Failed sabotage plans and terrible beatings

PAINFUL MEMORIES: They allowed us to visit him whenever he was warded. On my first trip, I couldn't recognise him. His hair had grown long, he had a beard and was much thinner. He was wearing the same clothes he had been taken in. These were in tatte
PAINFUL MEMORIES: They allowed us to visit him whenever he was warded. On my first trip, I couldn't recognise him. His hair had grown long, he had a beard and was much thinner. He was wearing the same clothes he had been taken in. These were in tatters. - MR K. NADARAJAH (above), on his father, who was held at Outram Jail and badly beaten by the Japanese during WWII.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Retired teacher K. Nadarajah's war story revolves around his father's incarceration.

Secret plans his father had hatched to help the British reclaim Singapore during the Japanese Occupation were thwarted by a colleague's mistress. It resulted in incessant beatings for Mr Kathiravelu K., and eventual memory loss.

Mr Kathiravelu was working as a traffic inspector with the British for the Federated Malay States Railways in Kuala Lipis in Pahang, but as the British defences failed in early 1942, the Japanese transferred him and his family to Singapore. They stayed in British-built rail quarters in Spooner Road in Bukit Merah alongside eight other rail families. The rail workers, who included the signal inspector, engine driver and Mr Kathiravelu, managed to obtain a radio clandestinely and would listen to foreign news broadcasts.

They made plans to sabotage the railway and derail the Japanese, but they never got the chance.

"One morning in 1945, at 3am, the Japanese arrested all eight of the rail workers, including my father. They beat them up and questioned them," said Mr Nadarajah.

The engine driver's spurned mistress had ratted on them.

Mr Kathiravelu, then in his 50s, was thrown into the now demolished Outram Jail. He was sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital each time he was beaten up badly by the wardens, said Mr Nadarajah.

"They allowed us to visit him whenever he was warded. On my first trip, I couldn't recognise him. His hair had grown long, he had a beard and was much thinner. He was wearing the same clothes he had been taken in. These were in tatters."

Having an audience for his war recollections is rare, said Mr Nadarajah, who is now 89 years old.

"It is important to get these stories off my chest. They have been on my mind my whole life."

Some of Mr Nadarajah's experiences of life during the Japanese Occupation are also featured at the National Archives of Singapore's newly revamped World War II gallery.

Mr Kathiravelu was eventually released following Japan's surrender in September 1945.

"If the British had come three weeks later, my father could have died," said Mr Nadarajah.

Melody Zaccheus

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Failed sabotage plans and terrible beatings'. Print Edition | Subscribe