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Tun Siti Hasmah was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when World War II broke out in Malaya.

Her first clue that something was wrong came was when her father picked her up from school, instead of relying on her to take the bus usual.

“In the car he told us the Japanese had bombed Singapore, Penang and that the Japanese had landed in Kelantan. We cried, because my elder brother Aziz was studying in Singapore,” she said.

Fortunately her brother survived, although one of his Malaysian classmates who lived near their house was a victim of the bombings in Bukit Timah.

However, despite the dark days of the Occupation, young Siti Hasmah still managed to find glimmers of humanity shining through in those dark times.

Read more: The grandchildren of WWII survivors discover the hidden stories of their grandparents

Music, for instance, was a brief respite from the horrors surrounding them.

“There used to be a Japanese conductor, Watanabe, who set up an orchestra with other Japanese at the Pavilion Theatre in Bukit Bintang, which was torn down, and is now an MRT station.”

“They played latin american music. My mother used to take us there and everyone loved it, ” she reminisced.

She was relatively lucky. Despite the reported brutality displayed by the Japanese military, Japanese civilians and workers turned out to be more sympathetic towards the Malayan people.

Siti Hasmah and her family managed to find some friends among them, so much so that after [the Emperor] formally surrendered in 1945, they came to her house to say goodbye.

“They brought no weapons when they came to say farewell, and we were sad because they had been kind to us, and had respected my father, who worked in the courts as a legal officer,” she said. “They showed a different side of themselves to us.”

Her granddaughter, filmmaker Ineza Roussille, 29, said that while she’d heard many stories about the cruelty during the Occupation, her grandmother’s story showed a different side to the Japanese invaders, and it gave the war a new sense of proximity to her.

“I used to think of war as a foreign conflict, but hearing her talk about having to hide and duck for cover from shootings really brings home the point the conflict affected us too,” said Roussille.

About

Somewhat regretting the decision to join R.AGE due to their love affair with puns. Just kidding (or am I?), the R.AGE team is super cool and every day brings new experiences. Meeting people from all walks of life and being able to cover it? Amazing.

The Map

Click on any pin on the map to read its World War II story. Red pins are stories by R.AGE, yellow are stories contributed by readers. If you have a World War II story you’d like us to upload to this map, email us (alltherage@thestar.com.my) along with the exact location of your story on Google Maps.
Pictures of locations from during the war or comparison pictures can also be emailed to us.
Video submissions are encouraged so get out there and talk to a survivor. Interesting stories and videos stand a chance to be filmed as an episode of The Last Survivors.

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