Wednesday October 5, 2005
Looking anew at Japanese surrender
BY JAMES RITCHIE
What was special was that Kuching was the town that David’s father, the late Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Eastick, liberated from Japanese occupation on Sept 11, 1945.
Sir Thomas (knighted in 1970) had led the Allied army to Kuching to facilitate the surrender of Japanese forces under Major-General Yamamura in Pending.
“For about three months, dad was in charge of the British administration in Kuching. His home and headquarters was the Astana,” said David, who had a first-hand view of the Governor’s residence on this inaugural trip to Sarawak.
In Batu Lintang, David learnt that it was here that his father met the POW camp commandant Colonel Tsuga who later committed suicide by cutting his own throat with a knife in Labuan on Sept 18.
Coincidentally, the concierge in Kuching’s Crowne Plaza was the grandson of Iban convert Zain Abdullah, who was imprisoned in Batu Lintang during the war.
David said his older brother Bruce Eastick, a former Speaker of the South Australian Parliament, had sent some artefacts to Sarawak Museum so that the public could treasure the sacrifices of soldiers and ordinary people during the war.
In a letter made available to The Star, Sir Thomas had written to his wife Ruby on Sept 14, 1945, that he “had the busiest five days I have ever had or likely to have, a wonderful job and one that has given me wonderful satisfaction.”
“Last Monday early, I went aboard a USA destroyer escort and spent just over 24 hours aboard, transferred to HMAS Kapunda and went up the Sarawak river to Pending and there took the surrender from Jap Maj General and several thousand Japs.
“The finale of the ceremony was of course receiving the general’s sword as a token of final surrender. It is a beauty, of course, has wonderful historic value. After the general was dismissed, I spent an hour or so with the Jap chief of staff and other officers and then went to the prison camp where there were well over 2,000 soldiers and civilian men, women and children. I got a greater part of them together in an open space and said a few words to them.”
Agnes Keith in her book Three Came Home (1949) said: “While Eastick is speaking, we in the crowd come a little nearer to realising that we are free. We are beyond words, our hearts hammer and bang, our pulses throb, our throats ache, we weep and we cheer.”
Describing Kuching in his letter, Sir Thomas had also said: “The town where I am is a large one with a population of 35,000 who are very friendly and thankful to see us. There are lovely houses in the place and tomorrow I am going to take up residence in the Rajah’s palace (Astana).”
“The town is pretty large and the roads very good, although in the main they are fairly narrow. There is a really first class hospital in the town which can cater for large numbers and is fitted with quite a lot of modern appliances.”
On the same day, Sir Thomas opened the museum, which had been left intact by the Japanese.
David said it was a pity there was little or no information on the Japanese occupation of Kuching because such information on the war years would benefit the younger generation.
“Most young people have forgotten the past and this is truly sad. I hope that Sarawak Museum can give some prominence to the Japanese occupation as so many people sacrificed their lives and the people must not forget this,” he added.
His sons Barry and Geoff and their wives, and a granddaughter Helen (her father Keith recently passed away), also visited Kuching over the past 10 years.
During Sir Thomas’ visit to celebrate the 10th anniversary of liberation, he was quoted in the Sarawak Gazette (Sept 30, 1955) as saying the people were instrumental in his success.
The Gazette read: “The co-operation of every section of the community was marvellous and when I suggested a celebration in honour of the birthday of HH the Rajah, it was entered into with enthusiasm and energy. No doubt, there are many who will recall that March, at which each of the leaders in turn took the salute of their respective communities, the salute fired with live ammunition from the lawns of the museum and the reception that followed.”
Sir Thomas returned to Kuching in the early 1970s and was fascinated by the changes that had taken place after Malaysia was formed in 1963.
He said: “The modern buildings that are being built for the populace is a step in the right direction. If peace could be maintained in this area, it would spell a very happy future for Malaysia.”
On this trip, his son David reiterated the statement by saying that the physical changes that have taken place since his father’s last visit must be mind-boggling.
As it is, the only Eastick who has not made a pilgrimage to Kuching is the oldest member of the family, Bruce.
Said David: “Bruce has compiled almost 11 volumes of books about my father’s life. They are interesting reading. I hope he makes a trip to Sarawak, though I doubt he will.”
He hoped that the Eastick books would one day be made available to the people of Sarawak.