Monday, December 03, 2012

The first story

Family photos hung up in my mother’s childhood home

[Some minor edits and notes added following my mum’s correction on a couple of points]

The earliest ‘true story’ I remember my mother telling me was one about her grandfather (my great-grandfather) in World War II. It is actually not a very happy story, but the reality and rawness of the story is one that that burns into your memory so you never forget it.

My mother grew up in Kampung Sri Gading, near the town of Batu Pahat in Johor, Malaysia. The house she lived in, originally built by my great-grandfather, has housed four generations of families.

The story I remember is actually about my mother’s maternal grandfather…

With the onset of World War II came the Japanese Soldiers. History remembers them as cruel and inhuman persecutors of the local people in Malaya.

They arrived one day at the doorstep of my great-grandfather’s house. I don’t remember what it was they were after. Money. Gold. Information. Women. Submission… It didn’t matter. Whatever they wanted, somehow my great-grandfather could not or would not give it to them.

And so they tortured him.

This is the part of the story I most vividly remember. How they tortured him.

They took my great-grandfather and forced him to drink water. When he could not hold anymore, they forced more down his throat. More and more until his stomach was bulged up like a balloon.

Then they laid him down and stepped on his stomach, forcing him to vomit the water back out again.

They did it again. And again. And again. How many times? I don’t know.

Did they get what they wanted in the end? I don’t know either.

Amazingly my great-grandfather survived to tell the tale. Just one of the many horror stories of war.

I have remembered the story ever since the first time I heard it. And when I read the bald facts of that time in history printed in my school text book. I read between the lines. History is real. About real places and real people and real stories.


To take a deeper step into the history pages, you can read my mum’s account of the story


This is the first instalment of my series on



  1. Yes, my grandmother used to tell me lots of stories too. Scared me very much as.a kid. Still blows my mind that people could be so cruel.

  2. Oh you've got 2 different accounts mixed up. One account is paternal grandfather and the other is maternal grandfather. Nevertheless it's good you remembered. i shall endeavor to set the records straight.


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