Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Best read book this year - "Singapore Samurai"

My friends have been reading Penrod Dean's "Singapore Samurai" in quick succession since Ladybug brought it back from Boston. This started when Simon Goh of Changi Museum alerted me to the existence of highly relevant content in Dean' book and the fact that it was no longer available in Singapore. Immediately I checked with and true enough a reseller had a copy. That delivery was delayed due to some mix up at VPost, so I ordered another and had it sent to our friend's place in Boston.

So now I have two books, and they happened to be different editions - the first edition (1988) and the second (1990) edition which I loan out - with its dramatic cover and compact size, its the better book to circulate. After I had read it with great relish, i handed it to fellow Pasir Panjang guide Kenneth Pinto. His hair was almost standing on end when he returned it to me with bright eyes. Roused out of his blogging hiatus, he penned a review that would inspire at least one librarian to high browse it and another to promise to read.

Next was senior Pasir Panjang guide Kok Oi Yee, who laughed loudly in great delight at Dean's honest style. Next was Daphne Fautin, a busy visiting academic who I had come to find out had a great interest in the war. She agreed that it certainly was a fast read that she had enjoyed. Next was Teuteberg returned the book yesterday afternoon. As he waited for me to join him for lunch, he read aloud the part in which Dean and friends meet an English officer from the Malay Regiment trying to recruit the feeling soldiers to join them in holding the line.

I had already incorporated some of Penrod Dean's stories into my account of the Battle of Pasir Panjang during our commemorative walk in February. You see, his inspiring account of how "The Malays" fought off the Japanese at Reformatory Road (later Clementi Road) still makes my hair stand - you can hear his account in a 20 minute feature called "The Malay Regiment," which is screened regularly at the Memories at Old Ford Factory. Thankfully the Oral History Department of the National Archives of Singapore had conducted a series of interviews with the old boy before he passed on last year. I am told there is lot more in National Archives beyond the clips we saw and I rub my hands in anticipation of viewing them one day.

Having just read Singapore Samurai, many more aspects from his stories reverberate in my mind right now: his account of the battle, of course, from yet another perspective, it fits in like one of many more pieces of a jigsaw I will never complete. Images of a "Buena Vista" littered with bodies and body parts conjured up by his words. His immediate plans to escape from Changi when others were too accepting, and I think of John Larkin who says his father talked about'choko soldiers,' poor buggers.

He sabotaged rubber plantations that the Japanese had got working and an opportune destruction of a railway, meeting Chin Peng, evading capture, racial attitudes, the water torture, the horror of Outram Road goal (which Oi Yee's mum used to point out to her in horrified remembrance of war time torture), an incident of unlikley relief involving a sword and scathing views of almost everyone which leaves only a few characters and the Malay Regiment emerging with honours.

Penrod Dean was also very contemptuous of the War Crimes Trials in Tokyo, emphasising sad impressions I had gathered elsewhere only recently. His conversational tone throughout makes the book a one-sitting read. Kenneth and I agreed that he ad his mate were exceptional soldiers and to bear that in mind in relation to his assessment of others.

Many of his stories were incorporated during's last Saturday's Pasir Panjang guiding that we had done in conjunction with the Singapore Heritage Fest '07. I just wished I could have handed out copies of his book as a parting gift - I think my well-read participants would have appreciated it.

The book is available National Library.

In the midst of writing this, Kenneth pointed to "Not Just a Foreigner's War: A Review of "The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisited," by Edgar Liao. Citizen Historian, 31 July 2007. He highlights other relevant literature and a pertinent issues we actually discuss during the walk! Hmm..we should recruit Edgar for the Pasir Panjang guides next engagement: the Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk in February 2008.

First posted to Otterman speaks, 01 Aug 2007.