by pritam tamil selvan
It was at Bukit Batu Maung, on the southern part of Pulau Pinang that the battle against the invading Japanese army was lost. In the 1930, a formidable fortress was built by the British army atop Bukit Maung, to protect the island against the enemy. Manned by not only British soldiers, but also Malay and Sikh soldiers, Bukit Maung fell during an attack in which the Japanese army approached from inland, rather than from sea, as was expected by the British army.
From that day onwards, the fortress at Bukit Maung transformed into a Japanese army base with a dark history, filled with narrations of how prisoners were tortured for information to help forward the advancement of the Japanese army into Malaya. As a result, Bukit Maung, in the years following the fall of the Japanese army in 1945, the locals in the area kept well away of Bukit Maung for fear of its reputation as a place of hauntings by ghosts of dead soldiers.
The fortress was constructed over 20 acres of land, complete with underground military tunnels and ventilation shafts, ammunition bunkers, logistic centre, canon firing bays, sleeping quarters, cook houses and medical infirmary. After several years of restoration and clearing the fortress area that was covered by shrubs and growths after so many years of abandonment, the fortress was turned into the War Museum by a local Penangite, Johari Shafie three decades later.
Today, a slow walk through the fortress will fire the imagination on what once was. From the canon firing bay the Straits of Melaka is clearly visible. Although the original canons are no longer on site, it is not difficult to imagine how British, Malay and Sikh soldiers once took turn manning the canon bays day and night, guarding against enemy attach from sea. A simple, but no less remarkable section of underground tunnels – one even leads all the way to the sea, acting as an access tunnel to get to submarines – forces one to walk, or even crawl through very narrow, confined places.