Mom remembers the war

Reminiscing is supposedly a good way to engage persons with dementia, and helps to stimulate their memories whilst feeling good about themselves. Last week I asked mom about the time I was very young, which led to my previous post. This week, I asked her instead about the time when she was very young, which was when the Japanese occupation of Malaya took place. The following is her account:

The war with Japan? No, I don’t remember it.

Oh the Japanese came, and my father gave them liquor in his shop. They sat in the shop and had the liquor there.

My father told my mother to slaughter a chicken for them. Of course, someone else, not my mother, brought the chicken out to them. So they drank liquor and had chicken.

My mother kept her chickens in a dry well outside the kitchen. The well is covered with a wire mesh to keep thieves out. People steal the chickens.

No, it didn’t smell. We threw leftovers down the well for the chickens to eat. It was a large well.

When the Japanese aircraft flew overhead, my mother would ask us children to go under the bridge. This is a stone bridge and 3 or 4 of us kids would go under it where it was dry. The adults? The adults don’t need to go under the bridge…. Maybe… they hid somewhere else.

People washed their clothes under the bridge, but my mother told us to stay away from the water. You could fall in and drown.

Later my father arranged for my brother and me to go to Kuala Lipis to go to school. We two were the ones who could study. We were supposed to stay in a photographer’s house. But the photographer went out one day and died..  of a heart attack. And then his wife died, and his son died. So my uncle came, and saw the situation, and decided to bring us to Penang. 

We went to Penang and I went to ACS girls school and my brother went to ACS boys school. Then my uncle was transferred to Butterworth and I went to the Convent school there. So for the first two years of school, I lived with my uncle, my father’s brother.

There was a vague familiarity about mom’s story- I must have heard it before. The three towns mom mentioned are on the map. Kuala Lipis is right in the middle, and as mom lived in a village nearby, it was away from the main Japanese route of invasion. The places she went to school – Georgetown in Penang, and Butterworth, are at the top left corner of the map.

I am glad for this opportunity for mom to remember, and remember accurately. Looking forward to new topics for reminiscing…


20 thoughts on “Mom remembers the war”

  1. My mom just passed away 1-1/2 years ago and I’m realizing too late all the things I wish I knew about her past. Get what you can as soon as you can. Record them, write them down or some of the smallest details might be lost.


    1. It’s strange. When the older folk were able and willing to tell, we young ‘uns could not understand and refused to listen. It does seem like there’s a narrow window when they will talk and we will listen.


  2. I am enjoying your posts. My mother is slowly losing herself as well and I am also trying to press her for information. Just curious, are you recording her as she recalls her stories? I am wondering what is the best way to do this.


    1. Thank you. I haven’t been recording, though I should. Most of these conversations take place as we have our weekend breakfasts outside. I take surreptitious notes in my handphone.
      My own guidelines:
      – I must be genuinely interested in the topic
      – I ask a question and then let mom recall freely, and prompt her for clarification only if needed
      – I don’t encourage her to try to remember, as it may trigger creation of false memories
      – Often there are loose ends, and the story does not tie up (to me) even after a couple of clarifying questions. I let it be.


    2. Last year when my mom’s memory was a bit better we participated in a program at our local library, since she is a veteran of WWII they asked her questions about her service mostly. It is wonderful to have this recorded and a copy was sent to the library of congress. I will try to upload it to my blog this week. Since that time, she has lost more and more but sometimes I play it for her and she remembers and enjoys it. No matter what you are able to capture you will be so glad you did. Perhaps your library has an elders oral history project? Beth Z from middlescapes.


      1. Looking forward to reading your post and viewing the recording 🙂
        Thanks for the suggestion of the local library. There was a national archive project, but now Singapore is a separate country from where mom grew up.


    1. Thanks. Although the topic was inspired by your post on the Korean war, I realise it is different. The Japanese beat the British off so fast from Singapore and Malaya it wasn’t really called a war – it was mostly referred to as the Japanese Occupation. And they invaded the country on bicycles which were confiscated from the locals.


  3. it’s wonderful reading your mother’s memories because even though different from my Dad’s they carry similarities too…I think the idea of taping her is grand, you would enjoy this in years to come. My father is mostly silent until the evening when he speaks gibberish now.


  4. It is sad that sometimes because older folks can be ‘cranky’ – kids leave them alone, only to regret in later years of opportunities lost.

    Great to hear these recollections – Thank you, Eric


    1. Thanks, Eric.
      Yes, too easy for the opportunities to pass by. Also, I think it was difficult for me to imagine what it was like in the past. It is only now when my imagination has been enriched by viewing pictures, tv shows, movies, reading books… that I can better understand mom’s stories.


  5. I too wished I took time recording my parents’ stories.Too late, however I am recording my mother-in law’s life. A great motivator for her and a writing project for me, her care-giver.


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