The annual June remembrance week began with the service at the Kamunting Road Christian Cemetery at Taiping on Thursday, June 8. Organised by the National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association Australia (NMBVAA), the attendees placed red poppies on the gravestones of the dearly departed.
“This blood red poppy, a traditional emblem of sacrifice, connects us with the 28 young Australian diggers (soldiers) and others who died in the defence of Malaya, and Malaysia, against Communism,” said Ken McNeill, International Liaison Officer of NMBVAA. The 78-year-old Ken was enlisted at the age of 17 in the Royal Australian Air Force. He first came to Malaya in 1962 and has been involved in the Taiping remembrance service since 2007.
Ian Holthouse, the state president of Naval Association of Australia (Western Australia Section), was here for the first time. Ian, alluding to the age of the fallen soldiers, commented, “Do you think we’ll ever learn to live in peace with each other?”
“I was part of the Australian Air Force and served in Malaysia from 1963 to 1966. I’ve been coming here four or five times now for the service. I hope to return next year,” Allen J. Fraser, vice chairman and trustee of Lions Clubs International said.
The entourage then dropped by the Malayan Emergency Monument & Gallery at Sungai Siput Estate. Built by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, the monument is dedicated to the gallant planters (European and Malaysian), security forces personnel, staff, workers, their family members and civilians who lost their lives during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960) and its resurgence (1973 to 1989).
The killing of three European planters in Perak on June 16, 1948 prompted the British colonial government to declare Emergency. The first killing took place at the Elphil Estate followed by the second at Sungai Siput Estate (formerly Phin Soon Estate) half an hour later.
“The gallery is the actual site of the bungalow where J.M. Allison and his assistant lived. They were forced to kneel in front of their workers and shot,” Harchand Singh Bedi, local historian cum curator of the gallery, recalled. A Ford Lynx Ferret Scout Car designed in 1941 and a GMC Armoured Personnel C15TA (complete with bullet marks) are on display too.
Here for his first visit was Brian Sweeney, a relative of Ken’s. “I’m here to support Ken and to attend the service for the first time,” he enthused.
The programme continued at the Ipoh Cenotaph on Friday, June 9. “After almost 47 years, the replica of the crown of King George VI, is up there. The original went missing probably in the 1970s. It’s encased in a stronger and theft-proof metal casing,” said Dato’ R. Thambipillay, 87, president and patron of Wira Association Malaysia.
The four-faced cenotaph, built in 1926, has five plaques, each representing those who gave their lives in WW1, WW2, the Malayan Emergency and the Thailand/Burma Death Railway. ACP Razali bin Ibrahim, representing the Chief Police Officer of Perak, was the guest of honour.
On Saturday, June 10 in Batu Gajah, a service at the Holy Trinity Church preceded the wreath-laying ceremony at God’s Little Acre. It was in memory of planters, miners, police and military personnel who were interred there.
“I’ve been here every year for 17 years. Each passing year, the number of people gets less. That’s the sad part,” Commander (Rtd) Ian Anderson, Director of ipohWorld sighed.
Ipoh Echo spoke to a lady gardener who keeps the place well-manicured year round. “I’ve worked here for 40 years. Every day, I’ll come to trim the grass, plant the flowers, clean gravestones and inscriptions. I’ll bring my family along to help,” she said.
The other highlight was the unveiling of the Gurkhas Roll of Honour, a granite marble plaque erected next to the new Gurkhas Cenotaph at the Gurkhas’ cemetery at Camp Syed Putra, Tambun. It displays the names of 29 Gurkha warriors who gave their lives during the Malayan Emergency. His Excellency Dr Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat, Ambassador of Nepal, Jeyasingam Ratnasingam, president of Wira Association Malaysia and Dato’ R. Thambipillay were given the honour.
The veterans, most in their 70s, are an inspiring lot. For instance, 72-year-old Hendrik Willem Hol and his 71-year-old wife, Kampar-born Mee Yoke Hol.
“I met my husband at Terendak Camp, Malacca. He was with the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment. We’ve been staying in Melbourne for 52 years now,” Mee shared.
She spoke of the energy-sapping journey to get to Ipoh annually. “Living in a little town outside Melbourne, we’ve to travel to the airport to catch the flight to Kuala Lumpur. From KLIA we hop on a bus to Ipoh. That’s a whole day’s journey.” Although Hendrik has to use a walking aid to move about, the spirited couple looks forward to return next year.
We, the younger generation, must look beyond this single week to really appreciate these veterans’ sacrifices.
Lest we forget.