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Petagas War Memorial

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Petagas War Memorial

Published on Nil | by military.wikia.org
Petagas War Memorial Garden
Taman Peringatan Petagas
Petagas Sabah PetagasWarMemorial-07.jpg

View from memorial to the gate
Coordinates 5°55′15.74″N 116°3′17.33″E / 5.9210389°N 116.0548139°ECoordinates: 5°55′15.74″N 116°3′17.33″E / 5.9210389°N 116.0548139°E
Location Petagas, Kota Kinabalu
Type Mausoleum
Material Concrete
Dedicated to 176 Sabahan guerillas


The Petagas War Memorial is a testament to those who lost their lives defending Sabah against the Japanese Occupation Army during World War II, particularly those of the ill fated Kinabalu Guerrillas. This article attempts to trace the story behind the creation of the Memorial, the people associated with it and the relevance to the post war history of Sabah.


The Japanese invasion of Borneo (British and Dutch Borneo)

On 8 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) landed in Kota Bahru, in the northern Malayan state of Kelantan. On 10 Dec, the British Royal Navy’s battleships HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse was bombed and sunk off the coast of Kelantan. By 11 January 1942, the IJA had taken Kuala Lumpur. By 31 January 1942 peninsula Malaya had fallen into Japanese hands. The Battle of Singapore was fought from 1 to 15 Feb when Singapore surrendered. The war plans of the IJA included near simultaneous attacks on the other territories of British and Dutch Borneo. On 13 Dec, a Japanese naval convoy left Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina and landed in Miri, Sarawak on 15 Dec They captured Kuching by Christmas Eve and the rest of Sarawak by New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day 1942 the IJA landed on Labuan island and from then on captured British North Borneo (now Sabah) by 19 Jan By 10 February 1942, IJA had captured the whole island of Borneo, consisting of the territories of British Borneo (Sarawak, the Sultanate of Brunei, British North Borneo) and Dutch Borneo (Westerafdeeling van Borneo (West Borneo), Zuider-en Oosterafdeeling van Borneo (South and East Borneo)).[1]

The resistance movement in North Borneo


Albert Kwok, Leader of the Kinabalu Guerrillas


In Dec 1942 in North Borneo, Albert Kwok set up a militant resistance organisation with the aim of overthrowing Japanese rule. This organisation was called the Kinabalu Guerrillas.[2] Albert Kwok Yuk Nam (Chinese name: Guo Yi Nan) was a Chinese business man from Kuching, Sarawak. He studied Chinese medicine in China and he moved to Jesselton (now known as Kota Kinabalu) in May 1941 to start a Chinese medical business. In China, he was also involved in anti-Japanese activities and continued with these activities when he returned to Borneo. In July 1943, Albert was appointed as a Lieutenant in the United States Army Forces in the Philippines (USAFP) and returned to Sabah as a Military Intelligence Officer for the USAFP.

Albert enlisted the help of many like-minded people to resist the Japanese. One of them was Jules Stephens (Jules was a native Kadazan and also the father of Donald Stephens, later became Tun Fuad Stephens, and the first Chief Minister of Sabah) was a sergeant in the North Borneo Volunteer Force (NBVF)). Another was Li Tet Phui, a lieutenant in the NBVF. Stephens and Li (and many others too many to be listed here) helped to organise military training for the guerrillas. Other members of the NBVF were also involved in the resistance movement.

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The Kinabalu Guerrillas did not work alone and certainly not only with the Chinese residents in Sabah. They worked with other groups in Sabah. One such group was led by Panglima Ali from Suluk Island just off the coast from Jesselton. A native guerrilla group in Kudat, off the northern tip of Sabah, was led by Mustapha bin Harun (full name: Tun Datu Mustapha bin Harun, who was later to become a Chief Minister of Sabah). Tun Mustapha and his guerrillas operated under the guidance of the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE). After the war he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition for his service to the Crown. Some members of the North Borneo Armed Constabulary (who were mainly Dusun and Murut natives) under Charles Peter, the wartime Chief Police Officer, became integral to the subsequent uprising.

The Kinabalu Guerillas consisting of 300 Chinese, island peoples like Suluks[3][4] and Bajau,[5] Dusuns and Sikhs started an uprising against the Japanese on 10 September 1943 since it was the eve of 10 October 1943, the National Day of the Republic of China and Albert Kwok was a supporter of the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China. The uprising was known as the “Jesselton Revolt” or “Double Tenth” incident. A Muslim cleric from the Sulu in the Philippines, Imam Marajukim, who was involved in the resistance against Japan in the Philippines, helped supply Kwok and the Kinabalu guerillas.[6][7][8][9][10] Suluks were described as “strong disposed to be anti-Japanese”.[11][12] Imam Marajukim helped the Chinese secure the indigenous participation in the uprising by Panglima Ali’s Suluks, Mantanni and Danawan (Dinawan) islands Binadan inhabitants and Oudar Islanders under Orang Tuah Arshad.[13]

In October 1943, the Kinabalu Guerrillas learnt that the Japanese Army planned to conscript some 2000 or so young people for military service. On the other hand, Maxwell Hall said that 3000 youths were needed, including Chinese girls to be deployed as comfort women.[14] The Kinabalu Guerrillas decided to attack the Japanese before they could put their own plans into effect.

On 9 October 1943, the Kinabalu Guerrillas launched surprise attacks on the towns of Tuaran and Menggatal, killing 47 Japanese soldiers and civilians. This event was also known variously as the Double-Tenth (symbolising 10 October 1911 uprising against the Qing Dynasty government in China) Rebellion and the Jesselton Uprising. The Chinese and Suluks started the insurrection by attacking the Japanese in Jesselton, with the Suluks from the coastal islands assaulting a warehouse from the sea and burning it down. Mantanani and other islands contributed ships to the Suluk flotilla of Suluk (Sulug) Island leader Orang Tuah Panglima Ali and Oudar (Udar) Island leader Orang Tuah Arshad.[15] Panglima Ali was the primary leader of the naval part of the uprising.[16][17][18][19] The 100 strong Chinese guerrilla force was led by Alberk Kwok (I. N. Kwok)(Guo Yi Nan)(Guo Hengnan) and first took control of the Menggatal and Tuaran police stations,[20] and then used parangs to attack the Japanese on land in Jesselton,[21] while the 200 strong guerrilla force of Suluks and Bajau from the coastal islands led by Sulug Island leader Orang Tuah Panglima Ali, Udar Island leader Orang Tuah Arshad, Mantanani Island leader Jemalul and Dinawan Island leader Saruddin led the naval part of the uprising from the sea, assaulting the city and burning down warehouses. Dusun-Murut and Sikh Indians joined the guerillas in the attack on the Japanese. The Japanese suffered 60-90 deaths at the hands of the guerrilla forces armed with parang and spears, but as they did not have sufficient weapons, the guerillas were forced to withdraw.[22] This led to the defeat of the uprising.[23] Another figure for the Japanese death toll is 40,[24][25] or 50.[26][27] The guerrillas withdrew to the Mengattal area to await reinforcements from the American-Filipino guerrilla unit on Tawi-tawi island which failed to arrive till 29 Dec By then the Kinabalu Guerrillas were forced to withdraw when Japanese reinforcements arrived from Kuching. The guerrillas then dispersed into smaller groups and managed to hold out in the hills near Menggatal for two whole months. However, acombination of the guerrillas’ inadequate military training, the lack of food, the relentless Japanese pursuits and reprisals against the guerrillas’ relatives and other civilians, the rebellion was brought to an end on 19 December 1943.

After the revolt, Japan punished civilian populations, especially the Suluks of the coastal islands for siding with the rebels. The Suluks were selected for eradication by the Japanese.[28] Hundreds of civilians were tortured after being arrested by the Japanese. Most Suluk men were slaughtered by the Japanese since the Suluks were deliberately targeted by the Japanese for annihilation.[29] It was described as a “systematic massacre” against the Suluks.[30] “The Tokyo war crimes trial” index described Japanese atrocities as “an apparently systematic attempt to exterminate the Suluk race between February & June 1944”.[31]

The Japanese suspected the Suluks and Binadins participation in the uprising since the Suluks and Binadins were the only ones with seafearing capability and the Japanese correctly deduced that it was a naval attack which led to the buildings the guerillas had burned down.[32] The Suluks on Mantanani Islands were subjected to multiple massacres and atrocities by the Japanese Kempeitai. After the Japanese searched the islands in February 1944, looking for a Chinese resistance member, they obtained information regarding Suluks who participated in the uprising through torture from Dr. Lou Lai. The Japanese in Jesselton then tortured to death 58 Suluk men from Mantani whom they arrested, two days after that, the Japanese then massacred two groups of Suluks, one consisting of women and men who were shot by machine gun, and another group of 4 children and 25 women who were ordered to be machine gunned by Lieutenant Shimizu, the Suluk children and women were rounded up and lashed together with rope to a Mosque, and then shot to death with the machine guns. Only 125 out of the 430 strong Suluk population of Mantani survived. Only 54 out of the 120 strong Suluk population of Dinawan survived with all the men dead after being massacred by the Japanese. Mangolun (Mengalum), Sulug and Udar islands were also targeted by the Japanese for massacres.[33][34] The Japanese slaughtered 54 people out of the 114 strong Suluk population on Sulug Island as punishment for aiding the resistance.[35] The Suluk houses were also burned down after they were machine gunned.[36] The Mantanani and Suluk islands suffered immensely from the Japanese reprisals.[37]

The Suluks were described as “virtually wiped out”.[38] Around 3,000-4,000 indigenes on the western coastal islands were slaughtered by the Japanese.[39][40]

On 21 January 1944, some 176 guerrillas were executed at Petagas,[41] amongst them were Albert Kwok, Li Tet Phui, Jules Stephens, Charles Peter and Panglima Ali. The remaining 131 were sent to labour camps in Labuan. An indication of the conditions at Labuan can be gleaned from the fact that there were only 14 survivors. In 1949, the remains of the Kinabalu Guerrillas who perished in Labuan were brought back in jars and buried next to their heroic comrades at Petagas. Their return remained a well-kept secret until 1979 when the jars were discovered during the reconstruction of the Petagas Memorial. The Jessleton uprising resulted in the shifting of the headquarters of the 37th Japanese Imperial Army from Kuching to Jesselton and the stepping up of local resistance against the Japanese till their eventual surrender on 9 September 1945.

The Petagas War Memorial[42] and Sabahan Identity

Petagas Sabah PetagasWarMemorial-02

The Petagas Memorial Garden, Putatan, Sabah


Petagas Sabah PetagasWarMemorial-06

The Epitaph of the Petagas War Memorial, Putatan, Sabah


At 9 am on 21 January 1946, the West Coast Residency Committee organised the first memorial service at Petagas in memory of the Kinabalu Guerrillas. Soon after, the colonial government agreed to commemorate 21 January as Remembrance Day for the dead. On 29 April 1949, the remains of the other guerrillas from Labuan were brought back to Petagas to rejoin their comrades.

The Memorial is located on the exact spot where 176 Sabahan guerrillas were massacred on 21 January 1944. It is situated across the highway from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport about 9 km from the city of Kota KinabaluSabahMalaysia. Every year on 21 Jan, a memorial service is held here to commemorate those died at Petagas, Labuan as well as those who were associated with the Kinabalu Guerrillas. The memorial has an epitaph which says:

“In perpetual memory of those gallant men of all races, who, loyal to the cause of freedom was murdered and buried at this place on 21 January 1944 and also those who met their death in the same cause at Labuan and were later buried here.”[43]

Petagas Sabah PetagasWarMemorial-05

History of Commemoration of the Petagas War Memorial, Putatan, Sabah


The history of the commemoration is found on a plate at the site. The maintenance of the Petagas (War) Memorial Garden is now the responsibility of the Kota Kinabalu Municipal Council (KKMC). After Sabah (and Sarawak) joined the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, Remembrance Day has taken on the symbol of multi-racial unity and nation building at the state level. Remembrance Day is now an annual official function attended by the Head of State (Yang di-Pertuan Negeri) and the Chief Minister. The late former chief ministers Tun Fuad Stephens (whose father was Jules Stephens) and Mustapha bin Harun have both taken turns to officiate at the annual memorial services.

The Kinabalu Guerrillas and the Jesselton Uprising was initially a local Chinese initiative, motivated by Chinese nationalism rather than any allegiance to Sabah. Critics say that the account of the uprising have been romanticised by writers such as Maxwell Hall and K.G. Tregonning. However, the ethnic diversity of the guerrillas’ names listed on the memorial plates has made the Petagas War Memorial a symbol of inter-ethnic unity at the state level in Sabah and at the national level in Malaysia. In the narrative of the nation-state of Malaysia, it is where people of diverse backgrounds, natives, migrants and colonial officials, came together in a common struggle against the Japanese occupation army. Various publications in the Chinese and Malay languages have also recounted the Kinabalu Guerrillas and the uprising. In the early accounts after the post-war years, one would detect a slight racial slant in the publications where the Chinese role was emphasised more strongly than the roles played the other ethnic groups. The aftermath of the Jesselton Uprising was not always seen as positive. Essentially the uprising was a military failure as much as it was a symbolic success in the eyes of the residents of Sabah. The reprisals by the Japanese after the failed uprising were, not surprisingly, brutal and widespread. There were frequent arrests and killings of many community leaders accused of plotting against the Japanese Military Administration. People lived in fear of losing their loved ones. In addition, there was widespread shortage of food and lack of proper housing especially when the allied bombing began in 1945. Hence the memorial serves as a sense of collective memory of the joint sufferings of entire communities across Sabah. Accounts from past survivors and historians continue to be published in the newspapers or as books.

The other Memorials – Ranau and SandakanEdit

Kundasang Sabah WarMemorial-09

Memorial for the 641 British servicemen who died on the Death March & at Ranau 1943-45


The Kinabalu Guerrillas and the other resistance groups not only fought the Japanese, many of them risked their lives trying to help the large numbers of Australian and British prisoners of war (POWs) who were transferred from Singapore. In early 1945, to prevent escapes by the POWs, the Japanese force-marched more than 2000 allied POWs from Sandakan all the way to Ranau, across the breadth of Sabah. This is often referred to as the Sandakan Death Marches.[44] Due to ill-treatment, physical exhaustion, starvation and lack of medical care, only 6 men survived. Today, their sacrifice are remembered in annual memorial services conducted in Sandakan and at the Kundasang Memorial Park. It is said that as the allied forces approach Borneo and began to bomb Japanese military targets, that at least 33 POWs were executed. Returning allied forces also found many Red Cross parcels of food and medicine that were not distributed or used on the POWs.

The irony of the death marches, which killed scores of allied soldiers, was that the Japanese had their own taste of the marches. After the Japanese surrender, units on the west coast were asked to meet up in Jesselton to be disarmed. Along the way, they were attacked by native forces under the command of ex-Chief Inspectors Dualis, Sergeant Korom and Garukon, formerly of the North Borneo Armed Constabulary. Dualis, Korom and Garukon were Muruts, whose men revived the old tradition of head-hunting. Nobody knows how many Japanese soldiers died along the route. It must be said that Dualis and his men were harassing the Japanese through the entire occupation period from 1942-1945.

The ordinary residents of Sandakan also suffered greatly. As a result of allied bombings, the entire town was razed to the ground by the Japanese. They did this as a reprisal against the residents for supporting the allies and also to deny the town infrastructure to the anticipated allied invading forces. After the war, the residents of Sandakan and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce built memorials dedicated to those who died especially those community leaders who were massacred on 27 May 1945, a few months shy of the Japanese surrender on 9 September 1945. Those killed included staff of the Chinese Consulate. As a result, Sandakan lost almost the entire generation of pre-war Chinese leaders. This was to change the landscape of post-war community and political leadership.

External links



  1.  Ooi, Keat Gin (2011). The Japanese Occupation of Borneo 1941-1945. London: Routledge.
  2.  Wong, Danny, Tze-Ken (2010). Historical Sabah : The War. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia: Opus Publications. pp. 88–103.
  3.  Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Malaysian Branch 2007, pp. 19 &29.
  4.  Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 80, Issue 2 2007, pp. 19 & 29.
  5.  Allen 1968, p. 77.
  6.  Lim 2005, pp. 315 &318.
  7.  Evans 1990, p. 51.
  8.  Brooks 1995, pp. 119-120.
  9.  Cayrac-Blanchard 1970, p. 166.
  10.  ed. Kratoska 2013, p. 124.
  11.  ed. Kratoska 2013, p. 126.
  12.  Rahman 1966, p. 143.
  13.  Wong 1998, p. 160.
  14.  Hall, Maxwell (2009 (first pub 1962)). Kinabalu Guerrillas – An Account of the Double Tenth Rising against the Japanese Invaders in North Borneo. Opus Publications.
  15.  Hall 1965, p. 79.
  16.  Brooks 1995, pp. 123.
  17.  Horton 1983, p. 60.
  18.  Reece 1998, p. 162.
  19.  Ooi 2010, p. 99.
  20.  Reece 1998, p. 162.
  21.  Wilson 1994, p. 220.
  22.  ed. Kratoska 2013, p. 111.
  23.  Tarling 2001, p. 196.
  24.  Totani 2009, p. 168.
  25.  Watt 1985, p. 210.
  26.  Wilson 1994, p. 220.
  27.  Wong 2004, p. 116.
  28.  Lian 2008, p. 13.
  29.  Thurman & Sherman 2001, p. 123.
  30.  Totani 2009, pp. 168-69.
  31.  Watt 1985, pp. 210-211.
  32.  Brooks 1995, p. 131.
  33.  Russell 2008, pp. 261-4.
  34.  Gilbert 2004, p. 469.
  35.  Hall 1948, pp. 145 to 150.
  36.  Hall 1965, p. 146.
  37.  Horton 1983, p. 70.
  38.  Wong 1994, p. 188.
  39.  Ooi 2013, p. 77.
  40.  ed. Kratoska 2013, p. 113.
  41.  Wong Tze Ken, Danny. “A brief uprising, a long remembrance”www.thestar.com.myhttp://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2005/7/31/lifefocus/11585684&sec=lifefocus. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  42.  Wong (2010, pg157-174).
  43.  Wong (2010, pg166).
  44.  Wong (2010, pg108-112).