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The Project

Speaking to the last survivors of World War II in Malaysia, and bringing you to where it all happened.

Come February 2016, it will be 70 years since the final surrender of the Japanese army in Kuala Lumpur.

Sadly, the compelling stories of World War II in Malaysia are often lost, or hidden in plain sight. While other countries have fascinating war museums and guided tours of WWII sites, memories of the war in Malaysia seem to be fading away along with its last survivors.

The Last Survivors is an interactive online documentary project that hopes to bring those stories back to life, by speaking to survivors of the Japanese occupation, and bringing them back to the locations which hold the deepest memories for them.

In season two, the grandchildren of survivors go on a journey of discovery, and find there’s more to their grandparents than meets the eye.

Tangkak

As a small child in Tangkak, Johor, Mustapha’s peaceful childhood was disrupted by the arrival of the Japanese. In this audio recording, he recalls a soldier threatening to kill his father over a packet of cigarettes, men forcefully recruited to work on the infamous ‘death railway’, and Japanese troops stabbing villagers with bayonets to force them to collect coconuts.

Yap Ser Jin

Yap Ser Jin shares his tale of how he miraculously survived a Japanese execution after blowing up one of their army vehicles to avenge his father and uncle’s death, who were members of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army.

Batu Pahat

This WWII survivor from 峇株巴辖 Batu Pahat, Johor, saw his neighbour being stabbed to death by Japanese troops, simply because he was Chinese.

John Robson

Former child labourer John Robson said while he’s forgiven the Japanese for the atrocities committed in Malaya during WWII, he’ll never forget. His uncle was never the same after being taken away by the Kempeitai, and as a young boy he witnessed a public execution in Kuala Lumpur.

Arumugam Kandasamy

After his brother was taken, Arumugam was forced to work on the infamous ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand, which claimed an estimated 42, 000 Malayan lives during WWII. Out of the 50 men from Linggi recruited as labourers, only seven were to return.

Lim Chung Bee

When he was 17, Lim Chung Bee was captured by the Japanese while en route to Australia. He would spend three hellish years working in a copper mine, spending 12 hours every day mining 1,000 metres underground. Conditions were horrendous, and the POWs often had to endure beatings, starvation and torture.

A few weeks after we filmed this video, Chung Bee passed away peacefully. We would like to thank him and his family for the honour of being able to tell his remarkable story of strength, perseverance and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah

Kicking off season two, filmmaker Ineza Roussille follows her grandmother, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah, around Kuala Lumpur in order to find out how she survived the war.

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.

Contribute to the project

Help us document Malaysia’s WWII stories! If you know a WWII survivor, or a place of WWII significance in your city, please let us know.

Send us short stories, photos or videos, and we’ll add it to our Last Survivors interactive map.

If the stories are really good, we’ll even send our video crew to you and turn it into one of our Last Survivors documentaries.

For more info, drop us a comment, or email us at alltherage@thestar.com.my.

OTHER SURVIVORS’ STORIES…

“The bombing blasts were ferocious, shaking the ground vigorously and sending a hail of shrapnel. The atmosphere was clouded with thick phosphorous fumes. Then there was a brief moment of eerie silence broken by the noise of raging fire and the cracking of buildings. Pathetic screaming was heard and people, including myself started running away from the devastated area to safety.” — Chan Peng Fook, 88.

“A Japanese soldier had come in and bought biscuits. When my father asked for payment, the soldier got angry and hit him with a bayonet.” — Gooi Cheng Kim, 86.

“(The Japanese major) went to the first Chinese, who was kneeling blindfolded with a white cloth, and with one swing he slice the head off. The body fell forward twitching and turning. It was a sight I can never forget till this very day.” — John Robson, 84.

Student Contributions

Since the series launched in February 2016, university students have gone out and filmed their own episodes, which they’ve sent to us.

Season 1

Released in February 2016, the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in Kuala Lumpur, survivors took us around the country and revealed their deepest memories.

Low Yoke Kuan / Salak South

Episode 6

SHARON Tan knew her grandmother lived through World War II, but she never knew how horrifying some of her experiences were until she came across The Last Survivors .

Low, 93, remembers a neighbour who was gang-raped and killed.

“We thought she’d be left alone. They usually left you alone if you were married,” said Low.

Yap Chwee Lan / Johor

Episode 5

The Last Survivors, Yap Chwee Lan, World War II, WWII, Johor Baru

14-year-old Yap Chwee Lan saved countless of people from execution during the Japanese Occupation of Johor Baru.

“A lot of them called out my name, begging me to save them. Then the Japanese asked if I knew these people,” she said.

“I said, ‘Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neighbourhood. When I identified them, they were freed.”

James Jeremiah

Episode 4

Staring out to sea on Fort Cornwallis, James Jeremiah cuts a lonely figure.

“Before the fighting started, we were so excited to shoot the Japanese. We had never seen war; we had only seen it in the movies,” said Jeremiah. “But the first time I heard a real bomb, I was scared to death.”

Ethelin Teo / Kuantan

Episode 3

Walking hand in hand with her husband on Teluk Cemepedak beach, Kuantan, Ethelin Teo’s smile reveals none of the pain she has lived through.

When the Japanese attacked Kuantan during World War II, she was only 13. “The British soldiers were lying dead all around town, the bodies scattered and broken up,” she said.

Andrew Carvalho / Malacca

Episode 2

World War II, The Last Survivors

WATCHING wildlife documentaries in his son’s house, Andrew Carvalho looked like any other elderly man enjoying his twilight years.

But his memories of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, and the hardships his family faced during those dark days, have been seared into his memory.

“We went to sleep hungry many times,” said the former civil servant. “I had to shoot birds with my catapult for food. Today, if you give me anything that crawls, I will eat it. The Japanese time taught me to do so.”

Omar Senik / Kelantan

Episode 1

Omar Senik was on Sabak Beach the day Japanese troops arrived in Malaya, marking the start of World War II in Malaysia. R.AGE brings him back to the beach to hear this story.

‘The Last Survivors’ is a R.AGE interactive documentary project featuring the stories of #WWII survivors in Malaysia. Find out how you can contribute to the project on the link below.

A timeline of the Japanese occupation

Picture gallery

Behind-the-scenes photos from our Last Survivors shoots across the country.

Come February 2016, it will be 70 years since the final surrender of the Japanese army in Kuala Lumpur.Sadly, the...

Posted by R.AGE on Monday, February 22, 2016

Twitter Poll

  • me

    This series is really great! Young generation like me can at least know how the situation was back then. All the hardships, endless torturing…like the pakcik said; ‘peace is a blessing’
    Now I’m working in a Japanese based company, at times, especially now when i was reminded by how cruel they were, there’s a bit of bitter feeling…hate? yes, at times..I know I shouldn’t.
    🙂 ironic eyh?

    • R.AGE

      Thanks for the kind feedback! Most of the survivors we spoke to said they don’t feel any hatred towards Japan, because what happened had nothing to do with the current generation of Japanese.

      One of them, Andrew Carvalho, simply said that “war brings out the worst in people”. Great lesson =)

  • It eas very rare to see a fat well-fed person during the occupation. So much so that any fat person was strongly suspected that the reason for them to be fat and eating well was they were collaborators or informers. People feared them and kept theor mouths shut in their presence.

    • Clarissa Say

      Hi John,

      We hope to add your story into a print compilation of WW2 recollections. Do you by any chance have a photo of yourself on you?

  • Jessica

    My mom born in Nanking, I believe anyone who read history of WWII should be very familiar to “Nanking Massacre”, although my mom was not literally there when the brutal killing happened on last century. But when she told me what her twin sister encountered before the killing, it is so vivid that I can’t forget that.
    A few days before the mass killing actually happened, my great grandma shaved my aunt’s hair to bald, she put my aunt and my uncle into biendan which was used to carry agriculture products by farmers at older times, then she muded my aunt’s and uncle’s faces, she and my great grandpa left all the valuables behind, They walked pass the great Nanking Gate, went through the Japanese guard’s searching. they went straight to their friends house in countysite of Nanking for shelter.
    After the massacre, they came back to Nanking, along the way there were many mutilated bodies lying on the roadside. They had to walk very carefully in order not to step on those body parts, the river used to be so transparent, and so clean, becomes dark red, and smelly, sometimes there were bodies blowed like balloon floated on the river.
    When they finally reached their home, unsurprisingly, they found their house empty, there were nothing left,

  • Interesting, Last October, I published WW II in Borneo.

  • david

    Seventy years on, Japan has yet to atone fully for her wartime atrocities. Here are just a few of the ploys of the right-wing government led by Abe to WHITEWASH Japanese war crimes committed during WW II:
    1) Abe misled the US CONGRESS that comfort women were MERE victim of human trafficking, not sex slaves.
    2) Abe attempts to glorify the commemoration in HIROSHIMA-NAGASAKI to showcase Japan as a VICTIM and not an AGGRESSOR.
    3) He paid tribute to WW II criminals of war.
    The crimes committed by the Japanese invaders in Malaysia must be exposed.

  • Pipper

    Japanese commit war crimes, killing Chinese just like killing an ant, treat them like animal. This is the crime that Chinese can forgive but absolutelly can’t foget. And as a Chinese, should let the whole world know what kind brutallity that japanese to chinese during WWII.

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