A Memorial for the Unsung Heroes

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The epic Battle of Kampar, which pitted the advancing Japanese Imperial Army against the withdrawing British Army at the opening stages of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, is well documented in history books. The four-day battle (December 30, 1941 to January 2, 1942) is a classic deliberate attack on a defended position where combined-arms tactics are used to the maximum.

The British 11th Infantry Division, having suffered heavy losses after a bruising engagement at Jitra in Kedah, withdrew to Kampar to defend and to cover the passage of 12th Infantry Brigade, which was tasked to hold Ipoh.

The high grounds covering the entrance into Kampar provided tactical advantage to the defenders and the British used it judiciously. They prepared their positions on the forward slopes overlooking the trunk road. These positions were augmented with fire trenches, wire and field obstacles, which were covered with direct and indirect fire from mortars and artillery.

The battle began with the Japanese brigade encircling the British positions on December 30. The following day they conducted probing attacks to determine the defenders’ weak points. Having found the weak spots, they then launched an all-out attack. The close-quarter fights, which involved bayonet charges and hand-to-hand combat, were fierce.

The Indian troops gave a good account of themselves. In one such incident along Thompson Ridge, a company of 60 Sikhs and Gujars from the Jat-Punjab battalion were deployed to retake the occupied trenches. This under-strength company, commanded by Captain John Graham, charged at the Japanese. They were mowed down and 34 of them, including Graham, were killed. Despite the odds they managed to retake the trenches.

The Japanese, fearing that their advance to Singapore would be hampered, landed troops in Teluk Anson (Teluk Intan) to outflank the British. They were successful in doing so and on January 2, 1942, 11th Infantry Division was ordered south to Slim River. Japanese losses were estimated at 500 while those of the British were close to 150, mostly Indians.

The spots where the battle took place are now developed and remain a contentious issue with heritage and history buffs who clamour for their upkeep. Although promises are made by the state government to retain one of the sites, there is little physical evidence.

Local historian Harchand Bedi and the Ex-Servicemen Association of Kuala Dipang took it upon themselves to do the needful. They built a monument, costing RM20,000, at the battle spot as a tribute to the unsung heroes. The monument, said Harchand, is just a part of the complete memorial.

FZB