Willing to sacrifice for the nation is the best term used to describe the overseas Chinese mechanics (also known as Nanqiao Ji Gong) when they decided to return to China during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945. In 1939, more than 3000 young men from South-East Asia left their families and homes voluntarily to travel to Yunnan-Burma Road at China to work as drivers and mechanics. The monument located at Air Itam Penang is built in memory of them.
As time flies, most of the people forget the cruelty of war and they cannot relate to the spirit of fight against war as they never experienced before. Some local people do not even know there is a heroic story behind this monument.
Back to 1937, that was a war era and the war between China and Japan began during the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (also known as Lugou Bridge Incident or Double-Seven Incident). The overseas Chinese were worried about the situation at China and hence, the Sun Yat Sen Centre Penang collaborated with 42 organizations to form a Chinese Relief Fund Association Penang.
1939, a recruitment drive began to call for drivers and mechanics aged between 20 to 40 years old to travel to China to lend out their helping hand. The association response to the call in short time, 352 overseas Chinese mechanics returned to China and worked at Yunnan- Burma Road. Their tasks were to ferry fuel, weapons, ammunition and soldiers to various parts of China. There were 3541 overseas organization response to the call in total and among them, 2950 from Southeast Asia.
Mentioning about Yunnan-Burma Road, it played an important role during the war as it was the only way for China to connect to the outside world. The road linking Burma with the Southwest of China, its terminals were Kunming, Yunnan and Lashio, Burma and the road is 1146 km long. The route travelled over two mountains ranges, crossing three rivers and countless gorges over more than 400 bridges. There were mosquito-infested jungles where deadly malaria was rampant. However, the overseas Chinese mechanics still delivered all the needed items to their destination even though the condition of the route was dangerous. Unfortunately, there were 1028 people sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
The Japanese army invaded Singapore and Malaya in 1941 and Penang also could not escape from the war. During the 3 years and 8 months of Japanese occupation, thousands of people had been killed and their body can be seen everywhere. After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the association resumed their tasks, included made an arrangement for overseas Chinese mechanics returned to Malaya, helped them integrated into society, buried those sacrificed heroes and etc. Lastly, the monument at Air Itam successfully built in 1951 and they have the opening ceremony on 11 November, which also a Remembrance Day.
After that, the association abolished and they handed to Kong Min School to manage the monument. In 2011, the management renovated and embellished the park by installing the interpretive plaques, world peace memorial, Penang Chinese Relief mural and memorial. The park is like an old man who is telling the story, hoping the people appreciate the peace we have. Now, the country is safe and the contributions by the heroes would be remembered forever.
Address: 8, Jalan Air Itam, 11500 Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang.