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Olga Kathigasu At Singapore Medical College
Olga Kathigasu, first daughter, but second child to Sybil Kathigasu and her husband Dr A C Kathigasu, the famous Ipoh war heroine, was born in Pekeleiling, Kuala Lumpur, on 26th February 1921. Sybil's mother, Beatrice Mathilda Daly was a midwife, as was Sybil herself. Olga was named at the suggestion of her grandmother (it means 'holy') and was taken from a book her grandmother was reading at the time. Sybil agreed as having the initials OK seemed to be a good omen. Olga was baptised in St John's Church (now Cathedral), Kuala Lumpur on 6th March 1921 and following the strict Eurasian tradition, she was brought to Ipoh after 40 days confinement. At the time her father was a medical officer at Ipoh General hospital.
She remembers many details of her young life, a government posting for the family to Northern Pahang when she was two years old, returning to Ipoh and moving into 141 Brewster Road, Ipoh, the opening of her father’s dispensary with a tea party on 1 January 1926 and more.
From 1928, for ten years, Olga studied at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Ipoh (now renamed 'Main Convent') and on completion of her studies, left Ipoh in 1939 to enrol in the same college in Singapore where her father had studied to be a doctor. According to Olga this was not a good decision as studying in the Ipoh Convent School (Convent of the Infant Jesus)with a curriculum of french, history, literature etc, with no science background, had not prepared her for this type of course. Twice she failed the preparatory examinations and gave up, returning to Ipoh.
When the Japanese invaded Malaya the family fled to Papan. But when her parents and adopted brother were arrested, and then imprisoned and tortured over a period of some two and a half years by the Japanese for helping the MPAJA (Malayan Peoples Anti Japanese Army) from her mother’s clinic in Papan, care of her grandmother and young sister fell on Olga’s shoulders. She also had to bear the pain of her young sister being taken away and tortured by the Japanese, but fortunately Olga herself was never arrested. She did however have some brushes with the Japanese when they visited Papan and again she visited her mother in prison on the few occasions she was allowed to do so.
Eventually, with money running out in Papan and no way to earn any, her grandmother moved to Johore and Olga and Dawn had to soldier on as best they could.
After the Japanese surrender and the British Military Administration taking charge, Sybil, Olga's mother, was sent to hospital in London. She was desperately trying to recover from the dreadful torture inflicted on her by the Japanese. There was also some friction between Olga and young Dawn while her father and adopted brother were suffering from their internment. At this stage, Olga needed a good friend and from 1946 onwards a local girl, Jessie Chia, became just that.
Olga tells a story of when Sybil's body had finally given in to her terrible injuries and she was to be reburied in Ipoh. Her coffin arrived by ship in Penang where father, adopted brother, William Pillay and daughter, Dawn had spent the night. Olga on the other hand had told her father that she did not want to go, but secretly arranged that she and Jessie would travel up by car that morning and surprise the family. Olga recalls that her father was not really surprised as he knew Olga well enough to expect such acts. That day they all returned to Ipoh where the coffin laid overnight in their home at 141 Brewster Road, Ipoh.
On 26 December 1952 Dawn left Penang for UK by ship to take up a medical scholarship provided by the British Government. She returned in 1957 with her new husband and plans were made for Olga to return to UK with them. However, Olga backed out and decided to stay in Ipoh and look after her father with whom she was always very close. However there were some differences of opinion when Dr Kathigasu married again, but Olga remained loyal to her father until he passed away. Today (2008) she continues to live in Ipoh.
The photographs (from left to right) show Olga during her period in Singapore at Medical College: On the left she is 18 years-old, dressed in a long, chocolate and yellow gown with yellow bows as decoration, ready to attend the Indo/Ceylonese Freshman's dinner in Katong, Singapore; secondly, in July 1939, she is seen wearing a Taffeta long gown, decorated with printed bows - "I love bows" she says as a smile crosses her face; finally she is pictured in a more casual outfit buttoned in the front. This was also July 1939.
To read more about Dr A C Kathigasu, click here.
To read more about Sybil Kathigasu, click here.
To read more about Dawn Kathigasu, click here.
To read more about The Main Convent School, click here.