The year is 1941. Most landscapes in pre-independence Malaya are expansive. The paddy fields seem just as infinite as the seas that reach to the ends of the horizon. Living in the secluded villages of Kedah is a middle-aged man named Hadi. Like the rest of the village people, Hadi is Malay, and works out on the farm.
You see, before independence many efforts were made by British colonizers to segregate the three main races of Malaya. The Malays were never to be given the chance to innovate from their traditional farming methods, the Chinese laborers were to be the only race living in the city, assigned to run the businesses and the tin mines, and the Indian laborers were to be the backbone of rubber plantations. The “divide and conquer” strategies put in place by the current colonizing power ensured that it would be difficult for the people of Malaya to come together and cooperate. As for Hadi, it meant that he would not be able to benefit from the economic growth in Malaya.
His day started like any other. After the morning prayers, Hadi quickly left for the paddy farms near his house. Although it was quite late in the year, Malaya’s climate was warm enough in order for the growing season to last year-round. The work today was relatively light. Hadi had already gone through the strenuous process of harvesting from the paddy plants several months ago, so all he has to do is man the field. Weeding and maintaining the level of the water are just some of the tasks that Hadi has to complete for the day. It is certainly a lot of work, but Hadi is used to it and wants to get the work done quickly so he can enjoy his breakfast later.
Suddenly, he hears a loud piercing sound from the skies above. Hadi covers his ears with his palms and shuts his eyes in reflex to the ear splitting noise as the feeling of dread fills his body. As his senses gradually adapt, Hadi slowly opens his eyes to ascertain the source of his unease. Lo and behold, there in the radiant sky, he sees a flock of majestic silver birds spreading their wings proudly in the air. A red dot lay emblazoned on the centre of their great bodies as well as the end of each expansive wing.
It is the 9th of December.
Days prior, the 5th Division of the Japanese Imperial Army landed at Pattani and Songkhla, on Thailand’s east coast. The forces in Thailand were to push across the west coast and invade Malaya through Kedah. The Japanese invasion plan was now in full swing. And by the 9th of December 1941, the airports at Sungai Petani and Alor Star had been taken over.
Malaya was being invaded, and most of her people weren’t aware of it.
The planes in the sky cause worry and confusion in Hadi’s family, and by extension, his entire village. Hadi was getting quite frustrated with the British powers occupying Malaya- so in his mind he thinks this is just another one of their many antics that the people have to endure. Years prior, the Great Depression had caused major struggles across Malaya, especially because of how integrated the Malayan economy had become with the global supply chain. The increased usage of rubber and tin in several industries gave the British more of an excuse to milk the land dry. With crop prices dropping, the introduction of more taxes by the British, and fewer chances to sell his harvest, it became harder and harder for Hadi to support his family. He knew something had to be done soon- but what could such an ordinary villager like him achieve?
The last few years were hard on him, and now these mysterious planes are zooming overhead for no reason. It all becomes a bit overwhelming for this simple man, and he feels the need to resist in some way. But as a farmer with no royal blood, and no education, it would be quite a challenge. Deciding that there was no use in speculating anymore, Hadi ceases his line of thought and continues tending to his crops.
As the week goes on, the Japanese forces continue to gain ground in Northern Malaya. Initially, both the British and British Indian army attempt to resist the Japanese invasion but alas- even their combined might is no match for the more experienced and better coordinated Japanese army.
The 10th of December is when the British Royal Navy attempts to flank the Japanese army, who are reportedly sighted in Kuantan. With their battleship, the HMS Prince of Wales and the HMS Repulse, they begin to move closer to the seashore. Unfortunately, they are spotted. The Japanese Imperial Army attacks and eventually manage to sink both ships. The day after, the Japanese unload multiple bombs upon Penang Island. The situation becomes more and more dire. Rumors of the Japanese invasion soon reach Hadi’s village, this stokes the fear of the fall of Kedah to the Japanese.
In the early morning of the 12th, Hadi is awoken by strange noises outside his home. He peeks out the window to see Japanese army men, striding past his house. Several of his neighbours were also standing outside, watching the situation unfold. The Japanese Army gives off an intimidating vibe as they march. Several brave villagers protest against the sudden appearance of these Japanese men and start to argue with them. Without thinking, Hadi joins them. All of this time, he had been complacent to whatever was happening around him- but not now. He was determined to stand his ground for the future of his family and village.
The arguing eventually leads to a fight.
The unfolding of this scuffle alerts everyone in the vicinity. Hadi and two others begin to shout and actively block the Japanese army men from proceeding any further. The army retaliates with their own threats of execution and the destruction of the villagers’ homes. No one from either side backs down, and tensions escalate until in the heat of the moment, Hadi shoves one of the army men down.
Instantly, the Japanese men surround Hadi and drag him to the side of the road. In their eyes, Hadi has actively opposed the Imperial Japanese army and thus, the punishment for his “crime” was death. Without a trial, without due process, and without any hesitation, a soldier takes out his Type 1 TERA rifle and shoots Hadi multiple times. In mere seconds, Hadi’s body becomes littered with lead as his family and neighbours watch in horror. As his lifeless body falls onto the road, the two men accompanying him in the skirmish, hastily back down in fear of meeting the same fate as Hadi. As if nothing happened, the army men continue marching forward, unfazed in the slightest. As Hadi’s family rush to his cold, limp body, beads of tears stream down their faces and their mouths contort to curse the Japanese soldiers for their inhumanity.
As the Japanese Imperial Army completes their takeover of Kedah, Jitra and Alor Star fall to the Japanese, forcing the British to retreat south. Hadi’s funeral is held on the same day, where his village mourns his loss. However, Hadi’s death would not be in vain. Although the entirety of Malaya fell into Japan’s hands on the 31st January 1942, Hadi’s execution, along with many other innocent men, women and childrens’, would become the inspiration for the resistance towards the Japanese powers.
By: Haikal & Yun Jing