Son searches for forgotten World War II prisoner-of-war camp in Bau

Hygate sharing about his father's experience during the Japanese occupation at the SHS talk titled ‘Surviving the Sword’ at a hotel in Kuching yesterday (March 1, 2023).

By Ashley Sim

KUCHING, March 2: For Colin Hygate, whose father Len was a prisoner of war (POW) at Poak Work Camp near Kampung Poak (also called Kampung Puak) in Bau during the Japanese occupation, discovering the precise location of the camp could open potential tourism opportunities and also be an opportunity to educate locals and visitors about a largely forgotten chapter of World War II history.

During yesterday’s Sarawak Heritage Society (SHS) talk titled ‘Surviving the Sword’ at a hotel in Kuching, all eyes and ears were on Hygate as he recounted Len’s experience as a POW from 1942 until his release in 1945, describing how his father endured the years of hard labour and deprivation as well as his own search for the camp near Kampung Poak.

Len left England in 1935 to work for accountants in Singapore. When Singapore fell on Feb 15, 1942 to the Japanese, he was then captured and imprisoned in Changi as well as work camps on Singapore Island. In March 1943, Len was sent to Kuching with a group of prisoners, briefly staying in Batu Lintang Camp before being sent to a work camp on the Dahan Rubber Estate near Bau with a group of around 200 other Malayan volunteers from the Malayan Volunteers Group (MVG). Len worked on building a road to the Tegora mercury mine until his liberation in 1945. According to Hygate, his father referred to the work camp as ‘Poek’, and it is said that it was located near Kampung Poak, in the ‘coolie compound’ of the Dahan Rubber Estate.

A slide showing the content of a letter written by Len to his wife.

“Apart from my personal interest in locating the exact location of the Poak camp, this history is significant because it is a little-known aspect of World War II, because no one really knew about the opening of the road to the Tegora mercury mine.

“And earlier, I’ve heard that development plans are being formulated for that area, which could formally open up that pathway for tourism, but more historical markers, memorials, and other such things are needed to help people understand the area’s past,” Hygate told DayakDaily following the SHS talk.

He added that if he was successful in locating the exact location of Poak Work Camp, he would like an information board to be placed there explaining briefly the background and history of Poak so that in the future more people could understand what had happened.

Furthermore, Hygate said that the information board could also serve as a marker to the Tegora mercury mine.

“Finding the Poak camp is obviously a passion of mine, but I believe that the communities in and around that area would want their children to know about the history that has almost been forgotten because everyone has tried to extinguish memories of what happened during the Japanese occupation.

“So, you know, it’s now about bringing that (Len’s story) back into historical good sense and balance in terms of being a part of history,” he added.

Hygate continues his search for Poak Work Camp to this day, noting that he just needs to ‘turn over enough stones’ until he finds it. — DayakDaily