Japanese troops first landed in Miri and Seria on 16th December, 1941. They moved very fast, and by 21st December, they were in Brunei, then Kuching on Christmas Eve. On New Year’s Day of 1942, a Japanese independent brigade led by Major-General Kiyotake Kawaguchi invaded Labuan.
The island, part of the Straits Settlement, was formally captured on 3rd January, 1942. The invasion triggered the fall of Borneo to the Japanese. Despite resistance from the sole Allied infantry unit in Borneo, the 15th Punjab Regiment of the 2nd Battalion of the Indian Army, Borneo came under Japanese rule on 16th May, 1942.
It was to be 3.5 long years of suffering and horrors of war, with the Allied Air Forces from the South West Pacific Air command carrying devastating bombardment on Japanese position in Borneo, in an attempt to retake North Borneo. One of the worst hit areas was Patau-Patau water village, due to its proximity to the town’s port, Victoria.
Labuan was successfully wrested from the Japanese by Allied forces under Operation Oboe Six, after two agonising months of battle, from 6th June to 15th August, 1945.
It was only on 10th September, 1945 that the Japanese 37th Army led by Lieutenant General Baba Masao surrendered by signing the official document at the spot now known as Surrender Point along the Layang-Layangan Beach on the western side of Labuan Island.
During the ceremony, Lieutenant General Baba also handed over his sword to Major General George Wootten, marking the end of World War II in Borneo.
Freed from Japanese occupation, Labuan came under the interim military government of the British Military Administration (BMA) from 10th September, 1945 until 14th July, 1946, when it then became one of the territories under British North Borneo.
Upon Malaya’s independence and subsequent establishment of the Malaysian federation, Labuan became part of Malaysia as a state of Sabah in 1963. Labuan was declared Federal Territory in 1984, and made International Offshore Financial Centre (IOFC) in 1990.
11th November is Remembrance Day or Poppy Day and is observed in the Commonwealth of Nations member states, including Labuan.
Initially known as Armistice Day in 1918, marking the end of World War I on 11th November at 11am, the day was declared Remembrance Day in 1997, to remember all those who sacrificed and died in wars and conflicts, since World War I.
In Malaysia, Remembrance Day is a day to honour, in full military tradition, the brave souls of yesteryear who went to fight in World War I, as well as those who suffered and died in the country during World War II.
In total, there are 7292 Commonwealth World War graves in 35 Commonwealth War Grave Commission locations across Malaysia, the Labuan War Cemetery at Jalan Tanjung Batu being one of them.
With a total of 3908 graves, only 1752 of them identified, this is the largest war cemetery in Malaysia. Burials here included those who were killed during the Japanese invasion of Borneo, and soldiers who died in the Borneo campaign of 1945.
This Labuan War Cemetery is also the final resting place for Prisoners of War in the region, as well as those who perished during the Sandakan Death Marches.
The 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day in Labuan, the Pearl of Borneo, saw the arrival of more than 100 foreign dignitaries, war veterans, family and friends of the war heroes, who came from the United Kingdom, Australia, India and Brunei, to pay tribute to all who laid their lives down for the nation, who sacrificed themselves for the peace that we enjoy today.
Also in attendance were Federal Territories Minister YB Khalid Abdul Samad, British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam His Excellency Richard Lindsay, Deputy Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Michael Growder, and the Australian High Commission to Brunei Group Captain Defence Adviser Wendy Horder.
One of the guests who stood out was 92-year-old Australian Ian Litchfield, who made the trip for the first time to Labuan from New South Wales, to pay tribute to his older brother Flight Sergeant Eric Mileham Litchfield, who died on 25th March, 1945 at the age of 21, in a secret RAAF 200 (Special Duties) Flight, where he was a tail-gunner.
Ian, whom himself served in the Royal Australian Navy onboard HMAS Bataan as a member of the gun crew from 1944 to 1946 between the ages of 18 to 21, encountered a health scare recently.
“I have always wanted to attend Remembrance Day commemorations in Labuan but somehow, couldn’t make it in the past. I had to put in extra effort this year, and it being the 100th anniversary is extra meaningful,” said Ian, who travelled with daughter Fiona and family friend, Louise.
Another war hero descendant who was at the memorial service was Wendy Currey (née Nash), who was born on the day of the official Japanese surrender of World War II in Labuan, on 10th September, 1945.
Her father, Leading Aircraftman Donald Nash, who served with 93 Squadron RAAF in Labuan died on 10th December, 1945 at the age of 21, when his aircraft A8-184C, a Beaufighter, crashed into two stationary Mustang Fighters parked at Labuan Airfield. Also onboard A8-184C were five crew members; none survived the horrific post-war take-off accident.
Brisbane-resident Wendy, who attended Remembrance Day for the second time, brought along her half sister Teena, whose father Raymond Prove had also served in Labuan, and their respective partners, Maurice and John.
She said, “This is my fourth visit to Labuan Island, but second Remembrance Day memorial service. The first visit was in 1994 when I brought my mom to visit her husband’s grave.”
Remembrance Day is not only a day to honour fallen heroes but also a time to reflect on the harsh realities of war and the impact it has on individuals and families. An important lesson to learn is that war is never a solution to any crisis as it results in great damage and misery, on people, countries and civilisation at large.
We who live in peace today owe a debt of gratitude to all who gave their lives for our liberty. It’s up to us to ensure that this privilege is not squandered. Lest we forget.
Event: Labuan’s 100th Anniversary Remembrance Day
Venue: The Labuan War Cemetery, W.P. Labuan
Date: 11th Nov, 2018
Note: View larger images by clicking on an image once this page has completely loaded. Then navigate by clicking on the right or left side of image.