Thought this British Fort in Batu Muang had been around for 70 years, it was only re-discovered in the 1970's . Why? Simply because at one time, this entire region was shunned by the locals as it was 'cursed' and haunted by restless soldiers. It took a very brave man from Kedah to track through the thicket and discover this fort. Talk about a modern day Indiana Jones! But interestingly enough, he found out that the locals were not wrong. You see, the British fort was eventually captured by the Japanese and was used as a torture chamber. So, the locals might have been right about all those sightings...who knows?
Well, as an interesting point to round up this story, the same man went on to develop this place into a tourist site that you see today. Click on the link below to read his struggles and determination to give some recognition to this museum.
Do you know that the Japanese came to Penang on small boats and seized the island on December 17, 1941, without even losing a soldier? Sadly, all the British toops and expatriate families were evacuated and they left behind arms, boats, supplies and even a working radio station to the Japanese! To me, it seemed like a major slip-up because later the Japanese would eventually use the Penang station to broadcast their "Asia for Asians" progranda to the rest of Malaya and Singapore.
To build the fort in Batu Maung, Penang, British Royal Engineers and a local work force actually blasted a hill in Batu Maung and dug into it to create underground military tunnels, intelligence and logistic centres, halls, offices, ventilation shafts, canon firing bays, sleeping quarters, cook houses as well as a medical infirmary! I suppose a lot of intricate planning and money went into the construction as this place is a lot bigger than the fort found in Labrador Park, Singapore.
Despite the hasty withdrawal from Penang, and the fact that the British were told to fight to the last man by Churchill, the British eventually surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore in 1942. In the surrender conference that followed, the recorded conversation was as follows:
General Yamashita : There is no need for all this talk. It is a simple question and I want a simple answer: yes or no.
Perceival:The answer was 'yes'.
So with a simple yes, Malaya came under Japanese rule. Many historians still fault Perceival for surrendering to the Japanese as Churchill later recounted that the 100,000-strong British force surrendered to the 30,000 strong Japanese army.
But was Perceival was entirely to be blamed for the surrender? I may be the only sceptic over here for doubting Churchill. But on debating this with a couple of war buffs, I found it hard to believe that the Japanese would take such an enormous risk of daring to take on Malaya with just 30,000 men especially when they were under tremendous pressure for success - They needed to take over the rich resource of Malaya to fuel their campaign in China and had even incurred the wrath of the Americans by bombing Pearl Harbour. Even if the Japanese were dependent on a tactical victory, what were their chances of fighting against an army that was supposedly thrice their strength? Well, whatever alternative views there were on why Malaya was lost, one thing is clear- There is no glory in war and injustice!
It's interesting to know that Batu Maung Fort was built by the British to protect their own ships in Penang Harbour, but after Penang came under Japanese rule, it was used to protect Japanese ships instead. To me it seemed like an irony that the Japanese would use a British fort to protect their ships from Allied attacks in the Straits.
Photo Note: The vintage poster that you see probably depicted a war in the Pacific or on the other side of the Peninsula where the HMS Repulse and the Prince of Wales suffered heavy air attack. Ironically, those two British aircraft carriers were not protected by aircover and the sinking of these 2 ships illustrated the effectiveness of air attack. I don't think there was ever a major dogfight/aerial attack in Penang Harbour. So war buffs if I'm wrong, let me know!
Afternote: Glad to know this page attracted the attention of another war buff. My thanks to Genie47 for pointing out that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse were not aircraft
carriers. He mentioned that the Prince of Wales was a battleship and the Repulse was a cruiser and that they were sent to East Coast of Malaysia to investigate a possible Japanese amphibious landing.
Despite the promise the promise that the Japanese would bring about a fairer "Asia for Asians' rule, many horrifying events occured in Penang during the 3-year long Japanese occupation. From what I heard from my grandparents (I belong to a family of landowners in butterworth and penang) , beheadings (adults) took place in market squares, finger nails were pried from victims (children) for simple acts of theft and many able-bodied "intellectual-looking" men were massacred. The harsh militant policy enforced by the Japanese officers were probably a reflection of the rigid, highly regimented customs that they observed in their home country. Whatever it was , it definitely did not sit too well with my predecessors or other Penangites.
You can read other harrowing accounts of the war from the Penangites over here:
1)In the Shadow of Kek Lok Si
2)Chowrasta under the Japanese Occupation
The Japanese administration in Penang lasted from December 1941 to July 1945 and very remarkably, Georgetown went virtually unscathed despite Allied bombing attacks and her beautiful pre-war shophouses are still intact up till today..