Photograph of Jesselton

Australian War Memorial #121566

Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu, 116.073E 5.967N) was founded in 1899 by the British North Borneo Company. Rubber was produced in the hinterland and the port, the largest in British North Borneo, was a way station for shipping between Singapore and Hong Kong. The town had the only developed road system in British North Borneo, and a railway to Weston on the eastern shores of Brunei Bay.

Elements of 124 Regiment seized the area on 8 January 1942 against negligible resistance.

Jesselton Riot. On 9 October 1943, a violent riot broke out in the town. The ringleaders were ethnic Chinese, who had been badly treated by the Japanese, and who were apparently in contact with guerrillas in the area. The guerrillas were led by a Lieutenant Colonel Suarez, whose men killed some 40 Japanese. However, the revolt was swiftly put down by Japanese troops with air support, and the guerrilla movement was crushed by mid-December. The Kempeitai arrested every ethnic Chinese they could locate, and mass executions followed, including one incident in which 189 men and women were executed.

The Kempeitai then turned their attention against the inhabitants of the Suluk Islands, a few of whose leaders had been implicated in the revolt. On 13 February 1944, a force of Kempeitai arrested a group of 58 Suluks from Mantanani Island after their chief denied any knowledge of a Chinese guerrilla leader still at large. All were tortured, and those who survived torture were beheaded. Two days after the arrests, the Kempeitai returned to the island and killed every Suluk they could find. Out of a population of 838 Suluks on Mantanani Island in 1941, only 288 were still alive when the war ended, of whom not more than 25 were adult males.

The Kempeitai also killed the entire adult male population of Dinawan and forcibly relocated the women and children to a less productive island, where 27 starved. By 1945 the population of Dinawan was reduced from 120 to 54 persons, with the entire male population over the age of 16 exterminated. Similar atrocities took place at Sulug and Udar. Although British investigators did not believe the Japanese were deliberately seeking to exterminate the Suluk culture, the massacres have been described as a genocide.

The town was not reoccupied by the Allies until 28 September 1945, six weeks after the Japanese surrender. By then the town had been devastated by Allied bombers.


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