‘The living still remember what we did in WW2’, says veteran, 93
KUALA LUMPUR: Seventy-five years have passed since the end of the Malayan Campaign during World War 2, but James Jeremiah remembers the misery people had to endure as if it was yesterday.
The 93-year-old, who was only 18 during the campaign in 1941 when he joined E Company, the Malayan Volunteer Force, recounted how he barely made it out alive during the period. “When the Japanese (soldiers) landed and occupied Penang, everything changed. Laws were very rigid, there were suffering, food shortages and restricted movements. Bread, eggs and rice were like gold.
“Anyone caught with torchlights or radios; their items were confiscated and they had their heads chopped off. There are other things to add, but some memories, I do not wish to recall,” he said during a memorial service yesterday to mark the 75th anniversary, last year, of the Malayan Campaign.
As a member of E Company, Jeremiah was posted to the airport in Penang. He was there on guard duty when the Japanese first bombed the area.
“This was the first time in my life that I had heard and felt the shockwaves caused by bombs. They frightened the life out of me. The ground shook and I ran for my life.”
Later, Jeremiah was posted back to E Company headquarters in Penang, where its members helped to protect certain places and maintain order. As part of his duties, he had to carry the bodies of people killed during the bombings and load them onto a truck.
“I survived because I did everything they (the Japanese) told me to do. Those who went against them were sent to the Death Railway (Burma Railway). And one of them was my brother.”
As the only surviving veteran of the Malayan Campaign in Malaysia, Jeremiah was one of those invited by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to the ceremony yesterday at the Cheras Road War Cemetery.
“It is a terrible reminder for us all. More than 70 years have passed, I’m the last survivor, and I thought you had forgotten me. I had no credentials or medals as I was too young when I joined, but I did my duty.
“But, I was wrong. Today, we continue to remember the sacrifices made. You are keeping alive the memory of my comrades’ courage and their suffering, lest we forget.
“I am 93 years old, and soon I, too, will fade away. But I hope the recollections I have told will live forever.
“When I fade away, and when I meet my comrades, I will tell them that the living still remember us, and what we did together was not in vain.”
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Africa and Asia Pacific Area) director Richard Hills (left) aiding James Jeremiah (centre) to put a wreath on a World War 2 memorial at the Cheras Christian Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.