In 1939, 3200 Nanyang Volunteers, 南侨技工, from all over Nanyang (today’s South East Asia) left for China in fifteen batches with nine of the fifteen batches leaving from Singapore.
These 3200 volunteers included Indian, Malay men and four Chinese women. They were responding to China Relief Fund’s call to sustain China’s war materials supply chain during the Sino Japanese War.
Most of the Nanyang Volunteers eventually served on Burma Road, China’s only link with the outside world after 1941.
Half of them died during service and the remaining ones either settled in China or return to Nanyang after the war.
In memory of the Nanyang Volunteers
72 years later, the deeds of Nanyang Volunteers have not been forgotten.
Initiated by the KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and organised by Malayan Second World War History Society, 滇缅公路马来亚二战历史研究会, and Persatuan Hope Negrel Johor, 柔佛河婆同乡会青年团, a group of history enthusiasts commemorated Nanyang Volunteers with a journey from Singapore to Kunming.
Their starting point was the Ee Hoe Hean Club in Singapore Chinatown suitably chosen since Ee Hoe Hean was the headquarters of China Relief Fund and the send-off location for many batches of Nanyang Volunteers.
The participants from Malaysia and Singapore were first hosted to a dinner by Ee Ho Hean Club where speeches were made in memory of Nanyang Volunteers and Mr. Tan Kah Kee, chairperson of China Relief Fund.
After a night’s rest, the drivers were ready to embark on their journey.
Their starting point the Ee Hoe Hean Club was decorated with banners and a station to flag off the drivers.
Hundreds of supporters had also gathered in the street waiting for the drivers to arrive. The atmosphere was extremely energetic reminiscent of the days when Nanyang Volunteers gathered there just before their return to serve in China.
The arrival of the Guest of Honour, Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong, 陈振泉, Singapore Senior Parliamentary Secretary as well as the Chinese Ambassador to Singapore HE Wei Wei, 魏苇大使, were greeted with tremendous applause by the growing crowd.
The journey begins
After several speeches by various leaders, the Guest of Honour flag off the convey of 21 vehicles.
Their first and only stop in Singapore was the World War Two memorial where the Singapore and Malaysian parties presented wreaths and then bowed in memory of the war dead.
From there, the convey drove towards woodlands, headed off to Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and finally Kunming in China.
During their 35 days journey, the participants will also pay respects at all 4 Nanyang Volunteer monuments; Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, Kunming and Wanting in China.
Remembering the forgotten war heroes
Although a simple ceremony, the participants had brought attention to the now almost forgotten history of Nanyang Volunteers.
For example, Singapore as the center of China Relief Fund has no monuments in memory of Nanyang Volunteers. This is also despite the fact that many left from Singapore.
Maybe someday, a monument might be constructed in Singapore in memory of the Nanyang Volunteers so that their contributions will never be forgotten.
What this group of Malaysians have started is not a 35 days journey but a firm step forward in helping people to remember the Nanyang Volunteers.