“He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us” – Jimmy Chew POW, RIP

In the letter below, published today, Mrs Yoko Natsume of Tokyo, who learnt about ‘Syonan-to’ only after coming to Singapore in 1992, says of Jimmy Chew, POW, “He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us. … May he rest in peace”

It reminds me of this statement that I read in “The Syonan Years” after the opening of Memories of Old Ford Factory in 2006,

“We meet not to rekindle old fires of hatred, nor to seek settlement for blood debts. We meet to remember the men and women who were the hapless victims of the one of the fires of history.”

– PM Lee Kuan Yew at the unveiling of the Civillian War Memorial, 15th February 1967 .

“Japanese teacher’s gratitude to Singaporean POW,” Letter by Yoko Natsume. The Strait Times Forum Page, 16 Feb 2012.

“I WAS saddened to learn of the death on Feb 1 of Mr Jimmy Chew, 88, a World War II prisoner of war (POW) during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

A group of Japanese high school students and I owe him a debt of gratitude for describing to us his personal ordeal (‘Remembering the thousands who lost lives’; Dec 9, last year).

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Occupation and many Singaporeans must have bitter war memories.

Unfortunately, relatively few Japanese of my generation or younger are familiar with the Occupation, when an earlier Japanese generation inflicted untold misery on the people of Singapore. It was not until I had a chance to live in Singapore in 1992 that I learnt of the suffering inflicted by the occupiers: renaming Singapore ‘Syonan-to’, forcing Japanese culture on Singaporeans, and committing many atrocities.

All Japanese citizens remember Dec 8, 1941 as the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the United States.

But there is little mention in Japanese history classes of the simultaneous strike on the Malayan Peninsula and the subjugation of Singapore.

When I returned to Japan in 2002, I was convinced that my fellow Japanese, especially the younger generation, should learn about the dark years of the Occupation because we cannot close our eyes to the past.

I organised study tours to Singapore for my students, which included visiting a survivor of the Occupation.

Mr Chew willingly accepted my request and for six years until his death, he invited me and representatives from my school to his flat each March to share his experiences as a POW of the Japanese.

He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us. His telling inevitably filled us with guilt and remorse.

Yet, he would assure us unfailingly that while he remembered the suffering, he no longer harboured ill feelings towards the Japanese. He said he realised that the Japanese must have suffered in their own way; that the trauma and absurdity of war made victims of both Singaporeans and the Japanese.

His remarks never failed to move us.

Now that Mr Chew is no longer with us, I feel it is my duty to pass on what we learnt from him to my fellow Japanese. May he rest in peace.”

Yoko Natsume (Mrs)

Tokyo

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4 thoughts on ““He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us” – Jimmy Chew POW, RIP

  1. “We meet not to rekindle old fires of hatred, nor to seek settlement for blood debts. We meet to remember the men and women who were the hapless victims of the one of the fires of history.”

    – PM Lee Kuan Yew at the unveiling of the Civillian War Memorial, 15th February 1967 .

    I now understand the intentions of this words better after doing extensive reading (not only the official narrative but alternate voices as well) and talking to several people who either were victims of the Japanese or had family members killed by them. Many still bear the fires of hatred and would want their blood debts repaid. Especially by the traitors who worked for the Kempetai

    • Agreed, it’s never simple. I’m still piecing together the story. Blackburn’s comment has lots of context.

      Letting go is not easy even for some who have only read about but not directly experienced the war.

      I was thus struck by Jimmy Chew’s story

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. “But they also showed a meanness and viciousness towards their enemies equal to the Huns’. Genghis Khan and his hordes could not have been more merciless. I have no doubts about whether the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary. Without them, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Malaya and Singapore, and millions in Japan itself, would have perished.” quotes by LKY from Wikipedia

    “During the occupation, having taken Chinese and Japanese lessons since 1942, he was able to find work transcribing Allied wire reports for the Japanese, as well as being the English-language editor on the Japanese Hodobu (報道部 – an information or propaganda department) from 1943 to 1944”

    Something to think about and question

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