It is nearly six weeks since war historian Chye Kooi Loong, 85, passed away; it has taken some time for me to gather my thoughts and put them into words. I was acquainted with the Chye’ literary works well before I knew the man. Chye contributed many articles relating to the Second World War and the Malayan Emergency to the New Straits Times over a period of many years.
“Hello good morning, can I speak to Mr Chye please”, I said and a friendly voice replied, “This is Chye”. It was followed by an invitation to visit him and we became friends. And what ensued was lunch and dinner with the Chyes whenever I could visit them. We were also on a first name basis, he called me, “Thambi” and I called him, “Mr Chye”.
Chye was very firm in his beliefs and his ideology. He was raised a Taoist and remained one till the end. He authored the acclaimed book, “The History of the British Battalion in the Malayan Campaign (1941-1942)” which details the grim reality of British soldiers in fending off the Japanese Imperial Army’s attacks on three ridges in Kampar, Perak; Thompson, Green and Cemetery. Chye’s book is still being used as a reference by military institutions worldwide. The book was written in memory of the soldiers who died in the Battle of Kampar, some of whom he personally knew as a little boy.
He was better known outside Malaysia and was a guest speaker at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst when he was introduced to cadet officers from the Malaysian Army undergoing training there. The Ministry of Defence was surprised that a Malaysian was addressing foreign officers but never their own. This was rectified when the ministry invited Chye to speak at the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College on a regular basis.
The Japanese Occupation and the sufferings endured during the war period made Chye loath the Japanese Imperial Army. He saw the brutality committed by the soldiers of Nippon on the Malayan populace and always reminded Japanese visitors on what he lived through. He never harboured any hatred towards the Japanese people, as it was not in his nature to be vengeful. But he was annoyed that the Japanese government never admitted the atrocities committed in the name of Emperor Hirohito.
During the Emergency, Chye worked as an interpreter for the British Military. His job took him to the outskirts and the new villages to address the population, in their colloquial language, on the assistance and policies being offered by the government. He was once confronted by a Communist terrorist who told him that the only reason why he was spared was because he was not a chao-kao (running dog).
There was one about a Second World War U-Boat Captain from the Kriegsmarine who arrived at his gate in a taxi and gave him a salute. Then there was a time where the small road in front of his house was full of staff cars from high commissions and embassies and how some of these distinguished guests, in suits and uniforms, were perched on stools in his simple wooden house listening to his stories.
Chye and his wife were among the seven families who met Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at Carcosa Seri Negara in 1998. Prior to the meeting, the British High Commission’s protocol officers briefed them how to conduct themselves in the presence of Her Majesty. He told me that the strawberries they had for tea were flown in from Australia.
Sultan Azlan Shah awarded Chye with a Darjah Kebesaran Mahkota Negeri Perak Yang Amat Mulia Paduka Mahkota Perak (PMP) while Her Majesty the Queen bestowed him with a MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). The awards were an acknowledgement of Chye’s contributions to the history of Malaysia and the United Kingdom.
Chye’s passion was the preservation of Green Ridge, the last remaining battleground where British soldiers fought a heroic defensive battle during the war. This hallowed ground, dotted with foxholes, firing and communication trenches, exemplifies the desperate moment once upon a time. Utilising rudimentary tools the positions were constructed within a week. Unfortunately, due to the lack of commitment from the powers-that-be, Chye’s dreams remain unfulfilled.
I learned many things though my friendship with Chye. As a retired teacher he had a way in dealing with a sometime hard-headed young man. In my eyes, he was a hero. Chye was never after money. The simple acknowledgement he received through letters and souvenirs from various military establishments made him a happy man.
I sincerely hope that someday, perhaps a decade down the road, somebody somewhere will discover the name Chye Kooi Loong and learn of his good works here on Earth.
Mr Chye, you may be gone but you are never forgotten.
Daniel Prakash James