By Wana Yahaya
Recently accorded by National Geographic as Asia’s Top 10 most haunted places, the recognition has certainly put Penang War Museum and Malaysia on the tourism map. On top of that, Penang War Museum has also received yet another recognition when it was invited to be part of the members of “The Founding Congress of the International WWII Museum Association”.
Situated at the top of Batu Maung Hill, this formidable fortress was built in the 1930s by the British army as a military defense base to ward off invasions. It served as a British stronghold until a battle was lost against the invading Japanese during World War II in 1942. The British had anticipated an attack from the sea but the Japanese army approached the fortress by land instead. Following the takeover, many untold atrocities were carried out. Civilians and prisoners-of-wars perished, eventually earning the fortress the notorious reputation as a haunted ground. Locals report sightings and encounters with unearthly beings in the vicinity.
When the Japanese left, the fortress was abandoned and left in a dismal state until the founder, Johari Shafie came along and restore the fortress to its former glory.
FORTRESS TURNED MUSEUM
Every part that constitutes the fortress is still intact, complete with underground military tunnels and ventilation shafts, ammunition bunkers, logistic center, canon firing bays, sleeping quarters, cook houses and medical infirmary.
Johari had often played at the base of the hill as a child, and stumbled onto the fortress during one of his adventures up the summit in 1993. He then spent the next two years travelling abroad with his wife Jenny to do research and visit war museums before returning to Malaysia. It took him six months to clear the area and to refashion the whole place for it to be tourist-friendly, complete with signage and additional artifacts where the fortress finally reopened as Penang War Museum.
Fast forward today, a stroll through the fortress will trigger flashes of unimaginable horrors that took place in the garrison. The eerie and sombre aura also adds authenticity to the whole experience. Apart from that, the fortress miraculously still retained the original green paint, painted all over the hill for the purpose of camouflage, blending in with the surrounding hill area. This adds up to the originality of the place.
We were guided by the museum’s tour guide, Munirah as she took us on a tour around the fortress. Back then, soldiers manning the fort could have a 180 degree view. From the canon firing bay to the living quarters, you will be able to recreate the scene of soldiers who dedicated their lives to manning and protecting the island.
As you make your way up from the canon firing bay, you would be able to experience a much different vibe around the living quarter area. The living quarter is one of the important areas. This is where the soldiers rest after their shift each day. Consisting of 4 barracks for British soldiers, one for Malay and another 4 barracks for Sikh, the quarters are each equipped with decent bathrooms and cookhouses.
The living quarters are now turned into showcase rooms revolving around the displays of Japanese harrowing torture of war prisoners, prominent WWII individuals such as General Yamashita and James Tait. The area also showcased the everyday activities of the soldiers including playing cards, reading and more.
There are few additions in terms of attractions such as WWII trench and jungle tracking, 100ft tunnel exploration and submarine bay, dormitory or camp stay, team building and war games, night tour (by reservation only) and more! Apart from that, Penang War Museum also received numerous visits from schools listing the place as a historical must-visit.
As the tour ends, you will find a signboard with a saying that goes “Bear history in mind, cherish peace, commemorate martyrs and build a better future.” This quote certainly instills the patriotic sense and the important reminder to cherish the war history of this country.
The Penang War Museum opens daily from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm For sales and ticketing enquiries, you may call their customer service at 04-626 5142 or email them at [email protected]