It was on that fateful day on December 8, 1941, that I heard distant noises of explosions. Even though I had heard through the radios that World War II had started, I knew it had not Singapore just about yet. So, when I heard the distinct noise of bombings, I, just like everyone else started to panic. Living in a kampong house during that time, the house was not that stable standing on wooden slits. The house was also made out of wood and during rainy days the houses were easily flooded as even the rooftop of the house had tiny, fine, hairline cracks in which leaks could occur.
Our nearest neighbour lived about a mile away and our nearest mode of communication was through the telephone. So when and if a bomb was ever to fall near us, I would never be able to tell it to them in time. As the day dragged on, I could hear the explosions getting louder and louder. I thought that possibly the bombings were getting closer. Throughout the day I feared for my parents life and mine. I was only an eight-year-old girl then with no siblings and did not understand about the war going on much but I knew from my mother’s concerned and distressed tone of voice that it was sometime fearful and terrible.
Suddenly amidst all the sounds of the bombing and explosions, I heard something flying down fast and looking up into the sky, I knew it was a bomb. I immediately grabbed my parents’ arms and ran out of the house and continued to run without looking back. As we ran, we heard the bomb explode with a loud bang. The effect of the bomb swept our feet away from the ground and sent us flying. In the next few seconds, we found ourselves falling back onto the firm, flat ground again. When we looked back at our house again, it was in ruins.
However, since we had escaped in time, we survived the attack with a only few minor burns which were caused by the radiation of the bomb exploding. We felt extremely blessed and lucky. Barely able to walk, being weighed down with fear if the next few bombs would hit us, the pain our wounds exploded with made us feel like we rather die than live. However, this war was about survival and we were going to do just that. A few minutes later, I heard a few more explosions that sounded so close; I thought that the sound itself was about to deafen me.
At that moment I felt that the Japanese soldiers had no heart. How could they just kill innocents for something that is not even worth their lives? Hatred burned in my heart for the Japanese. Through the radios, I heard that the Japanese were now marching through Malaya. On December 31, 1942, I heard that the British in hope of slowing the Japanese advancing towards Singapore destroyed the causeway. Despite this, only eight days after the Japanese crossed the Johor Strait, they made their landing on Singapore.
For a few days after they had landed, there were no bombings happening and so I felt that life was finally getting back to normal, even though the people still lived in fear of the Japanese being around them. Our kampong house being destroyed now, we had been living in the slums ever since. The slums infested with rats cockroaches and we were living in unhygienic conditions. Fleas were everywhere and it seemed like we were living with another species. During the time that I was living there with my parents, my father took ill and died.
The people who lived there were poor and they just like us were trying to survive at the safest hiding place. So, all the people who died there were not buried but left aside to rot. My mother, cried over my father’s death filled with worry of how we were going to survive now without his support. She too slowly became ill from malnutrition and the unhygienic conditions we were living in and soon passed away. She passed away only after a month of my father’s death. That five letter word “death” ripped my family apart and it was the Japanese who had caused it.
How my heart burned with anguish for my parents’ death that I felt like murdering those wretched Japanese soldiers who did this to me. This anger overwhelmed me but I could not do anything to suppress it. Killings and war was on the streets just as bombs started showering upon Singapore. I tried to get some sleep but could not. Early down of the very next day, the town was lit up by large klieg lights as an entire tank division came pouring into our tiny island. The rumble of the machines shook the ground beneath me and created a sound so powerful that it seemed as though the earth was splitting into two.
I could not take it there in the slums anymore. So, I went in search of my grandmother. I only vaguely remembered where she lived but I decided to give it a shot anyway. During my search for her, it was impossible to find food. Now my bones were showing but I knew I still had the strength in me somehow to survive. I guess it was the fury in me to survive this seemingly ever-ending war. Once I found my grandmother’s house, which I noted was a huge mansion; I decided to stay there but only in the cold, dark basement of the house.
Although it was where spiders and rodents loomed I decided it was the only place where I would be safest. There I found a small ancient looking box. I opened it and I saw a small diary coated with a thick layer of dust surrounded me making me cough and sneeze. I opened it carefully; noticing the damages done on this delicate book was far more than I could bear to see. Anticipation awaited me to find out what was in the book but to my dismay, there was nothing written in it. I decided it to be my companion throughout the war.
I did not go out of the basement for a few days due to my fear of the Japanese lurking around the house. When I finally went to see my grandmother in her bedroom, the very sight of the gruesome and pitiless murder that awaited me there made me cry out in horror. My grandmother’s throat was slashed by a bayonet and with blood trickling down her limp body she had died. It was no surprise that she had passed away during the period of war but despite it all, I still felt a huge sense of loss and despair deep in my heart. Now that she had left me, I was standing all alone in that huge mansion with no clue as what to do.
I saw fighter planes in the sky constantly and those Japanese soldiers kept marching in and out of my grandmother’s house while I was still hiding in the basement of the house. Every single time they did that, I felt my heart being ripped out of my chest in fear. Living in such fear made me feel like I rather die, as through living each day, I felt like I was cheating death itself. Finally on 15 February 1942, even though it was Chinese New Year’s day, I heard that we were not allowed to celebrate the event. However, it was on that day that the British finally surrendered to the Japanese.
This made me relieved in a way but the Japanese were not about to leave us alone. So, I realized that my grandmother’s mansion was no safe hiding place for a young girl of the age of nine like me. I left my grandmother’s house and lived on the streets. The Japanese brought so much hardship to us. They had bayonet wars on the street in which people were killed and when looting took place, the people who looted were also not spared. They were shot or beheaded, and their heads were displayed at public areas. Bowing to the Japanese as a sign of respect also had to be done or they would be slapped, kicked or punished in some other brutal manner.
During that time I just went around house to house, walked on the streets aimlessly, just to ask, or beg and find for food. The Japanese occupation and its torture lasted for three and a half years. I do not really know how but I had survived it. When the Japanese surrendered to the British on 5 September 1945, it indeed was a very memorable day for Singapore and me. In that year, we went back into the British rule but I could not be any happier than finally being free of the Japanese. On 12 September 1945, a grand victory parade was held at the Padang to mark the surrender of the Japanese troops.
I too rejoiced with Singapore on this occasion. I remember the occasion just like it was yesterday. My parents now are not here with me nor is my grandmother but I know that they are still taking care of me from wherever they are. I am now well feed and nourished by my foster family. I still have the book with me that I took as my companion throughout the war. It’s still unwritten in but it will always remind me of the past. Now Chinese New Year is nearing and I hope that I would not get lost in the memories of the past. I have to move on and stop living in time’s past.