PETALING JAYA: The last estate survivor from one of the darkest chapters of Malaysia’s history reached a milestone yesterday and his family plan to make it a memorable celebration.
Ellan Kannian was one of thousands from then Malaya who were forcibly recruited by the Japanese army to work on the Death Railway during World War II. According to official records, Ellan was born in then Madras (now Chennai), in India on March 26, 1917, thus making him 100 this year.
He later came to Malaya with his siblings and was staying in the former British-owned Kenny Estate, near Kuala Selangor, at the time, when Malaya was under the rule of the Japanese occupation army.
Ellan’s story, starting with how he and his older brother Ponnan, brother-in-law Ramasamy and many other workers at the estate, were recruited by the Japanese occupation army to work on the railway, has been documented by the Death Railway Interest Group (Drig) based in Kuala Lumpur.
Drig released a summary of Ellan’s narration in a press statement yesterday in conjunction with his 100th birthday.
After being taken from the estate, Ellan along with the other recruits were put on a train to then Siam (Thailand). It was not the most comfortable journey, being loaded on the goods wagons by the hundreds per wagon.
While in Siam, he lost touch with Ponnan and Ramasamy, who were separated into different groups before the long walk to Nikkei near the Siam-Burma border.
Many did not have the strength to complete the journey and were left to die when they collapsed along the way.
After about five days of walking, he thought he saw a familiar face lying on the ground. Upon looking closer, he found that it was his brother Ponnan, and he was still alive.
But Ellan was not able to help his brother, as he felt a sharp pain on his back, from the beatings of a Japanese soldier who was yelling at him to continue walking.
With a heavy heart, he had to abandon Ponnan there, but not before covering Ponnan’s face with the towel he had on his shoulder.
“He never saw both Ponnan and Ramasamy again throughout the ordeal but he survived and lived to tell his tale.
“It has once again put us in touch with a forgotten and neglected part of our history.
We would never know how many others took such vivid memories to their graves. Drig has taken upon itself the task of documenting the last few survivors,” P Chandrasekaran of Drig said.
Ellan’s son, Vasuthevan, 65, told Drig that although celebrating birthdays has not been a norm, the family is inviting neighbours, friends, relatives and well-wishers to join them in celebrating their father’s 100th birthday at 7pm on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at their home in Jalan Raja Abdullah, Jeram, Kuala Selangor.
Beyond surviving the Death Railway, Ellan has also outlived his wife and three of his eight children.
According to Vasuthevan, his father is often sought by families who enquire if he has any information on their loved ones who had not returned from the Death Railway.
“We believe more stories like this should be documented and given wide publicity to put the Death Railway in its proper perspective and give its forgotten victims their rightful place in history.
“There would be more sharing at his birthday celebration by his family, friends and Drig, as Ellan’s memory is fading. Honouring survivors like him is a small consolation for the more than hundred thousand Asian victims whose plight had been neglected and forgotten,” Chandrasekaran said, in congratulating Ellan on reaching the milestone century.