June 25, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

LUXURIATING in his favourite place, Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump decides to make a long-distance phone call. He knows it will be a historic moment, hence the gawkers in his playground watching the President do his thing.

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Trump: Hiyah Kim, old buddy, how’s the famine coming along? I mean, family.

Kim: Bzzzccckrracccc

Trump: I can’t hear you. The Chinese… they’re wiretapping you huh? Well, the Russians are listening in to mine. Plus the CIA, NSA, FBI and a whole lot of fellas.

Kim: Brzzzcckkk… hell…. oh… brrccsssk

Trump: I’m just calling to tell you that Carl Vinson is going to your part of town. The boat, not the congressman. Michigan as well. The boat, not the state. Just me trying to tell you not to play with your nukes…Okay, buddy?

Kim: Brrrzzzccckk… reta… ccckkk… ate… brrrcsssk live… brrcsk miss…

Trump: You ate what? Missed me? Aw shucks. I’ll come over if you like, but you seriously have got to calm down. You’re making Seoul so nervous. The Japs are jumpy too. We’re all coming to get you.

Kim: Brrzzzccck….Beijing…bbrrzzz military..brrrzzzccckkkkk

Trump: Your buddy Beijing? Hey, they’re just making noises. They don’t even want your coal. And they’ve already said they don’t mind a surgical strike. So I’m thinking of doing a Syria on you.

Kim: Brrzzccchhh…doing sixth missile test. You don’t frighten me, Mr Trump. Pyongyang will not succumb to threats by the hegemonic United States.

Trump: You must be using an iPhone… I can hear you perfectly well. Made-in-America? Anyway, I don’t mean to frighten you. I’m not a frightening person. I just sack people, evict them, defame them, insult them and put up walls to keep them outside. I don’t kill people. You, on the other hand…

Kim: It is the prerogative of a sovereign nation to protect itself against outside threats. Our nuclear missiles are not offensive weapons even though they have weird names. They are also meant for decorative purposes at military parades, of which I have many.

Trump: Hmm… I hear you’re even aiming them at Darwin in Australia. What have you got against kangaroos and sheep?

Kim: Who is a sheep? I am Kim Jong Un, all-powerful leader of the hermit kingdom. I am prepared for all-out war. My people are hungry but my military is strong. We have good missiles which sizzle even when they fizzle. We are now putting up a live-firing display to welcome your boats.

Trump: If you’ve got missiles…why are you detaining US citizens? That’s not playing fair. You’re not going to poison them like you did with your half-brother at the KL airport right?

Kim: They are alive. I need hostages who can act as my shield. Also, I would like some US currency and an iPhone or two.

Trump: You wanna do a deal? I can throw in a free trip to Disneyland for you and you can stay at one of my hotels. Okay?

Kim: Tha….BOOMMMMZZZZ…KAPOW

Trump: Kim? Is that one of my guys hitting a bullseye?

Kim: No. One of my guys. Misfired.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Clock showing 0830

THE Terrexes are back! All nine vehicles arrived in Singapore at 2:40pm on Monday after APL shipped them directly back to Singapore. It’s a tad late for a Lunar New Year reunion, but better late than never. The infantry carriers were moved to a military camp for administration and checks.

That seems to bring the two-month long Terrex incident to a close for now, although the threat of criminal prosecution still exists for shipper APL.

Changi Airport has also been a bright spot in a tough year – the airport clocked a new record of 58.7 million passengers in 2016, 5.9 per cent higher than in 2015. Chinese visitors accounted for the bulk of the growth.

US President Donald Trump isn’t wasting time between executive orders. While chaos still rules at airports after last week’s immigration ban, he’s got another executive order – this one about putting caps on federal regulations with the aim of reducing the cost of compliance to businesses.

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In a bid to streamline regulations, Mr Trump has ruled that for every new regulation introduced by agencies, two old ones must be cut. A cap has also been placed on the cost of any new regulation: $0 for fiscal year 2017. Is that a recipe for more chaos, or a more efficient system?

In another case of policy getting derailed, The Philippines police’s war on drugs is on hold to pursue a war on dirty cops. The high-profile murder-kidnapping of South Korean Jee Ick Joo by corrupt narcotics officers was a chilling counterpoint to President Duterte’s support of “extrajudicial killings”.

Mr Duterte ordered all national- and precinct-level anti-narcotics groups to be disbanded, and said that 40 per cent of the force could be corrupt. Mr Duterte said, however, that his war on drugs will continue until his term ends in 2022, instead of the extended nine-month deadline he had previously asked for.

But what are the chances that a bunch of uniformed criminals will be able to curb a bunch of non-uniformed ones?

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

IT WAS the morning of June 4, 1944, when my father received an unexpected visit from the Kempeitai.

By then, he had been a dresser at Woodbridge Hospital for more than a year looking after high-profile prisoners-of-war (POWs) in Ward 26. The British POWs had told him that his father and brother were now guests of the Kempeitai in its Oxley Rise headquarters and were being tortured for being spies.

They warned him that he might be the next person to be rounded up in the Henson incident, which had snared at least 10 other family friends and acquaintances.

Two plainclothes military policemen asked to see him that morning.

They asked him his name and whether he was related to the father-and-son duo Sidney and Joseph Henson, who had been captured as spies.

Except the policemen got the spelling of their surname wrong, and said they were looking for a “Hensen”.

My father denied the relationship and said his name was “Henson”.

The tangled conversation went on for a bit and he somehow managed to convince the policemen that they had the wrong man.

They turned their attention to the MP in charge of the ward and asked about my father’s work attitude.

My father had formed a good relationship with the MP by that time. The MP would take the afternoons off to visit his girlfriend in a nearby kampung and my father would cover for him. The MP trusted him. He gave my father the keys to the ward while he was gone.

So he told the policemen that my father had the “bushido” spirit – a code of honour practised by the Japanese soldiers or samurai in feudal times. He also told them that he loathed the prisoners.

This wasn’t true. The POWs knew by then that my father was putting up an act. He had procured mattresses, blankets and pyjamas for them as well as better food.

My father said sayonara to the officers as they left. One of them snapped back in Japanese: “This is no sayonara. We’re coming back.”

“This is no sayonara. We’re coming back.”

According to his journal, after the visit, he had a “bad feeling” all through the week. 

He was estranged from the family, and had started “paddling my own canoe” since he turned 17. He was now married with a wife and two children and staying at the hospital quarters nearby.

He had heard bits and pieces about what happened and was afraid that an ex-colleague from the police force, a Eurasian, would turn him in. He had his suspicions too about a Hungarian national, Josef Kutron, a Japanese agent whom he described as a “beachcomber”.

Both men hung out at Cafe Vien, a restaurant in Jalan Besar that his father, Sidney, owned. It was Kutron who fingered the family. He also joined in the torture of his brother, Joseph Henson. After they were arrested, the Japanese gave the restaurant to him.

British POWs sequestered in Ward 26 had told him of the torture his father and brother went through, with beatings and cigarette burns all over their faces.

He wondered about his other family members, a brother and two sisters. He did not know that they too had received visits from the Kempeitai who turned over their homes looking for the elusive wire transmitter.

He knew that a few workers in the restaurant had been rounded and two family friends were actually in the hospital, kept in their own cells. They were too far gone for help and died later.

Even before the Kempeitai’s visit that morning, my father had been living in fear and trying to keep his wits about him. He wanted to “keep my head” by doing what the Japanese wanted, while looking out for the POWs who had entered the ward in a “terrible state”.

Their bloated stomaches convinced him that they had gone through the infamous water torture. They were “purging, purging, purging”. It wasn’t just water, but blood and mucus.

They were “purging, purging, purging”. It wasn’t just water, but blood and mucus.

A week after the visit, the MP in charge of the ward returned to his post after his usual afternoon rendezvous with his girlfriend.

He told my father he was being transferred to Indonesia and then dropped the bombshell: the Kempeitai would be arresting my father the next morning.

He advised my father to run away that night and gave him $1,000 in Japanese currency, or banana notes as it was known then. That would be twice what my father made in a month.

Without bidding the POW patients goodbye, my father went home and got his wife to start gathering up their things.

“Just clothes. Leave everything behind,” he said. Then he went to find an Indian friend who lived in a nearby kampung and who ran a charcoal taxi. He asked the man if his taxi was available at 10pm.

The man asked in Tamil: “Why? They going to catch you?”

My father said yes and the man added: “Okay, 10 o’clock. I wait for you outside at the main road.”

When the time came, with just bags of clothing, the family got into the taxi and headed for Telok Blangah, where another friend of my father lived.

He wrote in his journal: “I gave the driver $200 but he refused to take my money. He was a Catholic and he said “go with the Lord’.” That $200 was from the Japanese MP’s largesse.

His Chinese friend, who lived on the top floor of a three-storey block near Jardine Steps, was an interpreter for the Japanese on Belakang Mati island, known then as Shika Jima.

Chua Kay Soon was astonished to find the family at his door. Still he invited them in.

“I explained to him my situation. I told him if he was afraid to give me shelter, at least let my wife and children stay,” my father wrote, but his friend replied: “What nonsense!”

The family was put up in one room. My father recalled his heart “popping”. What if the Japanese raided the house that night?

Chua had promised to get my father a job in a civilian hospital on the island the next day – and he was as good as his word.

The following day, the family took a boat to the island where my father was interviewed by a Japanese major.

“He asked me if I spoke and understood Japanese, I said yes. He said he would give me the job but I would have to live on the island. My salary would be $500 a month with living quarters and rations. He told me I would have to start tomorrow.”

That was the beginning of the next stage of my father’s life.

 

Read more about Bertha’s journey into the past and other prisoners of war here:

My father’s war story, Part 1: Ward 26

My grandfather’s war story

Singapore, the former hub of war crimes courts?

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Bertha Henson

MY FATHER had to escape from the mainland and hide on Sentosa island during the Japanese Occupation.

Of course, the Sentosa then was not the Sentosa now with hotels and theme parks. It was known as Pulau Belakang Mati, which means Death from Behind in Malay. For my late father, however, the island inhabited by fishermen and their families was a safe haven. It was where he could escape the Japanese Kempeitai who was hunting for those related to two other Hensons who had been arrested as spies. They were his father and brother.

My father, who died in 1989, had spoken of his days in the Japanese Occupation running away from the Japanese military police and helping British Prisoner Of Wars (POWs). He kept a journal of those war days and recorded his experience for the National Archives.

I listened to the tapes last week. I knew my father was a brave man. His row of police medals kept in a display cabinet in my mother’s house testified to that.

But just how brave, I didn’t know.

I knew my father was a brave man. But just how brave, I didn’t know.

He was an orderly at Woodbridge Hospital when the war broke out. He used to be in the police force and had made the mistake of standing as a guarantor for a friend who owed someone $100. That friend later ran away. The blot on my father’s record meant dismissal from the force. That was how he became a dresser for mental patients, cleaning wounds and bandaging injuries plus other sundry duties.

When Singapore fell in February 1942, the Japanese cleared the Europeans out of hospital, renamed Miyako, and left the locals to tend to the patients. I have always thought that, that was a lucky thing. That they didn’t gun down everyone like they did in Alexandra Hospital. Instead, they cleared out a ward, Ward 26, which was known as the Kempeitai ward, for POWs whom they had tortured.

I wondered how the locals working in the hospital felt about working under the eyes of the military police. According to my father, it was “slap here, slap there” whenever the soldiers thought not enough respect was being accorded to them.

A local Indian volunteered for the job of looking after Ward 26. He left after two days. Just like that. Went AWOL. A job notice. No one volunteered.

After two weeks, my father got picked. He asked several times why he was picked but simply told that he was. He figured that it was because he was not Chinese, thousands of whom were being rounded up in an ethnic cleansing exercise.

The Japanese military policeman in charge of the ward told him that if he was caught speaking to prisoners, “I would lose my head”. That was when my father replied in Japanese, to the MP’s great surprise.

He had picked it up during his younger days as a seaman, working on Japanese freighters. The MP was delighted. He was even more delighted when my father followed his style of barking at the POWs there.

For my father though, it was an act. The Japanese made it clear that no one was allowed to talk to patients. The ward was locked and when my father did his rounds, he was accompanied by the MP.

The doctor, a local Chinese, wasn’t allowed in either and my father had to describe what the patients were suffering from and take instructions.

With instructions from the doctor, he learnt by trial and error how to insert IV tubes into patients, lance ulcers and other suppurations, including from a patient’s testicles, and became proficient at dispensing medicine.

But he was heartbroken.

In his journal, he wrote: “The prisoners had no proper beds. They were bare-bodied and in bad shape. All they had to lie on were hard wooden beds, no pillows or blankets.”

Meals were brought in buckets to be dished out onto enamel plates for each patient: two ounces of rice mixed with sweet potatoes and yam. Soup was vegetables boiled in water. And thin tea without sugar.

My father wondered how the patients, most of whom were passing blood mucus, suffering from dysentry or beriberi and septic wounds, would ever get better on such a diet.

“When I saw the food, oh my God, the food was fit for animals. Not humans. Hunger knows no laws. They ate it. Tears ran down my face when I saw them eating it. Still, they want to be alive. They ate it.”

Oh my God, the food was fit for animals. Not humans. Still, they want to be alive. They ate it.

Over time, the Japanese MP came to trust my father enough to leave the ward in his care while he hopped off to see his girlfriend in a nearby kampung.

That was when my father could unlock the ward and talk to the POWs. They were not ordinary soldiers. Among them were Brigadier Hugh Fraser, the Colonial Secretary, then Attorney-General Adrien Clark who had been caught ferrying messages to the POWs interred at Changi Prison and Mr Robert Burns, who later became the Commissioner for Southeast Asia.

They told him his father and brother had been captured and warned him to be careful. Mr Scott told him that the Kempeitai had set fire to his father’s beard.

“They were with us in the Kempeitai headquarters. Your brother’s face was used as an ashtray. Each time they wanted to put out a cigarette, they rubbed it on his cheek.”

My father was also told that two friends of the family who had also been rounded up were in the hospital as well. They were kept in isolation in private rooms under lock and key. They had been tortured badly. Both died later as did Sir Hugh Fraser and Mr Clark.

My father never recorded how he felt about the news. He was not close to the family and described himself as “the black sheep”. But he knew he and his pregnant wife who were living in hospital quarters were in danger for their lives.

He told the POWs he would try to smuggle them extra food and managed to persuade the hospital steward to procure some marmite for their rice and to add sugar to the tea.

When the MP’s superior came round, he made a case for the POWs to have proper mattresses, pillows, blankets and hospital garb, which the hospital had in abundance. It would, he said, demonstrate the magnanimity of the Japanese to their Axis partners, the Germans, if they came to visit.

He was taking a risk speaking to a Japanese officer on behalf of the POWs – “I think I have gone too far,” he wrote in his journal – but the officer agreed to his requests.

Then the Kempeitai came a-calling for him in the hospital.

 

Read more about Bertha’s journey into the past and other prisoners of war here:

My grandfather’s war story

Singapore, the former hub of war crimes courts?

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Felix Cheong

GENERAL Lee’s men see his three stars

But can’t make out his battle scars.

“Sir, on what petrol, in what car

Did you take to travel this far?

 

Did you force Syria out of Qatar?

Did your bare hands kill a jaguar?

Did you fly our flag up on Mars?

Did you and great Godzilla spar?”

 

General Lee pauses to speak

As colour drains out from his cheeks.

He had earned his stars being a geek,

Tested at exam halls each week.

 

How to show his men he is more

Than paper strategist at his core?

Nations at peace don’t spring for war

Unless war dogs run to their door.

 

He must sing loud the song of zeal,

He must bring his men to their heels.

He must look like the real big deal,

He must talk of war in his spiel.

 

“War is coming, beyond those hills.

Prepare yourselves for the big kill!

This is no game, this is no drill.

Let your blood for your country spill!”

 

Every father, son and nephew

Turn up for battle as their due.

They clean their old boots of mildew,

They gear up to meet their old crew.

 

“Sir, who’s this enemy we seek?

We will not rest till their defeat.

We will send them home in white sheets,

We will lay our lives for this feat.”

 

General Lee’s heart leaps six feet

To see such numbers in the street,

To see them turn fearless from meek,

To see them trust his stars complete.

 

“This is no war fought with torpedoes,”

General Lee says on his toes.

“We are at war with mosquitoes,

These Ninja Zika-carrying foes!”

 

To a man, they all shout, “Aiyah!

This is not a war at all lah!

I could’ve spent more time with Ma,

Needed and kneaded at the spa.”

 

After they leave, General Lee

Feels the great weight of the Empty.

His years of university

Add up to naught in the army.

 

“War is nigh!” again he cries,

“We are now outflanked from all sides.

Prepare yourselves for the bomb dives.

Rise, for your country you must die!”

 

Every nephew, father and son

Turn up in sweat under the sun.

They have barely had a stiff one,

They have barely kept their big guns.

 

“Sir, who’s this enemy we fight?

We will not let them see the night.

We will scare them into such fright

They can’t tell their left from their right.”

 

“This war can’t be settled by treaties,”

General Lee says with eyes misty.

“We are at war with diabetes,

With sugar, white rice and sweeties!”

 

To a man, they all scream, “Aiyoh!

You can’t call this a war, bodoh!

I could’ve practised my yo-yo

Swinging between wife and Miho!”

 

After they depart, the general,

Like attending his own funeral,

Readies his career for burial,

His stars reduced to mineral.

 

“No, I’ll not go without a howl!”

Again he cries: “War is here now!

We are being run down by its plough.

Rise up to this enemy foul!”

 

Every son, nephew and father

Has lost ears to the hereafter.

A country at peace has no matter

More urgent than cafe chatter.

 

In the horizon, tanks roll in,

Flags of the enemy flying.

Soldiers in battle gear sweeping

Lands cheap and easy for their taking.

 

“War is here! War is here! It’s true!”

General Lee cries till he’s blue.

“I lied before but now I’m through!

Take up arms now or we’ll be screwed!”

 

No one hears his third alarm raised,

No one sees the need to be fazed.

Not when “war” is bandied like a craze

To call any kind of malaise.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Daniel Yap

SITTING in the auditorium of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) today (Sept 24), we were told that we are at war; it’s just that we may not know it yet.

It’s a war that doesn’t respect the soldier-civilian definition, so I’m sitting in a hall with maybe 500 other combatants – men, women, young, old, in uniforms with stars on their shoulders, and even those in slimline dresses.

Even that fellow is dozing off in the row in front of me.

While Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is talking.

PM Lee talks about SGSecure (pretty much what he said during the National Day Rally), and just beyond the doors is a pristine exhibition of all the activities relating to the initiative – first aid, anti-terrorism teams, cool technology that we won’t actually use (like smart-touch tables), less cool technology that is useful (like the SGSecure app – download it now! iOS/Android), response systems, and catered food.

 

Visitors using the smart-touch tables to find out more about the SGSecure initiative. There were five different blocks that had an interactive pop-up display when they were placed onto the screen.
Visitors using the smart-touch tables to find out more about the SGSecure initiative. There were five different blocks that had an interactive pop-up display when they were placed onto the screen.

 

I, for one, hope that catered food will be a permanent feature of our ongoing struggle. After all, this is war, and an army moves on its stomach.

SGSecure was first announced in March by Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam as an initiative to get Singapore better prepared for what the G sees as an inevitable terror attack. Mr Shanmugam had said that the movement was to “sensitise, organise, train, and exercise Singaporeans, so that we can better protect ourselves from attacks”.

There’s nothing very new at this launch event – all these plans were announced months ago. The SGSecure app is a new tool, to make reporting, responding and volunteering easier, but these are all things we were able to do before.

 

The SGSecure app featured on Samsung smartphones were displayed at the exhibition, for the public to learn more about it. The app, which was launched today, allows the public to report an emergency to the authorities, via its "point, shoot and send" function. It also functions as a platform for the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force to broadcast alerts to the public, during an emergency.
The SGSecure app featured on Samsung smartphones were on display for the public to learn more about it. The app, which was launched today (Sept 24), enables members of the public to report an emergency to the authorities, via its “point, shoot and send” function. It is also a platform for the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to broadcast alerts to the public, during an emergency.

 

The “war on terror” isn’t just a phrase to describe military action in the Middle East or the bombing of a market far away. Terrorism will come to our shores, like the World War Two bombing raids our parents and grandparents endured, just less frequent, less formal and without warning sirens.

There are no catchy slogans (there are slogans, and none of them are catchy). Where’s our “Keep Calm and Carry On”? What’s going to give us the urgency to learn all the skills and strengths we need to cope with the inevitable?

Every call to resilience or vigilance needs to have a structure behind it, and SGSecure is that backbone. But it is you and I who have to be the muscle and tendon to make sure the structure works and moves.

That’s why SGSecure wants you: to be prepared (stay watchful, alert the authorities); to learn to react (learn first aid, react to incidents); and to be part of a movement (sow peace, build community).

There was an anecdote during the PM’s speech about how some Singaporeans were unable to say who in their family or among neighbours they could rely on to react to an emergency. Nobody was trained or prepared to render immediate help or to assist the authorities when they arrived.

The police may be ‘only’ five minutes away, but how many people can a parang-wielding madman hack to death in five minutes? How long does it take for someone to bleed to death in the absence of a first aid responder? That’s why SGSecure wants you.

But SGSecure doesn’t need you, because a trellis doesn’t ‘need’ a vine: a trellis doesn’t have feelings; it cannot live and die. The people who need you are your children, your family, your friends, your neighbours, and I. Are we ready to help?

 

Featured image and photos by Najeer Yusof.

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by Bertha Henson

MY GRANDFATHER and an uncle were executed by the Japanese during the Occupation of Singapore.

I’ve heard this story often from my late father, who said the public beheadings took place outside the Cathay building in Dhoby Ghaut. I have always thought it was a romantic tale, which also accounted for my father’s visceral hatred for the Japanese. People go “wow” when I tell them this – even though I didn’t know much else.

Until a TMG reporter was asked to report on a law academic, who recently launched a portal on hearings by a British war crimes tribunal in Singapore. Dr Cheah Wui Ling gave him an example of a father-and-son team, who were tortured by the Kempeitai for months because an acquaintance had accused them of being British spies.

It didn’t occur to him that the names, Sidney Henson and Joseph Henson could be connected with me.

My father, a decorated police officer who later ran his own security firm, had told bits and pieces of the story to my younger brother. The gist was that his family owned a restaurant in Changi, and an acquaintance who had a beef with his brother Joseph over some girl, told the Kempetai that the family had a short wave radio or wireless transmitter to relay information to the British.

There were many gaps in the story because my father, then married with two children, seemed to be estranged from the family. Then Dr Cheah directed me to transcripts of the tribunal in the British archives and I asked the National University of Singapore’s Central Library to get me access.

What I received: more than 300 pages of court transcripts, documents and hand-written notes on the trial of two Japanese military policemen and a Josef Kutron, a Hungarian national who worked as an informer.

It made for strange, horrific and disconcerting reading. Strange because the men were not on trial because they murdered two civilians, but because they had ill-treated them before their court martial which sentenced them to death.

It had to do with treason attracting capital punishment, although the Kempeitai never found the transmitter and had to rely on confessions forced out of the two men and a few others who were tortured.

Witnesses told the tribunal that my grandfather screamed at the court martial, presided by three Japanese officers, that their confessions were obtained under duress but it seems the panel was satisfied with what information they had been given.

The horrific part was about the torture they endured at the Kempetai office in Oxley Rise and later at Outram Gaol.

Cigarette butts were stubbed out on my grandfather’s face. Both he and my uncle endured beatings with a bamboo stick and were submitted to electric shock treatment.

Dimensions of the stick were detailed, as were how the electric wires connected to a box were stuck to thumbs making the victims jerk violently.

I half expected to read about the infamous water torture, where water was continually poured over victims making them choke or suffocate. They didn’t have to go through that.

But others who were hauled in, in what was known then as the Henson incident and who lived to tell the tale, said they had their wrists tied together and suspended by a rope slung over a beam.

I’ve read stories about the fall of Singapore and how thousands of Chinese males were marched out to the sea off Changi and shot in their backs. And the horrific tales of doctors, nurses and patients gunned down in Alexandra hospital. The stories (non-fiction) always made me wonder at the strength and resilience of that generation who lived through World War Two.

The heroes who lived and died. The traitors and collaborators. Those who survived on sweet potato meals and trading on the black market. They were just names and some didn’t even have names.

Until I saw my own surname.

A bit of history was brought home. One of the things my father let fall was his hunt for the informer right after the Japanese surrender, when the British reclaimed Singapore. It was a time of reprisals as people sought out collaborators to eke out extreme justice. He did the same too, armed with a pistol, except that his target was already somebody else’s victim.

I wondered often who this target was, who got my father’s blood up. At various times, my father described him as a Malay gardener who worked in the family home or someone who was in my grandfather’s business.

Was the family really spying for the British?

There was no proof that my grandfather ran a spy ring from his restaurant at Jalan Besar. It was called the Cafe Vien and it sort of doubled up as a boxer training area round the back of the premises.

Then comes the disconcerting part. The restaurant was opened in 1942 after he pulled strings to secure a licence from the Japanese administration. How? It seemed he had passed himself off as a German and was an informer for the Japanese.

Then he switched allegiances because, so the Japanese said, the Allied side looked to be winning the war.

Wow! A double agent? Or merely a family which was trying to survive under war circumstances? The island was a colony under the yoke of the British and then, the Japanese. Did it matter if mere natives worked for one or the other? My image of my hero granddad looked like it was about to be broken…

Then again, court records also showed that my grandfather, uncle Joseph and an aunt were hauled up once before, in 1942, for dealing in rice and sugar on the black market. So he couldn’t have been on such good terms with the Japanese right? Sheesh! Why does it matter?

It was around this time that Josef Kutron appeared in the family’s life.

Kutron, who listed his occupation as a magician and was actually booted out of the United Kingdom because he was an “undesirable alien”, was the archetype bad man and painted black. Court documents and witnesses said he had deep grudges against the family.

He claimed that he had arranged for the business licence in return for a share in the restaurant and that my grandfather reneged on his promise. Then there was his pursuit of a certain Rosita whom my uncle was also interested in.

Family members testified about how Kutron had flaunted his military police credentials to warn that he would “put in” members of the family, especially Joseph. He seemed to have thought he scored a coup with the Henson incident, going along with the police to raid the restaurant and the family homes in Bras Basah.

Joseph and two other friends were nabbed at Great World City where a boxing tournament was in progress. That was in February 1944.

What was interesting was that he was involved in the torture of Joseph, kicking and beating him bloody. It was a charge he and the Kempetai denied, stressing that by then, he was no longer on the informer payroll and it was not protocol to let civilians into interrogations.

Then again, the two Japanese soldiers also denied resorting to any torture beyond slapping them a few times with an open palm.

The interrogators said that they were under orders to produce results quickly in the aftermath of the destruction of six oil tankers in Keppel Harbour by saboteurs. The Hensons were accused of using its network of spies to relay information on the ships’ whereabouts. The two Japanese officers were interred for five years and two years.

My grandfather didn’t come off flatteringly in the court documents. He had fingered another Eurasian as head of the supposed spy ring. The man was brought in, interrogated and later released for lack of evidence.

The Eurasian, a lawyer, testified at the war crimes tribunal and had some rather scathing words for both my grandfather and Kutron, whom he described as “birds of a feather”.

He also recalled how after his release, Kutron kept pestering him for more information that would implicate the family further. Kutron was sentenced to two years in a case which actually made the news.

Where was my father when all this was happening?

According to a journal he kept of that period, he was a medical orderly in a mental hospital in Changi and was put in charge of a ward filled with British prisoners of war.

But my father’s war story is for another day.

Because I have just found the cassette tapes that my father recorded for the Oral Archives Department in 1988 before he died. He also left behind journals of his post-war stories as a policeman in colonial Singapore.

Time for me to read what he wrote and to listen to his voice again.

 

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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A combination picture shows boys holding banners depicting Pokemon characters in these handouts pictures provided on July 22, 2016 by the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office. The banners read: (Top-R) "I am from Kafr Naboudah, save me". (Top-L) "I am trapped in Douma in Eastern Ghouta, Help me." (Bottom-R) "I am in Kafr Nabl in rural Idlib, come and save me!" (Bottom-L) "I am in Eastern Ghouta in Syria, come and get me!". Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office/Handout via REUTERS

Video by Reuters

POKEMON Go is “played” a little differently in war-torn Syria.

Syrian opposition groups have taken advantage of the global Pokemon craze to draw the world’s attention to the plight of children caught up in the country’s five-year civil war. Photographs of children in besieged Syrian towns holding pictures of Pokemon characters and appealing for help were published by the Syrian National Coalition, an alliance of Western-backed activist and rebel groups.

Their release is an attempt to capitalise on the success of Pokemon GO, which challenges players on smartphones to go to real-world locations to capture the cuddly monsters using the phone’s camera.

“If you are looking for a Pokemon, you can find it in Syria,” the coalition said on Twitter through their communications arm – the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office.

Many Syrians feel the world is ignoring a conflict that has killed more than a quarter of a million people, displaced half the population, and left hundreds of thousands trapped by either government or rebel forces.

One photograph of a child with the Pokemon character Pikachu reads, “I am trapped in Douma in East Ghouta. Help me.”

Douma is a suburb of the capital Damascus, which is besieged by government forces. Bombardments are a daily occurrence there and in the surrounding neighbourhoods, which hold thousands of civilians according to the United Nations.

Rebel fighters have also besieged government-held towns in the north of the country, and have fired rockets and mortars into government-controlled neighborhoods of Aleppo and Damascus.

(Reporting by Reuters TV)

 

Featured image and video by REUTERS.

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