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Day 5 and 6

Friday and Saturday

Before Sankokoshi Estate, we journeyed to Batu Pahat as part of a convoy of cars driving slowly towards the south and vaguely towards Johor and Singapore. The tension and the fear of the rumored atrocities and cruelty served to heighten our confusion. We did not know where to go and which part of Malaya would be safe. As the convoy proceeded, different cars moved in different directions. Some moved towards Yong Peng, while others moved towards Pagoh and Segamat. Some went into remote villages, inland.

At this point, I must add that my father was not with us. He proceeded to Singapore by a “hired car”, as long distance taxis were known in those days, because he had been instructed to do so by his boss. No one expected the mighty British Army to be defeated by the Japanese. Everyone thought that this was an unfortunate period and that life would go back to normal under their British bosses and rulers. So instructions from the boss had to be dutifully followed. This was a traumatic period for my family because we lost all contact with my father. There was absolutely no means of communication. It was like he had disappeared into a dark hole. We didn’t even know if he was alive. We actually had no idea what happened to my father until about one month after the Japanese had successfully occupied Malaya, and the Straits Settlements which were Penang, Malacca and Singapore – the pride of the British Empire in these parts. What had happened to him is a story for another day. But we discovered that he was alive when he turned up at our doorstep a month or so later, completely distraught.

My mother, brothers and I went with my uncle and his family in two cars, one driven by my uncle and the other driven by his friend. We carried bottles of water and made do with buns and biscuits for food. Enroute to Batu Pahat, we crossed a small river by a ferry which transported us in our cars. As we began our journey across the river, much to our horror, we heard the drone of planes. Thankfully the river was a small one and we could cross it quickly. As soon as we got on land again the cars sped madly towards safety. My uncle had a friend in Batu Bahat, a Mr. Vaidhyanathan Iyer, who very kindly accommodated us. The most wonderful thing about those times was the magnanimity and fellowship. People were absolutely willing and ready to throw their homes open to accommodate those of us who were in need. It was indeed a lesson on what a silver lining on a cloud means. Long lasting friendships and relationships were ironically forged because we were all flung into the same troubled waters.

As soon as we reached Mr. Vaidhyanathan Iyer’s home, bombs rained again, sending us scurrying for shelter. The bombing only stopped after one large explosion which sounded so close to us that it felt like it was right inside the house. We crouched as low as we could clutching our heads and ears, our hearts pounding. We couldn’t believe that we were still alive when the blasts finally ceased. When silence followed, we stepped outside gingerly and peered out through the window. A few bodies were strewn on the street. We also saw a huge crater just about fifty yards away from the house. The last bomb had just missed us. Again, we were just plain lucky.

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