In the introduction to the article “A teacup in a storm” that told the story of the Japanese invasion and occupation of Christmas Island, I stated that it was a very dark and frightening time in Christmas Island’s history.
In the collaboration case file of James Kang Tiang Kwang I thought it worth while to extract the 14 witness statements from that 76 page file as standalone testaments to just some of the events that the Islanders endured.
The witnesses were former prostitutes (also known as seamstresses) and Malay and Chinese men. They tell stories of threats, torture and rape. The women were procured against their will, the Malays threatened with reduction of food rations and the Chinese given electric shocks.
Of course, James Kang features in each of these statements. I have wondered how he sold his benefits to the Japanese? In his book, John Hunt writes that Kang’s motivation for collaborating with the Japanese was revenge. His daughter had fallen ill in early 1941 with the newly arrived Dr Scott-Clark allegedly refusing to examine her at home saying “I don’t treat Asians”. The daughter died. If such a story is true, it still doesn’t explain Kang’s nasty behaviour to the Chinese and Malay and particularly towards the unfortunate former prostitutes. It goes without saying that Kang would have been a detested man.
No. 33 mentioned in statements below is the “White House”, the Island brothel.
Statement of [name deleted] – former prostitute
My name is [********] and I was living at No.33 (Japanese numbering) in the Settlement before the Japanese landing at which time I went up into the jungle. About three or four days after the landing [********] and I were at Drum Site in [********] house when Tong Chi came and told us we were to go down to the Settlement to live at No.33. He said he came on Jimmy’s orders and that we must go – the commander wished it, and I went down and arrived at No.33 about 3 p.m. Tong Chi came to the house after dark about 7.30 p.m. and told us that we were not to move. A little later I went to Tong Chi’s house nearby and asked him what was going to happen to us. He said he did not know and he was acting on Jimmy’s orders. He advised me not to disobey as that would get him involved. I went back to No.33 and that night people knocked continually on the door. We were crying and were frightened. We did not let any one in. The next day about 2 p.m. [********] and [********] came to live in the house; [********] may have come too if not she came the day before. We had all received our orders to live at No.33 from Jimmy and we all said how wrong it was of him, particularly as some of us already had husbands. During the day people knocked repeatedly at the door, we could hear them speaking Japanese. We did not let them in. About 9.30 p.m. there was further knocking and Jimmy Said “It is I, let me in”. We opened the door, he was there with Tong Chi and five Japanese officers. The Japanese came in and locked the door. I was forced to submit to intercourse with a Japanese officer who left about two hours later. The same thing happened for the next week with the exception that Tong Chi did not come.
Statement of [name deleted] – former prostitute.
My name is [********]. In February, 1942, I was Living with [********] whom I married about the middle of 1942. About three of four days after the landing of the Japanese on Christmas Island I was living in [********] house in the Settlement, when Jimmy came there looking for me. He told me the Japanese had asked him to ask me to go to house No.33 (Japanese numbering) as I was one of the former prostitutes. I told him that I did not like the idea; he replied “The Japanese officers want you and he added that I had to go or the Japanese soldiers would beat me. I arrived about dusk at No.33 and I found [********] and [********] there. That night Jimmy brought 4 or 5 Japanese officers along to No.33, Tong Chi was with him. Jimmy and the Japanese came in and Tong Chi went away. I was forced to submit to intercourse with a Japanese. He left after about an hour. As far as I remember the same thing happened the next night. I then decided to leave No.33 and went back to [********] house. I went to look after Tsoi Kam’s small son. I gave this as my reason for leaving. About a month later I decided to go and live in Tsoi Kam’s house and I asked Jimmy, in his capacity of Chief Superintendent of the island, whether I could have permission to move. He said I could not go. I asked why. He told me to go back to the old brothel. I refused. He replied that I should have to sleep on the road if I did not go there. I decided he had no right to tell me that and I went to the Japanese headquarters. I explained the circumstances to Lieut. Nakao, in Jimmy’s presence. Jimmy said in Malay, to me “It is my wish you must go to the old brothel or sleep on the road”. I could not understand what passed between Nakao and Jimmy. I went back to Tsoi Kam’s house and a few days later Jimmy and Nakao came along. Jimmy said I could not live there but must move to No.32 next door to the brothel. I did move and nothing more happened.
Statement of Tong Chi
My name is Tong Chi and I live in the Settlement on Christmas Island. About 3 or 4 days after the Japanese landed on Christmas Island I was asked by Ong Tong Chuan to go and see Jimmy (James Kang Tiang Kwang) at Mr. Oorloff’s house. I went along and found him there. He ordered me to go and call back some of the former prostitutes who were then at Drum Site saying they were to go and live at No.33 (Japanese numbering) in the Settlement. He said that the Japanese were wanting women and that the former prostitutes must go back to their old profession. I went up to Drum Site and found two women, [********] and [********] in [********] house. I told them that they must go down to the Settlement and live in No.33. I said I didn’t know what would happen to them whether they went or refused but these were Jimmy’s orders. I told them that Jimmy had said the Japanese were wanting women. I accompanied the women down to No.33 and went to tell Jimmy they had arrived. Jimmy sent me back to No.33 to tell the women that they had to live there and that they were not to move but to wait there for Jimmy, which I did and then went home. Some time after 8 o’clock that night Jimmy came to my house with about 3 or 4 Japanese officers and asked me to accompany them to No.33. Jimmy knocked at the door and asked to be let in. The door was opened the Japanese and Jimmy went in and I went home.
Statement of Draman bin Abu
My name is Draman bin Abu and I live in the Malay Settlement, Christmas Island. About 3 or 4 days after the Japanese landing on the island, I was working near the paint store when Jimmy and a Japanese interpreter went by. I asked Jimmy where he was going. He replied “I am going to show this man the hawser which can be used to haul trucks up the incline.
Statement of Salleh bin Omardin
My name is Salleh bin Omardin and I live in the Malay Settlement, Christmas Island. The Japanese had been in the Island about a week when Jimmy came to me and said “You must have the hawser for the Incline fixed up”. I replied that I would consult Hussein, the leader of the Malay community. Jimmy said “Never mind Hussein, do it now”. I collected some men and went off to fix the hawser in position, it was then at the foot of the incline. On one occasion when I was working on the railway bridge Jimmy came along and said that if anyone didn’t work or was slack not his wages but his food ration would be cut.
Statement of Ts’an Tsan
My name is Ts’an Tsan and I live in the Settlement, Christmas Island. A few days after the Japanese landing on the island I was working in the vicinity of the paint store when Jimmy, two Japanese officers and a number of Japanese soldiers came along, apparently looking for something because they were walking to and fro. Jimny went into one of the sheds leaving the Japanese at the door way and looked under a pile of sacking. Before he went in he said to me “Wasn’t there a haulage rope here before?” I replied there was an old one there. After he picked up the sacking he said it was a new one, and reported the fact to the Japanese officers, who came in and inspected it too. The next day I saw the haulage rope being removed by a number of Malays.
Some time well after the arrival of the Japanese phosphate company I was working in the dryers, and I heard that two V belts were missing from the fitting shop. That night about 8 o’clock Jimmy and some Japanese came along to my house and Jimmy asked whether I often went fishing. I replied that I did and Jimmy asked for my fishing line. I produced it for his inspection and he handed it to the Japanese. He ordered me to go to Kim San’s house where there were already a number of people. We all had our hands tied behind our backs and were taken up to the Japanese headquarters. I was asked by Jimmy whether I knew who had stolen the V belts and I replied that I did not. He said “You will get an electric shock if you do not know.” I persisted and was given a shock. A Japanese officer asked Jimmy if I had said anything and Jimmy replied “Belum; mahu lagi” [Not yet; he needs more], I was given another shock. The happened five or six times. After being given further punishment I was allowed to go home.
Statement of Ho Meng
My name is Ho Meng. I now live in the Settlement. About four days after the Japanese landing I was living and working at Drum Site. About 10 a.m. Jimmy came up on a motor cycle and set about collecting those who worked at Drum Site. Three Japanese officers came along about noon. Jimmy told the officers that we knew where the parts of loco. No.8 were hidden. The loco. was not working at the time owing to the removal of certain vital parts and Jimmy had told us he wanted it put in order. Jimmy spoke to the officers in Malay. When we stated that we did not know where the parts were Jimmy persisted that we did saying to the Japanese that we certainly did know where the parts were hidden because we had taken them off the loco. After threats of punishment we began looking for the parts most of which were found during the course of the next two days.
Statement of Tsang Tak Leong
My name is Tsang Tak Leong. I now live in the Settlement, Christmas Island. At the time of the Japanese landing on the island I was living at Drum Site and working there as well. As far as I remember about four or five days after the landing I was cleaning the valves of the haulage plant and I heard Jimmy and some Japanese questioning a number of those who were working at Drum Site. As far as I remember the time was a little after mid-day. I heard Jimmy speaking to the Japanese in Malay, he said “tanya orang kerja sini dia misti tahu” [ask the people who work here they should know]. They had just come from Loco. No.8 and I presumed that he was referring to the missing parts of the loco.
Statement of Tsan Kuk
My name is Tsan Kuk and I live in the Settlement, Christmas Island. At some period during the occupation of the Island by the Japanese it was discovered that two V belts were missing from the fitting shop. Thereupon Jimmy went down to the coolie houses with some Japanese officers and called upon all those who frequently went fishing to stand out. He asked us for our fishing lines which he inspected and took some notes. He then pointed four or five of us out. Those of us who were pointed out were told to go to Kim San’s house, where our hands were tied behind our backs and we were then taken to the Japanese headquarters. I was then questioned by Jimmy as to where the V belts were and I replied that I did not know. I was given an electric shock. I was asked again by Jimmy about the V belts, I replied as before and got another electric shock. This was repeated another ten times. During the course of all this Jimmy said he was sure that I knew who had taken the V belts, as there were a number of us who frequently went fishing together and it was one of us who had taken the V belts.
Statement of Fu Khi Jin
My name is Fu Khi Jin and I live in the Settlement, Christmas Island. As far as I remember about October, 1943, two V belts were missing from the fitting shop. The next day Jimmy came down to the fitting shop with a Japanese officer and told us that the officer wanted all those working in the fitting shop to go to the Japanese headquarters to receive electric shocks. Jimmy then handed a list of those who were to go to the headquarters to Ma Sam, my name was on the list. I went to the Japanese headquarters and was given an electric shock. I was then sent back to the fitting shop and us just as I arrived I was recalled by Jimmy. I was asked by a Japanese officer if I had got the V belts, I replied I had not. Jimmy then said “I am sure you have stolen the V belts because you were always playing mah-Jong”. I denied that. As a result of this I was given twelve electric shocks and tied up to a tree. On two occasions I was set free for further questioning and then tied up again. Jimmy came along and said my head would be out off if I did not admit stealing the V belts. I still denied it and was given another electric shock before being allowed to go. Jimmy had said before this that he would tell the Japanese to give me this final shock If I persisted in my denial. On my way home Jimmy caught up with me and said that he would send me to the Japanese headquarters for more electric shocks if he caught me playing mah-jong again. There was nobody within earshot when Jimmy said this.
Statement of Hussein bin Mat
My name is Hussein bin Mat and I live in the Malay Settlement, Christmas Island. A considerable time after the Japanese landed on the Island I was given orders by Jimmy to get the Malays to remove a number of iron girders from the padang to a store. When I had made the necessary arrangements for this work which was very hard work, I heard Jimmy say that if anyone failed to work he would cut that person’s food ration. In the case of hard work when ordered he would report cases of slackness and malingering to the Japanese who would cut the food ration of the individual concerned.
Statement of Haji Dolman bin Ibar
My name is Haji Dolman bin Ibar and I live in the Malay kampong in the Settlement, Christmas Island. About 7 or 8 months after the Japanese arrived here some fifteen Malays including myself were ordered by Jimmy through Hussein to move a number of iron girders from the padang to a place under the overhead railway bridge. The reason he gave was that the girders were to be kept dry to prevent them rusting. It took thirteen men to lift one girder and it was very hard work. While the work was going on under Jimmy’s supervision Jimmy said “If anyone is slack his food ration will be out. I am in charge here and you must obey me”.
Statement of Awang bin Hussein
My name is Awang bin Hussein and I live in the Malay Settlement, Christmas Island. One day, about six months after the arrival of the Japanese, I was working on phosphate dust. I stopped to get a drink of water. Jimmy came by and saw me. He said “Why are you so slow at your work, I shall tell the Japanese and your food ration will be cut.”
Statement of Basir bin Kemin
My name is Basir bin Kemin and I live in the Malay Settlement, Christmas Island. I was working on the railway bridge a long time after the arrival of the Japanese in the Island when Jimmy came up and said “If anyone doesn’t do his work I’ll tell the Japanese and his food ration will be out”.
1. Suffering through Strength, John Hunt, page 147