MALAYSIA’S MONUMENTS AND MEMORIALS
BY HIRANMAYII AWLI MOHANAN
In conjunction with the country’s upcoming 65th Independence Day, we’ve rounded up a guide to some of the lesser known war memorials and monuments in Malaysia — a tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Georgetown Cenotaph, Penang
The Cenotaph, also known as the Penang War Memorial, was originally commissioned to commemorate the soldiers who were lost in The Battle of Penang on Oct 28, 1914 as part of WWI. During the battle, the German cruise ship Emden sank the Russian ship Zemschug and the French destroyer Mousquet. Since then, the cenotaph has come to symbolise the loss of lives for numerous conflicts, as inscribed on the stone structure: WWI (1914-1918), WWII (1939-1945), Siam-Burma Death Railway (1942-1945), Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), Indonesian Confrontation (1963-1966), and Re- Insurgency Period (1968-1990). The inscription also reads:
“Lest We Forget – Penang Veterans Association”
The memorial was constructed in 1948 as an almost exact replica of the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London, UK. It is located at the waterfront Esplanade in George Town, Penang, at the junction of Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah and Jalan Padang Kota Lama.
Kundasang War Memorial, Sabah
The Tugu Peringatan Perang Kundasang is a memorial dedicated to the 2,345 British and Australian soldiers who died in the Japanese PoW camp in Sandakan during the Sandakan Death Marches in Borneo. These forced marches are considered to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during WWII; of all the prisoners ever incarcerated, only six escaped and no others survived. The memorial is located in Kundasang, a small town 55 km from Kota Kinabalu. Since 2005, its maintenance and restoration have been funded and managed by a Thai retiree, Sevee Charuruks plus funding from the Australian government. Charuruks has been awarded an MBE by the British government for his work. The memorial is divided into four interconnecting continuous areas that are linked by a trail comprising the Australian Garden, English Rose Garden, Borneo Garden and Contemplation Garden. In the British Garden lies a plaque bearing this inscription:
“They Shall Grow Not Old, As We That Are Left Grow Old Age Shall Not Weary Them, Nor The Years Condemn At The Going Down Of The Sun And In The Morning We Will Remember Them.”
Sandakan Memorial Park, Sabah
The Taman Peringatan Sandakan is another memorial site built to honour the memory of those who perished during the Sandakan Death Marches, and is somewhat of a pilgrimage site for ancestors of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers. Those from the Australian and New Zealand embassies in Malaysia come here each year to celebrate ANZAC Day, which is observed on April 25, each year, as per the start of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. It was opened on March 18, 1999, in the former grounds of the former Sandakan prisoner of war camp, 1.5 km southwest of the present-day Sandakan Airport. On site is the Sandakan Memorial obelisk, which has the inscription:
“In Remembrance Of All Those Who Suffered and Died Here, On The Death Marches And At Ranau”
War Memorial, Ipoh
This cenotaph was unveiled in Ipoh’s Heritage Square on Remembrance Day 1927, nine years to the day after the First World War ended. It commemorates soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict between 1914 and 1918 and later became a monument also to those lost during WWI and the Malayan Emergency. It is also dedicated to the soldiers of the Indonesia- Malaysia Confrontation, from 1963–66 that arose from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia (the amalgamation of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak), and the victims of the infamous Thailand-Burma Death Railway, one section of which inspired the book and film, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, which was built between 1943 and 1945.
Surrender Point, Labuan
This site is where Japanese Lieutenant General Masao Baba handed over his sword to Australia’s Major General George Wootten in 1945, to officially surrender Labuan, denoting the end of WWII in Borneo. On June 10, 1945 Australian soldiers attacked Labuan Island to secure local resources and eliminate all local resistance. By September, the Commander of the Japanese 7th Army and Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Borneo, was flying to the surrender ceremony in a Tachikawa K154C (HICKORY) aircraft, which is still on display at the RAAF Museum in Melbourne, Australia. Also on-site is the Peace Park, built by the Japanese to atone for the actions of their ancestors and commemorate the lives of everyone affected by their atrocities during the war. This site is also where the first trials, against criminals guilty of the first war crimes were ever conducted in Southeast Asia.
Air Itam War Memorial Park, Penang
The Air Itam War Memorial Park includes the World Peace Memorial and Penang Chinese Relief Memorial, which depicts the Penangite transportation workers who volunteered to help build the road between Burma and China after the Japanese blockaded Chinese seaports during WWII. The new park encompasses the existing site of the Overseas Chinese Anti-War Memorial, dedicated to the victims of the Sook Ching massacre, which took place from Feb 18 to March 4, 1942. The Kempeitai Japanese secret police force systematically eliminated any Singaporeans and Malaysians perceived to be a threat. The exact number of casualties is not known but Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, once claimed that the verifiable number of victims was about 70,000. The new park was inaugurated at 11 am on Nov 11, 2011, the 60th anniversary of the original memorial. It is located 10 km west of George Town.