Discovering the forgotten eight
Published on: Sunday, January 21, 2018

SACRIFICE is sometimes lauded as the idea of being willing to suffer a supreme loss for somebody else or something better. It has even been conceded that a few must die in war for the sake of many, which edges on accepting the necessity of war and killing. War time British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, immortalised that idea when he said, "Never in the history of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", during the Battle of Britain.

But what if you were beheaded for resisting forced foreign occupation so that many millions of present Sabahans can keep their heads? A most gruesome, most shocking way to sacrifice! Any takers?

Extreme elimination

But this is the untold story of six such victims of extreme elimination during World War 2 – Lothar Wong Manjaji, Vitalinus Joseph Lim @ Ubing and four other close friends – Chong Pin Sin, Simon Thien, Bung Ah Tee alias Stephen Pan Tet Liong and Paul Lee Fook Onn, whose names had somehow been left out of the plaque of the Petagas War Memorial meant to remember the raft of local martyrs who lost their lives as a result of the Double Tenth uprising in 1943, led by Albert Kwok.

Irked by the omission, descendants of a few of these men, especially Queensland-based prime mover Josephine Manjaji, mounted a campaign to accord due recognition, with the help of Aussie author of "Blood Brothers", Lynette Silver to seek the help of the Mayor of Kota Kinabalu, Datuk Yeo Boon Hai.

So, come Sunday 21 January, at the Petagas War Memorial ceremony, they will see the unveiling of a new plaque erected with the names of these six beheaded victims added to the list, together with two others who were simply shot dead – Lim Hock Beng and Mohinder Singh.

But why were they given the miss, even though they died the most gruesome death by beheading?

The answer is that records of their killings were kept in hidden, obscure documents in distant UK.

The game changer – UK archives

"The fate of these eight only came to light with the discovery that war crimes documents relating to their executions are stored in the UK National Archives in Kew, London," said Lynette.

"Although I know that files relating to torture and killings of prisoners-of-war, internees and local people throughout the Japanese occupied territories exist, and have used many of them when compiling my books, most people are unaware that a wealth of material is available, if one knows where to look," noted Lynette.

"Consequently, it wasn't until the UK files were examined by the families, 70 years after the event, that the shocking story of these eight emerged," she added.

Josephine Manjaji confirmed it wasn't until members of the eight families started looking to the UK that they managed to dig out the facts which convinced Yeo to act on the omission, for which they expressed gratitude.

The game changer was "gaining access to the information held at The National Archives (Kew, London) 70 years after the war crimes trials in Changi, Singapore, had ended," Josephine noted.

First heads to roll – Penampang duo

Reading the trial documents, she discovered that during Stage 3 of the Japanese Army's Defence Corps Battle Plan (of May 1945), Kempeitai Captain Harada Kensei issued three "Denjo" (eradication) orders of "8 civilians" identified as "detrimental elements" black listed for "subversive" anti-Japanese activities.

So between June 12 and early July 1945, the Kempeitai started to arrest these eight, aged between 19 (Singh) and 49.

First, the Nishilima-Tai Unit headed for Penampang for two persons considered influential among the communities in the district – Lothar Wong Manjaji and Vitalianus Joseph Lim @ Ubing, and arrested them for "actively instructing the local people to attack the Japanese communication from the rear in the event of Allied landing," according to Josephine.

They were also "suspected of making parangs and spears in preparation for an uprising and also of engaging in activities to prevent the Japanese for hiring collies," Jospehine added.

"Subversion is a capital crime under Japanese occupation, and the accused did not stand a chance," noted Lynette.

And this is exactly when happened – not only death but a terrible death.

Citing an unnamed and unquoted eyewitness, Josephine claims in her release to Daily Express which describes the graphic torture prior to the head chopping:

"An eyewitness reported how the veins of the men's arms were slashed before they were beheaded between 8pm and 10pm on June 13, 1945. Their bodies have never been found." In a war crime trial conducted by the Allied Land Forces Military Court for War Crimes, held in Changi, Singapore, Kempeitai Captain Harada Kensei was charged on three counts – torture, killing without trial or due process of law in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

The next four beheadings

Similarly, three very influential but credulous friends among whom include a "village chief" – Chong Pin Sin, Simon Thien and Bung Ah Tee alias Stephen Pan Tet Liong had their heads chopped.

This time by faith in a fatal trick.

According to Josephine who cited family reports, the trio were invited by the Japanese military for a bogus end-of-war celebratory truce between former enemies.

After being a free flow of alcohol which got them boozed up, the trio were beheaded in the evening of June 12, 1945, by Sergeant Mukai Heihachi!

"Much later, their headless skeletons were recovered, identified by recognisable possessions and then buried in a common grave in Tuaran.

"The fourth friend, Paul Lee Onn @ Paul Lee Fook Onn, rated influential and known to the Japanese as ' Chief of the Agricultural Association of the District', was beheaded on June 16, 1945, by Warrant Officer Yoshino Iku but his body has never been found.

Though beheaded on two separate occasions, all the four men were accused of "not supplying the Japanese Army with foodstuffs", planning to "attack the Japanese from their rear in the event of an Allied landing" and being "in contact with the bandits of Kinarut and to attack the Japanese Units one after another from Ranaua to Tamparuli."

Victims 7 & 8

Victims 7 and 8 were Lim Hock Beng, a wireless operator at Jesselton Post Office, and Mohinder Singh a/l Hanam Singh Kalsi, a nurse at the Jesselton Government Hospital.

For Lim, knowing too much about the progress of the war proved to be his undoing. Using his wireless sets for intelligence purposes unfavourable to the Japanese Army, Lim was marked out as "Chief of the Rebellion" because he used his knowledge to stir rebellion among native residents. Young Singh paid the supreme price because he used his binoculars to check on enemy (or Allied?) planes to help Lim.

For taking part in these subversive activities, both were shot three times by Sergeant Major Uchiyama Chokichi.

"The killings were evidently carried out in early July, 1945.

An eyewitness reported that the bodies were dumped unceremoniously in a shallow trench.

Both bodies were later exhumed, identified by their personal possessions and were taken away by their families.

Singh was brought to the Sikh temple in Tanjung Aru for cremation in accordance to Sikh rites.

Questions of justice on the Geneva Convention

Josephine Manjaji opined:

"The unlawful killing of the eight contrary to the Geneva War Convention (1929)."

"Article 61 states that ' no prisoner of war shall be sentenced without being given the opportunity to defend himself' while Article 62 states that "the prisoner of war shall have the right to be assisted by an advocate of his own choice".

Meanwhile, the Hague Convention (1907) Rule 30 states that "a spy taken in the act cannot be punished without a previous trial."

On hindsight, Josephine argues that that Captain Harada should not have used the word "execution" because he and Colonel Machiguchi had admitted that they had not given the eight civilians any opportunity to defend themselves in a trial, nor ensured they were honourably buried in indicated graves that are suitably maintained in accordance with the Geneva War Convention (1929).

Until now, Josephine labels what she calls the 'flagrant' breach of international conventions as a "miscarriage of justice".

'I am simply carrying out orders': Harada

In defence, Captain Harada Kensei said that he had to obey the "execution" orders from his superiors Lieutenant-General Baba Masaro and Colonel Machiguchi Taka, and in accordance to the Stage 3 of the Battle Plans Operations API Kempeiati where " peace and order had to be maintained by eradicating blacklisted detrimental elements who were found in the district.

So, Captain Harada was given a chance to defend himself in a trial.

In common with many other war crime trials, Captain Harada's defence was he was simply carrying out orders issued by his superiors implicitly to absorb personal guilt.

But after a three-day trial held on July 8, 9 and 11, 1946, the military court in Singapore still found him guilty and Harada was hanged in Chiangi Prison two months later.

According to Lynette, the Japanese did not recognise the Geneva Convention as it had not been ratified by their Government, but they were bound by the Hague Convention of 1907, which did not sanction any punishments without trial.

Finally – their deserved recognition

In tandem with the erection of the new memorial plaque dedicated to these eight martyrs, Josephine says the descendants have prepared a War Victim Impact Statement which contains recurring tales of grief-stricken parents, wives, children, financial hardships, emotional pains and post-traumatic stress disorders.

But they wonder how come these families were never advised about the outcomes of these war crime trials.

There has been no compensation of any kind. The British Government did award a scroll to the family of Paul Lee Fook Onn for his role as a Sergeant in the North Borneo Volunteer Force but not to the other seven.

Apology statements from Japan for war crimes had gone to Korea, China, UK, US, Australian, Asian countries but British North Borneo had been given the miss , Josephine noted.

But the 10-monnth journey to get the plaque installed got one thing done – old friends amongst the eight families reconnected to share stories about the past and present. Josephine said: "They have waited 70 years for their beloved brave men to be officially acknowledged and recognised for their courageous acts."

"The families are grateful to the Mayor of Kota Kinabalu City Datuk Yeo Boon Hai for giving the eight men their well-deserved recognition and respect on a plaque at the hallowed grounds of the Petagas War memorial Park," she concluded. - Kan Yaw Chong


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