The annual remembrance week in June brings with it real-life tales of courage and inspiration from the veterans and their families for us to reflect upon. Ipoh Echo discovers what motivated them to join the armed forces and how those who remain find the strength in facing the future.
The commemoration service, held between June 7 and 9, kicked off with a service at the Kamunting Road Christian Cemetery at Taiping. Organised by the National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association of Australia (NMBVAA), Colonel A. Tony Hall OBE (Rtd) addressed the attendees before they placed red poppies on the gravestones of the dearly departed.
The 86-year-old retired colonel served with the Australian Army for 40 years from 1949 to 1988. “I was in Ipoh from September 1955 to September 1956. I commanded the Australian Transport Battalion based in Ipoh. At one stage, a British army soldier died and the British army didn’t understand how to conduct a military funeral. My platoon buried him in the Kamunting Road Christian Cemetery. We did the whole military funeral in traditional form. This is the first time I’ve been back here,” he said.
“One grandfather was the chief of personnel of the Australian army and he formed the first Australian Imperial Force then went overseas to fight in Greece and France. My other grandfather was a colonel in the Australian Dental Corps in 1916. My father, my daughter and I were graduates of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Three uncles were in the navy as officers,” Tony, who resides in Canberra, revealed.
Here’s his advice for those wishing to join the military: “It’s a very good life, you do lots of different jobs, you become well-educated, you see a lot of the world and you have a marvellous time serving with honourable people. I certainly enjoyed my time.”
When asked if he’ll drop by again next year, he replied in jest, “I’m 86, who knows? I can’t make too many plans!”
Present were Ken McNeill, international liaison officer of NMBVAA and Ian Holthouse, the state president of Naval Association of Australia (Western Australia Section).
Then, the entourage of 15 NMBVAA members visited the Malayan Emergency Monument & Gallery at Sungai Siput Estate. Built by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), on display were a Ford Lynx Ferret Scout Car designed in 1941 and a GMC Armoured Personnel C15TA, complete with bullet marks.
Dearly missed was the late Darrel Fragall, a Private in 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) based at Sungai Siput from 1959 to 1961.
“He was in transport so he used to take the ambulance to Taiping and Kuala Kangsar. He was also stationed in Gerik, up near the Thai border and Malacca. He was 18 when he enlisted in 1958,” said Sylvia, 73, Darrel’s wife.
“We came together here last year. We are from Western Australia. I just wanted to sign the visitor’s book for him. I hope to return every year, God willing. Good for me to come back,” she stated. Darrel passed away last December.
What kept him doing what he was doing? “Well, he didn’t have a job at 18. He had been a naughty boy so it was either going to jail or joining the army. A recruitment drive was making its round in the countryside. He decided then and there to be a soldier. That’s what 18-year-old boys do, get into trouble!” said Sylvia to Ipoh Echo, holding back tears.
Time is catching up on those who have contributed to the memorial efforts and the sight of the elderly veterans staggering over the valley under the blazing sun to the gallery brought admiration from anyone.
“We’re going to start our project of creating a much bigger, concrete gallery to house an audio visual room and library as well as accommodate more artefacts, original books, journals and operational manuals of military operations,” Harchand Singh Bedi, local historian cum curator of the gallery elaborated.
Readers who wish to donate towards the project or visit the gallery can call 012 454 1918 (Miss Peng, secretary of MPOA Perak) or visit MPOA Perak office at 69A, Jalan Sri Cempaka, Taman Cempaka, 31400 Ipoh.
Friday, June 8 witnessed the Ipoh Annual Remembrance Day at the cenotaph in front of the railway station. The guest of honour was Howard Lee Chuan How, the Executive Councillor for Youth, Sports and Character Building. It was organised by Warriors’ Association Malaysia led by Dato’ Thambipillay, the association’s founder president and patron. Other dignitaries included Her Excellency Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner, His Excellence Andrew Goledzinowski, Australian High Commissioner and His Excellency Mridul Kumar, Indian High Commissioner.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Palm Oil Association held a commemorative ceremony at God’s Little Acre in Batu Gajah on Saturday, June 9. The same day a simplified remembrance ceremony was held at the Gurkha cemetery in Syed Putra Camp. It was organised by the Warriors’ Association Malaysia.