Tag Archives: Veterans Remembrance

Of Veterans and Losing Faith

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Editorial

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Of veterans and losing faith - editor's desk

If the 2009 Australian eavesdropping episode on its Asean neighbours is anything but deliberate then I stand by my conviction that their dithering is for a reason. Insofar as Malaysia is concerned, I feel it is not for reasons of security per se, but more to do with the prevailing political climate then following the two vociferous Bersih demonstrations clamouring for a free and independent election.

Despite the demand for an unconditional apology from Tony Abbott, the newly-minted Prime Minister of Australia, the response has been lukewarm, to say the least. I wonder why Tony has not brushed aside the Indonesian President’s insistence with a mere, “I wasn’t the Prime Minister then, Kevin Rudd was” reply typical of how politicians in a quandary would have reacted.

Or resort to elegant silence, as a golden rule of thumb for someone in the pits. But in a Western society, of which Australia is one, such behaviour is deemed unethical and will earn the wrath of the nation and the international community.

My rambling is not aimed at placing Australia in the spotlight for its wrongdoings. Far from it, my allusion is merely an opener for a matter of lesser significance than what is ongoing in the Oceanic region. Politics, however, is not the issue here.

I respect the Aussies for one innate quality which we Malaysians find wanting. It has much to do with their attitude towards military veterans, especially their own. Australians, since the Second Boer War (1899 to 1902), have been fighting wars not in their backyards but on foreign soils.

The only time they were forced to do the inevitable was when Japanese planes bombed Darwin and their midget submarines sneaked into Sydney Harbour in an attempt to sink Allied warships at the onset of the Second World War in 1942. Otherwise, Australian troops were in harness for duties abroad all of the time.

An Australian infantry division was in Malaya propping the weak British defensive perimeter before the Japanese invasion in December 1941. They were here again during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960) providing ground and air support for counter-insurgency operations. Their troops were recalled when President Sukarno of Indonesia decided to confront newly formed Malaysia, claiming it to be a British colonial stooge in 1962.

Those who died in these conflicts were being interred in a number of cemeteries located throughout the length and breadth of the country, including Sabah and Sarawak. And remembering their dearly departed has become an obsession with those who had served in the same outfits as the dead and the maimed.

These war-weary veterans and their families make annual pilgrimages to Taiping, Batu Gajah, Terendak, Sandakan, Labuan and Kuching to honour their kinsmen who had made the ultimate sacrifice, not for their country but the country that they had the misfortune to serve. Nothing can be more honourable than to remember these brave soldiers who died in the prime of their youth while fighting a war in a far-flung country whose affiliation they were never certain.

I had the privilege to attend one such service on Sunday, November 24 at the Esplanade in Penang. The Penang Veterans’ Association organised the morning service dedicated to fallen heroes of the Great War (1914 to 1918), Second World War (1939 to 1945), Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960), Indonesian Confrontation (1962 to 1966) and the Re-Insurgency Period (1968 to 1990).

The association, under the presidency of Major Sivarajan KM Ramathan (Retired), has been doing so without fail for the last 12 years. Quite unexpectedly, I was honoured with the responsibility of laying a wreath on behalf of retired Royal Ranger Regiment officers and men. I was touched by the gesture, which I thought strange considering my abhorrence for officialdom.

Feelings aside, I was somewhat perplexed by the conspicuous absence of serving officers from Headquarters 2nd Infantry Division, which is stationed on the island. The state government and the Police were well represented and so were the High Commissions of Australia and New Zealand and the Nepalese Embassy, including the Thai Consulate-General in Penang.

If these foreign dignitaries could make an appearance I see no reason why the local army commander could not. He could at least send a senior officer to represent the division. After all, wasn’t this an occasion to honour military personnel?

The reason is obvious. It has to do with religious belief. Since the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, which led to the ouster of Shah Pahlavi and his decadent royal entourage by Ayatollah Khomeini, the country has been overwhelmed by religious fervour that is second to none. Today paying homage to a cenotaph is considered taboo as the action would, in the words of the learned clerics, cause one to lose faith in Islam or more succinctly, hilang akidah.

If I were to go strictly by this dictate I would have been a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Taoist many times over, as I had stood in reverence to an obelisk, not once but several times in my lifetime. In spite of all this my faith in my religion has never once fluttered.

Malay Muslims should be more circumspect about ceremonies to honour fallen heroes than to submit selflessly to fatwas which are man-made. I rest my case.

Remembering Perak’s Turbulent Past

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By James Gough

Every June, they come to remember. This is a solemn time as High Commissioners from United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal; Malaysian Military, Police and Veterans’ representatives converge in Ipoh for the Veterans Remembrance events which are held at Taiping, Ipoh and Batu Gajah.

“We should always remember and honour them for the sacrifices they’ve made.”

The services, which are held over three days, have seen a number of Commonwealth Veteran Clubs such as the Malaya-Borneo Veterans Association of Australia religiously attending over the last several years. The presence of these Commonwealth veterans prompted the Perak State government to host a “Veterans’ Night” dinner last year in recognition of their past contributions.

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Remembrance Ceremony at God’s Little Acre

God’s Little Acre is a cemetery located at Batu Gajah, which holds its annual remembrance ceremony on the second Saturday of every June.

Interred here, besides army and police personnel are civilians, tin miners and planters who were killed during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960).

According to R. Sivalingam, Chairman of the God’s Little Acre sub-committee as well as Chairman of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, Perak Branch (MPOA), the original memorial service was organised as part of Police Week celebrations in 1982 by the then OCPD of Batu Gajah Dato’ R. Thambipillay. Subsequently in 1984, the Perak Planters’ Association (now renamed MPOA) took on the role to organise the annual event.

Among those buried here are the three British planters, Arthur Walker, John Allison and his young assistant, Ian Christian, who were shot by communist guerrillas on June 16, 1948 at Sungai Siput, 18 miles north of Ipoh.

The cold-blooded murder of these planters prompted the government to declare a state of emergency, initially at Ipoh and Sungai Siput and subsequently over the whole of Malaya, two days later.

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Remembrance Trail

Before the remembrance services became an annual affair, there was the Warriors Day event which took place at the cenotaph located at the grounds of Ipoh Railway Station. However, this was not scheduled as an annual affair.

After the God’s Little Acre ceremony was organised annually, with regular attendance by the Commonwealth dignitaries, the event at the cenotaph was added as part of the programme.

The other locations that participated in the annual remembrance ceremony included the Kamunting Christian cemetery at Taiping. Those interred here are British, Australian, New Zealand army personnel and a few Sarawak Rangers who perished during the Emergency (1948-1960).

At Kem Syed Putra, Tambun Road those laid to rest are Gurkha soldiers that died during the Emergency, as well as during the Confrontation with Indonesia (1962-1965).

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Remembering Perak’s Turbulent Past-4Remembrance and Perak History

On one of the four walls of the cenotaph is a plaque citing the “Gallant Members of the Armed Forces, Police and Civilians who sacrificed their lives defending the nation during The Malayan Emergency 1948-1960, Indonesian Confrontation 1962-1965 and The Re-Insurgency Period 1972-1990”.

Indeed for most of the post-war Emergency period, a lot of activities took place in and around Perak. After the war there were food shortages and high inflation causing civil unrest which, ultimately, led to the declaration of Emergency in 1948.

Perak had been the major contributor to the country’s economy largely through its tin wealth and was considered as “economically important to the Federation”. As such the state became a hotly contested target for the government and the communists.

As an indication of the amount of Emergency activities that took place in Perak, the blackest areas throughout the Emergency were those around Sungai Siput and Ulu Kinta. In fact, they were the last in Malaya to be declared “white”.

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The Briggs ‘Resettlement’ Plan

One of the initiatives introduced by the Government then was the Briggs Plan whose strategy was to cut off all supplies to the Communists be it food, money, information, and even recruits.

The plan was to create new villages and resettle the rural squatters there. The new village perimeter would be fenced with 10-foot high barbed wires and a curfew imposed from 6pm to 6am. Residents were body searched when leaving for work in the morning and were allowed to take food for one individual for one day.

This social engineering plan involved almost 1 million Chinese squatters and created settlements such as Kampong Bahru Rapat, Kampong Bahru Bercham and Ampang Bahru, to name a few. The other strategy was to provide a sense of security for the residents in the hope that they would provide support and information for the government.

The Emergency ended on January 14, 1960 when the whole of central Perak was declared “white” at a ceremony at the Ipoh Town Padang.

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The Re-Insurgency (1968-1989)

While the Emergency was fought most gratefully alongside Forces from the Commonwealth, the Re-Insurgency, which lasted from 1968 till 1989, was fought by our very own Malaysian Armed Forces and Police personnel.

The Communist Terrorists who had escaped to the sanctuary in South Thailand in 1960 returned in 1968 by launching an ambush against Malaysian security forces in the Kroh-Betong salient in upper Perak killing 17. The attack marked the start of the Re-Insurgency sometimes referred to as the 2nd Emergency.

The Re-Insurgency lasted till 1989 during which time, the mettle of our Malaysian security forces was tested through terrorist acts of sabotage and assassinations.

One particular daring act was the assassination of Perak’s Chief Police Officer Tan Sri Koo Chong Kong in 1974.

Koo was on his way home at Jalan Tower off Jalan Raja DiHilir for lunch in his official car and had stopped at the traffic lights along Jalan Hospital when two men on a motorcycle, dressed as students in white uniforms, opened fire at him. Koo’s bodyguard cum driver died on the spot. Koo was rushed to the hospital 100 metres away but was mortally wounded. Koo’s assassination was one of many targeted at police and Special Branch personnel.

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In the book, ‘The Turbulent Years in Perak’, memoirs of former Perak NST Bureau Chief Jerry Francis, he described the many instances of communist terrorist activities right at our doorstep. They took place “at such unsuspecting areas as the Kledang Hill jogging site and populated areas in Menglembu and Buntong”.

Francis’s accounts, which covered security operations extensively, also talks about communist camps at the Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve and a few kilometres south at Kramat Pulai. It mentions the joint security operations along common borders by Thai and Malaysian forces thus disrupting communist logistic operations. It also describes the construction of the east-west highway as “a success for the people and government in winning the battle of wits against the communists”.

In December 1989, a Peace Accord was signed between Thailand, Malaysia and the outlawed Malayan Communist Party at Hatyai, Thailand which concluded the Re- Insurgency period. Some 1200 communist members laid down their arms and were given the option to either return to Malaysia or remain in Thailand.

A monument was built to remember these troubled years. The monument, named The Malaysian Army Insurgency War Memorial (Dataran Juang Tentera Darat) was erected in 2009 and is located at Kem Banding close to the bridge at Lake Temenggor.

Having lived all my life in Ipoh it surprises me that there were so many battles and skirmishes taking place all around me while I was growing up. Thankfully, for peace-loving Ipohites like us, our safety is assured owing to the presence of these brave security personnel. We should always remember and honour them for the sacrifices they have made.