The leadership of Bishop Adrien Devals in Bahau, during World War II

By Brother Patricius O’Donovan fsc

Our beloved Bishop

Our newly founded colony of Fuji Go had more than then usual crop of teething problems, and our good old Bishop had to bear the brunt of most of them, coming from above or from below. No doubt it appeared just and proper to accept the role of head of this Catholic Settlement when first offered, for after all he was their pastor, the head of the flock, and these were trying times for his charges, now uprooted from their homes and trying to survive in a hostile environment.

Here in the jungle he tried faithfully to fulfill his trust, unable to please all the world all the time as his critics were swift to point out. He pleaded with the authorities to honour their promises of food and building materials. The Japanese military authorities in Negri Sembilan with whom he had to deal, had little interest in this colony of Singaporeans dumped in their midst, a situation that did not improve with passing months, despite some heated confrontations between the Japanese chief of welfare, Shinozaki, representing the Singapore authorities and the local authorities in Negri. These latter were reported to have often obstructed, even stolen, supplies destined for the colony.

In the presence of this dignified patriarchal old man with his flowing beard, the Japanese officials veiled their usual haughty, domineering manners. On one occasion, we were all summoned by rail gong to the main assembly hall to meet the Japanese officials who had to come to see how the colony was progressing. The bishop sat quietly stroking his beard but with increasing indignation as they repeated their usual vague promises of rations and supplies. At last he came to his feet, his beard trembling, and dismissing all niceties confronted them with facts: ‘We were promised more rice, where is it? We were promised more hospital equipment and pills, where are they? We were promised more planks, where are they?’

We all trembled, expecting the worst. Nobody speaks to Japanese officials like that. Heads had rolled for tamer displays of courage. In the event, they nodded their heads, rose and departed quietly. We all breathed a sigh of relief.”

Excerpt from a publication titled “Under the Hinomaru” (2003), p 32. Based on the war time diaries of Brother Patricius O’Donovan fsc, edited by Brother Vincent Corkery.