Chilling account of massacre in Pulau Jerejak during Japanese Occupation

Rajinder Singh at Penang Forum 7: #SaveJerejak – Photograph: Penang Forum

When Rajindar Singh worked as a medical assistant* in charge of the treatment room of Camp 1 in Pulau Jerejak in the mid-1960s, he spotted a solitary full-grown coconut tree growing in the premises and wondered who had planted it there and why.

He enquired about the origins of the tree from the older staff who had worked in the camp during the Japanese Occupation and who were now in their fifties (in the 1960s) and about to retire.

They narrated a chilling tale:

During the Japanese Occupation, patients with leprosy were supplied food rations. Unfortunately, at one stage, the rations ran short, and the patients were going hungry.

They staged a protest or rampage, surrounding the bungalow of the medical officer, Metha, in Camp 1. The camp was ringed by an iron railing fence and located on the eastern side of the island (where the present shipyard is).

As the situation worsened, about eight to 10 Sikh auxiliary police in Camp 2 on the slopes above the beach nearby found themselves unable to control the situation. So they informed police headquarters in Penang, then headed by Japanese officers.

The officers ordered a motorboat with Japanese soldiers on board and a machine gun to speed towards Pulau Jerejak.

When the patients saw the Japanese arriving, they bolted into the jungle, leaving behind a number of stragglers who were unable to move as fast.

The soldiers moved into Camp 1, set up their machine gun inside the premises where the wards were located, and then fired at whoever was left behind.

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It is not clear how many patients were mowed down, perhaps as many as four or five dozen.

In memory of the those who perished, other patients planted a solitary coconut tree inside the fence of Camp 1.

After the war, the remaining leprosy patients in Camps 1 and 3 were transferred to the Sungai Buluh settlement, and the two camps were then used for tuberculosis patients, while patients with leprosy continued to be housed in Camps 4 and 5 on the western side.

Rajindar believes that the figure of 5,000-plus graves in Pulau Jerejak is an understatement. While researching old press reports, he found that an average of 20 patients a day were succumbing to cholera during an outbreak in August 1908. The quarantine station at the time was receiving large numbers of immigrants from India, resulting in overcrowding. The staff were overwhelmed by the numbers arriving at a time when there was a cholera outbreak in south India. An average of 1,500 immigrants arrived in a week, with 700 landing in Penang and the rest going to (then) Port Swettenham.

In the 1960s, Ranjindar and his colleagues had to oversee the burials of quite a number of tuberculosis patients who had no known relatives to claim their bodies.

In 1969, when the last of the leprosy patients were moved out of the island, a number of those who had been fully cured were resettled in small homes in Teluk Kumbar.

Today, Rajindar feels that Pulau Jerejak is steeped in history and the island, along with the memories associated with it, deserves to be preserved for future generations.

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* Four others on duty at Camp 1 were the supervisor and medical assistants in charge of the kitchen, lab, and the pharmacy. Camp 3 further south had only one medical assistant who handled everything.

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  1. Maybe some part of the island will be developed and some parts of it related to WW2 to be preserved .
    As it cannot remain at the present condition forever.
    Maybe there are plans to make it as an adventure island since nobody really lives there.
    Penang really needed more attractions .
    Or visitors would just fly to Phuket .
    I recollect that there were several short video documentaries made regarding this Jerejak Island.
    Really provided an insight of life during the 1900s and the arrival of the Japanese Imperial Army.
    Maybe Penang Forum , historians & locals could offer help to identify deserving places and reason of particular spots to be preserved and catalog.

  2. Fresh logging at Ulu Muda water catchment area

    SUNGAI PETANI: Almost a year after rampant logging near the Ulu Muda reserve that affected the water catchment area and dam there was exposed, a new trail for timber lorries has been found.

    The new trail at the catchment area in the forest reserve near Sik, is believed to have been used by loggers since early this year.

    The 5m wide trail is more than 15km long and it runs uphill along the Ulu Muda lake.

    A check by The Star on Wednesday revealed hundreds of logs stacked at the base site. There was also heavy machinery parked there.

    Another recalcitrant state gomen? Just like Kelantan?

  3. LKS: Additional appointment of Umno vice president Hishammuddin as minister with special functions in the Prime Minister’s Department while retaining his portfolio as defence minister, is to protect Najib from being ousted as the sixth prime minister of Malaysia – whether externally as a result of defeat in the forthcoming 14th general election, or from being removed internally as prime minister before the polls.

    Does that mean that Najib has no confidence in his DPM Zahid Hamidi?

    • Special function means special agent like 007 James Bond, Hisha more suave than Zahid?
      I guess we have to check other blogs for juicy truth since Anil now more confined within the Forum of Penang.

    • Special function for Hisham to handle the Sabah ESSCOM issue including Abu Sayaf threat.
      But is this not a duplication of Hisham’s role as Defence Minister?
      Let’s hope he is not being paid more for such duplicated role.

      • Hishammuddin has been urged to investigate the alleged corruption in the Defence Ministry that he is in charge of, including the Scorpene submarine scandal and the pension for army veterans.

        PKR Youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said this following the defence minister’s declaration that he is prepared for any corruption investigation against him.

  4. Now, looks like many Penang developers are under some sort of curse ?
    A number of them is queuing to be called up by the MACC soon.
    Just don’t touch Pulau Jerejak !

      • What’s so wonderful with Starbuck? Margie will tell you the Westerners will fall for local kopi o once they have tasted and made comparisons.
        Anyway, I look forward to Marvel’s Wonder Woman the Movie this year.

      • Move over Starbucks, try the Malaysian Hand-Pulled Coffee:

        No angmoh Barista could perform such pulling trick.

    • Sonicfish where is your voice when Penang shipbuilding and later boustead shipbuilding is in the island. You love to live next to a shipyard?

      • Liang is MP for Simpam Rengam, and he is not able to clean his obligated area for vices so unlikely he can get cooperation from Gangsters Pulo Mutiara, mostly now very low key look deceivingly clean.

      • Penang Gerakan leaders are prepared for the long and winding path to obtain access to agreements on reclamation projects inked when BN ruled Penang.

        Today, its state leaders submitted their appeal to the state government to access agreements of three reclamation projects under the Freedom of Information Enactment 2010 (FOI).

        State party acting youth chief Jason Loo submitted his application to a staff from the state secretariat office in Komtar today.

  5. How can Penang Forum gain the attention and support towards preservation of Jerejak Island, when there is no effort to conduct eco-friendly tour to the public to gain knowledge of the significance of the ruins and tombs on the island ???

    Young people actually look forward to a theme park there, no need to travel far to Genting or Sentosa to catch a rollercoaster ride.

      • Anil
        Have you been to The Top Komtar attractions ?

        It targets tourists I think. Locals can afford Marybrown there, eat affordable burgers and enjoy free sight of dinosaurs there.

        I fly my drone and able to capture the giant dinosaurs up there.

      • No, I havent been there. Not really my cup of tea. What has been the response from visitors? Will OWG be able to recoup its investment?

        Maybe one day I might go and check out the House of Music.

      • The Top Komtar:
        Package B: Observatory Deck & Window Of The Top – Featuring Rainbow Skywalk (Day Pass)
        Single Adult / Dewasa: MyKad – Rm88 / Standard – Rm118
        Single Child / Kanak-kanak: MyKad – Rm58 / Standard – Rm88

        Q: How many Penangites or families can afford the above @ MyKad Rate???
        Maybe young yuppies or richie teens can afford, but my guess is they may make this skywalk a one time (in a lifetime affair) @ Valentine!

      • Komtar Jurassic Research Centre, watch the video before you decide whether to take your children there :

      • LinkBike is a new way to connect and commute within George Town, Penang. Anyone can pick up a bike from any of the 25 stations and return it to another station. It is as simple as a scan on the QR Code to release the bicycle. These bikes serve as a short distance transit vehicle to reduce/replace use of motor vehicles, avoid traffic congestion and reduce environmental pollution.

        With the BSS, one can also cycle to Straits Quay or Queensbay on the scenic coastal lane. Penang is on its way to connect the last mile which is part of the Penang Transport Masterplan. In future, one can hop on and off the LRT and grab a bike to reach their destination.

        Let’s Cycle, Let’s Share, Let’s Go Green.

      • The success or failure of Komtar The Top attractions should be properly studied so that any projects in Jerejak can be attractive to foreign/domestic tourists as well as being affordable to average Penang-lang.

        This video shows whats in store at The Top of Komtar.

        Some may like others may not.

        What say you, the readers ?

      • The Komtar Jurassic Research Centre looks cool!
        Thanks Damien & Mike Shum.
        Now, what about a Gozilla climbing up Komtar Tower???

      • Nowadays a night’s clubbing with drinks would cost at least RM100.
        A concert by K-Pop artist would cost at least RM300 per ticket.
        Young generation folks are used to such high pricing.
        Of course older folks will find it difficult to fork out RM50 for leisure attractions – they used to watch movie for RM2, now cineplex will charge RM13 to RM15. Kacang Putih only 50 sen last time, now pop corn will cost RM5!

    • Penang Forum should not just organise closed door event, need to venture out like organise gotong royong cleaning up Penang, besides eco tour to Jerejak as suggested. Also should promote better walkways for pedestrians for the safety of those walking against those errant drivers. The

      • Penang walkways or pedestrian paths in Penang usually there is one planted tree every few steps. The Forumers drive cars so often and seldom walk, so they can never emphasize with the plight of pedestrians.

    • @heart and head
      You sound very out of balance!!! Take a rollercoaster ride in the 101 Goes to the end of the world for rm 4 only thats fun and not far also. Sounds far but thats an illusion, same as Genting and Sentosa
      Sleep well…

      @tunglang a skywalk for rm 118 children rm 88 this are disney prices:-)
      No western tourist will pay for that ahopeless creation. They will love to pay thrice the price for a guided jungle tour in Jerejak forest (is there a forest)incl the entrance rates of the war- and ghost museum and a donation for the maintenance of the heritage with the guarantee Jerejak will be Jerejak till the end of times. If the state want to make it more special…Make it Survival Island simple and beautiful. Cost nothing exist already….

      No development of any kind. Let the dead rest and nature be!

      • MargieMagician
        Do guide us to the pristine jungle of Jerejak. We eagerly awaiting your guidance as long as you don’t charge us too much.
        Cheers and have good sleep

  6. With the horriffic massacre history, the theme park in Jerejak can claim to be the most authentic ghost mansion roller coaster ride for example, and can get Ghost Adventurers like Zack to testify Japanese WW2 spirits to add to the list why must visit Pulo Pinang!

  7. Ketua Menteri Pulau Pinang Lim Guan Eng menggesa para aktivis yang bimbang dengan nasib Pulau Jerejak untuk melobi UDA Holdings yang mempunyai projek di pulau itu.

    “Jangan ‘menyalak pada pokok yang salah’,” kata Lim sebagai tindak balas kepada forum awam semalam yang digelar pulau itu sebagai “Alcatraz” Malaysia.

    Forum tersebut memutuskan bahawa kerajaan negeri patut mengenakan moratorium ke atas apa-apa rancangan pembangunan di Pulau Jerejak.

    Menggali semula skandal forex 25 tahun lalu
    Lim berkata, pentadbirannya bersedia untuk mempermudahkan dialog antara para aktivis berkenaan dan pihak pemaju.

    “Saya pasti pemaju lebih daripada bersedia untuk menjawab soalan,” katanya kepada Malaysiakini.

    Beliau menegaskan, projek UDA Holdings telah dimeterai tatkala BN memerintah Pulau Pinang dan sejak tahun 2008, pentadbirannya tidak membenarkan apa-apa pembangunan baru di pulau itu.

    “Kami (kini) perlu menghormati perjanjian yang dimeterai antara pemaju dan kerajaan sebelum ini mengenai kawasan 80 ekar yang akan menjalani pembangunan semula.

    “Jika pemaju memenuhi kehendak pihak berkuasa tempatan, bagaimana kita mahu katakan tidak?” tanya Lim.

    Beliau berkata kerajaan Pulau Pinang tidak akan meluluskan sebarang permohonan baru untuk membangunkan Pulau Jerejak atau melakukan pencerobohan hutan simpan.

    Ulang Lim, hutan simpan itu akan diwartakan sebagai taman negeri, selepas UDA mengemukakan rancangannya untuk pembangunan semula di pulau itu.

  8. Every person above 80 and specially 90 will have many interesting accounts to narrate, and may even lead us to important sites. This could be valuable research, and also a welcome change for the elderly. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on chauvinism, fraudulent history, money-making and not offending investors (including Japanese), this opportunity is fading away.

  9. Thank you, Anil.
    This interesting historical account of Pulau Jerejak, though brief is very rare to come by. So too is the interesting map with visual details.
    My Malay friend who related his 3am paranormal experience while fishing @ Batu Lanchang (the northern most tip with a view of Pg Bridge & Gold Coast Condos) was not pulling my legs as I originally suspected. Seeing how close the cemeteries & detention + quarantine camps finally convinced me of his words now.
    Wait till Cheng Beng is over before you venture in the forest, alone.
    Even those with ringing in the ears may hear whisperings, left & right, near or far!

    Pulau ni, memang KERAZZZ!

    • You can make short film using DSLR using your “Stephen King” imagination with Jerejak spooky tales ad backdrop. Anil, Zoro and R666 can make cameo appearances. Then post it in YouTube with promo trailer in This way the environmental message can be effectively conveyed to social media crazed community. Who knows you can win Finas short film awards for your creativity. If you need Caucasian as actors, Anil can easily get them for you via PHT or PForum. As for Japanese characters, you can get locals with Sepek look to cover.

      • I need deities, CAT deity, Niao Kong or Niao Pek Kong to add thrills to the plot.
        Volunteer from Komtar is very much welcomed.
        But I control the script, no censorship, no political-curtsy-apologetic.
        If all these above are acceptable by the state, I will create a film.

        Note: this is not mural art where approval from MBPP is required.


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