What did your grandad do during the World War?

Sometimes hidden treasures can be right in front of you and you don't know it. Each of us has a history of unique personal experiences that makes us who we are.

Last Sunday, my wife and I visited her elderly uncle. It was our 15th Hari Raya visit there and other than fulfilling our duties, I guess we just went there to say hello, how are you and bye. We normally stay for about 15 minutes tops. My uncle and his wife were not much of a conversationalist and in most visits, it will be one question and one answer. I always ask him about his business (he runs a small business) and how many people that has come to his house and which of my wife's siblings had been there and which hasn't. Nothing much really.

This time when I got there, my better half said why not change where I usually sit. It struck me then that I have been sitting at the same sofa more or less in those 15 visits and the interesting bit was that the sofas too have not changed position! I decided to change my questions too and started by asking him how old he was. He was 80 turning 81. I realised that this elderly gentleman who have lived through World War II and plenty of changes throughout Brunei history would know a lot about Brunei. I asked a number of questions, being an amateur Brunei historian for quite sometime, some I already knew the answers and needed verification. Some information completely new.

We talked about the war and what he did. He was around 16 or 17 when the war started and he was drafted in as a policeman during the Japanese occupation. He was sent to Kuching to undergo Japanese education before being sent back to Miri when the Allied bombing of Kuching and Borneo started. He made his way back to Brunei and he was arrested by the Allied and kept for about 3 months in Kuala Belait to ensure that he was not one of the wanted ones. Everyone thought he was dead as in those days, Kuala Belait was like a different country. There was no road and don't even talk about telephones. He later joined the Forestry Department and worked until the early 1980s before retiring. We talked about what he did when he was in the Forestry Department. All in all, time just passes by before you know it. It was the first time I regreted having to leave him as we had a number of other relatives to visit. In the car, all I kept thinking was I could have asked all this 15 years ago and during each of those visits and I would have been able to compile a sizeable knowledge bank. I would have to wait till next time and you realised thata the phrase 'kalau umur panjang' became a reality there. It is a sobering thought.

You know, young people, and I was one too, of course, often head for the door when our elders start to talk about the past or "the good old days." Interestingly enough, I read somewhere, by sharing their memories, our seniors are able to preserve their identities, see their contribution to life, and experience positive feelings about themselves, which promotes mental and emotional well-being. By allowing them to express themselves, it actually help them. And on our side, there is this satisfaction in getting close to the person, enjoying their stories and learning from their experiences and wisdom. We should allow our older family members fulfill a natural and important role by relaying family history, ethnic heritage, and folklore, which promotes intergenerational understanding and sharing. These bonds add meaning to our lives.

We still have a couple of weeks left or a week at least of this Hari Raya. When you visit your elderly, ask them all the questions that you want answers to. It will help them and it will help you too. There may not be enough time if you were to wait longer.

So, what did your grandad do during the World War?

Comments

kediaku said…
I knew my grandfather was a fisherman.. cause i heard a story where he caught a japanese footsoldier stealing fish from his bubu. My father apprehended the footsoldier, and brought him to see his superior. My uncles thought my grandfather would be beheaded, but to their surprise, my grandfather came back, and told them the footsoldier was punished for his petty crime.

My other grandfather lost his first wife and children from first marriage.
listening granddaughter said…
My cousins and I have always made light of what my grandfather said he did during the Second World war but reading your post makes me think twice about my reaction to his stories the next time I see him. I think I too will ask him about what he did during the war.

We "youngsters" are always quick to be cynical and sarcastic about our elders' experiences but we all need to remember that they are not with us forever. And that their experiences have in some part made us the way we are now. Thank you Mr Brunei Resources for reminding us all what is truly important in this festive season!
amyheidi said…
My grandfather turned 90 this year, though the family expected him to be older, as his only remaining living sibling (his youngest) will be about 80 this year, and he is the second. The first, third, and fourth had left the two of them for quite a while now.

He told us that, during that time, all they ate was just tapioca and ambuyat. Also, he loves to tell us that the Japanese who came to Brunei are very very short in height.

Unfortunately, due to his old age, my grandfather suffered from memory loss, he doesn't remember any of his sons, and once he even mistook a portrait of himself as a portrait of his younger brother, and most of the time, some of his stories are a mix of a few events, according to my grandmother, who is 20-30 years younger than my grandfather.
nat said…
One of the most interesting part which my grandmother told me during the war was that she and her family had to hid up in the Canada Hills in Miri. As they were staying there before they moved to Brunei. And a few years back i had an opportunity to visit that hill, as we were assigned to visit and have a closer look at the first Oil Well in Miri. I can't imagine how difficult it was for them back then as i bet there were no roads going up the hill yet. With the thick jungle and steep hill they had to climb and make a living up there.
Considering now, its easily accessed, but passing by some of the houses up the hill at that time i don;t think there is much difference from the 60's. As they were still villagers living in such dire conditions.
Smurf said…
My late grandfather married my grandmother, who was a widow with 3 children. At first I was puzzled why my grandmother picked an Indian migrant instead of a local. Then I found out that when she was young, she was of fair skin and delicate features which attracted many men. Afraid that she would be a comfort woman by persuasion, she was forced to marry my grandfather who didn't have a single cent to his name. They gradually fell in love and had six children. Some now have well-paying jobs & have had some kind of education that my grandparents never had.
Nurul said…
didnt get to ask my grandpa.passed away like 14 years ago (yes,in syawal).
wudnt dare to ask gramma coz i don like to see the tears.whether grandpa was a soldier or not,a fisherman or not; Im sure he has done something for the country. And I believe he was 'someone' back then. miss u grandpa.
baz said…
My late grandfather (who managed to live to an age of 90 years till his passing away in 2004) was only a commoner at the time (but after he retired he was a Yang Berhormat for 5 yrs or so, chosen for his honesty). Anyway, he had to take his family including my father to safety into the jungle. There was no way to oppose the Japanese army during the time, coz, the japs murdered a lot of people and took all of the possessions such as gold, goats, chickens etc. To eat was very difficult and had to survive on "ubi kayu saja". Those times were hard, i guess, anyway, i m might ask my grandmother what really happen if i go to tutong this weekend :)
Anonymous said…
I am very lucky that my mother is still alive and in fact she still has a very good memory of her younger days! I think I remembered she always told us about the 'perang jepun' where our family had to survive on 'ubi kayu and ikan masin'. May be I'll make a point to talk to her more whenever I visit her... Thnk you Mr. BR for bringing up another interesting topic to ponder about..
Anonymous said…
Do you realise those elderly folks who still have good memory, good hearing and good eyesight are those who are normally active on quran reading?

I guess this is a good hint for all of us. Who wants to be 'nyanyuk' when growing older...
parishiltonbrunei said…
sadly, both my grandparents of both sides had passed away before i was born...
Anonymous said…
My granddad is from Tutong. He has told us stories of the ww2 days. It was told a long time ago so i couldn't recall if they were in much contact with the japanese since it was in the ulu2 are. But i do remember him telling us how they used to survive on pucuk ubi
Joe said…
My grandfather was a commando for the British Army. After receiving a distress call on the radio, he swam all the way to Brunei and succeeded in killing a few dozen Japs before releasing hundreds of pows.
Zebra said…
Granddad will be 90 soon give or take a year or two (u knw how it is, bukan nya ada surat beranak zaman bisdia, usually relies on the rings around the pokok pisang) & he seldom spoke of his time during the war. When asked he always gives the same reply, "why speak or ask of war when I find telling stories of ur parents mischievious childhood & the milestones brunei has achieved over the years far more fascinating..."

Grand-dad always said, his proudest moment was being brunei's 1st custom officers & the time he first laid eyes on each of his children..

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