Sunday, 28 December 2008
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Casualties from bobby traps laid by the communist terrorists (CTs) were many but not alarming. If their intention was to inflict casualties on us, then they had somewhat met their objective.On the other hand, if they were trying to stop us scouring the jungles looking for them, then they had failed, because we were everywhere! No bobby traps could hold us back. Getting blown by a bobby trap could be a nightmare to any soldiers, as it could mean getting one of his feet blown off. Enevitably, it would have to be amputated. He would be maimed for life and it would be the end of the road for him as a combatant. We were fortunate that the CTs in Sarawak didn't use that tactic on us. It was either that they didn't have the expertise or couldn't lay the bobby traps in the jungles for fear of inflicting casualties on the local populace who went into the jungle to hunt, fish and look for jungle products such as rattans. Turning the local population against them would be their last option. So, in my many battles with the CTs in Sarawak in 1973 and the 80s, we didn't encounter a single bobby trap. This had helped us greatly when we pursue them. I can recall some instances of bobby trap incidences that involved me and my men, as well as other men in the Battalion (3rd Rangers)
Operation Kota Echo, Perak, 1970
Hardly a year after being commission as a Second Lieutenant in 3rd Rangers, and fresh from our one-year tour of duty in Serian and Sibu, we were engaged in Operation Kota Echo in Kroh (now Pengakalan Hulu) sector. It was an Operation that was still vivid in my mind. C Company lost 7 men in an ambush in Sg Kuak near Kroh. At about 9 a.m. on that fateful day, acting on an information given by some locals about the sighting of a group of CTs in their area, a Section of men from C Company went to lay an ambush. On the way, they were ambushed by a group of about 30 CTs. The Section Commander didn't have the chance to retaliate. He dived for the nearest tree. He was impaled by a few "panjis" (sharpened bamboo stakes) in the chest and died on the spot.
We learned a lesson from the CTs. From then on, we always carry "panjis" with us and our jungle bases were always well guarded.
The two men at the rear, though wounded, managed to retreat to their base to ask for reinforcement.
That was our first taste of "panjis". Looking back now at the incident, I couldn't help noticing the absence of bobby traps.
We had our first casualty from bobby traps in Operation Gonzales 1 in 1974. It must have been the CTs first attempt too, as they were not powerful enough to blow off a foot.
Op Gonzales 1 in 1974
In 1974, after our one-year tour of duty in Serian, Sarawak, 3rd Rangers was deployed in the Kinta District with 1st Rangers as the neighbouring Battalion. However, hardly two weeks later, we were told to regroup at the Battalion Headquarters. We were going to be pulled out of the operation area. 3rd Rangers was due to undergo two months of intensive Conventional Warfare retraining in PULADA, Ulu Tiram, Johore.
During this time, after the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North, the "Domino Theory" propagated by the Americans was a hot issue and had all South East Asian nations worried.
According to the Americans, the North Vietnamese war machines would continue its march - southwards. According to the prophecy, Thailand and Malaysia would fall. Concerned, the Malaysian government beefed up the Malaysian Armed Forces. More infantry and supporting units were raised. All infantry battalions had to undergo the compulsory conventional warfare retraining schedule at the Army Training School (PULADA) in Ulu Tiram, Johor - an aspect of warfare we had not been keeping in touch with, due to our ongoing counter-insurgency warfare against the communist terrorists.
While waiting for the day we were to be pulled out, some elements from the Assault Poineer platoon were tasked to clear and construct a helicopter landing point where we would be pulled out by helicopters. While clearing the area, a few of them stepped on bobby traps laid by the CTs. Injuries were however light as the explosive charges were weak, indicating that they were new to it. Other Units also suffered the same fate.
Operation Cahaya Bena, Southern Thailand.
In July 1977, 3rd Rangers was again one of the major units involved in a divisional-sized operation to flush out the CTs in the District of Betong. Our area of operations were, however, too far North - about 40km away from Betong.
For the next one week I patrolled and searched my area of responsibility. We were warned about bobby traps in areas which were planted in terrains of 1000m or more above sea level.
One day, while we were on the move, my leading scout saw exposed red and blue wire on our path. I called my Booby Trap Clearing (BCT) team forward to check it out. I was behind them. A short while later, the quietness was shattered by a loud explosion just a few feet to my right. The first thing I did was to see whether my feet were intact and after that I inspected my limbs and body. Miraculously, I didn't have a scratch. If the explosive had been under my foot, it would have been a different picture. Syukur Alhamdullilah. God is Great.
Although there were indications that the CTs had been using the area, they were nowhere to be found. In retrospect, they must had known of our operation and moved deeper or gone under ground or simply stayed indoors and became parts of the local scenes.
When I discovered their farm, it was deserted but by the traces and tracks they had made in the area indicated they had been moving in and out of the area for a long time. The next morning, one of my platoons made another sweep of the area and one of the men stepped on a bobby trap. He was evacuated by a helicopter to Pulau Pinang Hospital.
Aided by a BCT from the Engineers, I followed a very well-trodden track that was heading into the mountains nearer to the Malaysian-Thai International border, close to Gubir in Kedah. After about a kilometer, the BCT found and neutralised no less than 6 bobby traps. I was very confident the track was leading to a big camp. I was perplexed, when I was told to stop the follow up. A couple of days later, the operation ceased and 3rd Rangers was withdrawn to Kroh and eventually back to our base in Taiping, Perak.
The Naga Line
In retaliation and to prevent the CTs crossing the border into Malaysia, the "Naga Line" was deemed necessary (A belt of anti-personnel mines /bobby traps made and planted by the Engineers along the border in our territory.
However, we do not know the statistic of casualties it had inflicted on the CTs.
After the Peace Accord Agreement with the CPM in 1989, the "Naga Line" was diffused/neutralised for fear of inflicting casualties on innocent people.
Silence is Not Golden
The silence is deafening.
My ears are ringing.
My heart is aching.
O this nostalgic feeling.
Where art thou O Earthly beings?
Busy in thy Kingdom working?
Don’t you feel what I feel?
Couldn’t our bonds remove the chill?
Two happy years have we shared.
Sharing, laughing and emotions frayed.
Members come and members go,
seemingly as visitors in a world of limbo.
The spirit and the love of Tanjong
was the main reason for us to come along.
It was the call that touched the Dinosaurs’* hearts.
No mountains and oceans could hold us apart.
The crimson sunset of Tanjong is always there.
Though the place has turned into a nightmare.
It is a reminder to us all that it is still THE PLACE.
Where we once played and studied in solace.
Members, don’t you fade into oblivion.
Let this forum we enliven.
Come one and come all.
Let’s contribute big or small.
Note: * Most of us are about 60 years old now and we affectionately call ourselves "dinosaurs".
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
What must I do to make myself eligible? Apparently, what I had done in 1973 to get rid of the communist terrorists from Sarawak was considered as not enough. (You can read my exploits in Sarawak for that year in my blog) - I don't want to repeat them. Perhaps, I had chosen the wrong profession and the wrong side - I should have been one of the surrendered CTs. They were given land by the State government after their surrender - not a housing plot but agricultural land by the acres!
Friday, 12 December 2008
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Thursday, 13 November 2008
My heart bleeds when I saw the picture. I vowed to take the matter up to the highest authority. It became my mission. I was warned a week earlier about the launching of my books by the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud on November 6, 2008 at his office in the State Legislative Assembly building. I prepared the necessary letters and documents that I wanted to hand over to the Chief Minister, including the shocking photographs of the grave. The day finally came. After the book launch I had time to chat with the Honorable Chief Minister and this was the opportune time for me to bring the matter up. The Chief Minister was supportive to my suggestion in bringing back the remains of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers and rebury them in a Heroes' Grave in Kuching. However, there is a big BUT - ALL the next-of-kins must give their written consent for the remains to be exhumed and reburied in Sarawak. On November 11, 2008, I emailed the list of Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers killed in action and the locations of their graveyards to the Head of Armed Forces Veterans Department, Sarawak Branch, for him to trace the relatives. On November 12, 2008, I extended a copy of the letter I gave to the Chief Minister of Sarawak to the Director of Veterans Affairs in KL and at the same time requesting for LCpl Ungkok's grave to be relocated to a more respectable location. It is my hope that all the relatives will agree to the proposal to move the remains of these heroes back to the home where they rightly belong. Let their souls be among their loved ones. Follow-Up Actions/Progress November 18, 2008: Mej Suhaila from Jabatan Hal Ehwal Veterans ATM (JHEV) called me this morning to say that they have received my letter. They were thankful and was surprised to see the grave by the roadside. They didn't know anything about it and nobody had talked about it either. They will try to locate the next-of-kin and meantime find out about relocating the grave to Taiping or Batu Gajah. Let's hope it wouldn't take them ages to relocate the grave
December 2, 2008: Apparently, the location of LCpl Ungkok ak. Jugam's grave was raised by the Malaysian Historical Society (Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia), Kedah Branch on April 17, 2006. In replying, Malaysian Ex-Services Association (Persatuan Bekas Tentera Malaysia), Sarawak Branch gave the name of his nearest NOK to Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia, Kedah Branch.
As I do not have access to corresspondences thereon, I do not know what transpired between the two organisations and whether there was any plan to relocate the grave elsewhere.
Anyway, two years had gone by and the grave is still where it was - there had been no actions by either organisations.
Today, I called Major Suhaila of Jabatan Hal Ehwal Veteran ATM on the outcome of the letter I sent them earlier on. She told me they have located the nearest NOK, (the same name given to the Historical Society Kedah Branch two years ago. She is from Ng Jela, Lubok Antu, Sri Aman). They have instructed Pengarah JHEV ATM Sarawak, Major Monday, to contact the NOK and inform her of the situation and seek her approval to relocate the grave to a more respectable location. I had suggested Batu Gajah or Taiping, where his comrades were laid to rest. LCpl Ungkok died a bachelor.
January 6, 2009
I called on a JHEV staff to find out on the progress of trying to relocate the grave of LCpl Ungkok ak. Jugam to a more respectable location from the shoulder of a highway in Alor Setar (see picture above).
The attempt to trace his NOK has hit a snag. The NOK identified by the Ex-Services Association of Sarawak could not be found.
I asked them what happen if no NOK is found? They said they will seek the advice of the Kedah State government on the next course of action and the legal implications involved.
So, it looks like LCpl Ungkok's case and the plan to bring back the remains of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers buried in Malaya and Singapore will take a long time to materialise.
If there are anyone out there who can help identify the NOK of the gallant warriors below, you can contact me at 012 - 2751171 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org/
(See the list at the top of the page)
February 3, 2009
I received an email from the Secretary General of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) sympathising and expressing their shock at seeing the graveyard of LCpl Ungkok ak. Jugam by the highway in Kedah
It is a most welcomed email from the right organisation. With the involvement of SADIA, I hope to strengthen my effort to relocate Ungkok's grave and also to move all the remains of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers buried in Malaya and Singapore. SADIA can apply more pressure on the Sarawak Government, JHEV and PBTM to take a more positive and urgent approach in solving and handling the case. I will be hearing more from SADIA - hopefully.
February 5, 2009
I received the good news today from Major Monday of Jabatan Hal Ehwal Veteran Sarawak Branch that he has obtained the consent letter from the NOK of LCpl Ungkok ak Jugam (Puan Irene). The letter has been forwarded to Headquarters JHEV in KL for further action.
I immediately called Major Suhaila, a staff officer in Hq JHEV responsible for the case and told her that I would like to be around when they exhume the grave. She agreed.
I'm so glad the case is solved. The next course of actions are just procedural and administrative.
I felt a load off my shoulder.
Thank you Major Monday and Major Suhaila for helping out. LCpl Ungkok's soul will finally find a respectable resting place where he could rest in peace
February 16, 2009
Sheila Rahman from the Malay Mail picked up the story from my blog and published it in today's issue.
March 7, 2009
I received an email at about 4 a.m from one Haji Karim, the person who photographed LCpl Ungkok ak Jugam's grave by the side of a road in Alor Setar and highlighted it in the internet. It was a pleasant surprise. Now the picture is complete. I have been wondering who took the pictures.
I told him I will let JHEV ATM know. JHEV needs to thank him for his effort in highlighting the case. It would have worsened our reputation on how bad we treat our heroes and warriors, if the grave is neglected and remain there.
March 16, 2009
There seems to be all- systems go. The date of the exhumation is scheduled for April 28, 2009. JHEV Sarawak Branch has already made arrangement for a special team of Ibans to perform the "miring ceremony" on the grave during the exhumation.
I have informed the Malay Mail rep, Sheila Rahman and the man who first recorded the grave and highlighted it in a blog, Tuan Haji Karim.
The British High Commission have also been informed and their representative may be coming too. I am excited and looking forward to the occasion.
But looming large is a bigger one - will let you know when the time comes.
April 13, 2009
Exhumation and Relocation of LCpl Ungkok's Grave: All Systems Go!
D Day has been set for April 28, 2009. The Director of Jabatan Hal Ehwal Veteran ATM, the Royal Rangers Corp commander, the Police, Kedah State, the British High Commission representatives will be in attendance. The NOK of the deceased will also be there to witness the ceremony. The medias have also been notified to cover the event. The man who first photographed and published the pictures of the grave in his blog will also be there. Of course, I will be there as well.
A "miring ceremony" in accordance to the Iban custom and tradition will be performed.
However, a most disturbing news I received today was, the remains of the brave soldier could not be located - even after a special scan of 100m around the tombstone, including underneath the highway. No wonder there is an inscription of "lies somewhere near here" made on the tombstone. Was he "missing in action (MIA) ?". Who could shed the light on the mystery? The British Government? Afterall, they were the one who had wanted to move the grave in the first place but was unable to do so as they couldn't find the NOK.
April 20, 2009
I emailed one of "my comrades" in this issue, Rano Aylwino Akat in Sarawak, to find out certain querries from his contact in the British High Commission in KL.
1. How did LCpl Ungkok ak. Jugam died - the battle.
After this, the next big one is to exhume all graves of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers buried in KL, Batu Gajah, Taiping, Alor Setar and Singapore back to Kuching and rebury them in a Heroes Grave. The Chief Minister of Sarawak has agreed to the plan.
I see a hard and long working hours ahead as all the next-of-kins of the 10 Trackers/Rangers have to be found and their written consent acquired. My high regards and appreciation to JHEV and PBTM who will have to shoulder the huge responsibility.
April 28, 2009
On April 28, 2009, the grave of LCpl Ungkok ak. Jugam was relocated to the Christian Cemetry at Jalan Sultanah, Alor Setar. It was done with the full Iban tradition of miring. Puan Irene Kilat, Ungkok's close relative came for the ceremony.
The event was witnessed the Datuk Bandar of Alor Setar, Ketua Pengarah JHEV, Maj Gen Dato' Zulkiflee Mazlan, representative of Rejimen Renjer, Kol Steven Mundaw and Pengerusi of Historical Soceity of Malaysia Kedah Branch.
With this relocation complete, this chapter is also closing down. A new chapter will be opened up for a bigger relocation of all Iban warriors buried in Malaya and Singapore back to Kuching.
Monday, 27 October 2008
Friday, 17 October 2008
Thursday, 16 October 2008
Towards the end of 1978, we received the good news from Headquarters 5 Infantry Brigade based in Kota Kinabalu. Units were encouraged to carry out “adventure training” within their area of responsibility. Unlike Malaya and Sarawak, Sabah had always enjoyed comparative peace, except for the sporadic raids by pirates along its Eastern coasts and islands.
When the news came, my first thought was on white-water canoeing. Water, somehow, had always been a part of my life. I was no stranger to riverine adventures. I had crossed the mighty Rejang in a makeshift canoe when I was seven years old. I had capsized in the middle of Kamena River. I had conquered the treacherous rapids of Perak River in a dug-out canoe! Today, with the availability of kayaks, it was an unthinkable idea to shoot the rapids in dug-out canoes! After what I had gone through, I was naturally inclined towards yet another riverine adventure.
I made a map reconnaissance. Segama River seemed the most likely river that could offer the challenges I was looking for. However, I needed to have a closer look at the condition and situation along the whole length of the river. A week later I had my request for an air reconnaissance granted. A Royal Malaysian Air Force Allouette helicopter took me and my Second-In-Command, Lieutenant Mohd Saad to have a closer look at the river. The sea and the river mouth were misty. Strong winds were whipping up the waves frenzy. It was the usual rough weather at this time of the year. It was monsoon season - the time of the year when fishermen were forced to stay home and mend their fishing nets. There was little else they could do, anyway.
The sea was too rough for their small boats. As we flew inland, the milky-coloured river twisted and turned through the seemingly flat and thickly forested lowland. This was the sanctuary of the pygmy elephants, monkeys and many other protected species of wildlife. We flew past the town of Lahad Datu and could see the point where the Lahad Datu – Sandakan trunk road was severed by the Segama River. An old-fashioned ferry pulled by steel cables was the only mean of transporting vehicles and people to and from the opposite banks.
From here on, the terrain rose sharply into the mountainous interior. And for the first time I saw white water as the river went through narrow gorges and steep gradient. That was the sort of river I was looking for. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any motorable tracks that we could use to carry our rubber dinghies and equipment to where the rapids were. Neither could we find any suitable helicopter landing point. It was apparent that our adventure down the Segama River would have to begin from the ferry point, a distance of more than 100 kilometers to the coast.
We spent the next few days on maintenance. Over years of neglect and never being used, the dinghies were in dire need of maintenance – pin-hole punctures had to be patched, missing ropes replaced and loose screws tightened. The dinghies were mouldy and had to be scrubbed and dried under the sun. We knew the inflatable rubber dinghies would be prone to punctures and ensured we bring enough repair kits, as it would be impossible to find them along the river. We couldn’t take any chances.
December 1, 1978.
I had given myself ten days to complete the journey to the coast. It was a misjudgment. Despite the slow current and the absence of rapids, we were to complete the journey in only five days.
After two weeks of preparations, twenty of us, all volunteers, left for our staging camp in Lahad Datu on December 1, 1978. The whole country was still under the spell of the monsoon season. The main trunk road from Tawau to Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu was still under construction. It was dusty in dry weather and muddy and slippery when wet. It took us five hours to reach Lahad Datu camp.
December 2, 1978 – Day 1.
We wanted to start the day early and were at the ferry crossing point at 8.00 a.m. Curious onlookers were beginning to gather around us as we assembled and inflated our dinghies. By 9.00 a.m., we were on our way to discover and unravel the secrets of Segama River.
We were caught unprepared by what we were about to face. Climax of the monsoon season had passed. The swollen river was subsiding, but still well above its normal level. The water was murky and I realised we would have problem finding clean water for drinking and cooking. Notice the ferry in the background.
After about five kilometers and with no sign of let-up, we decided to stop to erect make-shift shelters on our dinghies. They looked undignified but provided us the protection from the sun. We didn’t want to be like over-cooked lobsters too soon as we had a long way to go.
Being the first day, we didn’t want to exert ourselves too much. After all, we didn’t have any dateline to meet and could take all the time in the world. I wanted to enjoy every inch and every minute of the journey. At 3.00 p.m. and after covering thirteen kilometers, we made a night stop by the river bank. That evening, we soaked ourselves in the cool comfort of Segama River. It was like a tonic. I could feel my energy and spirit seeping back into my hot and tired body. Tired after about five hours of rowing and the thought of another full day tomorrow, we hit our hammocks by 8.00 p.m.and lulled into sleep by the cacophonies of the cicadas, crickets and nocturnal birds.
The light dawn drizzle kept us a little longer in our hammocks. Breakfast was a speedy affair. We cooked instant noodles and washed it down with tea. It was over within ten minutes
I'm in the centre in white T shirt.
December 4, 1978 – Day 3.
We woke up to loud croaking of frogs and chirpings of birds as they heralded-in a hot fine day. Spears of sunlight pierced through the thick morning mist. Giant trees towered above us. A number of gibbons were jumping from branches to branches high above us – unperturbed and perhaps unaware of our presence.
December 5, 1978 – Day 4.
We had passed the pygmy elephant sanctuary but didn’t have the luck to see the elephant. I noticed two small leaks in my dinghy. However, they were nothing to worry about. As usual, we stopped for lunch at 12 noon and I took the opportunity to patch up the leaks. At 3 p.m, after about 17 km, we reached a village called Tomanggong Kecil. I decided to stop there for the day and carry out checks and maintenance on our dinghies, which had been in the water for four days.
December 6, 1978 – Day 5.
The monsoon rain came down with vengeance at about 3 a.m. when we were still fast asleep. We were awakened by claps of thunder and strong gusts of wind which blew cold drops of rain onto our faces. Despite having an interrupted sleep that night, we kept our schedule and left Tomanggong Kecil at 7.40 a.m. The river was a little swollen after the night’s heavy downpour. We reached Kampong Tidong at 1 p.m. It was the last village along the Segama River and closest to the Sulu Sea on the North Eastern coast of Sabah.
The next day, I and my Company Second-In-Command, Lieutenant Saad, went down to the mouth of Segama River in Ghani’s boat, which was powered by a five horse-power outboard engine. We provided the petrol. Besides looking at the possibility of continuing and ending our journey on the coast, we also wanted to earmark a suitable location for a helicopter landing point where it could pick us up. Looking at the speed of the incoming tide, I knew it was impossible for us to go against it and get down to the coast.
I didn’t want to take the risk of being swept out into the sea by the strong current. Furthermore, the lack of fresh water was another deriding factor that prompted me to decide and end the journey at Kampong Tidong.
During this time, the Tidongs were prisoners in their own village. On the return journey, we stopped by a deserted logging camp. Logging activities had also been put on hold, waiting for the fury of the monsoon season to tide over. Despite being on a patch of dry land, there was no suitable place that we could use as a helicopter landing point. Both sides of the river were mangroves swamps. We were disappointed and returned to the village. The village didn’t have any open field and the only suitable landing point was an area with several big trees, not far from the village. After obtaining permission from the village headman to use the location and cut down the trees, we set down to clear the area with the help of the villagers. It was hard work and took us several days. It was a good thing we had ample time as we were five days ahead of schedule.
The day finally came for us to say farewell to the Tidongs. As our Nuri helicopter took off vertically to clear the tall surrounding trees, we could see their faces, wearing looks with a thousand messages. We wondered whether we’d cross each other’s path again. We knew it would be very unlikely. Our two years operational tour of duty in Sabah was due to end very soon. We were returning to Peninsula Malaysia. Before we knew it, our two years in Tawau, Sabah drew to a close. At the end of 1979, just when we were getting used to the pace of life there, 3rd Battalion the Malaysian Rangers packed up again. This time we were moving to Terendak Camp in Malacca – a beautiful camp facing the Straits of Malacca.
Monday, 13 October 2008
The assault group was to be in position one or two hours prior to H hour at 6.30 a.m on October 11, 1973 - just about five hours away. We were to be in pairs and spaced out between five to ten metres apart. Alternatively, just in case the CTs would break camp much earlier than anticipated, the signal to attack would be the sound of any firing from whichever group that noticed it.
At about 2.30 a.m, the cut-off group, under cover of the torrential down pour, moved slowly and cautiously to their positions. I was told later, in the pitch darkness, they had bumped more than once into the CTs' bashas. I didn’t want the assault group to move in at the same time as it was still too early. We needed the few hours to rest and get some sleep. Hopefully, we were able to recover from our fatique, before the big task ahead.
We took shelter from the merciless rain under a makeshift ponco we had erected in between the buttress roots of a giant tree. Soaked to the skin and chilled to the bones, we huddled closed together, in order to get some warmth into our shivering bodies.
I told the men to catch some sleep, if they could. But I doubt if any of us were able to do so. With a battle coming up in just a few hours away, and the enemy just a stone –throw in front of us, who in their right sense of mind could?
We were excited, enthusiastic and raring to go. After what we had gone through and worked at, we didn’t want to botch it up and threw away this once-in-a lifetime golden opportunity! At 3.30 a.m, the rain had fizzled down to light drizzles. Then, suddenly, I heard some noises in the direction of the CT camp. Ten minutes later, red lights flickered, glowed and danced in between the foliage – some fifty to sixty metres away. I realised then, the CTs had woken up – possibly getting ready to break camp early and made it to the Sadong River before we did.
What they didn’t know was that we were already on top of them!
They had kindled a bonfire. We found out later, they were actually cooking breakfast and drying out their wet clothes over the fire. With the CTs already awake and the rain that had fizzled down to light drizzles, I realised our task of moving into our assaulting positions would be more difficult to conceal. The sight of the bonfire and the dying drizzles prompted me to change my plan. I decided to move in immediately before the rain stopped completely. At least, the drizzles would conceal the sounds we would be making when we moved.
That thirty metres was the longest and most difficult thirty metres I had ever gone through all my life. We were up to our shins, at times up to our knees in the swamp. Each step had to be taken carefully in order to avoid the sucking and squelching noises the mud and marshy ground were making. Each step had to be slowly cleared of leaves and twigs. Each step had to be retracted slowly and carefully from the swamp. As if those problems weren’t enough, mosquitoes attacked us in swarms. As minutes ticked slowly by, the heat from the sun was beginning to be felt. Or was it the adrenaline rush?
About forty minutes later, we were in positions. I and my radio operator, Ranger Md Desa were directly in front of the bonfire – some fifteen metres away. In order to get a clearer view, I moved closer to the bonfire, while Ranger Md Desa remained behind a big tree where he hid his radio set. Before I left him, I had pointed out a couple of bashas visible to the right of the fire. He was to attack those bashas when I launched the attack. I would attack the ones to the left.
As I watched the CTs moving around the bonfire, I prepared myself for the coming battle - ensured my magazines of ammunitions were in the right pouches and my webbings were properly secured. I knew, in the heat of battle, I shouldn’t fumble and every second counted.
At 5.30 a.m, I began to notice the pitch dark night was beginning to turn smoky grey. The young saplings and bushes around me began to take shapes. As the light became brighter, I began to feel insecure. I was in the open with little cover from view and practically with no protection from enemy fire. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t move.
My radio operator was about ten yards behind me. The rest of my assault team were strung out to my right. At 6.15 a.m, the sky was clearing. Silhouettes of trees were visible against the dawning sky. The CTs had ceased to move about. I could see only two still remained by the fire. They were ill at ease and must have sensed our presence. They exchanged some words. The silence and inactivity in the camp was most worrying. I sensed they were up to something. Were they about to break camp? Could they had detected our presence and were getting ready for our attack?
All these thoughts went through my mind and they made me worried. I had another fifteen minutes to my H Hour. It was too long and I couldn’t wait much longer. The longer I waited the longer time I would give the CTs time to prepare themselves for our assault. I didn’t want to lose my surprise factor.
Convinced that it was the most opportune time, I launched the assault immediately at 6.15 a.m on October 11, 1973 – five days past my 25th birthday. I grabbed a M 26 grenade, pulled the safety pin out, released the striking lever from my hand, counted three seconds before lobbing it in between trees towards the two CTs near the bonfire. It landed with a splash in a puddle of water to their right. To my horror and dismay, it didn’t explode!
Swiftly, I grabbed my Baretta automatic rifle and released two long bursts at the two CTs who were looking at the direction of the splash the grenade had made. Instantly, all hell broke loose. My radio operator immediately left his tree and charged towards the two bashas I had indicated earlier, shouting out the war cry and with his Baretta spitting fire. I told him not to shout as his voice could indicate his position to the CTs. But in the midst of battle I doubt he could hear me.
The jungle came alive. There were a lot of shouting and screaming in Chinese. My men on my right flank were also firing into the camp. I veered left to follow the sounds of retreating CTs. My cut-off group also fired. Sandwiched, the CTs escaped through the open left flank. Suddenly, amidst the chaos, I heard a couple of unfamiliar bursts of an automatic fire from an unfamiliar weapon – it sounded slower and the pitch was lower. It must have been directed in my direction, because the fire from the muzzle was directly in front of me.
Instinctively, I hesitated and didn’t retaliate! My first thought was of my cut-off group. Could that be their fire? By the time I realised it was not, the sounds of the fleeing CTs were well to my left. I kept up the pressure, firing as I went. As the sounds of the escaping CTs disappeared, I stopped to check my ammunitions. I had used five of my seven magazines. I had to conserve my remaining ammunitions just in case the CTs might want to counter-attack.
As I was taking stock of the situation, I heard approaching footsteps, splashing in the water. I drew my dagger and prepared myself for a hand to hand combat. Somehow, when it was about a couple of metres from me, the footsteps stopped. I crouched low and waited for about five minutes. Satisfied there was no one there, I decided to retrace my footsteps and went back into the camp to take control of the situation and quickly organised an all round defence, just in case the CTs might try to counter attack.
The jungle was filled with acrid white smoke of gun powder. I didn’t notice it before. I met up with my assault team and searched the camp. The camp was actually an overnight camp. There were only makeshift tents made of plastic sheets. Some of the CTs were sleeping on the jungle floor while others were in hammocks. One of the CTs killed died in his hammock.
The way they left the camp showed that they were totally caught by surprise. Blankets were strewn all over the place. They didn’t have the time to pack up their belongings. We recovered about 35 packs and assorted items such as torch lights, Iban parangs (machettes), home-made shot guns and pistols, some ammunitions and even transistor radios. One of the radios was still running a Chinese programme. We found seven CTs dead – four females and three males. One of the astonishing find was a talisman written in Arabic found in the jungle boot of one of the male CTs. He had, presumably, got it when he was in Kalimantan, Indonesia, when the Sarawak Communist Organisation decided to go underground soon after the Brunei Rebellion broke out in December 1962.
For the success, however, we had to pay a price. My radio operator was killed and one of my section commanders was wounded on the head. After locating my radio set, I managed to relay the good news to my commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Lee Khiu Fui, through our Mortar platoon which had established a firing position at the fringe of the swamp. I could visualised the excitement the news would have created at the Battalion, Brigade and Division Headquarters. The next day, I was told to rendezvous with 3rd Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Hassan Hj Salleh and my commanding officer at a clearing which took me a good thirty minutes to reach.
The Brigade Commander wanted to congratulate me personally for having achieved the biggest success for the year. I and Lance Corporal Ahmad Adnan were awarded the nation's second highest gallantry award by the King.
Unknown to me at that time, the CTs in the First and Second Division of Sarawak, under its Director and Political Commissar, Bong Kee Chok, were mulling over the idea of giving up their armed struggle and return to society. This was the result of the relentless pressure from the Security Forces. Bong Kee Chok was further demoralised by the lack of cooperation between factions. Bong Kee Chok wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Yaacob, seeking to negotiate favourable terms for himself and his men. The meeting was held over three days in the residency of Simanggang and was concluded on October 21, 1973 – just ten days after I had attacked their camp in Nonok.
That attack must have been the last straw for him. Subsequently, the town of Simanggang was renamed “Sri Aman” to mark the historical event. That historic operation was the last for me before 3rd Rangers returned to its home base in Taiping in December 1973. I was given the honour to be the parade commander of the Battalion farewell parade. The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Yaacob fittingly took the salute. Dressed in camouflage uniforms and wearing the distinctive red mufflers around our necks, a fashion I introduced into Kilat platoon, we braved the rain. It was a resplendent and awesome sight to behold.
It had been a most successful year for the Battalion. Thirty CTs were eliminated – the highest ever achieved by any battalion in a single year. I and Lance Corporal Ahmad Adnan who hails from Johor were awarded the nation’s second highest gallantry award – the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB). Another soldier, Lance Corporal Peter Bat Wan, a Kenyah from Ulu Batang Rejang in Sarawak, was awarded a Mentioned-In-Despatch. A total of twenty-one soldiers and officers were each awarded a commando knife for having killed at least one CT.
This special award was mooted by Commander 3 Brigade, Brigadier General Hassan Hj Salleh, who knew and understood the importance of appreciating and recognising soldiers’ contribution in the field, especially in war. He learned this from the British Army. In January 1974, 3rd Rangers returned to its home base in Taiping – after a highly successful one year tour of duty in Serian. Kilat platoon was immediately disbanded and the men returned to their respective rifle companies.
It was heartening to note that the Malaysian Army had taken notice of the trend in infantry battalions forming their own special platoons and giving them various names. They saw the successes these elite platoons had achieved. Perhaps, their achievements had influenced the policy makers in the Ministry of Defence into making a decision to officially form a Unit Combat Intelligence Squad (UCIS) in all Infantry battalions. They were considered as an elite platoon in the battalion. In them, the spirit of Kilat platoon lived on.