Wednesday January 2, 2013
Survivor of Death Railway recalls hellish ordeal
By HAMDAN RAJA ABDULLAH
MUAR: More than 300,000 forced labourers were said to have worked on the notorious Burma Railway for the Japanese during World War II and only a few still live to tell stories of the horrific working and living conditions there under the watch of ruthless soldiers.
Though he is now 87, survivor Basiron Abu can vividly recall the horrors, starvation, sickness and deaths that occurred during the building of the 400km track between Rangoon (now Yangon) and Bangkok which is also known as the Death Railway.
And while he can still recap his gruesome experiences, he wants the Johor Historical Society to record and document his plight as little is known or written about those who were forced to labour on the railway.
“So many died due to torture and diseases like malaria. Food was scarce. We ate wild fruits from the jungle,” he said at his home in Kampung Sungai Balang Darat here.
Also present were his wife, Munirah Said, sister Surip Abu, 81, and Surip's son, former state executive councillor Salikun Sarpin.
Basiron said many able-bodied youths were rounded up from villages in Muar during the war and sent to Thailand to become forced labourers for the railway.
“I was about 18 when I was taken by the Japanese Imperial Army to the Segamat railway station.
“From there, I was taken to Thailand,” he said, adding that the army only looked for unmarried men and two others from his village were also taken.
Basiron recalled that he worked for two years at a place called Murai Kisih, near the Thai-Myanmar border.
“There were thousands of workers of many nationalities, including Chinese, Indians, Malays and also British prisoners-of-war.
“Besides the railway, we also had to build bridges and shacks for us to sleep in the dense jungles,” he said, adding that he was ill for many years after he returned to Muar.
His two friends from the village, however, died after returning home.
Basiron said he met many others from Johor but did not know how many had survived the ordeal or had died, either of hunger, malnutrition or torture.
“I would like to know how many had gone through the same hell but I cannot find any information about the forced labourers,” he said, hoping that the Johor Historical Society could help to shed some light by compiling the stories of forced labourers from the state who worked on the Death Railway.
Recalling her brother's condition when he returned to Muar after labouring on the railway, Surip said: “He was not only sick but also suffered mental health issues.
“He was like a lost soul, keeping to himself and scared to leave the house for several years,” she said.
She added, however, that Basiron gradually recovered and later married Munirah, with whom he has eight children.