Endau-Rombin Nature Park, Johor, Malaysia.
Bahau Town, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia.
Today both these towns are small, quiet and lively, but each of them is key to a little known part of the occupation of Singapore.
Just after the occupation of Singapore began and the bulk of the Japanese forces had moved out of the city to go down south, the Japanese Military Administration took over the running of the place. The destruction had to be cleared up and the arguably more difficult task of running the city had to be done. By August 1943, food shortages became a huge problem in Singapore. Food to the island was meant to be delivered from Malaysia, however pilaged fields and ravaged citizens could not till the land, so little food could be sent down.
To combat the lack of food, Singapore people were encouraged to relocate to self-sufficient settlements to look after themselves, and then to hopefully produce enough food so as to be able to sent them to Singapore too. The Japanese looked to shift ideally 300,000 people out of the island. Two sites were chosen, Endau in Johor and Bahau in Negri Sembilan. Chinese persons were encouraged to move to Endau while Catholic Chinese and Eurasians were encouraged to move to Bahau. The plan sounded perfect on paper, the people would move out, they would provide for themselves and then send the rest down to Singapore. Endau was called New Syonan, while Bahau was termed Fuji-go.
For those enocouraged to go, the plan seemed attractive. The Japanese would not step into the settlements, they would be completely self run, meaning they would not have to live in fear every day. Instead of the planned 300,000, only 12,000 persons went to Endau and a mere 2,000 made the choice to go to Bahau. A settlement was also planned in Pulau Bintan for Indian persons.
The plan sounded good, but there were a few flaws.
First, the people who went were mostly from the educated classes (recall the Japanese by then had slaughtered many of those who would probably have known hard labour during the Operation Sook Ching), most of them had never worked in agriculture or the field before.
Secondly Bahau and Endau were barren and infertile.
Endau was a success (sort of), the settlement had built a bank, school, paper factory, sawmill and several restaurants. However the settlement was targetted by anti-Japanese guerillas. Peace was restored by Mamoru Shinozaki after he negotiated a rice for peace deal.
Bahau was less of a success. It was embarked upon after the success of Endau. The settlement was made up of Eurasians, Protestants and Chinese catholics. Most of these persons were white collar workers, who had absolutely no knowledge of farming.
The land was tilled with little success as Bahau was completely barren, and many people ended up suffering from mulnutrition. The Catholic Bishop, Adrien Pierre Devals while working the field with the people, accidentally cut his foot and died of tetanus in 1945 at the age of 62.
According to a book by E. Wijeysingha, Going Forth: The Catholic Church in Singapore, 1819 – 2004 (2004), Bishop Devals was the only local leader who stood up to the Japanese. His guts and advice was so respected that the Japanese would approach him to seek his views on major issues before deciding. His position would be taken over by another very strong leader, the late Bishop Michel Olcomendy, who would be a Bishop for 30 years.
This part of the sorry history in the war ended when the people in these settlements flocked back to Singapore, on the first train back after the Japanese surrendered.