the third class salute was given to the junior officers and cadets.

The Sarawak Gazette reported, “It is said that this system of salutes caused a sort of caste system among the Europeans since the local people began to refer to them as first, second and third class Europeans instead of officials.”

Middleton, who was sometimes referred to as the Police Inspector, fell into the second-class European category.

Regardless, as Loh pointed out, Middleton had “the distinction of being the first police officer in Sarawak.”

Kenelm Hubert Digby, the ‘communist’ who was the Attorney General of Sarawak

One of the most interesting figures that ever graced Sarawak’s service during the reign of the Brooke family was none other than Kenelm Hubert Digby.

He joined as a district officer under Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke in 1934 and returned to England in 1939 at the end of his contract.

Digby returned again to Sarawak as Legal Adviser to the rajah in the spring of 1940.

When the Japanese invaded Sarawak during World War II, Digby was among the civilian internees held at the Batu Lintang camp.

After the war, Digby returned to Sarawak where he resumed the role of Legal Adviser under the Sarawak Civil Service.

From there, he rose to become the Attorney-General as well as the editor of the Sarawak Gazette.

His last post in Sarawak was as a circuit judge which ended in 1951.

Kenelm Hubert Digby and the MI5

So what made Digby ‘a colourful figure’ during his time in Sarawak?

It all started when Digby was still a student at St John’s College, Oxford.

During a debate in the Oxford Union in 1933, Digby proposed the motion “That this House would in no circumstances fight for its King and country.” The motion was passed with 275 votes for and 153 against it.

The ‘Oxford pledge’, as it became known, was controversial at the time, causing friction between older and younger generations, idealisms of pacifism and patriotism. The motion was passed and followed by a nationwide furore.

Thanks to the debate, Digby was a figure of interest for various security intelligence organisations.

In the book MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law by Keith Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta, it is stated that MI5 ‘had scouts in both the Labour and Communist clubs at Oxford at the time, Digby appearing as a member of both’.

It is reported that his mail was routinely inspected in Singapore while en route to Kuching when he was working in Sarawak.

Digby’s move back to Sarawak in 1940 had also caused MI5 some anxiety.

“This anxiety was fuelled in part by the fact that Digby had joined the secret Communist Party Lawyer’s Group (CPLG),” wrote Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta.

After the war, Digby was still under surveillance even when he was working in the Colonial Office.

When the Sarawak colonial government was re-organising their judiciary system in 1951, it gave them the opportunity to get rid of Digby. The governor did not renew his service in Sarawak, obviously due to his political views.

Years later, Digby published an interesting memoir about his life in Sarawak entitled ‘Lawyer in the Wilderness’ (1980).

He shared some funny encounters he had, and his work life as well as getting caught in Sarawak political scene before and after the war – including getting sued by Anthony Brooke.

Was Digby’s service in Sarawak terminated because he was a suspected communist?

In the last part of his book ‘Lawyer in the Wilderness’ (1980), Digby told his part of the story in terms of his political views.

He stated, “Since the day I had first landed in 1934 , I had been notorious for my somewhat unorthodox views on public questions, but nobody had ever suggested that they unfitted me for the duties which were entrusted to me. The most stupid of the Residents, who ruled my early life, had once asked me seriously whether I was a ‘communist agent’, and the Rajah had on one occasion laughingly inquired whether I was a ‘communist.’

“Sir Charles Arden Clarke once kept the Chief Secretary and myself back from a Supreme Council meeting, and informed me that there was an unfortunate rumour in Sarawak that I was a communist, and that it would be so disagreeable if it should be breathed abroad that the Attorney-General of Sarawak was a ‘red’, that he would be obliged if I would refrain from airing my opinions publicly.”

Digby also revealed that Sir Clarke once called him an hour or two before he gave a talk at St. Thomas Secondary School on ‘The Meaning of Democracy’.

During the phone conversation, the governor reminded Digby to ‘not get too far away from the Government’s line’.

Ultimately, Digby wasn’t a communist, but he was a proud socialist. He believed that everyone should have the freedom to express their own views especially if their personal opinions didn’t affect their jobs.

He added, “… it is rubbish to pretend that judges and other civil servants are wholly at liberty to hold their own views so long as those views do not interfere with their duties. Judges and other civil servants are independent; they are free to form their own opinions and to indulge in discussions with their friends; but they are independent and free only so long as those opinions and discussions conform with the ‘Government line’.”

Even though his Oxford pledge past had haunted and dogged Digby, it’s important to remember how it is this same courage and belief in individual freedom that made him stand out for Vyner Brooke and his vision of empowering Sarawak with a constitution that promoted self-government. If it wasn’t for the Second World War, Sarawak may have seen the fruits of Vyner’s labour in the 1941 Sarawak Constitution which was drafted to realise the Nine Cardinal Principles.

Besides his political views, Digby shared a number of colourful stories in his memoir. Here are some of the tales from Kenelm Hubert Digby’s memoir:

1.When he confessed to pronouncing the bride’s name wrongly when officiating a marriage in Miri

“Towards the end of February 1935, I returned to Miri. Shortly after my arrival there it fell to my lot, in the temporary absence of the District Officer, to perform a civil marriage between two Indians. The prospective husband, with some such name as Govindasamy, was employed as a clerk in Seria by the oil company.

The prospective bride, Naoomal, hailed from some unpronounceable village in India. Strange though it may seem this was the first wedding which I had ever attended and I was naturally a little confused and embarrassed.

Influenced, I suppose, by the fact that Seria is obviously a more appropriate name for a girl than Naoomal, I misread the form in front of me by assuming that the names of the parties followed one another horizontally instead of vertically.

Consequently I married the bridegroom to the town in which he lived instead of to his bride. It was as if a registrar in England had said, “I declare you, Horatio Pifflington, and you, Stow-on-the-Wold, man and wife together.”

The mistake was pointed out to me after the ceremony was over. The marriage certificate did not repeat the error and I hope that it has continued to sanctify a union not nearly marred at its birth by a blunder of officialdom.”

2.On becoming a ‘real’ Sarawakian

“Some administrative officers never got tired of pointing out to me that Miri was not ‘the real Sarawak’ and that short visits to Sibuti, Niah, and the Limbang river did not compensate me for the degrading effect of the flesh-pots.

There was a horrible old saying that a man did not become ‘a real Sarawakian’ until he had “had the clap twice and been sick in his soup three times.”

That, of course, was a fantastic exaggeration of the attitude adopted by some of the older officers, but it cannot be disputed that that attitude, to a substantial degree, not only condoned but encouraged hard drinking and other minor vices, and, to some extent, despised the appearance in Sarawak of amenities imported from Europe.

In particular, a bachelor officer was considered to be a little queer if he did not ‘keep’ a native or Chinese mistress, but the critics were honest enough to admit that this omission was more excusable in Miri than in the lonelier out-stations.

A cadet, on his first arrival in Kuching, was interviewed by a doctor, who gave him a lecture on ‘tropical hygiene’ and presented him with a little box labeled “Outfit B,” the contents of which were designed to protect the user against incurring venereal disease.”

3.When Digby’s census in Sarawak didn’t quite add up

“There was the answer which the interpreter gave me on his own initiative, and without interpreting my question, when I attempted to ask a Chinese father, who reported six boys and no girls, what he had done with his daughters: ‘Sold them; I bought one myself, but as I didn’t really want it, I gave it away to a policeman.’

Lastly there was the other Chinese father, who, strangely enough, reported five daughters, and then chased me across ten acres to inform me that since my departure from his house he had lined the girls up and re-counted them and now made the total six.”

Can you imagine telling the officer from Department of Statistics today that you sold your daughter off or you miscalculated how many children you actually had?

4.Digby’s favourite prisoner in Simanggang

“My favourite prisoner was Benito Sosa, a Filipino, who was about half-way through a ten-year sentence, which was a commutation of the death penalty imposed on him for murdering a constabulary sergeant, who had been misconducting himself with Mrs. Benito Sosa, by thrusting the stem of an ordinary tobacco pipe through one of his eyes.

Benito was a skilled musician, who, prior to his misfortune, had played some instrument or other in the Constabulary Band. His official prison appointment was that of green-keeper on the golf-course , but he was seldom to be found on the job when I made my daily round of the gangs.

Faint, melodious sounds from the direction of the Resident’s stables would denote that Benito had once again rigged up a violin from a piece of wood and a few strands of wire, and was now sitting on a box beside the ponies entirely lost in his own musical dreams. He would grin cheerfully when reproached for his inattention to duty, and return temporarily to his greens.”

According to the Sarawak Gazette, Sosa’s sentence was commuted from death sentence to fifteen years’ imprisonment by the Rajah. He was found guilty for the murder of Delfin Arca, his fellow bandsman for the Sarawak Rangers.

5.How life as a civilian internee during the war had changed him

“Internment had by no means been pure loss. We had all of us learnt at least a little for our own good. It would be presumptuous to suggest to what extent others had improved themselves, but it was commonly agreed that three or four hard drinkers had been given a new lease of life.

I myself had learned how to count up to ten in Japanese, and a few Japanese military expressions; how to ‘Use an axe and a changkol; how to grow the easier kind of vegetables; how to play bridge; more chess openings than I had ever known before; a smattering of short hand; how to walk along stony roads in bare feet with a heavy load on my back; that I could perform hard manual labour, three-quarters naked, in the tropical sun, without any covering for the head even at noon; the dispensability of whisky and all other strong drink a few miles from the Equator; and how to walk warily before power and adapt myself to the military mind. I had read every play of Shakespeare’s once and most twice and I had studied many commentaries on them.

Above all, I had learned a great deal more about the behaviour of my fellow-men in adversity. My years of internment immensely improved my opinion of human nature.”

For his service in Sarawak, Digby was awarded the Companions of the Star of Sarawak in 1941.

In 1955, he migrated to New Zealand with his family. Digby passed away on Aug 5, 2001.

52755 Round Derek Barbed Wire Between Us A Story of Love and War
Digby’s relationship with his wife Mutal Fielding was the center of Derek Round’s book Barbed Wire Between Us (2002). While Digby was interned in Batu Lintang, Mutal was interned at the Stanley Internment Camp in Hong Kong.

What happened in January according to Sarawak history?

Did you know that the name January comes from the Roman god, Janus? He is always depicted with two heads with one head looking back on the year before and the other looking forward to the brand new year.

Let us look back into Sarawak history and see what happened in the month of January:

Jan 22, 1851: Consecration of St Thomas’s Church Kuching

394px Bishop Daniel Wilson
Bishop Daniel Wilson

The first Anglican missionary, Reverend Francis Thomas McDougall first arrived in Sarawak in 1848.

He came here on the invitation of the first White Rajah of Sarawak James Brooke.

Brooke gave the missionary a hill covered in dense jungle to build a church upon.

McDougall started the construction of a wooden church to accommodate up to 250 people.

On Jan 22, 1851, the Bishop of Calcutta, Daniel Wilson consecrated the church in honour of St Thomas the Apostle.

303px Francis Thomas McDougall
Bishop Francis McDougall

Jan 4, 1856: Sarikei was burned down by the Ibans from Julau

The Ibans from Julau resisted the Brooke government and on Jan 4, 1856, the so-called rebels burnt down Sarikei bazaar.

In response, James Brooke set up a fort in Sarikei in the same month to suppress the upriver Iban people.

It was built to serve Brooke allies led by locals Abang Ali and Abang Asop.

Jan 19, 1864: Britain recognises Sarawak as an independent state

As part of Britain’s recognition of Sarawak as an independent state, the British appointed George Thorne Ricketts as the first consul.

Ricketts was a former soldier who served with the British army in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1849 until his retirement from the army in 1858.

Prior taking up the job as a consul in Sarawak in 1864, Ricketts worked in the consulate at Monastir (now Bitola in the Republic of Macedonia) and as the acting consul-general at Belgrade, Serbia.

He worked in Sarawak for two years before he was transferred to Manila in 1866.

Jan 3, 1876: Second Gambier and Pepper Proclamation issued

Chinese farmers had been planting pepper and gambier in west Sarawak way before 1870s.

To further encourage these agricultural activities, Charles Brooke issued a proclamation regarding the gambier and pepper plantation in January 1876.

The proclamation offered gambier and pepper planters 99 years leaseholds at nominal rentals.

The second White Rajah also waived export duty and on pepper and gambier for the following twelve years for those who brought their own capital to Sarawak.

Jan 13, 1884: Belaga Fort completed

On Jan 13, 1884, the Belaga Fort was officially declared completed by the Brooke government.

It was later named Fort Vyner after the third White Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke.

Jan 20, 1884: The Great Fire of Kuching

On Jan 20, 1884 at 1:05 am, a big fire started from the intersection between Attap Street (present day Carpenter Street) and China Street.

The fire continued to spread and consumed much of the shophouses.

Only at 6am, the fire was put out by rain.

In the end, a total of 160 shophouses were burnt.

Jan 3, 1885: Cession of Trusan to Sarawak

Trusan river was the first district within the Fifth Division to be acquired by the Brooke in early 1885.

Reportedly, 20 Sarawak produce collectors went to Trusan to buy some jungle produce a year earlier. They were killed by the Murut people there.

The Sarawak government complained to the Sultan of Brunei but the sultan said he could not do anything about it.

Instead, the Sultan ordered the holder of tulin (hereditary private property) rights in Trusan to surrender the area for an annual payment of $4,500.

Then in 1885, the Trusan river basin was officially ceded to Sarawak.

Jan 1, 1897: Dog licensing introduced in Kuching

Also in January 1897, Sarawak dollar was worth one shilling and eleven pence.

January 1899: Cambridge expedition to Torres Straits visits Limbang and Baram

Charles Hose
A portrait sketch of Charles Hose. Credit: Public Domain.

A small group of Cambridge scholars led by the anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon arrived in Sarawak as guests of Charles Hose, the then resident of the Baram district.

During their expedition, they took hundreds of photos of the people and places of the Baram, Limbang, Brunei and Kuching.

They even caught the famous Marudi peace-making ceremony 1899 in photos.

It is reported these rare photos of Sarawak have remained in storage at the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

339px Alfred Cort Haddon. Photograph. Wellcome V0026495
Alfred Cort Haddon

January, 1901: Arrival of the first Foochow immigrants in Sibu

In May 1900, Christian scholar Wong Nai Siong acted as the harbour master to signed a resettlement contract with the Brooke government.

By September that year, he began recruiting villagers to immigrate to Sibu.

Then on Dec 23, 1900, the first batch of 91 Foochow immigrants departed for Sibu.

They arrive in January 1901. However, some of them changed their minds during the journey leaving only 72 people arrived in Sibu.

January, 1905: The cession of Lawas

Charles Brooke signed an agreement with British North Borneo Company (BNBC) which saw the official handover of Lawas river to the Brooke government in exchange of 5000 pounds and several administrative areas around Brunei Bay to BNBC.

BNBC had obtained the administrative rights of the Lawas river from Brunei Sultanate on Sept 7, 1901 in order to stop the smuggling of weapons against the BNBC government in North Borneo.

Jan 13, 1928: Simanggang bazaar destroyed by fire

Simanggang bazaar was destroyed by fire on Jan 13, 1928. Then, a new bazaar consisting of 48 shops was completed in December 1929.

Descriptions of some races and towns in Sarawak according to Harry de Windt

Sarawakians might not be familiar with Captain Harry de Windt but his sister should be more familiar.

His sister Margaret was the wife of second White Rajah Charles Brooke.

Best known as a travel writer and explorer, de Windt at one point did work as the aide-de-camp for his brother in-law when he was only 16.

As for his writing career, de Windt’s first book On the Equator (1882) featured his travel stories in Sarawak, Dutch East Indies and Spain.

He shared his own perspectives and views of the people and the places he visited such as Santubong, Batang Sadong, Sibu, Kanowit and Kapit in 1880.

Harry de Windt
Harry de Windt pictured in his From Paris to New York by Land (Copyright expired-Public Domain).

Here is how Harry de Windt described some of the towns and races he encountered in his book On the Equator (1882):


Harry de Windt 1
The Astana from the book On the Equator.

“Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, although smaller than Pontianak and other Dutch settlements on the coast of Borneo, is generally acknowledged to be the first town in Borneo so far as civilisation and comfort are concerned, and is renowned for its Bazaar, which is the best-built and cleanest in the island. There are two good roads extending at right angles from the town to a distance of seven miles each, at which point they are united by a third. These form a pleasant drive or ride, an amusement unknown in most Bornean townships, where the jungle and undergrowth are usually so dense as to defy any attempts at walking, to say nothing of riding or driving.
The number of Europeans in Kuching, although limited, and consisting of but some twenty in all (five of whom are ladies), form a pleasant little coterie, and there is a marked absence of the scandal and squabbling which generally seems inseparable from any place wherein a limited number of our countrymen and women are assembled. The occasional presence of an English or Dutch man-of-war, also, breaks the monotony of life, and enlivens matters considerably.

The Club, a comfortable stone building, was founded by the Government a few years ago, and contains bedrooms for the use of out-station officers when on a visit to Kuching. A lawn-tennis ground and bowling alley are attached to it, and serve to kill the time, which, however, rarely hung heavily on our hands in this cheerful little place.
Riding and driving are but still in their infancy, and Kuching boasted of only some dozen horses and four carriages—including a sporting little tandem of Deli (Sumatra) ponies, owned by the Resident. The Deli pony is a rare-shaped little animal, standing from 13 hands to 13.2, with immense strength, and very fast. They would be worth their weight in gold in Europe, and an enterprising Dutch merchant lately shipped a cargo of them to Amsterdam from Singapore, via the Suez Canal, with what result I never ascertained. A new road was being cut when we were there from Kuching to Penrisen, a mountain some thirty miles off, which, when completed, may bring a few more horses here; but Borneo (except far north) can never become a riding or driving country.”

The Club de Windt referred to here is The Sarawak Club which was established in 1876, four years before the writer arrived in Kuching.

2.Sibu town

“Sibu is a clean-looking Malay town of some 30,000 inhabitants. All Malays living here are exempt from taxation on condition that they are liable to be called out by Government in the event of any disturbance among the up-river tribes. The Fort and Bazaar stand on an island in the centre of the river, which is here about one and a half miles broad, and are connected with the town on the right bank by a wooden bridge. “Fort Brooke,” as it is styled, is built in a pentagon of solid bilian (belian) planks, about 12 feet high; a sloping wooden roof reaching down to within 2½ feet of the plank wall. This interval is guarded by a strong trellis-work, so that when the fort door is shut the building is rendered perfectly secure against any native attack. The Resident’s and fortmen’s quarters are reached by a ladder inside the fort about eight feet high, while the ground floor is used as a kitchen, rice-store, &c. Fort Brooke is garrisoned by sixteen Malays, and armed with six nine-pounders. All forts in Sarawak are built of the same materials and on the same model as the above, excepting that at Kuching, which is of stone, and much larger.”

Fort Brooke was built in 1862, and believed to be located at present day Jalan Channel.
Unfortunately, the fort was demolished in 1936.

3.The Iban People

“The Sea Dyaks are so called from their inhabiting the sea-coast east of the Sadong district, as far as the Rejang river, though some are to be occasionally met with far inland. These, who are the most numerous of any Dyaks, are at the same time the bravest and most warlike, and in former days were greatly addicted to piracy and head hunting. They are of a dark copper colour, and although not tall men are wonderfully strong and well-built, and will endure a great amount of fatigue. They are also endowed with great courage, and are very skilful in the use of weapons, especially the Parang ilang and spear. This tribe has been found by missionaries to possess some small amount of religion, inasmuch as they believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, Batara (petara), who made this earth and now governs it. They believe, also, in good and evil spirits, who dwell in the jungles and mountains. Sickness, death, and every kind of misfortune, are attributed to the latter, while Batara is the accredited author of every blessing.”

Harry de Windt 2
Batang Sadong from de Windt’s book.

4.The Kanowit People

“The Kanowits are a small tribe, numbering about 500, and are quite distinct and totally unlike any other race in Borneo. They have not unpleasant features, are of lighter complexion than the Dyaks, and, though not so warlike, are fine, strongly-built men. Nearly all were tattooed from head to foot with most intricate patterns, and others representing birds, beasts, fishes, &c., while round the face and throat the marks were made in imitation of a beard, an ornament which none of the tribes yet met with in Borneo possess.

“These (Kanowit) women were fair specimens, as we were afterwards informed, of the tribe, and were, like the men, tattooed from head to foot. But for the disgusting habit (which I shall mention anon) of blackening their teeth and disfiguring the lobes of their ears, they would not have been bad-looking. They wore a light brown petticoat of cloth woven by themselves, and reaching from the waist to just above the knee. Their hair was not left to fall loose, but tied tightly into a knot at the back of their heads, very much as it is worn in Europe at the present time. A few brass rings round their waists and arms completed their attire. Strangely enough, the Kanowit women are, as a rule, darker than the men.”

Today, the Kanowit people are mostly known as the Melanau Kanowit or Rejang people.

5.The Ukit People

“The Ukits are generally supposed to be the wildest specimens of the human race yet et with in Borneo. This tribe (which is the only one living at the head of Rejang not tattooed) has been occasionally but seldom seen in these regions by Europeans, as they shrink from all intercourse with mankind, and fly at the approach of any but their own race. They are described as being of a much lighter colour than the Poonans, possess no dwellings, and are totally unclothed..”

6.The Kayan People

“The Kayans, on the other hand, are the finest and most civilised aboriginal race in the island. Their men, who are of a splendid physique and considerably taller than any other tribe in Sarawak, are of a light copper colour. Their dress is nearly identical with the Kanowits, excepting that they wear many more ornaments, but no turbans. Their long, coarse, black hair streamed in some cases far below the waist, and they were not a little proud of this appendage, which was cut square over the forehead. The Kayans were not at all given to joking like the Kanowits, but all wore an appearance of suspicion and distrust on their faces, which even the genial influence of square face (“Hollands”) failed to banish, but which originated perhaps more from shyness than ill-temper. Their women wore more clothes than any other tribe, being clothed in a long and flowing “sarong,” a species of petticoat, reaching from the waist to the feet, and a white linen jacket.”

So what do you think about de Windt’s descriptions on Sarawak towns or its people? Let us know in the comment box.

#KajoPicks: Where to grab coffee-to-go in Kuching?

First of all, you can easily grab your coffee-to-go at any kopitiam (if you prefer good old local kopi) or even the typical choice of Starbucks. Plus, you can go visit any of Kuching’s dozens of cafes, but most of them are not open until late morning or noon.

So what do you do when you really need that quick dose of caffeine from a specialty coffee in the morning?

For KajoMag, here are our favourite places specifically to go and grab coffee-to-go in Kuching:

1.Black Bean Coffee & Tea

Where to grab to go coffee in Kuching 2

This list is not complete without a Kuching must-have for coffee lovers – Black Bean Coffee & Tea. It is known for our very own Sarawak Liberica which is one of the best coffee beans in the world.

Located at Ewe Hai Street, Black Bean Coffee & Tea opens at 9 in the morning – perfect timing for those looking for another cup of coffee after their early breakfast.

Looking for coffee beans to brew your own drinks at home? This is also the place for you. The staff is willing to help you select the perfect beans according to your taste.

If Kuching city centre is too far for you, they have another branch at Hock Seng Lee’s (HSL) new La Promenade Mall.


Where to grab to go coffee in Kuching 1

You might think, “Why on earth is a bubble tea chain on this list?”

Honestly, the coffee range drink from this Malaysian boba chain is pretty underrated.

Their signature coffee, americano and latte drinks come hot or cold. Additionally, they offer seasonal promotions on their selected coffee beverages for only RM5 (without tax) from morning till 12pm daily.

However if you prefer Robusta or Liberica beans, this place is not for you. Tealive only offers 100 per cent Arabica beans.

3.Belalak Addicted Coffee

Where to grab to go coffee in Kuching 3

Have you heard of the Turkish way of brewing coffee? It is done by boiling very finely ground coffee.

Traditionally, the grounds left after drinking Turkish coffee are used to tell fortunes. The cup is commonly turned over the saucer to cool, and the patterns of the coffee grounds are used for fortune telling. For Potterheads out there, it is similar to tea-leaf reading or scrying in Harry Potter’s Divination class.

The best place you can find this type of brewing in Kuching is at Belalak Addicted Coffee, The Hills.

No, they don’t offer you fortune telling at Belalak Addicted Coffee. But they do offer a variety of coffee drinks with cute names.

Kopi Let is basically mocha, Kopi Pong is black coffee with palm sugar, Kopi Sus is latte and Kopi Kos is americano.

Besides these, they also offer non-caffeinated and ice-blended drinks.

8 Taiwanese bubble tea franchises you can find in Kuching

Nowadays, you can find boba shops in almost every corner of Kuching. Did you know that there are at least eight Taiwanese bubble tea brands available here?

If bubble tea has its own capital country, there is no denying that Taiwan would be it.

So far, there are two origin stories on how this chewy, milky drink came around.

The first claim derives back to 1986 in Tainan, where the owner of The Hanlin Tea room, Tu Tsong-he allegedly was inspired by white tapioca balls he saw at the market.

He then made tea using the tapioca balls, creating what we now know as bubble tea or pearl tea today.

Meanwhile, Chun Shui Tang Tearoom in Taichung began serving cold Chinese tea after observing cold coffee being served cold in Japan.

This new style of serving tea was a hit in the 1980s. Then came in the teahouse’ product development manager, Lin Hsiu Hui who randomly poured tapioca balls into her iced tea drink in 1988. From there, a new drink was born and it became an instant hit.

Regardless of which teahouse created bubble tea, we can all agree that Taiwan is the birth place of this drink.

Today, other countries such as China and Malaysia have also started their own home-grown brands of bubble tea.

In the meantime, Taiwanese bubble tea brands are opening their branches in all over the world including Malaysia.

If you are looking for Taiwanese bubble tea franchises in Kuching, here are eight of them you can visit (or order through delivery apps since we are in the middle of a pandemic):

1.The Alley

Taiwanese Bubble Tea franchise
Crunchy Brown Sugar Milk Tea

How about a Taiwanese bubble tea chain that is worthy of Korean royals? Netflix’s The King: Eternal Monarch (2020) is a hit Korean drama about a king from a parallel universe. He comes to our world using his inherited magic flute, falls in love with a girl and proceeds to have a date with her at The Alley.

In conjunction with the collaboration between the bubble tea brand and the drama, The Alley released a new crunchy milk tea series.

It comes in three flavours; Crunchy Cocoa Milk Tea, Crunchy Brown Sugar Milk Tea and Crunchy Tiramisu Milk.

Besides their crunchy milk tea series,The Alley beverages also comes in milk tea series, latte series, coffee series and more.

The brand is proud of their tapioca pearls which they claimed were made from scratch.

Looking back on its history, The Alley was launched in Taipei in 2013 by Taiwanese graphic designer and entrepreneur Chiu Mao Ting.

Today, you can find this Taiwanese bubble tea brand in North America, Europe, Southeast Asian region such as Singapore and Indonesia.

Location in Kuching: Ground & First Floor, Milan Square, Jalan Wan Alwi.

2.Gong Cha

Speaking of royalty, here is a Taiwanese bubble tea brand whose name translates to ‘tribute tea for the emperor’.

Gong Cha was founded in 2006 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and opened it first franchise in Malaysia in 2011.

Their drinks are grouped into several categories such as brewed tea, milk tea, health tea, creative mix, latte, coffee and house special.

Some of our personal favourites from Gong Cha are Longan Red Date Tea, Matcha Milk Red Bean and Earl Grey Milk Tea with Coffee Jelly.

Locations in Kuching: Plaza Merdeka and tHe Spring


While The Alley is known for its deer logo, Daboba is known for its bear logo.

The two brands share another similarity, they are both known for their take on the popular brown sugar milk beverage.

Daboba is mostly known to create the Honey Golden Pearl Green Milk Tea. Instead of black pearls, the boba is yellow in colour with faintly taste of honey.

Locations in Kuching: Galacity Street Mall, Jalan Tun Jugah

4.Ding Tea

According to their website, Ding Tea keeps a close eye on their quality and never use an overnight tea.

Founded in 2007, the brand aims to promote Taiwanese tea culture to the world.

Their drinks can be divided into different range such as milk tea, fresh tea, latte, flavoured tea, fruit juice and others.

Locations in Kuching: Everrise BDC, Plaza Merdeka, CityOne Megamall, Boulevard Shopping Mall, Vivacity Megamall, AEON Mall Kuching, iCom Square, The Hills


ChaTime currently has the largest teahouse franchise in the world.

It was founded in 2005 in Zhubei, Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Their best selling drink is none other than ChaTime ‘Pearl’ Milk Tea. Our personal preferences are Earl Grey Pearl Milk and Hazelnut Chocolate.

Locations in Kuching:
1.Aeon Kuching
Ground floor, Aeon Mall Kuching, Jalan Datuk Patinggi Haji Ahmad Zaidi Adruce
2.Vivacity Megamall
Level 3, Vivacity Megamall, Jalan Wan Alwi
Ground Floor, Lot 14011 (SL36), Metrocity, Jalan Matang


Do you know that one of the oldest Taiwanese bubble tea franchise have a couple of branches in Kuching?

Sharetea was founded in 1992 by Chong Kai Lung in Taipei, Taiwan.

In Malaysia, the franchise was first brought over Wong Tai Yong in 2009.

Meanwhile in Sarawak, there are around 30 Sharetea branches located all over the state.

Some of our personal favourite drinks are Strawberry Blended with Ice Cream, Matcha Red Bean Milk Tea and QQhappy Family Milk Tea.

Locations in Kuching:

1.Tabuan Tranquility
Ground Floor, Jalan Canna
2.Gala Street Mall
GalaCity, Jalan Tun Jugah

7.Chun Yang Tea

Chun Yang Tea was founded by former Taiwanese basketball players Wang Xinkai and Chen Jianzhou in 2017.

Since then, it had received celebrity endorsement such as Jay Chow and Barbie Hsu.

Instead of artificial flavouring or syrups, Chun Yang is proud to say that they only use real fruit in their drinks.

Apart from that, they do not use milk powders as part of their ingredients.

The brand Chun Yang, was named after a village in Taiwan which is known for their traditional tea making,

Location in Kuching: Ground Floor, Emporium Kuching, Jalan Tun Jugah

8.Xing Fu Tang

Xing Fu Tang is perhaps the ‘baby’ among these Taiwanese bubble tea franchises because it was founded only back in January 2018.

They claim to be Taiwan No. 1 in their logo. However, we let Kuchingites to judge for that.

Their signature drink is Brown Sugar Boba Milk.

Location in Kuching: GalaCity, Jalan Tun Jugah

Fancy designing a building in Kuching’s business district? ‘Langit’ is the limit

KUCHING: Hock Seng Lee (HSL), Next Phase and the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) are inviting registered architects to challenge their creativity in an architectural design competition called ‘Langit’.

Targeted for a prime piece of land in Kuching’s central business district, the plot measures about an acre along Jalan Tabuan and is within 1 km radius of Kuching Waterfront, Padungan, and tHe Spring Shopping Mall.

WhatsApp Image 2021 02 08 at 10.17.11
The architectural competition for #LangitKch — a commercial high-rise — is on a small but prime piece of land in Kuching’s CBD. It is a matured site with commercial developments including offices, condominiums, shopping malls, hotels and schools, all within a kilometre’s radius.

The competition is open to all PAM-registered corporate members with prize monies totalling RM200,000.

PAM members may collaborate with foreign architects and there is no limit to the number of entries submitted by an architect.

The first prize is RM100,000, second prize RM50,000, third prize RM25,000, and two honourable mentions. Registration opens Feb 8 and the competition closes on Apr 19.

Results will be announced in late May.

What to know about the design competition?

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HSL’s marketing team has tentatively named the project “Langit”, which in Bahasa Malaysia is “sky”, while in Bahasa Sarawak, “lang” is door.

Hailed as the first of its kind in Sarawak, the design brief for HSL, Next Phase and PAM Sarawak Chapter’s competition calls for a commercial development for a max gross floor area of 30,000sqm. The design can be for a mixed-use commercial development, except for a hotel.

“This competition is an ‘ideas competition’. A great piece of land, in such a good location, should have a great building on it. Any commercial development is also an opportunity to do public spaces,” HSL properties development general manager Tay Chiok Kee said.

Judges will focus on community engagement to enhance both the public and users of the building, optimum building orientation and economic viability. 

“We want the best ideas right from the start. Our judges will scrutinise all entries, and as the developer, we will build what is best for the location and for the people of Kuching.”

PAM Sarawak chairman Jong is thrilled with the design competition.

“This competition is forward-thinking and significant for property developers as well as architects. The industry I represent has long yearned for a competition. We want to be challenged and to be competitive,” Jong said.

“HSL will gain significantly from having the most innovative ideas and best designed plans. But, really, the ultimate beneficiary will be the public. The public stands to gain a new architectural icon, new business ventures, new job opportunities and a new public space — all at a location easily accessible to all.”

HSL’s marketing team has tentatively named the project “Langit”, which in Bahasa Malaysia is sky, while in Bahasa Sarawak, “lang” means door.

“This is an aspirational project,” said PAM Sarawak deputy chairman Chai Si Yong, who is director of PDC Design Group.

“We collaborate closely with HSL to make this skyscraper competition happen. It was over a year ago when HSL first spoke to us about a competition. As a developer, HSL is designer- and professional-led. We spoke a lot about challenges, goals and ideas. It only made sense for us to jointly organise a contest,” Chai said.

The judges include PAM Sarawak chairman Ar Ivy Jong, PAM Malaysia president Datuk Ar Ezumi Harzani Ismail, an eminent Sarawakian architect, an eminent Malaysian architect, and HSL representative.

Kuching is one of the best design cities in Malaysia. It is a city notable for many award-winning architects and unique buildings. Firms in Sarawak like Design Network Architects, Arkitek KDI, IDC Architects, Pu Architects and David Ong Architects have won national recognition for their designer mansions, hotels, convention centres and interior designs.

Kuching is also home to the iconic State Legislative building by Hijjas Kasturi, the restored Old Court House, Kuching Mosque, OCBC Building, Sarawak Syariah Court, Kuching South and North City Halls.

For the latest, visit and Updates will also be available at and @hslcn on social media. 



Shop, ‘ngupi’ at La Promenade Mall, Kota Samarahan


When you hear about another shopping mall like La Promenade Mall opening up in Kota Samarahan, those living closer to central Kuching may feel undecided about crossing the Kuching-Samarahan line. It sounds ‘far’ and you might have to deal with the legendary Samarahan traffic.

Sited along the Kuching-Samarahan Expressway comfortably between the established city centre and smart township of Samarahan, however, the newly-launched La Promenade Mall by Hock Seng Lee is neither too far nor out of the way.

It’s 20-25 minutes from Kuching’s golden triangle, and if you’re willing to head to Jalan Canna to wait in the drivethru for McDonald’s Prosperity Burger set, another 5 minutes’ drive to La Promenade Mall will be a cinch.

Shop, taste the difference

La Promenade Mall doesn’t aim to be just another retail-oriented shopping centre, but a neighbourhood community hub that supplies services to shoppers and residents working the daily commute that they can’t get online.

HSL’s ‘Support Local’ approach will see Sarawakian businesses like Black Bean Coffee and Tea, NOMS, Taka Patisserie, Hock King Authentic Chicken Rice, Rice King, and Mr Domus among the tenants livening up the four-storey commercial space, offering local foodies and coffee lovers a cosy retreat after the day’s work is done.

KajoMag 007 HSL La Promenade Mall
Indulge your sweet tooth with Taka Patisserie’s selection of freshly baked goodies.

For those who are looking to do some grocery shopping on their way home, browsing through the aisles of anchor tenant Choice Supermarket promises to provide shoppers a more enjoyable experience with their emphasis on fresh produce, leafy greens, imported meat, freshly baked bread and personal care section.

Designed by Australian firm BHO Interiors, Choice Supermarket’s contemporary layout will also include a food kiosk, as well as a combination of serviced cashiers and self-checkout aisles.

What’s more, if you’re looking to work out while relishing the sunrise and sunset views over Kuching, you’ll be able to check in at the Sweat Factory gym and enjoy a more holistic approach to wellbeing and fitness in addition to the gym machine with the availability of instructor-focused group classes and personal training.

On top of that, La Promenade Mall has provided special leases and subsidised rental to local non-governmental organisations such as Hope Place, Intellectually Disabled Adults Society, Bodhi Counselling Centre and Helping Hands, thus providing them space for workshops, offices and storefronts, truly making it a shopping center with public service and community focus at its core.

Currently, HSL is one of Hope Place’s biggest donors, which also includes the sponsoring of an animated short. Hand drawn painstakingly over a period of 7 months by the Sarawakian creatives behind Pixbugs Studio, Hope Place aims to raise RM100,000 through the fundraising video.

La Promenade Mall and the environment

If, at first glance, you had taken in La Promenade’s glass curtain walls and just thought it was an office building… well okay, you wouldn’t be completely wrong. La Promenade Mall is just one of the components within the 10-storey HSL Tower, which also happens to be the first privately owned Green Building Index-certified building in East Malaysia, with La Promenade Mall being its second.

What does it mean? With energy-saving features like it’s 3,700 custom made triple glazed glass panels it means more natural light, less heat and less air-con, resulting in an approximate 25% reduction in energy consumption. Light shafts going down into the basement carpark also helps reduce the need for underground electric lighting.

Impatient to see what else is going to be moving in to La Promenade Mall, Kota Samarahan? Watch this space or visit and!

Pigs reared in Batu Lintang Camp had better food than the POWs

When Batu Lintang camp was liberated on Sept 11, 1945 by the Australian 9th Division, the camp population was 2,024.

Overall, there were 1,392 prisoners of wars (POWs), 395 were male civilian internees and 237 were civilian women and children.

There were two death orders found among the official Japanese papers at the Japanese-run internment camp. Both papers described how to execute every POW and internee in the camp.

For unknown reasons, the first death order which was scheduled on Aug 17 or 18 was not carried out.

Meanwhile, the second order was scheduled on Sept 15, four days after the camp was liberated.

While Batu Lintang POW Camp was able to escape mass executions, it does not change the fact that hundreds of POWs died there during World War II (WWII).

Batu Lintang Camp FOSM
Flying over the prisoner of war camp (POW) in Batu Lintang at a low height, RAAF Beaufighter pilots reported sighting white POWs, clad in khaki shorts, who excitedly waved as the RAAF aircraft flew over to drop leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender. Credits: Public Domain (Copyright expired).

The war crime trials against the Japanese officers of Batu Lintang Camp

Batu Lintang Camp
Th Sydney Morning Report’s headline on Batu Lintang POW Camp trial news.

On Dec 18, 1945, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the war crime trial held against the Japanese soldiers in-charge of Batu Lintang Camp.

Lieutenant R. Balzer, the prosecuting officer, told the court that between 600 and 700 POWs including Australian officers of the Eight Division, died in Batu Lintang Camp.

The prisoners died due to starvation, brutal assaults, and denial of available medical supplies.

They were suffering from all kinds of diseases such as malaria, beriberi, dysentery, dengue fever, diphtheria, scabies and skin infections.

The four accused were Captain Takeo Nakato and Motoi Tokino and Lieutenants Ojima and Yamamoto.

The news report stated, “Lieutenant Isaki, giving evidence against his own countrymen, said the only meat the prisoners received was pig’s heads. All the prisoners were in bad condition, while the Japanese were in excellent condition. He admitted that 400 Allied prisoners had died of malnutrition in the last 12 months of the war.”

Meanwhile, Colonel W. Lempriere showed the court medical evidence stating that if 2,000 survivors, including 170 Australian officers, had not received medical attention and proper diet, the majority would have died within three months.

One victim had the incredible weight of 3st 4lb (about 20kg) when rescued, and was still in a dreadful condition.

Balzer accused the defendants of ‘unmitigated sadism’ and of making a carefully calculated plot slowly to kill off the prisoners.

Moreover, Balzer claimed that the diet fed to the camp’s pigs was more nutritious than the food given to the prisoners.

In the end, the four officers were found guilty on all charges and sentenced to deaths.

So how bad the was the condition on Batu Lintang Camp?

Fred Bindon was a private in the Australian Army when he was captured in Singapore. He was then sent to Batu Lintang camp.

There, he convinced the Japanese Army officers that he was a cook. He was then allowed to be a cook in the kitchen.

Taking this opportunity, he would steal food and give it to the other prisoners and internees.

His granddaughter, Paula Mcloughlin told the Borneo Post in 2017, “Sometimes he was caught for stealing food. He had some bamboo scars underneath his nails and he said that was very torturous.”

In the meantime, Eric Oliver was another POW imprisoned at Batu Lintang Camp. He was a warrant officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF).

He was forced to ditch his plane in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra after being shot up by the Japanese.

Oliver was then captured and imprisoned in Changi Jail before he was sent to Kuching.

According to Lancashire Post, Oliver was on grave digging duty during his imprisonment.

He buried up to ten of his comrades every day towards the end of his incarceration.

Oliver’s misery did not end with the war, he went home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sometimes, he woke up in the middle of the night crying telling his wife, “I keep thinking about the lads who died.”

By June-July 1946, the bodies in the cemetery at Batu Lintang camp had been exhumed. They were then reburied in the Labuan War Cemetery.

Besides the officers, the Australian war crime court also charged 45 guards (mostly Formosan), suspected of ill-treating prisoners at the Batu Lintang camp.

The court acquitted three of the guards and sentenced the remainder to terms of imprisonment ranging from one year to life.

What happened to the 300 prisoners of Labuan POW camp during WW2?

Batu Lintang Camp FOSM
Flying over the prisoner of war camp (POW) in Batu Lintang at a low height, RAAF Beaufighter pilots reported sighting white POWs, clad in khaki shorts, who excitedly waved as the RAAF aircraft flew over to drop leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender. Credits: Public Domain (Copyright expired).

When it comes to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps in Malaysian Borneo, most people immediately think of Batu Lintang in Kuching and Sandakan POW camps.

What is less known is that Labuan had a POW camp for some time during World War II (WWII).

The purpose of Labuan POW Camp

By 1944, the Japanese military decided to build an airstrip on Labuan to give additional air cover for Brunei Bay.

Captain Nagai Hirawa was appointed to command the Labuan POW Camp. He arrived in Labuan with 300 British POWs from Sandakan on June 16, 1944.

Another 200 POWs arrived from Kuching on Aug 15, 1944.

According to post-war investigation report, the camp was originally sited on the grounds of the Victoria Golf Club.

However due to the constant air raids by Allied forces over the waterfront area, the campsite was moved to a new compound 3 miles north of the harbour.

It was here that the POWs were kept until they departed for Brunei on Mar 7, 1945.

Tracing the steps of the prisoners

Agnes McEwan and Campbell Thompson summarised briefly the footsteps of POWS in Labuan.

“In August 1944, Tom Tadman, Charles Shun, John Parker and Frederick Wain were among a group of 300 sent to Labuan to construct an airfield intended for the defence of a fleet anchorage planned for Brunei Bay,” they stated.

Reportedly, life was not too bad for the POWs. Things changed in October that year when the Allies began bombing airfields in the region, including Labuan.

The Japanese started to reduce rations for the prisoners and then the death tolls began to increase significantly.

On Jan 23, 1945 Captain Nagai left for Ranau and his place was taken by Sergeant Major Sugino.

McEwan and Thompson wrote, “By March 1945, 188 of the prisoners taken to Labuan had died. Due to the proximity of Allied shipping, the remainder began the move back to Kuching.”

On their way to meet deaths

Captain Nagai claimed that POWs were given quinine for their malaria. Even so, with the lack of food combined with heavy labour that they were forced to do, it came as no surprise why many of them did not survive.

The group arrived in Brunei on Mar 8, 1945 and remained there until the beginning of May.

By this time, only 82 men arrived from the initial 300.

From there, the remaining 82 men were taken to Kuala Belait and on to Miri on May 28.

Then on June 8, the POWs had now been reduced to 46. The Japanese ordered them to make their way into the jungle along a rough track where they rested for two days.

McEwan and Thompson stated, “There the Japanese officer in charge, Sergeant Major Sugino, received news that the Australian 9th Division had landed at Brunei Bay, only 125 miles away. As a precaution against the prisoners being rescued, Sugino decided to put into operation the Final Disposition – the murder of all POWs.”

They were shot to death and their bodies buried by the guards.

In search of one of the soldiers continues

In 2017, the Telegraph reported on how a retiree living in London had spent much of the past 75 years looking for his brother’s grave.

Len Tadman talked about how he and his two sisters had visited Singapore and Borneo five times trying to retrace his brother’s steps.

So what happened to Len’s brother, Tom Tadman?

McEwan and Thompson in their book revealed some of the fates of these prisoners of Labuan POWs camp, including Tom’s.

Tom, or Lance Bombardier Thomas Tadman, died in Brunei on Apr 3, 1945. His cause of death is unknown.

Meanwhile, others who were part of the Labuan group like Gunner Charles Shun, Staff Sergeant John Parker and Gunner Frederick Wain who died in Labuan at different times throughout 1944 to 1945 were also never recovered.

What happened to Labuan POW camp?

awm 123170
Military police guard four Japanese officers of the Borneo Prisoners of War and Internees Guard Unit, outside the Australian 9th Division Headquarters where they were to appear at a war crimes trial, Labuan Island, December 1945. AWM 123170

Soldiers of the Australian 24th Brigade landed in Labuan on June 10, 1945. They quickly captured the harbour and main airfield.

Meanwhile, the Japanese offered little resistance as they were greatly outnumbered.

When the Australian forces arrived at the abandoned Labuan POW camp in June, they only found unmarked graves.

After the Allied forces liberated POW camps in Batu Lintang and Sandakan, they started to round up the Japanese soldiers and their Formosan guards responsible for abuses and killings.

They housed them in the former Labuan POW camp site and turned the site into a military court.

Labuan became one of the 16 locations of the war crime trials held between December 1945 and January 1946.

During one of the trials, Sugino was charged with having ‘caused to be killed 46 POWs at Miri on June 10, 1945’. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Of the 300 POWs who had left for Labuan in 1944, not even one was left alive. Hence, none was left to tell their stories of what really happened at Labuan POW camp.

Formosan Guards
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