Sybil's clinic @ Papan: Remembering a Malaysian War heroine
Hamzah Muzaini (Wageningen), Assistant Professor (Cultural Geography)
Nestled on the principle street of Papan, a small town 16 km out of Ipoh, the capital of the state of Perak in Malaysia, is a quaint little shophouse dedicated to honouring the memory of a woman, Sybil Kathigasu (nee Sybil Medan Daly), who contributed much towards resistance efforts against the Japanese during the Second World War which broke out in the country (that, along with what is today Singapore, then made up British Malaya) in 1941. Known now as Sybil’s Clinic @ Papan, the idea for the museum was mooted, and eventually established in 2003, by the then President of Perak Heritage Society (PHS), Law Siak Hoong, based heavily on Sybil’s autobiography, No Dram of Mercy.  To pay for the project, he garnered help from friends, solicited donations, and organised activities like heritage walks and talks, although for the most part, Law has had to fork out much of the money himself. Even so, inspired as he was, he felt ‘it was important for the museum to be there’ (pers. comm. 2009).
A Eurasian woman married to a prominent Indian doctor with a private practice in Ipoh (at Brewster Road), Dr. A.C. Kathigasu, Sybil, a trained nurse and midwife herself, and her family were forced to leave the capital during the beginning of the war in 1941, where they took refuge in Papan. Soon after, Dr. A.C. Kathigasu (and their eldest daughter) returned to Ipoh to continue with his practice while Sybil and the rest of the family (including their youngest daughter, Dawn) stayed behind to render medical services to local residents, and others in nearby towns. Here, she started a dispensary at the shophouse where the museum is today. It was from this site that Sybil conducted much of her anti-Japanese deeds. In addition to administering the clinic, Sybil also gave medical aid to wounded anti-Japanese operatives hiding in the foothills of the jungles forming the backdrop to the town. These operatives of the Perak People’s Anti-Japanese Army (PPAJA) which later became part of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), would come round at night through the backdoor, and were attended to by Sybil. This was risky given that, unlike the guerrillas, Sybil was operating without the benefit of jungle cover, thus making her vulnerable to attracting the attention of undercover Japanese spies in the town with an infamous reputation as a hotbed of subversive activities.  At the shophouse, Sybil also kept wireless radios, codenamed Josephine I, II and III, through which she would gain information fed to the underground.
Her involvement with the guerrillas came to the knowledge of the Japanese when one of the bottles containing malaria medicines, as well as a letter addressed to her from the PPAJA, was discovered in an abandoned site of the resistance, and traced back to Sybil’s dispensary. Following that, she was arrested by the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police) and taken in to be interrogated. To make her divulge whereabouts of the underground, for over two years, Sybil endured tortures like kicking, boxing and flogging on her bare body, and the psychological trauma of witnessing her husband beaten, and her daughter Dawn suspended over a fire. Yet, she still maintained her silence. When Japanese defeat seemed imminent towards the end of the war, and the Japanese still could not get much out of her, Sybil was given a mock trial, charged with being an Allied spy and possessing a radio set, and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Batu Gajah gaol, where she spent the rest of the war years. When she was found after the war, following the release of all internees there, her skull, jaw and spine were broken, and her legs temporarily paralyzed. On 6 September 1945, Sybil was transferred to Ipoh where she was given a hero’s welcome by townspeople of Papan and members of the communist contingents who, by that time, had come out of the jungles. Given the severity of her condition, Sybil was flown to the United Kingdom to receive treatment during which time she was also awarded the George Medal, by the British government, for civilian bravery. Still, Sybil finally succumbed to her injuries on 4 June 1949. Her body was brought back to Ipoh, warmly received by a public procession through the old town of Ipoh, before she was, at her request, buried at St. Michael’s cemetery in the capital beside the grave of her mother.
To the people who knew Sybil, especially those who were treated by her during the war, or are familiar with what she did then, her accolades of civic heroism in Malaya are indeed unparalleled. According to Law Siak Hong ‘Sybil far surpassed the women of her time’ as the only Malayan woman to have been accorded the George Medal from the British Government in 1947’.  To historian Cheah Boon Kheng, Sybil’s experiences are worthy of being honoured as ‘one woman’s brave struggle for humanity, justice and sanity in a Malaya turned upside down’.  Her war deeds have also earned her comparisons to other women heroes such as ‘Odette [Sansom]’, a French Allied heroine of the same war in the European theatre,  and ‘Edith Cavell’ who contributed much towards the First World War.  Sybil has also been remarked for the person that she was. When the Kathigasu family had the chance to be evacuated to Singapore before the war, they stayed on to help others, thus revealing, for Cheah, her ‘tenacious character’ and ‘strength of spirit against oppression and injustice’.  When tortured by the Kempeitai, and where it would be easier to cooperate, her pride as a loyal British subject and position as a devout Catholic who ‘regarded the Japanese and their worship of material success as incarnate evil which it was a duty of a Christian to oppose’ meant she would rather suffer pain than ‘admit defeat to what the Japanese had done to her’, where ‘neither brutality nor cajolery could break that unconquerable soul’.  Sybil’s Clinic @ Papan is therefore a testament not only to her war exploits but also to who she was.
Law’s rationale for choosing 74 Main Street, Papan as a suitable site for reflecting upon Sybil’s story is multi-pronged. First, Law highlighted how the fact that ‘this place was where Sybil actually stayed and did all the very brave acts that she did [during the war] makes it perfect to also tell Sybil’s story… People can come here and they can see what living quarters were like for Sybil as well as many of the local population at that time, and the conditions that she had to work in’ (pers. comm. 2008). Second, the location of Papan itself was seen as a good way to show people what Perak was like before it became as it has become now. The geographical attributes of Papan, surrounded by mountains and beautiful lakes, would also interest those ‘nostalgic for the good old days’ (pers. comm. 2008). Its proximity to Ipoh, rich mining history, and availability of abandoned shophouses to be re-adapted into shops, were also seen as potentially allowing Papan to become, over time, a major tourist attraction. In the light of how, as Law puts it, ‘When I first came here, everything was all broken – broken roof, broken walls and there were things growing in the rooms’,  Law repaired parts of the shophouse that were damaged and replicated the clinic as it was. As there were not many records of what the place looked before, Law just recreated the general feel of the place as best he could, based on descriptions in Sybil’s memoirs and testimonies from living witnesses. He also collected many things from the era and put them in the museum to give an idea of what the clinic was like. This included furniture and other items from that time, such as an old bicycle, family photographs, farming and mining implements, all donated to the museum or simply picked up somewhere.  Law also left aspects of the shophouse untouched such as a hole under the stairs where Sybil might have hidden radio transmitters, as well as the back door where the jungle operatives gained access through a secret knock.
Alongside the desire to further match the décor of the house with the surrounding natural environment, Law also wanted the museum to reflect Sybil as a healer: ‘Sybil was a healer and Papan is such a healing place. It is quiet, peaceful and people like to come here because it is relaxing with the surrounding beautiful landscapes’ (pers. comm. 2008). To this end, Law set up an elegant stone and bamboo therapeutic garden and planted herbs, at the back of the shophouse ‘since this place was once used for medical purposes’. . In addition, he also collected many other items that were used to reproduce Sybil’s clinic, including the odd medical accessories such as syringes, surgical scissors, test-tubes, bandages, a leather doctor’s bag, scalpels and medicine bottles, lined up for display and aimed at giving visitors an idea of the activities that would have taken place at the clinic when Sybil was there during the war.  Law also sought to link the museum ‘to nearby places like the Papan Herb Garden and the Forest Reserve (run by the Perak Forestry Department), so visitors could also learn about other attractions in and surrounding Papan hitherto not promoted to the public.
The main attraction is, of course, the story of Sybil. The walls are covered with blown-up photographs, most of which underlined by a description of what is depicted on each of them, as well as vignettes of the Sybil story. In the section, ‘Sybil Kathigasu: A Heroine in Our Time’, these included photographs of Sybil, her husband as well as children, and of Sybil’s wartime experiences and exploits, narrated in a brief concise manner, from what she did during the war through to what happened to her after. The rationale behind the use of photographs and brief texts to depict the story was to cater to a local public perceived to be, as Law explained, ‘not very interested in reading long explanations about the war which they can read about if they are so inclined’, hence the collection of books and other paraphernalia also found at the museum (pers. comm. 2008). As such, Law intended for the Sybil story to be related to the museum’s visitors in such a way that would capture their attention and make them learn about what he sees as the most important aspects of what happened to Sybil. The framing of the photographs on simple thick cardboard panels serves to add a particular rusticity to the exhibits that blend well with the overall theme of the museum on old Perak.
To seek the blessing of local Papanites so they could feel that the museum is also something they too could be proud of, Law sought to educate them about their local history. For this purpose, a section of the museum was also up with numerous photographs of old Papan which reminded residents of how Sybil’s silence about Papan and her involvement with the communists probably saved the town from being massacred by the Japanese at the time. Law would also explain the benefits of having the museum particularly in terms of drawing life back into Papan – now a pale shadow of its former self as a bustling mining town when rich alluvial tin was discovered in the late nineteenth century before residents subsequently moved to the city for other economic pursuits – and having more people bring in business for locals. To promote the museum, Law invited reporters to write about it, and distributed leaflets and posters as a means of publicising the place and ensuring that potential visitors were able to get in touch with him if need be. To further involve locals within Papan as well as those in surrounding vicinity, and not to mention also raise more funds, Law held special events. On 18 August 2007, for instance, Law organised ‘Papan Memories’ to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the end of the war. Then, visitors were invited to look around Sybil’s Clinic and treated to explanations about atrocities that took place in Papan during the war, taken on walks around Papan’s ruins, and treated to performances by local Papanites ‘by candle- and car head-lights’, and a supper of local delicacies and wartime specialties, such as tapioca. 
The salience of Sybil’s Clinic in Papan is that it represents a foil against the ways in which her story – and that of many other locals who played key or supportive roles in the fight against the Japanese during the period – have been sidelined in the telling of the Second World War in Malaysia’s national historiography due to a lack of commemorative culture. In Sybil’s case, particularly, even as it was her wish for her story to be recorded because ‘the world must know what kind of people these Japanese are’,  when her autobiography was completed in 1948, it was only in 1954 that it was first published by Neville Spearman in the United Kingdom (and reprinted in 1983 by Oxford University Press) although not one publisher in Malaysia was willing to take up the task of reproducing it locally until Prometheus Enterprises took it on in 2006. This is made starker given how male (and Malay) heroes have been much more privileged within local commemorations than female heroines.  Even as Sybil’s story has subsequently found its way in local heritage maps and street-names, many sites associated with her have been demolished – such as the old miner’s mansion that served as the Kempeitai headquarters where Sybil had to witness her daughter strung up over a fire (now a low-cost housing development) – or left unmarked, such as her husband’s clinic at 144 Brewster Lane (now a mechanics shop) or the Ipoh High Court, where Sybil’s tormentor, Sergeant Ekio Yoshimura, was trialled and given the death penalty.
Much can be said about why Sybil may have been pushed to the wayside of official heritage initiatives in Perak, and Malaysia more generally, although it is not particularly within the scope of this paper to go into the details. Suffice here to say though that the official nonremembrance of the war, and the experiences of local civilians, in Malaysia is something that is also shared by many countries in the region (such as Indonesia and Vietnam, although see Singapore). Among other things, rekindling these memories sometimes bring up thorny questions, such as who the ‘enemy’ really was (some see the Japanese as ‘liberators’ from western colonialism rather than as ‘invaders’), evoke ethnic rivalries (for example in Singapore, the different ways in which the Japanese treated the different races meant that some locals were in cahoots with the enemy thus leading to revenge killings), disrupt bilateral relations and economic ties with Japan, or raise issues about local loyalties (such as in the case of Sybil where her war collaboration with the PPAJA (later MPAJA) was seen as ‘traitorous’ given the latter’s post-war attempts to uproot the British (and later Malaysian) government towards establishing a communist state. These represent just some of the factors that may make the war a controversial event to remember and potentially damaging to nationbuilding processes and contemporary race relations within the region.  The Malaysian case also contributes to current geographical works about the political nature of remembering conflicts which frequently draws upon western case examples.  Even so, scholars have reminded us that what has been rendered passé officially do not necessarily mean they are forgotten given how these may also survive in other less private domains.  Similarly, while Sybil’s story is largely written out of the nation’s past, it has found sanctuary in the form of her memoirs and other written works and through where she is buried, although Sybil’s Clinic represents perhaps the most physical way her story is substantively told. 
Since the establishment of the museum, Law has endeavoured to spread the word about Sybil in other ways. One of this was through his participation in a short 10-minute independent movie, called ‘Sybillogy’, produced by Amir Muhammad, about the woman and her antiJapanese efforts, in which Law provided a detailed account of Sybil primarily through oral interviews.  Law also introduced the story of Sybil to Datuk Faridah Marican who, in June 2008, staged a 100-minute play about Sybil. On the play, supported by the Ministry of Unity, Culture and Heritage, Law said ‘Sybil’s noble acts needed to be remembered by all and that the play would be one way for the public to learn about her life’.  U-En Ng, the playwright for ‘Sybil’ also highlighted the play as ‘a remedy against the national forgetting of the civilian heroine’.  Aside from the intention for the play to spread the story of Sybil, it was also a fundraiser to help the PHS document Perak’s local heritage. Staged locally in Ipoh, as well as in Kuala Lumpur, on the year of the anniversary of Sybil’s death (back in 1948), the play was preceded with a minute’s silence to honour her memory. More recently, in 2010, one of the episodes of a television documentary series called ‘Suatu Ketika’ (translated as ‘A Moment in Time’) was also dedicated to the retelling of Sybil’s story, which was later depicted by Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil, then Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, as a key means of ‘rais[ing the] recognition and dignity of women in championing their contributions to the case of nation-building and independence’. 
These efforts notwithstanding, the task of sustaining Sybil’s Clinic @ Papan has not been an easy one. For one, the lack of funds has meant it is not possible to keep the museum opened daily and visitors can only access it by getting in touch with Law. Also, there is the problem of access. While the fact that Papan is ‘forgotten’ by the state has had its benefits – according to Law, ‘if the state becomes more interested in the town and decides that it wants to develop this area, and destroy 74 Main Street, I may have to move out…. Even if the shophouse is not demolished, the rent for it would go up and I would not be able to afford it’ (pers. comm. 2008) – it has also posed inevitable issues in terms of attracting people to the town (and the museum).  Indeed, given its low population density, it is at the moment unfeasible to have a public bus ply the route to the town. This may change, however, following the rediscovery in Papan of the Raja Bilah House,  belonging to former chieftain of the Mandailings, who settled there from Sumatra and contributed to local mining history, for which plans are underway to develop these into key heritage sites which may allow for a critical mass of attractions to justify public transportation. Even so, the perception of Papan as a (former) communist town, and Sybil’s links with the resistance, means that the fate of the museum hangs in the balance, given the role of the resistance in Malaysian history remains a sensitive issue,  and their commemoration frowned upon.  Thus, despite the salience of Sybil’s story to Malaysian historiography, it is not yet known what the future holds for it.
More broadly, the paper speaks to the importance of considering (war) heritage sites that are privately run and may not be as high profile within local agendas and national commemorations. Indeed, even as the story of Sybil is today much propagated virtually (through blogs and popular sites offering standard renditions of, and personal reflections about, her experiences, as well as news related to representations of Sybil in the media), knowledge about the museum itself is less well-known; my discovery of it, in fact, was via word-of-mouth and contact with Law Siak Hoong.  Thus, when tracing the genealogy of war remembrance in any context, scholars should rely on more than what can be found on brochures, battlefield guides and other formal sources. Only by casting the research net wider – be it through in-depth interviews or just casual conversations with residents – to include local knowledge and information through the grapevine, can one be able to truly appreciate the extent and richness of what a particular locality may offer in terms of remnants of past wars. These would include both publicly known sites – museums, battlefields, monuments, memorials – that have been promulgated as part of national heritage and historiography (and promoted as such, for examples, via heritage maps, brochures or official websites), as well as those privately-founded and -run, sited at home or in vernacular locations . Even as these may have been overlooked (if not forgotten altogether) as integral parts of local remembering, it remains the responsibility (and burden) of scholars to seek and study them.
Hamzah Muzaini holds a PhD in Geography from the University of Durham (United Kingdom). He is currently Assistant Professor with the Cultural Geography Chair Group at Wageningen University (The Netherlands) and, prior to that, was a Visiting Fellow at the National University of Singapore. His research interests are wideranging, encompassing largely the postcolonial politics of war remembrance and forgetting in Malaysia and Singapore alongside associated issues to do with place history, heritage and tourism. This contribution stems from his doctoral research on the ways in which the Second World War is memorialised in Perak, Malaysia. He may be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Sybil Kathigasu, No Dram of Mercy (Kuala Lumpur: Prometheus Enterprise Sdn Bhd, 2006 ).
 Aside from the MPAJA, Papan was also the base for a number of other cells serving the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), as well as a group of Chinese nationalists who referred to themselves as the Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Army (OCAJA). The Japanese realised this about the town, especially from the pin-prick attacks conducted on the Japanese there, and designated the town as a red zone; see Khoo Salma Nasution and Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, Kinta Valley: Pioneering Malaysia’s Modern Development (Ipoh: Perak Academy, 2000)
 Cited in The Star, June 9, 2008.
 Cheah Boon Kheng, Red Star Over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict During and After the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, 1941-1946 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2003 ), 3.
 Richard Winstedt, “Forward”, in No Dram of Mercy, Sybil Kathigasu (Kuala Lumpur: Prometheus Enterprise Sdn Bhd, 2006 ), 5.
 Times Magazine, June 28, 1948.
 Cheah, Red Star Over Malaya, 4.
 Geoffrey Cator, “Introduction”, in No Dram of Mercy, Sybil Kathigasu (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Prometheus Enterprise Sdn Bhd, 2006 ), 7.
 Cited in The Star, March 13, 2007.
 See New Straits Times, February 24, 2006.
 Cited in The Star, March 13, 2007.
 Business Times, August 24, 2007.
 See Business Times, August 24, 2007; The Star, September 22, 2007.
 Cited in Times Magazine, June 28, 1948.
 A well-known example is the remembrance of 2LT Adnan Saidi, from the Malay Regiment who proved himself in the battlefields of British Malaya before he was brutally murdered by the Japanese in 1942 within local military traditions, books, museums and filmmaking; he even has a Malaysian Armed Forces tank named after him. In Singapore, 2LT Adnan Saidi and the Malay Regiment are also commemorated in books and via a plaque and a museum near where they fought the Japanese and where Adnan was believed to be killed.
 For more on remembering and forgetting the war in Malaysia, see Cheah B. K., “The Black-Out Syndrome and the Ghosts of World War II: The War as a ‘Divisive Issue’,” in Legacies of World War II in South and East Asia, ed. David W.H. Koh (Singapore: ISEAS, 2007), 47-59; Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2012). For similar discussions within the context of how the war has officially been selectively co-opted (or not) within countries in Southeast Asia, see Kevin Blackburn, “War memory and nationbuilding in South East Asia,” Southeast Asia Research 18.1 (2010): 5-31.
 See, for examples, Nuala Johnson, “Cast in stone: monuments, geography and nationalism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13 (1995): 51-65; Stephen Hoelscher and Derek H. Alderman, “Memory and place: geographies of a critical relationship,” Social and Cultural Geography 5.3 (2004): 347-355. K. Till, The New Berlin (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); S. Legg, “Reviewing geographies of memory/forgetting,” Environment and Planning A 39 (2007): 456-466. For exceptions to the highly western centric of geographical writing on war memory and remembering, see Hamzah Muzaini, “Producing/consuming memoryscapes: the genesis/politics of Second World War commemoration in Singapore,” GeoJournal 66 (2006): 211-222; Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, “War landscapes as ‘battlefields’ of collective memories: reading the Reflections at Bukit Chandu, Singapore,” Cultural Geographies 12 (2005): 345-365.
 See Hamzah Muzaini, “Making memories our own (way): non-state remembrances of the Second World War in Perak,” in Geography and Memory, ed. O. Jones and J. GardeHansen (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 216–233; Stephen Legg, “Contesting and surviving memory: space, nation and nostalgia in les lieux de mémoire,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23 (2005): 481-504; Hamzah Muzaini, “Scale politics, vernacular memory and the preservation of the Green Ridge battlefield in Kampar, Malaysia,” Social & Cultural Geography 14.4 (2013): 389-409.
 See, for examples, Ho Thean Fook, Tainted Glory (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 2000); Ho Tak Ming, Doctors Extraordinaire (Perak: Perak Academy, 2006), in a chapter on her husband; Norma Miraflor and Ian Ward, Faces of Courage: A Revealing Historical Appreciation of Colonial Malaya’s Legendary Kathigasu Family (Singapore: Media Masters, 2006) which includes No Dram and interviews with Chin Peng and Sybil’s surviving daughter, Olga; and Khoo and Lubis’s Kinta Valley (2005); Cheah, Red Star Over Malaya; James Wing On Wong, From Pacific War to Merdeka (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Strategic Information Research Development, 2005).
 The interviews in the movie were conducted as part of Amir Muhammad’s production of Lelaki Komunis Terakhir but eventually did not make it in the final cut and the decision was made to convert it into the short movie. It is noteworthy to note that the movie itself was banned in Malaysia.
 Cited in The Star, June 9, 2008.
 Sybil, the play’s official brochure.
 Hornbill Unleashed, June 13, 2010.
 At the moment, at his own expense or as part of PHS activities, Law does transport people, by chartered bus or his car, to the museum but this has been financially taxing for him.
 It could also be the Perak state is constrained from developing the town, in terms of its infrastructure, due to prior dealings. When there was a call, in the late 1980s, by heritage enthusiasts for the town of Papan to be preserved, it was reported how the Perak state government was not able to act upon it given that, in an agreement signed in 1968, the land had already been consigned in perpetuity to Hock Hin Leong, providing the company exclusive rights to mine the area. The decision not to develop the town could thus be a means of clearing the town so that the company could gain access to the rich alluvial tin deposits currently lying dormant underneath the town (The Star, October 18, 1991).
 The century-old Mandailing double-storey mansion made of bricks and cengal timber with eight-sided columns to symbolise that the building was erected with the support of people from the eight directions of the compass. The house was mostly used for ceremonies such as weddings, feasts and other receptions, rather than as a residence for the late local< />chieftain, Raja Bilah. A few metres away, there is also the old 1888 Papan Mosque, believed to be the last remaining large-scale 19th century mosque of traditional Mandailing architecture found in the country and Indonesia.
 This is primarily due to how, after independence in 1957, many members of MPAJA later supported the Malayan Community Party (MCP) towards overthrowing the government and establishing a communist state, hence gaining them the status of national ‘traitors’; see Ban Kah Choon and Yap Hong Kuan, Rehearsal for War: the Underground War against the Japanese (Singapore: Horizon Books, 2002).
 For example, the Malaysian government has banned a few local movies made about those years in Malaysian history (such as Amir Muhammad’s Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (2006) and Apa Khabar Orang Kampong (2007)), and there was also public uproar over the public memorialisation of members of the MCP at Nilai Memorial Park, Negri Sembilan; see Blackburn and Hack, War Memory.
 During the course of my research, I also learnt, in these ways, of many other embodied and vernacular sites of war remembrance in the forms of unpublished letters and written documents, private collections of war objects, abandoned memorials, tombs and entire sections of graveyards dedicated to individuals sacrificed during the war. See Hamzah Muzaini, “Making memories our own (way)”.
 For a similar argument, see J.A. Tyner, G.B. Alvarez and A.R Colucci, “Memory and the everyday landscape of violence in post-genocide Cambodia,” Social and Cultural Geography 13 (2012): 853-71.