The location of Penang War Museum is enough to set goose pimples running amok. It sits on Bukit Hantu, which means ‘Ghost Hill’ because local folklore is apparently rife with ghostly sightings and encounters in the vicinity. It could also be the result of active imagination due to the fort’s dark past as a purported Jap torture camp during World War II that the hill got its name.
If you are going to the museum from Georgetown, you can take Rapid Penang bus numbers U302, U305 and U307 from the bus terminal located next to KOMTAR, the tallest building in Penang. The journey will take about 1.5 hours and the bus doesn’t stop right outside the museum. They stop at a bus-stop at the foot of a hill so get the bus driver to tell you when to alight. After getting off, look out for signs that point to a winding path that leads up a hill to the museum. It’s quite a long walk uphill so wear comfortable shoes. Penang War Museum isn’t exactly easy to get to.
The former British bastion was manned by British, Sikh and Malay soldiers after its completion. It fell during WWII when the Japanese launched an attack against the fort from inland, rather than from the sea, as was expected by the British.
From that day onwards (17 December 1941) the Japanese commandeered the stronghold and the army base became chequered with a dark past. It was used as a prison base for acts of torture and other cruelties; as a result of these war atrocities, the garrison was dubbed ‘Bukit Hantu’ (Ghost Hill) by locals due to the hundreds of people who were brought here and beheaded.
The Penang War Museum was restored as a memorial to its dark days and opened to the public in 2002. Interesting fact: the 20-acre museum houses historical artefacts such as cannons and even features underground military tunnels and ammunition bunkers which are located nine metres underground. Some of these tunnels lead all the way to the sea as they once served as access routes to get to submarines. Navigating through these passageways sometimes forces one to walk or even crawl through very narrow, confined spaces.