16 Mar The Relics of War: Part 1
Did you know that Penang is said to have one of the largest collections of pre-war buildings in South East Asia? In fact, there are many of these buildings located right in George Town, whose legacy harkens back to before the dark days of the Japanese occupation during World War II. Some of them, such as the Church of the Assumption, managed to escape relatively unscathed, while others were not so lucky and were either entirely or partially destroyed.
One of the major George Town buildings that were completely demolished during that era was the old St. Xavier’s Institution building off Farquhar Street. A LaSallian high school, the original building was unfortunately bombed by Allied Nations and later used by the Imperial Japanese Army as their Naval Headquarters. Sadly, historical records, including photographs of the old school building, have been difficult to acquire due to the bombing of the old Penang Secretariat building by the Japanese which destroyed most of the British Occupancy’s records. Nevertheless, a newer, more compact school was built opposite the original site in 1952.
Nearby, the famous Anglican St George’s Church also suffered major damage during the war; some of its interior fittings were even looted! Luckily, the church building has since been restored to its original condition.
Further cannon fodder can be found on Beach Street, such as the Islamic Council Building, which was once an extravagant U-shaped Edwardian building that housed the colonial Quantity Surveyor’s Department. However, much of the building complex was destroyed by Allied bombardment in World War II. Likewise, the HSBC Bank Building on the same street also had to be rebuilt to replace the earlier building which was devastated by the war.
There are many other buildings that have endured similar fates. Today, thanks to painstaking restoration efforts, some of them managed to have their history preserved, ensuring that the tales of their rich legacy continue to reverberate within their walls and that generations to come can reflect upon these and take away something more than just a history lesson.