February 8 – THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN ASIA
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN ASIA
The two countries of South-East Asia where members of the Congregation lived in 1939, i.e. Thailand and Singapore, were hard hit and severely damaged during the Second World War.
In 1940 a wave of francophobia swept through Thailand following a frontier incident involving Cambodia. The thirteen French Brothers, whose safety was threatened, left Bangkok on 18 January 1941 and made their way to India, breaking their journey in Singapore. Br. Frederic-Jean, Principal Director, managed to return to Thailand on 14 September 1941. The rest stayed in India till the end of the war and were very helpful in the schools. Two of them died in Bangalore. The return home of the others, scheduled for 1941, was delayed by the tragic events in Singapore.
Like a tidal wave the Japanese forces first captured the Pacific islands and the Dutch and British colonies; then on 8 December 1941 they rained bombs on the U.S. battleships gathered in Pearl Harbour and, almost simultaneously, on Singapore. The districts where the Brothers lived were undamaged. Things were different on 8 February the following year, when the Japanese stormed the city, to which the Malay forces had withdrawn. Bombs exploded all over the city. The Brothers at Bukit Timah took refuge under the cement stairs at the novitiate. A bomb destroyed the house but the stairs were not damaged. After eight days the city surrendered to the Japanese.
Bros. Fran ois Tessier and Vincent de Sienne (Guy Barbe), who were Canadian born, were interned as British subjects in a camp at Changi where the living conditions were very harsh; they· stayed there four years until ·the end of the war. The other Brothers carried on their work (with Japanese colleagues) at Bukit Timah Technical
School, at Serangoon and at the novitiate. At the end of 1943 Bishop Devals of Singapore wanted to save the Catholic community in the city; he invited volunteers to follow him to a virgin forest lying 8 km from Bahau, capital of the State and of Negri Sembilan, to the east of Malacca Peninsula. The Brothers from Serangoon and the novitiate were among them. Br. Noel de Jesus, who was French-born, was soon released and began to teach Japanese but the others had to clear the ground, sow and plant in order to survive. Br. Paul Majella has written: “The tropical soil, which had been buried for thousands of years under an impenetrable jungle, contained subtle and violent poisonous substances which reduced us to a skeletal or cadaverous state. “Several Brothers suffered for years from the ill effects of malaria contracted there. In August 1945 the Japanese forces surrendered, and a few weeks later, the hell of Bahau, which had lasted 18 months, came to an en l.
After capturing Singapore the Japanese forces has invaded Thailand, which became their ally. The Allied bombing ofBangkok in January 1942, December 1943 and January 1944 did not spare Assumption College. Even before the government decided to close all schools in the city in December 1943, the Brothers and some of their students had taken refuge at Sriracha