The memorial was familiar to me since my childhood days, whenever you go to Air Itam,or Penang Hill,you will never miss the monument. But not many know the purpose of building up the monument there. Some said it was a war memorial, a monument to remember the death of the civilian who died during the war. Some said it was for the resistance soldiers. The story of the monument had been forgotten, and everyone treated as a normal war memorial. But the people who come to pay respect on 11th November each year, was not from the uniform, but the normal civilian. The purpose of the memorial was for world peace, it is a peace memorial, and also to remember the people who died during the 2nd World War. It is also specially mentioned about the voluntary transport workers who died at the Burma Road in Yunnan who come from Penang, and Malaysia. That is why it is called Penang Chinese War Memorial for the Nanyang Transport Volunteers and the Martyrs of the World War II(槟榔屿华侨抗战殉职机工和罹难同胞纪念碑).
My son have been witnessing the ceremony each year, being a member of Chong Hwa Confucius School band until he completed his secondary school. My uncle was also there each year, witnessing the event. There are many descendants of the Transport volunteers, who are there in the crowd, without noticed by any others. But sad to say I have not witness the event personally until today.
It was on 11-11-2011 at 11a.m., our chief minister Lim Guan Eng officiated the 60th anniversary ceremony. The year 2011 was different; the people of Penang and Penang state government have donated to facelift the memorial park. Three additional features are added. Among the new features are a memorial model of the transport workers pushing a military truck up a hill slope along the Burma – Yunnan Road, a memorial wall with carvings displaying the transport volunteers and trucks being bombed by the plane of Japanese Imperial Army, the third feature was the memorial column featuring pigeons circulating around the column, which resemble the world peace.
It was great event when we can come together to remember the people who died during the war. As I have just come back from Japan and visited the Nagasaki Peace Park and Hiroshima Peace Park. By attending the ceremony it gave me a very meaningful day. It also bring awareness to the people who may have forgotten the monument. The family of transport volunteers from Yunnan was also there. But is was pity that the organization committee did not give them a public introduction. The grandson of Mr.Tan Kah Kee(陈嘉庚), the man involved personally with the Transport Volunteers project. A public introduction will be more significant.
In the afternoon, I attended the dialogue by the family of the transport volunteers from Yunnan, and the grandson of Mr.Tan Kah Kee(陈嘉庚). The timing was not right, as it was in collision with the night event at the war memorial at Air Itam. It seems that there are not many people aware of the event. Other than our family, some retired teachers, and one Chinese cultural expert, Chang Yong Mee. The attendance was sadly low. If this type of event were held at other place, especially east coast, it will normally be full house. Sadly not Penang. The stories given by the family are very touching, each have their own unique story. Some of them still searching for the long lost family in Malaysia.
In 1939, 3,200 young men from South-East Asia, historically was called Nanyang(南洋) by Chinese, most were from Malaya, left their families and homes voluntarily to travel to China to work as drivers and mechanics during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945. They left in 15 batches with 9 of 15 batches leaving from Singapore. The volunteers are called Nangiao ji gong(南侨机工)or “overseas Chinese mechanics”. One third of them lost their life in Yunan, one third returned to Malaya, the remaining one third left in Yunan, China. These 3200 volunteers included Indian, Malay men and four Chinese women. There were 300 volunteers from North Malaya of Penang, Kedah and Perlis, of which 233 were from Penang. I really hope their names will be listed at the memorial wall at the War monument at Air Itam. The list included Li Yue Mei (李月美) who was known as modern Hua Mu Lan(当代花木兰), as she also disguised as a man to serve in the Nanyang Transport Volunteers as a driver, just like the ancient Chinese woman heroine. Sadly she died during the cultural revolution in China.
Two of the family members, Xu Hongji(徐宏基) and Zhang Yunpeng(张云鹏), they are searching for their family in Muar, Johor. The other VIPs presented were Honorary Chairman(名誉会长)Chen Liren(陈立人)，Chairman(会长), Lin Xiaochang(林晓昌)，Tang Xiaomei(汤晓梅), historian（机工史学者），Vice chairman(副会长), Wang Shuilin (王水林), photographer（著名纪录片摄影师）与Lin Suwei(林素玮), artist（名画家）.
Thank you state government, the state assemblyman Wong Hun Wei, and the Kong Ming Main Chinese Primary School(公民国民型华文小学总校), the trustee of the monument, that make the event a memorial one. Also the faithful Chong Hwa Confucius School band(孔圣庙中华中学军铜乐队), which has been playing music for the event for many years without fail.
Calling for the families of the volunteers
If you know any family of transport volunteers, please contact Low Toh nam(刘道南), 012-521 7412. He was a volunteer in Ipoh, who gathered information for his historical project.