Sybil Kathigasu was born Sybil Medan Daly to an Irish-Eurasian planter (Joseph Daly) and a French-Eurasian midwife (Beatrice Matilda Daly née Martin) on 3rd September 1899 in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. Her middle name reflects her birthplace, Medan. Her paternal grandparents were an Irishman and a Eurasian woman while her maternal grandparents were a Frenchman (Pierre Louie Martin) and a Eurasian woman (Evelyn Adeline Martin née Morrett). She was the fifth child and the only girl. She was trained as a nurse and midwife and spoke Cantonese fluently. She and her husband, Dr. Abdon Clement Kathigasu, operated a clinic at No 141 Brewster Road (now Jalan Sultan Idris Shah) in Ipoh from 1926 until the Japanese invasion of Malaya.
The family escaped to the nearby town of Papan days before Japanese forces occupied Ipoh. The local Chinese community fondly remembered Dr. AC Kathigasu and gave him a Hakka nickname "You Loy-De".
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