By Tan Mei Kuan

Reverence and Commitment

Every memorial service is a first-hand experience of standing in reverence to those who have contributed to the war effort. The presence of elderly veterans who came from afar, on their own accord, is a sight unto itself.

Amidst the pervasive sombre mood, recognition and awareness among locals, are fast fading like rays from the evening sun. And this is being exacerbated by the loss of commemorative plaques put in place to honour the dearly departed.

Despite these shortcomings, the show has to go on, regardless.

The annual June Remembrance Week began with the service at the Kamunting Road Christian Cemetery in Taiping on Thursday, June 13. It was organised by the National Malaya and Borneo Veterans Association of Australia (NMBVAA).

In 1950, Australia, being part of the British Commonwealth, reinforced its commitment to then Malaya by committing its troops in the Malayan Emergency. The insurgency warfare lasted for twelve long years (1948 to 1960). When it was over, approximately 7000 Australian personnel had seen service in Malaya. Thirty-nine lost their lives. A total of 28 Australian service personnel are interred in the Kamunting cemetery, along with 10 dependants.

“I’d like to reflect upon the story of some of the men laid to rest in this cemetery. Corporal John Norman Allan, Private Geoffrey Clyde Fritz and Pte Cedric Charles Ingra, all from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australia Regiment were killed in action on 22 June 1956 in what became known as the Sungai Siput Pipeline Ambush,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Sanderson, Commanding Officer of the 2nd/30th Training Group, an Australian Army Unit attached to Royal Malaysian Air Force Base, Butterworth.

“This contact became the most costly single engagement of our involvement in the Emergency, with three men killed and a further three wounded,” Paul remarked.

“Two commemorative plaques were found stolen before the service last year. The police found one at someone’s place and the other got broken somewhere and could not be traced. I don’t know why they took them, as they’re not made of valuable material. It’s really senseless, whoever did it. Two new ones, fully paid for by the Australian government, were made and replaced a month ago. They’re here today,” Ian Holthouse, Liaison Officer of NMBVAA told Ipoh Echo.

To add colour and pomp to the service, NMBVAA invited the Royal Australian Navy Veterans Band over to perform for the second time following their first ever appearance in Malaysia in 2016.

The retinue of 60 Australian veterans (inclusive of band members) visited the Malayan Emergency Monument and Gallery at Sungai Siput Estate built by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA). Accessing the facility required a rather steep climb on foot.

Spotted were 83-year-old Private Byran Self and 79-year-old Private Brian Hickson who participated in the commemorative service here for the first time.

“I was enlisted in the Australian army at the age of 20 in 1960. I was stationed down the road about half a mile from the gallery in Sungai Siput Estate for six months in 1961. When the camp closed we moved to Terendak Camp, Malacca and stayed there for three years before returning home,” said Brian, who came from a family of servicemen and servicewomen serving in all three services. Living in Sydney and hailing from Queensland, he plans to return next year with his wife.

“I joined the army at the age of 17 and was 19 when we came here in November 1955. I was stationed in Ipoh. I served in Malaya for two years and 24 days, we were here for Merdeka,” the amiable Byran from Queensland added.

The morning of Friday, June 14 witnessed the Ipoh Annual Remembrance Day at the cenotaph in front of the Ipoh railway station.

“It’s hoped via media coverage, the Warriors’ Association Malaysia will be known and supported by more people. This is a non-profit NGO established in 2004 with over 30 members to date. Hopefully, the state government will assist us next year to organise a livelier affair. Once the event is included in the tourism calendar next year, it’ll create a better response. Even though the venue is open to the public, only the invited guests are present. We always expect the younger generation to come to learn about their history and veterans,” Ravinder Kumar Sharma, President of Warriors’ Association Malaysia highlighted.

Meanwhile, the MPOA held a similar service at the God’s Little Acre in Batu Gajah on Saturday, June 15, followed by another at the Gurkha cemetery in Syed Putra Camp by the Warriors’ Association Malaysia.

This was followed by the unveiling of the Malaya War Memorial Plaque at the Royal Ipoh Club by the guest of honour, Group Captain Gretchen Fryar, Defence Advisor, Australian High Commissioner. Names of all Australian servicemen who were killed in Malaya were listed in the plaque. It is a replica of the original, done years ago and is now at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Only two copies were made. The other is in the foyer of Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur which was unveiled last September.

“The Australian veterans have contributed plenty to the Royal Ipoh Club. The club has always hosted and welcomed us,” Ian elaborated on the choice of venue for the ceremony.