Book Launch Review by Alison James

Book Launch at the National Museum : “From Syonan to Fuji-Go” and its companion children’s book “Voices under the Rising Sun” by Fiona Hodgkins

On 15 October, at the National Museum of Singapore, Fiona Hodgkins launched two books she has written to chronicle a little known but important episode in Singapore’s history. They tell the story of some 3000 refugees, for the most part Eurasian and Catholic, who were sent from here during World War II’s  Japanese occupation to build a settlement in a remote and inhospitable section of jungle in Malaya, near the town of Bahau. The books are the culmination of six years of research and face to face interviews with survivors and were inspired by the childhood stories Fiona heard from her mother, who with her siblings and parents were among the interns at Fuji-Go - ‘beautiful village’ in Japanese.

A large gathering in the Museum’s Salon included relatives and survivors representing some 100 of those who had struggled so hard for nearly two years of the war, battling malaria and hardship to clear the jungle and build a new life for themselves in that hostile environment –  not quite the idyllic haven the Japanese had promised. We heard from Justice Judith Prakash, Guest of Honour, just what a personal journey of discovery this has been for Fiona and gained some insight into the psychological suffering the Eurasians and Chinese of the Bahau settlement must have felt on being summarily abandoned to their fate when the British were evacuated.

Fiona thanked everyone, including many who had travelled great distances to attend the launch, for their overwhelming support. She paid tribute to all those who had shared their stories and given her access to memoirs and diaries. The Union Jack which was raised when Bahau was liberated by Force 136 in 1945 was then presented to the Eurasian Association by ex-Bahau settler, Michael Alves, who was only 6 at that time. It will remain on loan to the National Museum, where a section devoted to Bahau can be found in the WWII area. Guests were also treated to a guided tour of the exhibit to give them a flavour of this extraordinary tale of human resilience and at the end of the evening no one could fail to be intrigued and yearn to know more.