Japanese treatment of Chinese angered Kwok
Published on: Sunday, May 08, 2022
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Kwok’s comrades: Some were executed at Petagas. (L-R) (Top Row): Kong Sze Phui, Lim Keng Fatt, Imam Marajukim, Charles Peter. (L-R) (2nd Row): Jules Stephens, Li Tet Phui and Subedar Dewa Singh.
Albert Kwok, a young Chinese, had come to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) in 1940. He was a Sarawak man, born in Kuching, where his father was a dentist. He was trained in the arts of Chinese healing and had been a very successful Chinese doctor in Nanking, Hankow and Canton. 

He returned to Borneo in 1940 and made his home with his sister and her husband in Jesselton. Here he carried on his work as a Chinese doctor until his stock of medicines ran out. Kwok was a busy man, full of energy. He always tried to look on the bright side of things and hoped for the best. 

He had seen something of the Japanese in China and hated them for their cruelty to his people. Right from the start he made up his mind to oppose the invaders. Kwok heard that in Dutch Borneo (Kalimantan) there was a party of Dutch, British and Americans still holding out in a place called Long Nawan. In February 1942 he tried to make his way there through Pensiangan but found when he got to the Sabah border it was firmly held by Japanese. 

He could go no further because the rivers were carefully controlled. He therefore returned to Jesselton. It was well he did so because in August of that year the Japanese suddenly fell upon the settlement at Long Nawan and killed everyone they – found — men, women and children. 

Not long after Kwok’s return from Pensiangan the Japanese sent out an order; It was dated June 13th, 1942 and said, amongst other things, ‘Let not the Chinese forget that the power of seizing them and putting them to death rests with one decision of the Japanese High Command.’ By ‘High Command’ they meant the command in Borneo, not in Tokyo.

Albert Kwok

This showed Kwok that he must really do some-thing in Borneo to oppose the Japanese. In this, the Second World War, men who fought against invaders either openly or secretly, were called resistance fighters. Kwok found out that there was a resistance movement in the Philippines. 

Through a business man in Jesselton called pm Keng Fatt, he got to know a Filipino named Imam Marajukim who was in touch with Suarez, the Philippines resistance leader. 

The Imam was a Muslim priest but he was also a trader and a very fine sailor. Suarez had sent him to Borneo to find out what was happening there. As a trader in sugar Marajukim came to Lim Keng Fatt’s shop where he met Kwok.  

Early in 1943 Kwok and the Imam went to Sulu to visit Suarez. The guerilla leader was not too happy about Kwok at first but soon came to trust him. Guerillas are fighters not belonging to any regular army (though the officers are sometimes regular soldiers) who carry on small wars against an invading enemy. 

The most famous guerillas were the bands who opposed the French in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. Kwok learned a great deal about guerilla fighting during his stay in Sulu and when he returned to Jesselton in May 1943 he was determined to form his own guerilla band. 

He first made contact with the Overseas Chinese Defence Association in Jesselton and collected eleven thousand dollars and medical supplies to help the Sulu resistance forces. He also enrolled about two hundred men to fight. In June 1943 he paid another visit to the Philippines with Imam Marajukim, taking his cash and his medicines with him.  He was then given an appointment as a Lieutenant in the American army by Suarez and sent back to Borneo. He reached Jesselton on September 21st 1943 and started to organize a group of resistance fighters as well as to help collect money for the Overseas Chinese Defence Association. 

Kwok could count on help from the Chinese for his secret army. The islanders were also keen to join and so were many of the Volunteers who had been disbanded. The farmers and the Muruts of the forest were not ready to revolt. Though they hated the Japanese, they hated still more the risk of losing their homes and having their families ill-treated. To this there were two exceptions. Musah, the leader who had fought against the Company, and was now living in retirement at Membakut, agreed to form a guerilla band. He did not get a chance to fight, but was nevertheless put into prison by the Japanese. The other was a Murut, former Chief Inspector Duallis, who kept up resistance to the Japanese right to the very end, killing many of them in daring raids. 

Kwok called his small band the ‘Kinabalu Guerilla Defence Force and made his headquarters at Menggatal. He encouraged. leaders to form groups at Inanam, Tuaran, Kota Belud and Talibong. He also planned to form others in places south of Jesselton to link up, with Musah at Membakut. 

Hiew Syn Yong, an Assistant District Officer, commanded at Kota Belud; Mr Charles Peter, formerly officer-in-charge of the police district at Jesselton was at Tuaran, with fkubedar Dewa Singh; another ex-policeman, Kong Sze Fui, was at Menggatal; and Mr Jules Stephens as ‘Adjutant’ was the organizing chief. Stephens had been a Sergeant in the Volunteers. The chief of the islanders was Penglima Ali, Orang Tua of Sulu Island off Jesselton, with Arshad of Oudar (off the mouth of the Menggatal River), fismalul of Mantanani and Sarrudin of Danawan. 

The Kinabalu Guerillas kept in touch with Suarez in the Philippines through Lim Keng Fatt. Lim owned a boat and was a good seaman. He was made, a Captain in the American army by Suarez. Lim also was in contact with Major F.G.L. Chester, a British officer, serving with the Australian army, who made frequent visits to the east coast of Sabah. 

Chester had been a rubber planter on the west coast of Sabah and knew the country well. Through Lim he warned Mr Peter not to start anything with the Japanese until the Allies were ready to help. He made it quite clear that at present no help could be given. 

Lieutenant Kwok made rapid progress with his scheme for resistance against the Japanese and was working on expansion plans when suddenly everything was changed. He learned that the Japanese were going to take three thousand young Chinese men and force them into the army. 

These forced recruits (conscripts) were to form garrisons at places in the interior and on the islands and so would free Japanese troops for other duties. This was a blow to Chinese pride and also a serious threat to Kwok’s plans for a resistance army. 

All the men he counted on to help would be taken away and Japanese troops would be free to hit back at the guerillas in any part of Sabah. This was not the only blow. Kwok learned that the Japanese intended to sieze a number of Chinese girls and force them into the service of the army. They were also going to call up all the former Volunteers for military duty. 

To take the girls would bring great shame on hundreds of Chinese homes. To take the Volunteers away would mean the end of the guerilla bands. Kwok made up his mind to strike.  Against him were the regular Japanese Army, the Japanese Military Police (the Kempeitai) and the local police under Japanese control. 

There was also a force of irregulars — the Jikidan, who were set in villages to watch their fellow men and. report their movements. There were few regular troops stationed in Jesselton or in any of the coastal towns. They were in garrisons in the interior, mainly at Ranau and Pensiangan. 

In Jesselton there were three places where the police were stationed, the police station in South Road, the Jesselton Sports Club, which was the headquarters of the Military Police, and the former Armed Constabulary depot at Victoria Barracks, Batu Tiga. 

There were also police garrisons at Tuaran and MAnggatal. Another well guarded place was the Customs area of wharf buildings and godowns in Jesselton. 


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December 20, 2014