Bahau settlement

Bahau in the Malayan state of Negeri Sembilan was established as an agricultural settlement during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45). This settlement was also known as Fuji-Go in Japanese, which means “Fuji village” or “beautiful village”.1 Specially set up for Eurasians and Chinese Roman Catholics in November 1943, the settlement was formed under a self-sufficiency scheme initiated by the Japanese authorities. The scheme was introduced to ease the food supply problem in Singapore, largely attributed to the blockade of Japanese-controlled territories by Allied forces.2

Under the self-sufficiency scheme, the Japanese encouraged the people in Singapore to resettle outside of the city, in areas where they could farm and live off the land.3 By encouraging voluntary migration to populate new agricultural settlements, Chief Welfare Officer Mamoru Shinozaki also hoped to avoid another massacre in addressing the problems of food scarcity and rising discontent among the populace.4

However, Shinozaki had raised concerns on the viability of the Bahau settlement.Unlike their Endau counterparts – Chinese settlers located in Johor – which could rely on help from Singapore, Bahau settlers would have to depend on the Negeri Sembilan government for food and other supplies as well as administrative support.6 Furthermore, he argued that the vegetation in Bahau was difficult to clear. The land was also unsuitable for agriculture, as the soil consisted of mainly clay.7 In addition, the Eurasian community wanted to leave Singapore as they were constantly under the watch of the Kempeitai, the Japanese military police. Roman Catholic bishop Adrian Devals and Herman De Souza Sr, a representative from the Eurasian community in Singapore, visited Bahau to assess its suitability. With the consent of the community and assurances from the authorities, it was thus decided that Bahau would become the settlement outside of Singapore for the Eurasian community.8

Besides Eurasians, Chinese Roman Catholics, together with a small group of non-Roman Catholics comprising Protestant Europeans and others from neutral countries like Switzerland, Denmark and Romania also moved to the settlement.9

Life in Bahau
The Bahau settlement was located 8 km away from the town of Bahau.10 To reach the settlement, the settlers had to first travel by train to the town and then either take a lorry ride or walk several hours to their destination.11

The first group of migrants were mostly bachelors who had been selected by the Japanese to help lay the foundation for the new settlement.12 They were also tasked to set up a model farm and impart farming techniques to the settlers, who were predominantly white-collar workers and thus had no farming experience.13 When the first group arrived at the settlement, they found burnt and fallen tree trunks on the ground, as the loggers had cut and cleared the forests but did not remove the debris.14 There were also several shabby-looking communal longhouses at the site. The settlers slept in these longhouses for many months before they built better lodgings and amenities.15

The “Bahau Catholic Camp”, as it was sometimes called, was segregated by subdistricts: the Chinese Catholics lived in Mukim V, while the Eurasian Catholics settled in Mukim VI.16 The Eurasian Catholics included priests and nuns from the Paris Foreign Missions Society, De La Salle Brothers, Brothers of St Gabriel, The Redemptorists, The Canossian Daughters of Charity, Holy Infant Jesus Nuns and The Good Shepherd Nuns. Most of the children under their care were the handicapped, the homeless, the sick and the destitute.17

The possibility of escaping from the watchful eyes of the Kempeitai attracted many to relocate from Singapore to Bahau.18 Between December 1943 and April 1944, some 2,000 Eurasians left their homes for Bahau, taking along items such as curtains and pianos to furnish their new homes, and essentials like gardening tools, tinned provisions, water filters and medicine, including quinine for malaria.19

Devals was assigned the responsibility of administering the settlement’s affairs.20 C. J. P. Paglar, president of the Eurasian Welfare Association, and Shinozaki also visited the settlement frequently, bringing with them medicine, food and entertainment to boost the morale of the settlers.21

The Bahau settlement strived to attain a sense of community. The Chinese Catholics with the priests and nuns, for instance, fostered teamwork and implemented divisions of labour. Law and order – in the form of sentry posts, police and a neighbourhood watch system – were instituted. The settlement even had a Boy’s Town where bachelors lived together.22 Once in a while parties were organised in the settlement, with singing and dancing.23 Most of the settlers, however, had little knowledge of farming and found life at Bahau tough.24 Many of them suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria, owing to poor sanitation conditions, mosquito infestations and lack of medicine.25

Postwar developments

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the Bahau settlers were greeted by Force 136 personnel on 3 September 1945 and subsequently Gurkha soldiers. The Bahau settlers finally received sufficient medical attention and food that they needed.26 The guerrillas of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army who occasionally visited the settlement attempted to assert their authority when the Japanese left. However, they retreated to their jungle sanctuary with the appearance of Force 136.27

It is not known how many of the estimated 3,000 settlers lost their lives in Bahau. Estimates run as high as 1,500 deaths over the 21-month settlement period. Many died from malaria and other illnesses. Among the deceased was Devals, who had accidentally cut his foot with a hoe and died from tetanus in January 1945.28

After the war, some settlers left Bahau, while a small group was moved by the Japanese to the Sime Road Civilian Internment Camp in Singapore. The majority were repatriated to Singapore in batches by Force 136.29

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia and Florence Tan

1. Kevin Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” in Singapore Eurasians: Memories and Hopes, ed. Myrna Braga-Blake (Singapore: Times Editions, 1992), 113. (Call no. RSING 305.80405957 SIN); “Name Fuji Village Applies to Entire Bahau Farm Area,” Syonan Shimbun, 9 May 1944, 2. (From NewspaperSG); Fiona Hodgkins, From Syonan to Fuji-Go: The Story of the Catholic Settlement in Bahau in WWII Malaya (Singapore: Select Publishing, 2014), 13. (Call no. RSING 307.212095957 HOD)
2, Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113; Rodziah Haji Sha'ari, Japanese Resettlement Schemes: Endau and Bahau, 1942–1945 (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 1987), 9–14. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 ROD [HIS]); Mamoru Shinozaki, My Wartime Experiences in Singapore (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1973), 66–67. (Call no. RSEA 959.57023 SHI-[HIS])
3. Tan Beng Luan and Irene Quah, The Japanese Occupation 1942–1945: A Pictorial Record of Singapore during the War (Singapore: Times Editions, 1996), 135. (Call no. RSING q940.5425 TAN-[WAR]); David Miller, Bahau, the Elephant & the Ham (Singapore: DMbooks, 2014), 61–64. (Call no. RSING 940.54815957 MIL-[WAR]); “Catholics Allocated Land in Bahau for Development,” Syonan Shimbun, 7 December 1943, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Constance Mary Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005  (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 215. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 66–70.
5. Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 81–82; Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113.
6. Malcolm H. Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore from First Settlement to Final British Withdrawal (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2011), 256. (Call no. RSING 355.0095957 BET)
7. Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 70–71, 81–82.
8. Rudy Mosbergen, “The Bahau Debacle,” in In the Grips of a Crisis: The Experiences of a Teenager during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, 1942–45 (Singapore: Seng City Trading, 2007), 185, 197–99. (Call no. RSING 940.54815957 MOS); Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 81; Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 9; Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 112–14; “Fuji – the Incomparable – Village Revisited,” Syonan Shimbun, 24 March 1944, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 171–72.
9. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 171–72.
10. Philip Carlyle Marcus, oral history interview by Chua Ser Koon, 11 August 1982, transcript and MP3 audio 27:48, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000183), 63; George Edwin Bogaars, oral history interview by Low Lay Leng, 29 December 1983, transcript and MP3 audio 29:38, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000379), 59; “Negri Governor Assures Catholic Settlers of Every Possible Assistance,” Syonan Shimbun, 21 December 1943, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113; Philip Carlyle Marcus, oral history interview; George Edwin Bogaars, oral history interview.
12. “First Bahau Settlers Are Elated,” (1944, January 4). Syonan Shimbun, 4 January 1944, 2. (From NewspaperSG); Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113.
13. Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113–14; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 82.
14. Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 113.
15. Kannan Chandran, “When Paradise Became Prison Camp,” Straits Times, 15 April 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG); George Edwin Bogaars, oral history interview by Low Lay Leng, 29 December 1983, transcript and MP3 audio 29:29, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000379), 71–79; Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 4, 25–70, 76, 91.
16. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 4, 76, 91.
17. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 22–70.
18. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 78–80, 92–93;  Farleigh Arthur Charles Oehlers, oral history interview by Low Lay Leng, 23 January 1985, transcript and MP3 audio 29:38, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000421), 89–91.
19. Chandran, “When Paradise Became Prison Camp”; Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 81.
20. Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 114.
21. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 94–95, 103–15, 143–47, 154–57; Farleigh Arthur Charles Oehlers, oral history interview by Low Lay Leng, 27 March 1985, transcript and MP3 audio 27:35, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000421), 159–60.
22. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 94–95, 103–15, 143–47, 154–57. (Call no. RSING 307.212095957 HOD); Farleigh Arthur Charles Oehlers, oral history interview.
23. Rodrigues, “Trial and Tribulation,” 115; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 84–85; Eric Charles Pemberton Paglar, oral history interview by Low Lay Leng, 25 August 1983, transcript and MP3 audio 29:19, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000299), 47.
24. Chandran, “When Paradise Became Prison Camp”; Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 134–37.
25. Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram, 2005), 171. (Call no. RSING q940.53957 LEE)
26. Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 189–94; Miller, Bahau, the Elephant & the Ham, 168–74.
27. Patricius O’Donovan, Jungles Are Never Neutral: War-Time in Bahau: An Extraordinary Story of Exile and Survival: The Diaries of Brother O’Donovan fsc (Ipoh, Malaysia: Media Masters Publishing. 2008), 109–25. (Call no. RSING 940.5308827178 ODO-[WAR])
28. Chandran, “When Paradise Became Prison Camp”; Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, xxi–xxii; Lee, The Syonan Years, 171; Haji Sha'ari, Japanese Resettlement Schemes, 62; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 134, 128–136; H. Sidhu, The Bamboo Fortress: True Singapore War Stories (Singapore: Native Publications, 1991), 243. (Call no. RSING 959.57023 SID-[HIS]); Tan and Quah, Japanese Occupation 1942–1945, 139.
29. Chandran, “When Paradise Became Prison Camp”; Hodgkins, Syonan to Fuji-Go, 192, 196,197. (Call no. RSING 307.212095957 HOD); Haji Sha'ari, Japanese Resettlement Schemes, 51.

Further resources
H. Sidhu, The Bamboo Fortress: True Singapore War Stories (Singapore: Native Publications, 1991), 228–45. (Call no. RSING 959.57023 SID-[HIS])

Irene Hoe, “Recollections of Bahau: A Time of Deprivation and Fear,” Straits Times, 3 February 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

John Bertram Van Cuylenburg, Singapore: Through Sunshine and Shadow (Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1982). (Call no. RSING 959.57 VAN)

Joseph Francis Conceicao, Flavours of Change: Destiny & Diplomacy: Recollections of a Singapore Ambassador (Singapore: Horizon Books, 2004). (Call no. RSING 327.59570092 CON)

Kannan Chandran, “Retelling the Eurasian WWII Story,” Straits Times, 15 April 2006, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Maxime Pilon and Danièle Weiler, The French in Singapore: An Illustrated History (1819–today) (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011). (Call no. RSING 305.84105957 PIL)

Patrick Grosse, Survivors: The Worst of Times: The Story of the Grosse Family (Singapore: [n.p.], 2018). (Available via PublicationSG)

Rex Shelley and Chen Fen, Dr Paglar: Everyman’s Hero (Singapore: Published for the Eurasian Association by Straits Times Press, 2010). (Call no. RSING 610.92 SHE)

The Right Angle [for Arts Central], Who We Were. Episode 3, Exile in Bahau, Mediacorp TV, 2000, videocassette. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WHO)

The information in this article is valid as at May 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



Heritage and Culture
Malaya--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
1942-1945 Japanese occupation