Most were still young men of about 17 years old. Some were already married and had children. It was a one way journey for many - 21 of them to be exact.
For the parents and wives who had lost their loved ones, there had been no hope of ever seeing their loved ones again - not until Operation Ngerapuh and later called Operation Mai Pulai (Operation Bringing Home) was mooted by me at the end of 2008, with the consent of the Chief Minister.
Three years later on 27 July 2011, the 21 remains of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers were brought home. They were laid to rest at their final resting place at a Heroes' Graves in Kuching, Sarawak. They are home at last - after 60 long years. It was a tearful "reunion" for many and tears flowed freely that day. Here are some of the scenes.
The pall bearers brought the 21 remains to the burial ground.
.....and carefully placed at the alloted graves.
As the prime mover of the project, I was given the honour to give a speech, where I read a poem and proposed the revival of the Sarawak Rangers. It received an applause from the ex trackers, ex Sarawak Rangers and the next-of-kins. I also suggested what George Swetman had suggested: have a display corner where artifacts, documents and photographs related to the Trackers and Sarawak Rangers could be displayed. Sarawak Museum will undertake this job.
Some of the VIPs - the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister, Deputy Federal Homes Affair Minister, a number of the State Minsters, General Officer Commanding 1 Infantry Division, Brigade Commander of 3 Brigade and 9 Brigade, ex servicemen and Gallantry award holders.
The flags were carefully folded.
......handed over to the next-of-kins by the CM
Placing the caskets in the graves.
Pte Ugap's elder brother placing a bouquet of flowers over his brother's grave.
A tearful and inconsolable mother, daughter and grand daughter placing a bouquet over Nyambik's grave.
The Heroes' Grave
Sharing the same entrance to the WW2 Heroes' Grave