Sketch by Jack Chalker

World War II

The Second World War started in 1941 and gradually its ugly head began to spread throughout many parts of the world. The Japanese who were eyeing for inexhaustible raw materials for their industry began to annex many parts of Asia and South East Asia. Finally their tentacles reached the shore of Borneo Some of the local population suffered in the cruel hands of the invaders while those collaborated with them were rewarded handsomely.  Many were killed, especially the Chinese and those who went against them. The local people lived in great fear and suffering, bearing witness to unspeakable horror of senseless killings and torture.

The British and Australian forces that were stationed in Singapore were made prisoners of war and some were brought in to Sandakan for special specific purpose. In order to pacify them and to prevent them from acting contrary to status as prisoners of war, they were tortured and kept to a minimum permissible in accordance to the Geneva Convention on Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nation. Those who went against their prison rules were publicly paraded in cages naked.

They were humiliated and tortured in front of all, mainly as a grim warning to anyone who dared defy the Japanese. Peter, who found his life’s calling was to help others and heal the wounded, could only watch helplessly.

However, things changed one day.  He was given the opportunity to offer his help to the Prisoners of War (POWs). This happened when the Japanese began arresting all Europeans. Dr. Taylor was a European who worked at the Sandakan Civil Hospital, and he was Peter’s immediate superior.  When news of the Japanese invasion reached him, he immediately began hoarding medical supplies.  Dr. Taylor managed to confer with Peter and gave him specific instruction with regards to the whereabouts of the medical supplies and how it should be dispensed to those in dire need. Without hesitation Peter bravely took the challenge and kept the secret only to himself and few trusted friends.

It was the opportunity to help that he was looking for.  Thus Peter was entrusted with a box of medical supplies with strict instructions to hide it well.

The group began their crusade to help the POWs. They managed to deliver much needed food, medicine and other supplies to the POWs.  Such action brought much relief to the affected soldiers and gave them hope for survival.

Peter kept his involvement in this mission a secret even from his wife and family. The less they knew about it, the safer they would be. Gabriela was suspicious of his sudden change in routine but kept her suspicions to herself. She was too busy worrying about her baby son, Bryan Paul.  Bringing up a baby during war was a tough job.

One night, while Peter was on his way home after one of his secret mission, he came across some  Japanese soldiers. He quickly jumped into a nearby stream and hid under water for a few minutes.  Luckily, when he could not hold his breath any longer and surfaced for air, they were gone. When he arrived home, Gabriela questioned him about his wet clothes. He could only reply that he was caught in the rain, although it was a clear night. Gabriela’s suspicions grew but she wisely kept quiet.

However, Peter could not keep his secret from his wife for long. Late one night, he arrived home with four bedraggled Australian soldiers. They were in dire need of food and temporary shelter.  He had no choice but to bring them into his home. Gabriela was shocked, but readily provided them with food, clothes and medical care. The soldiers were on their way to meet people who would later smuggle them out to the Philippines.

A few months passed by and the mission went smoothly. Peter and his secret group managed to supply much needed help to the POWS. Unfortunately, everything changed one day. Someone had betrayed them. Hell broke loose for Peter and his friends and one by one, they were arrested.

At 8.00am that fateful morning, the Japanese barged into Peter’s workplace at the Sandakan Civil hospital and arrested both him and Dr Taylor. Later in the afternoon a Japanese friend, Simuda, informed Gabriela that Peter had been arrested. Dr Taylor and some Europeans prisoners were sent to Bahala Island while the others were detained at mile 8 jalan Lela. The wives of those detained were offered jobs as temporary nurses to look after wounded Japanese at a temporary hospital at the present site of NAK hotel. It was later showered with bombs by the allied. Fortunitely Mrs. Lai and some nurses managed to escape.

They were than forced to work making nets from Jutes which were used as camouflage for the Japanese war planes. Meanwhile, before the detainees were shipped to Kuching, Gabriela, through her father’s Japanese friend, managed to bring food and other essential. She managed to smuggle in her gold chain in a water flash. Probably she knew that her husband would be sent to Kuching prison and gold was the only currency available at that time that still has value.

In the meantime while mom was working, little Bryan had to be looked after by the grandfather and the house helper “Mama Kehow. She had just terminated her employment with Mr. and Mrs.  Abinity who was arrested by the Japanese. Their little son who was at the same age as Bryan had been hidden away and the Japanese were looking high and low for the child.

The bombing of the allied became intensified and the many caves along Jalan Lelah became a sanctuary for the people. Eight months later the Japanese Police (Kompetai) went to Mr. Lobos house looking for “Mama Kehow”. They knew she was working for  Mr. Abinity and wanted to question her on the whereabouts of his son. At that very moment “Mama Kehow was carrying little Bryan in her arms and the soldiers thought that the little boy was the son of Mr. Abinity and without hesitation took little Bryan away to their garrison for proper evaluation of his origin. If he was proven to be European born, he would be sent with the rest of the Europeans to Jesselton.

Gabriela Remedia Lobos -2

Gabriela Remedia Lobos

Gabriela frantically ran to her father for help. She was in a terrible state, her husband had been arrested and now the Japanese had taken her only child away from her.!

She and her father, A.V. Lobos, immediately went in search of a Japanese friend, called Simuda. He owned a small shop in the town, which had been in business a long time before the war.

A V Lobos-tn

A.V. Lobos

  Samuda was a long time resident of the town and considered a good friend. When war broke out, he was appointed as an interpreter by the Japanese Civil Administrator. Throughout the war, Mr Lobos and his Japanese trader friends managed to save the lives of many local people by bravely intervening with the Japanese army.

Simuda immediately went in search of the Japanese administrator who held little Bryan captive. He told them he knew the family well and Bryan was definitely not a European child. In next to no time, Bryan was released and reunited with his mother. Back home, grandfather Lobos immediately shaved Bryan’s brown locks off in order to avoid any other untoward incident.

Mrs Azona-tn

Mrs Azcona

As for the group, some of them were tortured in conferment. Others, like Peter, were detained indefinitely.

Among the arrested were. Dr J.P.Taylor Alex Azcona, Ernesto Laban, the Funk brothers.Lamberto Apostol and many others. The Japanese imprisoned them at the Electricity Board compound at Tanah Merah, Jalan Lelah for several months. While they were detained, reports of local uprising from Jesselton resulted in the Japanese preparing to deploy extra soldiers from their Sandakan garrison, hoping to quell the uprising. As a result, the detained prisoners were sent to Kuching on board a local steamship.

They arrived in Kuching and were immediately ushered to their respective prisons where they were charged by the Military Court. Peter was given a twelve-year prison sentence.

In prison, Peter had to endure hard labour and constant hunger. At times, the prisoners had to succumb to eating rats and lizards raw to avoid dying from starvation. He also suffered emotional turmoil, not knowing what was happening to his family in Sandakan, wondering if they managed to survive the war. The prisoners had to endure long hours of working under the sun preparing the runway at Sibulau for the Japanese Airforce. Fortunitely the Japanese could not use it as the American often bombed it. Besides toiling under the sun they were sent to Sendungus for salt making, Sendungus is an area which is close to Sentubung.Kuching.

Fortunately, not long after that, the Second World War ended in 1945 and the Japanese surrendered after America dropped two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The prisoners were released by the Australian Army and brought to Labuan for medical checkup and given proper food.

The next day a Sunderland took them back to Sandakan.

 

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