by Eric Lim
It was December 1941. The British in Malaya knew that the Japanese invasion was imminent. However, they had a secret plan in place, known as Operation Matador.The plan was to destroy the landing bays at Songkhla and Pattani in Thailand so that the Japanese could not land there. However, that plan failed to be activated.
On ‘Blue Monday’ 8 December 1941, just after midnight, the Japanese army landed at Kota Bharu and two other towns in Thailand, namely Pattani and Singora (a.k.a Songkhla). Approximately seventy minutes after the landing in Kota Bharu, Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbour. These two attacks marked the start of the Pacific War and World War II in Asia.
Japanese forces took two routes – one from the north at Jitra, making their way down the west coast, and the other from Kota Bharu, taking the east coast. They fought Allied Forces, comprising British, Indian and Australian armies, all the way down to the south, to their final destination ‘Fortress Singapore’, also nicknamed ‘Gibraltar of the East’.
In less than two months, Japanese forces had invaded the whole of the Malay Peninsula and made landfall in Singapore on 7 February 1942. The Battle of Singapore came to a halt after a week of fighting when British Lieutenant General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. It came as a great shock to PM Winston Churchill as it is recorded to be the largest British surrender in its history.
Immediately, Japanese Military Administration took over control and, on the very next day, Singapore was renamed Syonan-To (Light of the South). Less than a week later, Japanese forces started Operation Sook Ching (Chinese term meaning ‘purge through cleansing’). The Japanese term for the operation was ‘Dai Kensho’ meaning ‘great inspection’. Chinese males aged 18 to 50 were rounded up and brought to screening centres set up around the island. They were inspected by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) and Imperial Guards Division; those suspected of being anti-Japanese were taken away to killing sites and executed, their bodies thrown into the sea. The operation was initially planned from 21 to 23 February 1942 but it was extended to 4 March 1942.
Mamoru Shinozaki started work in a Japanese news agency and was posted to Shanghai in 1934. Two years later, he joined the Japanese Foreign Office as press attaché. In 1938, he was transferred to the Japanese Consulate General in Singapore and his job was to report on local conditions and British military defence. In September of 1940, he brought two Japanese military officers to various locations on the island as well as in Malaya to survey military installations and study British defence capability.
His activities did not escape the eyes of the Special Branch and he was put on surveillance. On 21 September 1940, Shinozaki was arrested and convicted of espionage and sentenced to three and a half years of rigorous imprisonment. He was incarcerated in Changi prison. With the fall of Singapore, Shinozaki was released and he was appointed Adviser of Defence Headquarters. He was tasked to reassemble the documents of the Japanese Consulate and issue protection cards to diplomats and other foreigners from neutral countries.
It was during the Sook Ching massacre that Shinozaki used his good connection with the Japanese chief and his position to issue personal protection cards to thousands of Chinese thus sparing their lives from execution. One of the men that he saved was Lim Boon Keng. Lim was a medical doctor and a strong advocate of social and educational reforms in Singapore. He was the president of the Xiamen University in China. He co-founded the first locally owned insurance firm in Singapore and the Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) Bank. He was well known in the Chinese community.
In the midst of the Sook Ching operation, Shinozaki had asked Lim to be the leader of the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA). The OCA was the brainchild of Shinozaki; its function was to mediate between the Japanese Military administration and the local Chinese community. After much persuasion, Lim finally accepted the post and, at the same time, Shinozaki became its Adviser. It was formed on 2 March 1942. As soon as OCA was formed, Shinozaki was removed from his post and replaced by Toru Takase who used the Association to demand 50 Million dollars from the Chinese community. It was extremely difficult to meet the demand, even after two extensions. This prompted the Japanese administration to include Chinese communities from the states of Malaya into the Association. After another three extensions, the Association only managed to collect 28 Million dollars. Eventually, Takase allowed the Association to take a loan of 22 Million dollars from the Yokohama Specie Bank. The cheque of 50 Million dollars was presented to the Japanese by Lim and 57 Chinese leaders on 25 June 1942.
With that episode over, Shinozaki returned to OCA in August and again took the post as Adviser. In the same month, he was appointed as the Chief Welfare Officer and he helped in the setting up of the Eurasian Welfare Association (EWA). Similar to the OCA, EWA was the representative of the Eurasian community to the Japanese administration. A prominent surgeon in Singapore at that time, Charles Joseph Pemberton Paglar, was appointed as the President of EWA.
Japanese authorities foresee an eventual shortage of food to feed the island’s population of a million people. Hence, they immediately embarked on the promotion of the Grow More Food Campaign. People from all walks of life including school children and Government servants, were encouraged to grow their own food and be self-sufficient. However, the campaign failed to produce results. Moving forward, Japanese authorities took a tougher stance and one of the plans was the setting up of agricultural settlements outside the city. Again, the services of Shinozaki were required and he was tasked to oversee the resettlement project.
Shinozaki turned to the OCA and persuaded them to take up the offer. OCA was coaxed into the plan when Shinozaki made several promises to them – the settlement would be self-governing, the Japanese would not interfere, and the settlement was assured of constant rice supply until they become self-sufficient. With that assurance, a committee was formed and headed by Lim. A team was dispatched to survey a suitable site in Malaya. After much consideration, Endau in Johor was selected as the site for the new settlement. Endau was the choice because of the accessible supply of fresh water and arable land that was ideal for agriculture.
Endau is located on the northern tip of east Johor and close to the border with Pahang. The location of the town was already in the maps published by the British as early as 1793 and 1805. However, it was then known as Blair’s Harbour, named after Archibald Blair who was working for the Bombay Marine (Bombay Marine evolved into the Royal Indian Navy of today). He came to the South China Sea, did a survey, and reported that the site of Endau was potentially a ‘good harbour’. He did a similar survey of the Andaman Islands during that time and, today, the capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is named after him, Port Blair.
The Endau settlement was also known as the New Syonan Model Farm and it was entirely for the Chinese community. Japanese authorities had targeted to evacuate 300,000 Chinese to the settlement. As the next step, OCA made efforts to raise money for the project and managed to raise one million dollars. This was followed by construction work – clearing the jungle, and building roads and houses. OCA also assigned suitable candidates to head the various departments set up to help the settlers. The departments were agricultural, medical and health, supply, public works, timber mill, and public peace and order. With all these in place, the pioneer settlers arrived in September 1943. The population grew and by the end of the first year, Endau attracted 12,000 settlers. Progressively, the settlement saw the establishment of a bank, school, paper factory, sawmill, and several restaurants. It was becoming a successful self-sufficient scheme and it attracted the attention of anti-Japanese guerrillas in Malaya, the Malayan People Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). They attacked the settlement and claimed the lives of several settlers. Again, Shinozaki came to the rescue when he managed to enter into a secret pact with the MPAJA guerrillas by offering rice in exchange for peace. The Endau settlement continued until 1945 when the Japanese Occupation ended.
The Eurasian community also wanted to participate in the voluntary migration scheme primarily because the community felt that they were constantly being monitored by the Japanese Military Police and this created fear and insecurity. This prompted the Roman Catholic Bishop, Adrian Devals, and Herman De Souza Sr, a representative of the Eurasian community, to make the trip to Bahau in Negeri Sembilan to assess its suitability. The Eurasian community gave their thumbs up and it was reported to Shinozaki. However, Shinozaki had reservations about the new settlement. It was further away from Singapore and sending support from the island would be difficult – they would have to count on support from the Negeri Sembilan government. Furthermore, it was difficult to clear the vegetation and the land was unsuitable for agriculture.
The plan went ahead and the Japanese named the new settlement Fuji-go, which means Fuji village or ‘beautiful village’. The first group to arrive consisted mainly of bachelors. They were selected by the Japanese to help lay the foundation of the new settlement as well as to set up a model farm and transfer farming techniques to the settlers. Between December 1943 and April 1944, some 2,000 Eurasians arrived at Bahau, and they brought with them curtains and pianos to furnish their new homes. Shinozaki and Paglar made frequent visits to Bahau, bringing with them food and medicines for the settlers. Life in the new settlement was no bed of roses, as most of them did have farming knowledge. Many suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria. At the end of the Japanese Occupation, it was reported that the number of settlers was estimated to be around 3,000. Besides the main groups of Eurasian and Chinese Roman Catholics, there were also a small group of European Protestants and neutrals from countries such as Switzerland, Denmark, Romania, and Russia.
At the end of Japanese Occupation in August 1945, the settlements were abandoned and the settlers returned to Singapore. Besides Endau and Bahau, the Japanese also created a settlement in Pulau Bintan (largest island in the Riau Province, Indonesia) for the Indians.
When the British returned to Singapore, Mamoru Shinozaki was interned in a Jurong camp but he was freed when the Chinese and Catholic communities petitioned the British for his release. He acted as a witness in a number of post-war trials in Singapore. He died in 1991.
Invasion of Malaya: First shot in the Pacific War – Rouwen Lin / The Star 8 Dec.2016. [https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/people/2016/12/08/invasion-of-malaya-the-japanese-arrive/]
The occupation of Singapore Part 3: The Bahau and Endau Settlements, The Heartlander Tourist, posted by Lioncityboyzach on 18 Feb 2014. [https://heartlandertourist.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-occupation-of-singapore-part-3-the-bahau-and-endau-settlements/]
Singapore Infopedia [https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/]:
- Mamoru Shinozaki – Chua, Alvin
- Operation Sook Ching – Ho, Stephanie
- Oversea Chinese Association – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
- Grow More Food Campaign – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
- Endau Settlement – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
- Bahau Settlement – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia