I saw Japanese soldiers torturing people in Singapore

MALAYSIA - Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, this station in Singapore boasted one of the longest platform of all Keretapi Tanah Melayu stations.

As a boy, H.A. Patrick Sinnappoo was sent to the island to work as a translator. He tells Shanti Gunaratnam about his years there, witnessing the good, bad and ugly that were committed during the Japanese occupation.

"I saw a man pacing up and down, and when he told me that he was waiting for someone to arrive, I left him on his own and returned to my desk, although I knew no trains were due at that time."

"Minutes later, I heard the sound of a gunshot," said H.A. Patrick Sinnappoo, who was working as a translator for the Japanese at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

"I found the man at the air-raid shelter with a gun in his hand. He was dead.

"The Japanese army officer had committed suicide when the Japanese surrendered to the British.

"But that officer was not the only casualty of the surrender," said Sinnappoo.

"There were others, too, who committed suicide, either by slitting their wrists or shooting themselves," recalled the 83 year old.

It all started in 1942, when the Japanese took over Malaya, forcing the administration and education system to be changed and children had to study the Japanese language (Nippon Go).

Already well-versed in English and Tamil, Sinnappoo had no problems mastering Japanese, for which he was given a "Rising Sun" badge and certificate.

In early 1944, the Japanese were recruiting young boys for the army and this got Sinnappoo's parents worried .

"A relative, who was the chief signal inspector at Singapore Railways had attended my sister's wedding around that time and before he went back, my mother spoke to him about me, and showed him my badge and certificate.

"A few days later, I received a letter from the Tanjong Pagar railway stationmaster, requesting me to attend an interview. I went wearing my Rising Sun badge on my shirt for the interview."

When Sinnappoo entered the interview room at the railway station, a Japanese officer in military uniform saluted him and he was stunned.

Deep in his heart, Sinnappoo knew that the salute was for the "Rising Sun" badge.

Soon, he was appointed the Japanese/English interpreter, working with the Japanese and also locals at the railway station.

A few days after his appointment, Sinnappoo was taken to the kempeitai (military police) office at the station, where he was told to be ready when there were interrogations.

"As a 14 year old, working with the railway officials and travellers was fine, but working with the kempeitai, was something else.

"It was frightening to witness the punching, kicking and the beatings that went on during the interrogations."

Farmers, travelling with tapioca and sweet potatoes from Layang and Kulai by goods trains, to do business at the Kampung Baru market, were treated like smugglers.

"One incident that I still remember was this Indian man who was caught heading for the market.

Upon searching him, the soldiers found a torchlight in his pocket, and he was brought in for questioning.

The man told the guards that he had bought the torchlight as a replacement for his room bulb that had fused because he did not have a spare bulb.

"The man was badly tortured and later, I discovered that he had died.

"The Japanese thought that the man was trying to sabotage the railway tracks."

The other incident that Sinnappoo remembers well was the one that happened three months before the Japanese surrendered, involving five railway station staff there.

The five men were listening to BBC, All India Radio and also Radio Ceylon broadcasts about British counter attacks during World War 2.

"The men had told the Japanese officer who had caught them that they were listening to Tamil songs and were planning for their sons' weddings.

"I knew what I had to do and informed the officer that they were just listening to Tamil songs and also that the old radio could not receive overseas transmissions.

"The officer insisted that they were traitors and the men were locked up at Outram Road Prison.

"Luckily, they were not tortured.

"While the men were in prison, their assistants carried out the duties to ensure the train services ran smoothly," Sinnappoo added.

The five officers were eventually released.

The Japanese surrendered after the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the British came back to administer Malaya.

"The British told me that I was too young to work and wanted me to go back to school.

"That was the end of my wonderful working life at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which has one of the longest platforms in all of the railway stations," said Sinnappoo with pride.

The landing of the British soldiers in Singapore by sea was a sight to behold for those who were shackled by the Japanese.

"We got a good view of the British soldiers landing by sitting on the St Theresa's church bell in Kampung Baru.

"The parish priest there, on hearing about the landing, wanted us to ring the church bell but instead of pulling the bell ropes, we climbed up to the bell.

"Sitting up there, I had a good view of the sea. The landings took place all day, and the troops were landing by the hundreds.

"The big ships were far out in the sea and the soldiers came ashore on smaller boats, to Keppel harbour."

Hundreds of tents were set up by the soldiers at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station yard."

The soldiers then moved to Bukit Timah, Kjanji and elsewhere by rail.

When the British took over, Sinnappoo registered for school at St Joseph's Institution and later returned to Kuala Lumpur to continue his studies at St John's Institution.

"In the four years I served under the Japanese, they were kind and treated me with respect.

"As a young boy, I saw many things, including the torture of the farmers and suicide of the Japanese, but took things in my stride.

"I also saw Indonesian workers working in Singapore dying after consuming too much tapioca.

"Their bloated bodies were on the roadside while many others died of starvation."

Sinnappoo said when the Japanese surrendered, their money was found in bags in Singapore.

Prices of goods skyrocketed and one egg cost about 100 dollars.

"People had Japanese money but things were scarce and expensive."

Sinnappoo completed his senior Cambridge at the age of 21 or 22 and went to work for the Central Electricity Board (now known as Tenaga Nasional Bhd) in 1953.

When he retired in 1985, Sinnappoo and his wife started their annual pilgrimage to the Novenna Church in Thompson Road, Singapore.

Upon reaching the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, he would point out all the interesting places from Kampung Baru to the Perak flats, where he had lived, and the locomotive shed, shunting yard and signal cabin.

"This happened every time we went to Singapore and I suppose at some point, my wife became fed up of my Tanjong Pagar stories."

The station was returned to Singapore on July 1, 2011.

"I will always miss the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station because I have so many wonderful memories of the place.

"The last time I visited the place was 2009. I was unaware that that would be the last time I would be stepping into the railway station."