Once upon a time, in the backwater port nation rich with Oil called Brunei, the Japanese Imperial forces attacked.
Part ambition, part imperialist rule, Japan sought to expand its dominion over the South-east region. And Borneo, and thus Brunei, stood as a strategic battleground to achieve that goal. The reason? Oil. It is the key strategic resource needed to oil the machineries of war. A resource founded not too long after the writer’s granddad was born in the 1920s.
There is no doubt, as documents and plans now lay open for investigation, Japanese spies have visited and collected information in the country long before the invasion happened. Now recognising its riches, they plan to acquire it. Realising beforehand of the possible invasion, the British forces advised the then Sultan Tajuddin to set up a local defence force, which the Sultan did with Brunei Volunteer Force and Special Police Force. The two organisation enlisted 200 Bruneian members.
On December 1941, eight days after their attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese Imperial forces invaded Brunei. And by the time of the invasion the Brunei defence force was disbanded. Without opposition, the Japanese brought Brunei into a new era full of subjugation and servitude. People were forced to learn their language, forced to sing their national anthem, and forced to use the banana currency. It seems the word “Force” is the mainstay for shaping the socio-politic and economic fabric of the state.
Coupled with violent happenings and economic milking(the oil), the currency and income went on a nosedive taking the whole economy with it. With a broken economy, Medicare and societal matters were neglected paving wave after wave of disease and famine that eventually broke down the people’s spirits. It inflicted untold trauma to the people that by asking one’s grandparents about the Japanese Imperial invasion and seeing their knee jerk reaction just would tell you that those were not exactly the happiest times in their lives.
When the writer asked his typically stoic grandparents about it, they reacted in fear. His granddad told how bombs were exploding across the streets and jungles, and how a walk in the park today was a matter of life and death then. His grandmother told him how those who refused to obey their rule were punished. Those who escaped were thrown into prison. Those who defied got flogged. It was pure, cold-blooded subjection. And this went on for THREE gruesome years.
In January 1945, it all changed. With allied forces winning the Battle of Berlin and Hitler incarcerated in (hell)fire, it signalled a monumental shift in the war. After Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, the Japanese Imperial Force was next. And they knew it. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and the other allied forces quickly issued a new operation against the Japanese to not only drive them out from the South-east Asian region but to nullify the empire, knowing for certain that a failure to do so may cost more lives and more war in the region.
Thus in 1945, the Borneo campaign began. Bombs flew from the skies striking different strategic points of the Japanese bases in Brunei. Terror filled the hearts of many. It is at this time when the writer’s granddad actually experienced the bombing incidents.
Not long after that the 23rd Australian Battalion, among many other infantry regiments, were dispatched to take control over strategic key points in Borneo. On 10th June 1945, they landed in Labuan and Brunei Bay swiftly overcoming light opposition that killed 40 men.
By August the fighting came to an end. The division’s total casualties in this operation were 114 killed and 221 wounded, while the Japanese lost at least 1,234 personnel with 130 men captured. The allied won. The people was now free from Imperial rule.
But the trauma stayed.
Now let’s learn some of the lessons from this story.
First, without adequate protection, Brunei, as any nations out there is fragile to external threats. The “Special” defence force formed of those 200 men that disbanded their post should not be looked down upon because they were only volunteers and not trained for these sort of incidents. With the enemy numbering 10,000 people and possessing great weapons, artilleries, what chances do those 200 men really have? Thus the early conscription that the writer recommends here.
Secondly, it is about recognising the untold moments our grandparents faced during those trying times. Ask any of them today with deeply empathic hearts and see their knee jerk reaction, and you’ll get a basic idea what they experienced in the past. It is extremely sad why these histories are never codified. Even there are so, they are left to general academic abstractions that seem to numerize people making them into permanent soulless pigments in history books. Heck, they faced THREE years of this trauma.
Thirdly, is to recognise our allies who fought against the Axis powers. Without the allied bombers or the regiments, the Bruneian people could have been butchered like those in Ra*e of Nanking or suffered like those prisoner of war at River Kwai. It takes courage to take on the enemy, and it goes on to say that those who fought against the war deserve our appreciation. SOAS knew about this that is the reason why he erected the now scrap metal Winston Churchill statue originally located in Bandar. Not saying we need to build a new statue but we do need to build on our history books. Paper is more cheaper than metal!
The above historical incident happened in the past and it does not reflect the current situation today. Much has happened since then. Much like the elimination of Nazis from Germany, so is the Imperial forces (under people like Emperor Hirohito) is to Japan. The people is not to be blamed by this, only psychopathic leaders who drove their people into chaos and disaster.
This story is also a paid homage given to the writer’s ancestor who risked his life fighting against the Japanese Imperial forces in WW2. Born British/Scottish as told by the writers’ late grandmother, he was one of the pilots who transported the allied forces into Borneo and may possibly undertook the bombing operation to drive the Japanese Imperial forces out before finally settling in Brunei. His identity is still unknown however, thus the importance of history to the writer.
Anyone who has any sources of those who fought in WW2 in Brunei please do tell!