“A Borneo Story”
David and Mary Baldwin’s
For my cousins world-wide
A story of faith and endurance of those imprisoned who believed they would be rescued of those who fought to rescue them believing they must not fail of those who waited and prayed, hoping their loved ones would return.
Growing up after World War II in a small house on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the names "Borneo", "Sandakan", "Kuching" rang often in my ears like the calls of exotic tropical birds. In forgotten drawers I found photographs of spear-carrying tribesmen labelled as “Dyaks” wearing nothing but loin cloths, head-dresses and nose-rings. There were postcards too, bearing strange stamps and cryptic messages signed by someone called “The Chief”. A typical one pictured “policemen” in smart white uniforms - with fez and bare feet, going on duty by canoe !
These hints of an exotic world elsewhere became more vivid when visiting Granny Baldwin at "Oaklands" in Innellan. Built high on the steep hillside, the house was low and dark at the back but with huge sun-filled views over the Clyde Estuary from the front - and without mains electricity. Instead Granny relied on a carefully blackened coal-fired cooking range, gas lamps with mantles, and a radio fed by a heavy wet-acid battery. For re-charging it had to be lugged to and from a coal-yard half-a-mile away : inevitably my frequent chore during a visit. Next to her box-bed - the hole-in-the-wall in the back kitchen where she slept - were glimpses of an exotic other world : the fireside poker in a holder made from a length of giant intricately carved bamboo ; the large china vase sumptuously decorated with dragons and oriental flowers; a few shockingly bright chinese silk-brocade cushions ; a long curved pipe rumoured to be for smoking opium ; and high on the mantelpiece, presiding over Granny’s gloomy warm cave, a gleaming brass model of a fat Buddha.
Glendaruel, Argyll - December 1955
Granny was old, her skin wrinkled and splashed with giant freckles caused by much exposure to a tropical sun. Her shapeless skirt and jersey made her look stumpy and strange, as did the shapeless black beret she often wore - said to be the very one that had been with her all through a Prison Camp somewhere in the Far East. So had the fly-swatter roughly made from bent clothes-hanger wire and strips of thick leather and used to swat passing flies with unusually savage vigour. The small white cotton bag that hung around her neck and down into her more than ample bosom never left her and was rumoured to contain "treasures". At night she would lie in her box-bed complaining of aches and pains, smelling of camphor rubbing oil and covered by a shabby grey blanket - which she claimed as a souvenir of her release from the Prison Camp by Australian troops.
She was gruff, using the walking stick, which she leaned on heavily, to tap my hands - none too gently - should they stray near my (short) trouser pockets. Out and about I could suddenly find myself being “tapped” with the stick and encouraged to “stand-up-straight-and-don’t-slouch”. One summer holiday she even sewed up my shorts’ pockets ; a move generally agreed within the family as being “a bit too much”.
Eventually, she suddenly started talking in a mixture of random numbers and disconnected words and had to be moved to a nursing home nearby on the edge of Innellan where she died in October 1956, two months short of her 82nd birthday. She is buried in Dunoon Cemetery.
I never really knew her - or heard her story. This is what I think it is.
The Long Journey
Settled at Sandakan
I must never forget
my two grandparents and their unnecessary suffering.
Their story provides lessons for us all.
Their brutally inhuman treatment in time of war
is a fragment
of a vast, well-documented catalog of crimes against humanity.
Reports from and about Japan today
show that whatever the Japanese People believe, their Government, on their behalf,
refuses to show any sincere remorse or contrition
and continues to suppress & deny their wartime record of atrocities.
The danger is summed up in the old expression :
“A nation that forgets its history is condemned to repeat it”
The Japanese Government’s reasoning
for concealing and suppressing the truth about their wartime record
seems to rest upon the great injury done to the Japanese People
by the first and only use of atomic weapons in August 1945
against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, two wrongs do not make a right.
In Britain, the Far East Prisoners of War, and now their families also, still wait in vain
for a proper recognition from the Government of Japan of past wrongs.
Financial compensation is sought also
but more as a token and test of sincerity than for its monetary value.
Until the truth has been openly acknowledged,
there can be no hope of justice nor hence reconciliation ;
nor real hope for the future.
The events recorded faithfully here
justify the perpetual need
to distinguish good people from evil
In another old expression :
“Evil men prosper whilst good men stand by and do nothing”
The risk for all humanity is that by
allowing guilt to be concealed, evil men are encouraged.
I see yet no reason to forgive.
My grateful thanks to those good people in this world, to whom I was just a passing stranger, but who helped inspire the researching & writing of this story : the Vice Principal of Batu Lintang Teachers' College, Kuching and Julitta Lim Shau Hua ; the Pastor Katolik of the Catholic Church & the Polis Kaptan in Tarakan ; the Editors of the Dunoon Observer & Argyllshire Standard & the Greenock Telegraph ; Elizabeth Davies of the Dunoon & Argyll Bowling Club ; and especially Judith Donald of the Commonwealth War Graves' Commission & Johan Teeuwisse of the Nederlands OorlogsGravenStichting, representing organizations who quietly & consistently keep our memories & hopes alive. Also my thanks to those who helped so willingly to fill in gaps after it was written : David Jollife of the Australian War Memorial and Stella Moo of Sabah Museum.
By Norman Morrison
© Copyright NJBM 2003