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Sybil Kathigasu GM, Malaya's War Heroine From Ipoh - Short History And Video
This photograph shows Malaya's war heroine Sybil Kathigasu. Born in Medan, Sumatra, as Sybil Daly, the daughter of Joseph Daly and Beatrice Mathilda Martin,she was a Eurasian, a devout Catholic, a vegetarian and spoke fluent Cantonese.
She married Dr A C Kathigasu in St John's church (now cathedral) in Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur. Initially there had been a religious objection from her parents as he was a Hindu. However, with agreement from his father he changed his name and religion on 4 January 1919 in order for the wedding to take place. His new (Catholic) name was Abdon Clement (A C) Kathigasu. They were married on 7 January 1919 in St John’s Church, Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur. Sybil's first child was a son born on 26 August 1919, but due to major problems at birth, died after only 19 hours. He was named Michael after Sybil's elder brother who was born in Taiping on 12th November 1892 and was killed in Gallipoli on 10th July 1915 as a member of the British Army.
The devastating blow of baby Michael's death led to Sybil's mother suggesting that a young boy, William Pillay, born 25th October 1918, who she had delivered and had remained staying with them at their Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, house, should be adopted by Sybil and her husband. Then a daughter Olga was born to Sybil in Pekeliling, Kuala Lumpur, on 26th February 1921. The earlier sudden death of baby Michael made Olga a very special baby to Sybil, when she was born without problems.
So when Sybil returned to Ipoh on 7th April 1921, it was not only with Olga, but also with William and her mother who had agreed to stay in Ipoh with the family.
A second daughter Dawn, was born in Ipoh on 21 September 1936 and baptised in St Michael's Church Ipoh.
When the Japanese first bombed Ipoh, Dr A C Kathigasu and his wife Sybil vacated their clinic at 141 Brewster Road and sought refuge, in Papan where they were taken in by a friend at 74 Main Road. They stayed on in Papan during the Japanese Occupation and set up a clinic there.
After a short while, Dr. Kathigasu reopened the clinic in Ipoh while Sybil maintained the Papan dispensary, providing free treatment to the poor. She had long anticipated a role in the resistance against the Japanese and accepted the offer to provide treatment and medical supplies to the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army guerillas. MPAJA members needing treatment were brought through the back door of the dispensary, where a vegetable garden was planted in the backyard to provide cover.
As Papan became more widely known as a support base for the Communists, the Japanese military police started to arrest people of the town that were suspected of assisting the guerillas.
Inevitably, Dr Kathigasu was arrested, followed by Sybil shortly afterward in early August 1943. She was interned and interrogated at the central police station in Ipoh. She was in custody of the infamous Ipoh Kempeitai chief Ekio Yoshimura from October 1943 to July 1945, being charged with being a spy, cooperating with the enemy, providing medical assistance to the Communist guerillas, possessing a radio set and listening to enemy propaganda. She was then transferred to the Batu Gajah prison and finally given a mock trial in the Ipoh lock-up.
Three weeks after the Japanese surrender on 6 September 1945, Sybil was found in, and transferred from, the Batu Gajah gaol, to the hospital by a British Army unit led by Captain David McFarlane. She was then escorted back to Papan, welcomed by the whole contingent of the MPAJA at Pusing, Perak. The whole town of Papan also turned up to give her a heartfelt heroine's welcome.
Not long after she was flown to London by the British Government to receive treatment on her injuries. She was then summoned to Buckingham Palace, to receive the George Medal from the King George VI of England, for her courage and loyalty to the British. She succumbed to her injuries and died in Scotland on 12 June 1948. Buried initially in the quiet churchyard of Lanark Church with a handful of local mourners, her remains were brought back to Ipoh the following year for reburial in St Michael's Church Cemetery.
Her remains having arrived from Scotland by boat to Penang and then travelled home to 141 Brewster Road on 20th March 1949, one of the largest funeral processions ever seen in Perak took place on 21st March. Sybil the Ipoh heroine was treated in royal style and the people of Perak and further afield turned out to say goodbye.
To read more about Dr A C Kathigasu, click here.
To read more about Olga Kathigasu, click here.
To read more about Dawn Kathigasu, click here.
To read more about William Pillay, click here.
To read more about Sybil Kathigasu's burial in Scotland, click here.
To read more about Sybil Kathigasu's reburial in Ipoh, click here.
To find out more about The Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), click here.