Letter: Edith of Malaya

This year marks 71 years of the death of Sybil Kathigasu, which fell on June 12. Sybil and her husband, Dr A.C. Kathigasu were peacefully running their clinic at No. 141 Brewster Road, Ipoh. But in 1942 when the Japanese troops arrived in Ipoh, the couple and their family had fled to a nearby small town, Papan.

At Papan, they operated a clinic, where they provided medical services, information and refuge to resistance fighters during World War 2 until their capture in 1943.

Sybil was held captive and tortured by the Japanese soldiers during the second world war for aiding resistance soldiers who fought against the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Despite being severely beaten, tortured and forced to witness her daughter being strapped by rope and dangled from a tree above burning charcoal by torturers. Even at this point, Sybil refused to utter anything about what she knew concerning the campaign against the Japanese.

At the time of liberation, Sybil was in solitary confinement in Batu Gajah, crippled with pain as her constant companion. She was sent to the United Kingdom for further medical attention. In 1947, Sybil Kathigasu was awarded the George Medal, the highest honour bestowed by the British Crown on civilians for bravery.

Time magazine, in 1948 had also referred to her as the “Edith of Malaya” after Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was executed by firing squad for aiding the escape of Allied soldiers during World War 2.

Subsequently, I would like to call upon the Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, to consult history experts for their views and feedback to include our own ‘Florence Nightingale’ in our Malaysian history syllabus in schools.

Acknowledging Sybil in the syllabus renders a good message to students that credit is given where it’s due in Malaysia and that all races helped build the nation. It also marks a milestone for women as they were largely sidelined in historical accounts on the country’s struggle for independence.

S. Sundralingam

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