Penang War Museum, Batu Maung, Penang
Located on Penang Island, on the southeastern tip, the Penang War Museum provides visitors with a snapshot of life in Malaya during World War II under the control of the Japanese occupiers. The museum itself is situated within the Batu Maung Fort – a defensive garrison built into a cliff by the British Royal Engineers in 1930. Constructed with the intention to protect Penang Island from naval attacks, the fort was manned by British, Malay and Sikh soldiers along with a series of cannons, anti-aircraft guns and pillboxes. When the Japanese invaded Malaya in December 1941, it was thought they would attack Batu Maung Fort from the ocean. However, the attack eventuated from inland and as a result Allied forces were told to retreat further south. Penang Island, along with the fort, was rapidly captured without a total shot been fired. For the remainder of the war, the Japanese used Batu Maung as a base to protect Japanese ships stationed at the island and an Allied prison and torture centre for captured troops.
After the war had ended, the fortress was more or less engulfed by the surrounding jungle and left to decay for the next 40 or so years. In the late 1990s, local entrepreneur Johari Shafie began to restore and develop the site into a museum space. Officially opening in 2002, the Penang War Museum is now the largest outdoor museum in Southeast Asia and receives approximately 100,000 visitors a year. Locally it is known as Bukit Hantu (Ghost Hill) due to the hundreds of troops who were executed there and the regular ghost sightings made by visitors.
The content of the museum is spread throughout the old buildings, interlinking underground tunnels and fortress walls. Focusing on the history of the site and the people who lived or were imprisoned there, interpretation panels outline the uses of each of the rooms (eg. logistics centre, sleeping quarters, medical infirmary), the military defensive strategies implemented by both the British in the 1930s and the Japanese during World War II, and the torture inflicted on prisoners by the Japanese occupiers. Objects such as ammunition, torture weapons, photographs and larger weapons (eg. cannons) are located in each area to provide a greater visual engagement for visitors. It has been proposed that the museum will expand in the near future to include further exhibitions on naval warfare.
A small memorial is also present on the museum site. Sponsored by the Penang War Veterans Association and completed in 2003, the structure commemorates the soldiers and civilians, both Malaysian and non-Malaysian, who were killed during World War I, World War II, the Malayan Emergency, the Confrontation and the Re-Insurgency period. A small building next to the memorial allows visitors to sit and contemplate those who contributed and died for present day Malaysia throughout these events.