The Penang War Museum (GPS: 5.28142, 100.28872) or Muzium Perang Pulau Pinang, is a privately-run museum located on the hills above the fishing village of Batu Maung. It preserves the British war relics that dot the hill. The museum was officiated by Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Tourism, on 14 October, 2002. I visited the museum for the first time way back in 2002, just following its opening, and roughly eleven years later, on 26 October, 2013, I made a second visit to it.
After going up the windy hill road, I passed through the gate, where I paid a reimbursable RM5 parking fee (this is to keep away people who simply use up the limited parking space without actually visiting the museum).
Before going off to explore the war relics, I was given a private briefing:
Then off I went to explore the Penang War Museum. Much has changed, and much has remained the same. I see that the numbering of each points remain the same over the past eleven years, though there is now a proper covered walk over what was once a tarred road. It leads past the entrance to the tunnel (Point 29). You can see how it looks like in 2002 and 2013 below:
The ammunition storage tunnel entrance in 2013 (4 November, 2013)
To ensure you see everything, follow the arrow on the floor. Here's another view of the entrance to the tunnel.
Penang War Museum tunnel entrance (26 October, 2013)
My Experience with the Batu Maung British War Relics
I have been aware of the British war relics in Batu Maung from small. When I was a kid, I would explore the hills above the fishing village of Batu Maung with friends. From the hill slopes, my friends and I could watch planes landing and taking off from the Bayan Lepas airport. We would pass by durian and rambutan orchards where kind pakciks will let us eat our share of rambutans and durians, if we don't pluck them.
However, deep in this jungle and high in the hills, there are dark, mysterious tunnels. From the first time we came across those tunnels I knew they are World War II relics, but I have never been in it. There were talks that the tunnels were haunted, and by their look, they don't really dispell this rumour.
Later on, as a teenager, I would ride my motorbike up the windy path to the entrance of the tunnel, but I never dated to enter it, for fear of snakes. Nonetheless the relics were a source of much curiosity, excitement as well as fear.
Replica of a 6-inch beech-loading gun that was originally installed on this site in 1941 (26 October, 2013)
Ammunition stand at the subterranean bunker, Penang War Museum (18 May, 2013)
So for over twenty years, those tunnels were tucked away in the deep recesses of my mind. It was only recently - October 14, 2002 to be exact - that news emerged in the newpapers that those tunnels have been rehabilitated and turned into Penang's newest museum - the War Relic Museum.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, after a rather uneventful trip to visit the World Fish Centre open day, I detoured to this museum. A worn-out track zigzaged uphill into the jungle clearing. Entrance fee in 2002 was a hefty RM5.00 (By 2013, the price has increased to RM35 for foreign guest and RM20 for MyKad holders!) Considering I have come all the way here, I reluctantly parted with the money.
The war museum is a monument to the mistake made by the British in thinking that the enemy would attack from the sea, and thus they constructed the bunkers and enforcement with cannons aimed to the sea. As it turn out, the Japanese invaded by land, coming down the Peninsula, and rendering the preparation moot.
The British defense consisted of light machineguns and Bofors anti-aircraft on Bukit Batu Maung, or more correctly, Bukit Punjab. The guns are aimed at protecting the Butterworth airfield. There are several pillboxes built to protect the island from sea landings. The entire complex covers an area of 20 acres. The British Royal Engineers and a work force comprising of local labourers blasted and dug into Bukit Punjab to create a fort.
As it turned out, on December 16, the British evacuated when the Japanese started bombing the island and seized many ships and boats in the harbour the day before. The Japanese came ashore at dawn of the following day. They arrived on small boats and seized the island without losing a single soldier. They were surprised that the British did not even destroy the radio station in Penang before evacuating, so they used it to broadcast their propaganda to Malaya and Singapore.
From under Japanese Occupation, it Batu Maung Fort was used to protect Japanese shipping from Allied attack. After ww2, it was abandoned. Another 60 years would have passed before the Penang Government decided to restore the complex and turn it into the Penang War Museum.
As you explore this museum, you get to see the pill boxes, tunnels, observation tower, lock up and even cook house used by the British soldiers. If you are keen to rediscover how it was during the Second World War, then you should pay a visit to the War Relic Museum. Otherwise, it may not be worth the while to allow the mosquitoes in this place to feast on you. And by the way, bring insect repellant!
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