Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Agony of British Massacre Victims' Descendants in Batang Kali, Malaysia

They want proper closure and compensation.

 The Batang Kali killings have been compared with the My Lai massacre, which prompted outrage over the U.S.military campaign in Vietnam

NOTHING can shatter one’s world as much as the brutal murder of a loved one. The tragic account of beheaded headman Lim Tian Swee is one that still remains fresh in the memory of son Lim Kok – even 64 years after the horrific massacre that took place on Dec 21, 1948, in Batang Kali, Selangor.



Lim Kok was about nine years old when he received news from other villagers that his father had been decapitated and his head thrown into the river.

“My father was working as headman of a rubber tapping estate – which was managed by a distant granduncle – who paid salaries to the workers and looked after their welfare,” says Lim, 73. “He was my family’s sole breadwinner. Life became tough for us all after father was gone. My mother had to seek the help of friends and relatives to raise the rest of us. I was sad, yet I was also too little to understand any fear that came from the implications of my father’s killing.”


Chong Koon Ying at her father’s grave.
 
After the murder, Lim, who is the eldest of he children, went to stay with the granduncle in Kuala Lumpur where he studied. His mother, however, stayed behind in Ulu Yam Baru to look after her other children. The granduncle helped subsidise Lim’s living expenses and studies and the boy would return on and off to Ulu Yam Baru to see his mother and siblings.

“Thanks to some funds and assistance from this granduncle too, we managed to provide my father with a proper burial according to Buddhist rites ... even if the head could not be traced.”

Lim returns to the burial ground every year to offer prayers to his father during Qing Ming (a festival during which people pay respect to their ancestors).

He is one of four descendants who left Malaysia for London to attend today’s judicial review test case to hear a proper investigation into the massacre by British soldiers of 24 unarmed villagers at Batang Kali in 1948.

Wong Then Loy was just a child when he helped his father collect the victims’ bodies for burial.

“My only wish is for the trial to grant us sufficient compensation and a proper apology for the misdeed that was unleashed against the 24 people.

“Coming back to Batang Kali is a grim reminder of the suffering and misery that we had to endure and the poverty that my siblings, especially, had to grow up with – after all these decades, we are hopeful that fairness and justice will prevail,” he said before leaving for London.

Ulu Yam Baru village headman cum the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre chairman Chin Fo Sang recalls listening to stories of how the villagers were rounded up and divided into five different groups before being executed. “After they were all killed, some of the bodies were left by the riverside and others placed in groups inside plantations.”

Chin, 64, was only about two months old when the episode unfolded back in December 1948. Many of the tales were related to him by his parents, relatives and villagers much later.

The clear gentle waters of the river into which Lim’s father’s severed head was thrown belie the horror swept away by torrents of time. The head, says Chin, was washed down to a Malay village where it was discovered by horrified local women. “They threw it back into the river and it was never seen again. This is why till today, Lim’s father is without a head,” says Chin.

That serene-looking river is where Lim Kok’s father’s head was thrown into.
 
Chin leads us back a short distance away where a single wooden house stands amidst thick foliage and shrubs mixed with a few banana trees. “This is the site where the first victim, Luo Wei-Nan, was executed. The story goes that the soldiers herded him here before shooting him in the back. The bullet penetrated through the body and left such a gaping puncture that his internal organs all spilled out,” Chin says softly, the horror still clear in his voice.

Chong Koon Ying was 11 when her father Chong Man was shot. “We heard a lot of gunshots – the booming noise they made – but we were not allowed to see what happened. I could see thick smoke billowing about right after, though.

“Later, a lorry whisked all the women and children away and we were not allowed to even go back to our houses to collect any of our clothes or belongings.

“We were left homeless overnight after our village was set ablaze. Some people who saw us seated aimlessly on the streets (in the nearby town they had been taken to) took pity on us and found us a decrepit house for shelter.

“Because there were so many families cramped into one small space, the children had to sleep on the floor while my mother slept seated on a stool.”

Choking with emotion, Chong says she was married off at 16 while her siblings had to be given away for adoption as her family had nothing to survive on.

“We had to be split up when food and everything else became scarce,” says Chong, now 73. “I tried finding my sister but to no avail. And when I found my brother, he was badly beaten up. I could never forget how my heartbroken mum died when she found out.”

Chong who is now living in KL, having shifted after her marriage, says her children and grandchildren have been told of this savage murder that tore families apart and left traumatised women and children incapacitated.

“What else can I ask for now except for cash compensation. My parents are gone; at the very least, monies should be paid for the hardships and our pain, although no amount can bring them back.”

There is an interesting story surrounding the last surviving witness to the massacre, Tham Yong, who died in 2010. Her fiance was one of the 24 shot dead while his brother was the victim who fainted and happened to survive the massacre. Tham Yong later married him and son Chong Nyok Keyu is now taking up the fight following her passing.

Another witness is Wong Then Loy who was just eight when he helped his dad to collect the corpses, a week after the massacre.

“The bodies had rotted, some had dried up; some even had huge maggots crawling out,” recalls Wong, 73. “As a kid, I wasn’t afraid of seeing the worms since I was used to following my father deep inside the jungle before we were chased out to stay in the new villages.

“Of course, I also didn’t know exactly what had happened except that they were dead bodies. My father related to me the stories later while I also gathered bits of excerpts from wives of the deceased and some neighbours.”

His father helped to engrave names on the tomb stones after the dead had been identified by their relatives. Some remained unidentified and unclaimed so they were buried together in one plot – Wong recalls some of these were young men, barely 20.

“The poorer families could not afford coffins so their loved ones were buried without any, while some others made the funerary box by nailing planks together,” he remembers.

The original victims are long gone, but the voices of these departed souls have certainly not been silenced. Their next-of-kin are determined to secure justice for this massacre that took place in the jungle a whole lifetime ago.

Representing them are four claimants at today’s judicial review application in London: Chong Nyok Keyu, Loh Ah Choi (nephew to the first victim to be shot, Luo Wei-Nan), Lim Kok, and Wooi Kum Thai.

By MARTIN VENGADESAN and LIM CHIA YING
star2@thestar.com.my

This article, together with a video documenting the Batang Kali massacre site and interviews with the descendants, can be downloaded from The Star Apps’ May 2 issue.

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