Japan invades Malaya 1941/42

On 8 December 1941, just after midnight, Japan invades Malaya, one hour before the attack on Pearl Harbour. Less than eight weeks later, on 31 January 1942, the British Indian army has to retreat across the causeway to Singapore. A fascinating chronology of the invasion can be found here

One of the most decisive battles between the Japanese and British Indian army in the Malaya campaign has been fought near Kampar, the Battle of Kampar. The Japanese army advanced along the trunk road nr 1 and the British army had built fortified positions on the Bujang Melaka hill ridges near Kampar, overlooking the trunk road. My friends Chadel and Keong explored one of these ridges a couple of years ago and Chadel asked me recently if I was interested to go again and explore more. I was….:-)

We decided to follow the retreat of the British Indian Army from Kuala Kangsar until Serendah. In the three maps below (click to enlarge), the old trunk road nr 1 is highlighted in black. Red circles indicate points of interest. In what follows, I will comment on these “red spots”


 The Sungei Perak bridges

On 19 and 20 December, heavy fighting took place on the Grik-Kuala Kangsar road near Lenggong. Japanese troops used the Cenderoh lake and the Perak river to float down in rafts, in the night bypassing Kuala Kangsar. It would be a disaster if they would take the two bridges (road and railway) across the Perak river, therefore the commander of all troops west of the Perak River, ordered on 21-12 an immediate withdrawal across the Perak river. This withdrawal was complete on 23-12 and the two bridges were demolished.

Here is where our recce started. We drove along the highway to Kuala Kangsar, where we had lunch in the Yat Lai shop, boasting on the best halal pow of Malaysia..:-) It was crowded and we shared a table with Ali, a friendly Malay gentleman, 83 years old. Of course I asked him if he had memories of the Japanese invasion. Not really anything  memorable, of course he was still a young boy, living in ‘remote’ Sauk.

The two bridges are still there, repaired of course, the impressive  Iskandar bridge still in use. The scenic Victoria railway bridge has been replaced by a new railway bridge parallel to it.

Intermezzo 1

Following the nr 1 trunk road to Ipoh, we passed Sungai Siput. It was here, 16 June 1948, that at the Phin Soon and Elphin plantations three European managers were killed by communists, leading to the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). A few years ago I had looked for these plantations and found them, but no sign of a memorial. So it was a surprise to notice a signboard now at the entrance of the Phin Soon estate. Followed by disappointment when the security guard told us that a visit of the memorial was only possible with permission of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association in KL. After some sweet talk we could meet the estate manager, who was cooperative and willing to bring us to the memorial shed, but he didn’t have the key, so we could not enter. We will have to come back here.


The British plan was to delay the advance of the Japanese army in order to give the troops in Kampar time to fortify their defensive positions. Chemor was one of the locations where the Japanese would be lured into an ambush. My military background is non-existent so I do not really understand the details of the ambush, except that it failed completely. The text pages below are from “Escape from Singapore” The limestone crop, mentioned in the text, has now been partly destroyed by the Lafarge Cement factory…:-)

The Kuala Dipang bridge

Our last stop for the day was at the Kuala Dipang bridge, near the confluence of the Dipang and the Kampar river, a few km north of Kampar. The present bridge over the Kampar river is a new one, but on a picture stumps in the water, remains of the old bridge, were still visible. On 28 and 29 December 1941 heavy fighting took place here. The bridge was demolished, delaying the advance of the Japanese army.

We found the new bridge over the Kampar river, but did not see any stumps. A friendly local angler explained that those stumps had been removed already quite some time ago, but that some bits and pieces could still be found in the field next to the river. And indeed, we found some old remnants, nothing spectacular, but still interesting

We stayed overnight in Kampar. The Rumah Rehat (Resthouse) was fully booked, but hotel Fully Well (what’s in a name, lol) was a good alternative. We had dinner with claypot chicken rice, one of the best I ever have tasted.

Kampar must have been a small village during the war, a few streets, between the slopes of the Bujang Melaka and the numerous tin mining ponds. With a famous school, the Anglo-Chinese school, which became the headquarters of the Japanese army during the occupation. Now the town has expanded a lot, many tin mining ponds have been filled in and become residential areas and the location of the TAR college.

The Battle of Kampar

Just before Kampar the British Indian army had built fortified positions on three ridges overlooking the trunk road, Thompson’s ridge, Green Ridge and Cemetery Ridge. It is here that from 30-12-1941 until 2-1-1942 the battle of Kampar was fought. Chye Kooi Loong, a Kampar teacher and local historian has written a monumental book about it. We would have loved to meet him, but he passed away last year April.

When Chadel and Keong explored the Green Ridge a few years ago,  there was still a signboard. It had disappeared now, so we had to find our own way. Not easy, no trail, swarms of mosquitoes. We found a few trenches, got lost a bit, found our way back. According to Chadel there should be more remnants, but we could not find them. On our way down we followed the stream between Green Ridge and Thompson’s ridge, with even a nice waterfall…:-) A pity that the authorities apparently are not interested to preserve this part of Malaysian history..:-(

After lunch in Kampar we relaxed at the Batu Berangkai Fall. A big pool, nice cascades. When I went back to the car to get my swimming gear, I managed to lock myself out… Fortunately Chadel turned out to be an experienced car thief, breaking into his own car!

The resistance of the British Indian army was so fierce and the Japanese losses so considerable that after four days of fighting the Japanese commander seriously considered to retreat and fall back to Ipoh. But at that same time, the British Army became aware that Japanese troops had landed at Teluk Intan. They were worried that these troops would cut off the main supply route from the south, and decided to pull back, to the surprise (and relief) of the Japanese! Would history have been different if the Japanese had retreated earlier…:-)?

The British Indian army retreated along the trunk road to Trolak and Slim River, where on 7-1-1942 the Battle of Slim River took place. We followed them, 73 years later…:-)

The Trolak Bridge

We had seen a picture of the Trolak bridge, a few km before Slim River, fallen undamaged in the hand of the Japs. After studying the maps we found it. The trunk road 1, as it was in 1942, is not everywhere identical with the present one! After the war this road has been “straightened” in several places. Look at the map. The original nr 1 road is in black, the straightened parts are in red. Near Trolak it is only a small stretch, but from Slim River to Tanjung Malim it is a completely new road. Actually the first toll road in Malaysia! My friends still remember that you had to pay 50 cents toll, until later the highway (green color) was constructed.

In Slim River the Rumah Rehat had rooms available. I always like to stay in these Resthouses, originally built for traveling civil servants. Sometimes quite basic, but often in a nice location. We had to pay RM 10 more, because we were not civil servants..:-). Slim River was a small kampung in 1942, now it has grown into a village, no problem to get food.

 The Battle of Slim River

The two Slim River bridges are far apart, not easy to defend. The map below gives the defensive positions. Main line of defense was at Trolak, where railway and road run very close. See map. It became a disaster. The Trolak force cold not stop the Japanese army, and through miscommunication, the troops near the Slim River bridges were not aware that the Japanese were approaching, resulting in such a chaos that the two bridges fell undamaged in Japanese hands! Here are the two bridges, the railway bridge has been made double track, the road bridge could well be unchanged since the war. You can read more about this debacle in Britain’s Greatest Defeat

The old nr 1 road from Slim River to Tanjung Malim (now the A121) still evokes a feeling of the past. Very winding and quiet. Could the enemy be waiting around the corner?

Intermezzo 2

On our way back home, we made a detour to Batang Kali, to find another location related to the Malayan Emergency.  On 24 December 1948, six months after the killing of the three planters in Sungai Siput,  twenty four unarmed villagers were killed by British troops in what now is known as the Batang Kali Massacre. The British government has always denied responsibility for this war crime. There are plans for a memorial, I know the location of the plantation where it happened, but we could not find anything, it looks like the plantation doesn’t exist anymore. Here too we have to come back another time

The Battle of Serendah

After the debacle of Slim River, the British commanders decided to give up Selangor (including Kuala Lumpur!)and Negri Sembilan and fall back to Johore for a final attempt to stop the Japanese approach to Singapore. Trying to delay the advance of the Japanese army, a Gurkha detachment fought a battle with the Japanese at Serendah, 10-1-1942. The frightened population had sought refuge on the Chinese cemetery, looking down on the village.The Gurkhas lost the battle and destroyed the Serendah bridge, but the Japanese were quick to repair it and the following day they entered Kuala Lumpur.

After lunch in Ulu Yam (famous for its loh mee), we had a look at the bridge and drove to the top of the cemetery, with a view of Serendah and the tin mining ponds. So peaceful now!

A fascinating trip. We are thinking about another one to Johore. The battle of Muar and Gemas, the massacre of Parit Sulong and of course the fall of SIngapore.

Meet your great-(~10 million times)-grandmother

In my blog The Tree of Life, published a few months ago, I wrote about the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of all placental mammals, that it was a shrew-like animal, living about 65 million year ago. Terrestrial, with insects and fruits as food.

Our maternal ancestor

Yesterday Yale University has published an interesting update. Our ancestor most probably was not terrestrial, but lived in trees. More a squirrel than a shrew. This conclusion was drawn, based on a study of fossil ankle bones of Purgatorius as our LCA was named.


Flooding in Malaysia

Every year, during the North-East monsoon, flooding occurs in the Eastern states of Peninsular Malaysia. Last month the country has been hit by the worst monsoon floods in decades. Not only Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang were affected, also Johor and Perak were suffering. I have collected a few pictures from the Internet, to give an impression, especially for those readers who do not live in Malaysia.

The main highway between KL and Kuantan on the East Coast was blocked by flooding. Here is an aerial view of the Temerloh exit, together with a Google Eart screenshot



As the (old) trunk road was also flooded, it was impossible to reach the East Coast by road! The National Park Taman Negara was closed and tourists staying in the posh Mutiara resort had to be evacuated.  Here the Tembeling river near to Kuala Tahan and the Mutiara resort, next to the “normal” situation


Kuala Tahan

Kuala Krai in Kelentan was very badly hit. Using the Streetview option in GE, I managed to find the location where the “flood” picture was taken.

GE Kuala Krau

Kuala Krau

A few pictures of the devastation, after the water had receded. This is the region around Kuala Krai

Many landslides occurred because of the heavy downpours. Left the  road leading from the Cameron Highlands to Gua Musang. Right the Grik-Jeli highway


Grik Jeli



It will be clear to everybody that this season is not very suitable for waterfall trekking…:-) Two “for and after” pictures of waterfalls. Left the Pandan fall near Kuantan, right the Lata Rek waterfall in Kelantan. (Click to enlarge)

Pandan fall

Lata Rek

More than 200.000 people had to be evacuated to relief centers.


Meanwhile Najib, the PM of Malaysia, was playing golf with Barrack Obama in Hawaii, until he was urgently called back by his angry people.

Najib and Obama

This was his defense

First, Razak said that Obama had personally invited him to play golf, so he couldn’t really turn it down. Second, he said that the trip was booked so long ago that it would have been awkward to cancel it. And third, he said the trip wasn’t even really about fun, because it was more of a “golf diplomacy” mission.


Street Art in KL

During a recent visit to KLCC I spent some time in the Petronas Art Gallery to have a look at an exhibition about Street Art in Kuala Lumpur.

Last year in September, fifteen young Malaysian artists have created six large mural paintings on walls of buildings in KL. The project, sponsored by Petronas, was called  #tanahairku 2014 where Tanah Air Ku means My Homeland. In the exhibition small scale versions of the paintings were presented and in a folder the locations were shown. In a modern way, by giving the GPS coordinates…:-).

Petronas Exhibition



Quote from the folder: “Projek #tanahairku 2014 aims to encourage 30 million Malaysians – a unique melting pot of cultures, traditions and heritage – to come together, draw from our strength in diversity and unite towards a common purpose

We decided to have a look at the paintings ourselves. Here I present pictures of each of them, with the title, name of the artist(s) and a short description, as given in the folder

1. Smile by Keep It Simple a.k.a KIS

Welcome to a surreal fantasy - a mural featuring a plethora of 
national symbols, elements and historical icons



2. We Are All In The Same Boat by District Creative

A boat and its passengers. 
A country and its people. 
A juxtaposition of imageries. 
A message of strength in diversity.


3. Brave by Anokayer & Yumz

An artistic take on the youth of the nation portraying the many 
compilations and contradictions in one visual



4. The Village and The City by Kenji X Cloak

The coming together of two worlds - an allegory of Malaysian 
life, and a wall-sized caricature portrait of the two artists



5. Makmur, Teguh, Luhur by Phiberwryte Connection

Three essential words chosen by the artist for the youth of the 
nation to embrace.



6.The Malaysian Model Heart Kit by KangBlaBla X Reeze

What is a Malaysian heart made of? What are the attributes and 
qualities that keep us going and define us as Malaysians



Altogether an interesting collection. Colorful, often graffiti-like. The description (given by the artists?) does not always help in understanding the significance of the mural, but never mind ..:-)

A few times you see 1957 in the murals. In 1957 the Federation of Malaya became independent, celebrated yearly on 31 August. The state of Malaysia was born 6 years later, in 1963. But that is a topic for another post…:-)

A nice project, I hope the murals will be maintained properly. Very different from the murals in Penang and Gopeng. Which is good! On our way back to our car we came across another one, not related to the #tanahairku project. I wonder how many more murals there might be in KL..:-)


The project got its name from the poem Tanah Air (Homeland), written by a Malaysian poet laureate, Usman Awang (1929-2001). My knowledge of Malay language is not good enough (actually almost non-existent) to understand the poem, but apparently it is popular. Recently a  very niceYouTube video has been created of this poem.


As you may know I am quite worried about the future of Malaysia, with a government who is stoking racial unrest, just to remain in power. A project like this and the video offer a glimpse of optimism.


Journal 2-1-2015

December is not a very suitable month for waterfall trips. It is the season of the East monsoon, with lots of rain not only in the Eastern states, but all over the country. Not advisable to visit remote falls with a lot of river trekking. Early December I had visited the nearby Kanching Falls, we were back just before the rain started..:-)


One week later I visited another waterfall with Janine, Edwin, Paul and Fahmy. I had been there before with my friend Eddie Yap, who has “discovered’ this pristine and unspoiled fall. He wants to keep it that way, I promised him to keep the location secret. We started early to avoid rain and we were lucky, the weather was splendid.

When at home, I spend much of my time with my computer, actually I must try not to get addicted (hey, you are already, some of my friends will tell me). Recently my computer chair broke down, I bought a new one in IKEA. Quite easy to assemble it…:-)



My friend Chuan has recently discovered the hobby of bird photography and is a fast learner. One of his pictures, a heron in flight, is very nice and I had promised him that, after some editing, I would have this picture printed and framed. Here I am handing over the result, during a lunch in our favourite Black and White stall. The other picture is taken at the house of my friends Joseph and Beatrice. Christmas Caroling, very enjoyable even for a non-believer like me…:-)

Chuan Christmas Caroling

The weekend before Christmas I went to Sabak Bernam, to attend the wedding dinner of one of Aric’s cousins. It was a big event, more than 70 tables (that is the way the size of a Chinese wedding dinner is counted, one table is for ten people). Among the more than 700 guests there was one Kwai Loh (me) and one Indian (brother in law of the groom).  This time no pictures of the food (which was nice), the cutting of the cake, the uncorking of the champagne bottle, the yam seng singing. Just a few pictures of me…:-)

On Christmas Day we went to KLCC with Aei Ling, Aric’s older sister. Because her husband died recently, she and her kids will in general not visit family and friends during the mourning period of 100 days.  Therefore they did not attend the wedding dinner. We walked around in KLCC, crowded with everybody in Xmas mood;  later we had a nice dinner together.

A few days later there was a big family gathering in Damansara Mutiara, near to where we live. Everybody was supposed to bring some food, I had prepared eggs stuffed with salmon and cucumber. They liked it…:-). It was a pleasant meeting, Aric is a very popular uncle with the many kids around.

Here is the official picture

Family gathering

New Year’s Eve we stayed at home, as usual. This time we had decided to prepare a gastronomic dinner for the two of us, with Aric and I each preparing 5 dishes. We started with the first course at 7 pm and finished just before midnight. Big fun. Here is what we prepared.


From left to right and top to bottom:

1. Pork Liver Pâté  2. Avocado with prawns 3. Shiitake Soup 4. Scallops with vinaigrette
5. Salmon with herbs from the oven 6. Tomato stuffed with macaroni, olives and cheese
7. Salad 8. Cheese 9. Ricotta with strawberry coulis 10 Ice cream with warm berries

Wines: Merlot, Chardonnay, Sake and Monbazillac. We also had a bottle of champagne but we decided to keep it for another occasion. Don’t worry, we did not get drunk.


Because of the severe flooding in several states (more than 200.000 people evacuated!), the government had decided to cancel the traditional firework celebrations. Usually we watch the fireworks from our balcony, this time it was a quiet countdown.

Happy New Year