A week before we received our Agong’s Commission, which was to be held on 14th April 1972, all Royal Military College (RMC), Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur graduating officer cadets of Short Service Commission Intake 20 and Regular Commission Intake 14 were required to make our choices on which Corps in the Army we wished to serve. I joined the Malaysian Artilery Regiment (Now known as Royal Artillery Corps) together with 2Lt Mokhtar, 2Lt Hariri, 2Lt Razali, 2Lt Ali, 2Lt Amir Hamzah, 2Lt Hashim, 2Lt Kamaruddin and 2Lt Zahari. The others were 2Lt Haniff and 2Lt Omar Boyce from the regular intake.
Tensions were very high amongst us even though we were all fully trained and equipped and were fully fit and ready to fight the communist terrorists (CTs) face-to-face in both West and East Malaysia. The training we went through was very tough. We were all very anxious to know where each of us was to be posted to especially those of us who had made our choices to join the Infantry, Artillery or the Reconnaissance Corps in the Army, all commonly known as the ‘Fighting Units’ of the Army and sent to the front line. We were repeatedly briefed and reminded about the communist’s atrocities and how ruthless they were and part of our training was to get us all psyched up to defeat them, our national enemy and a threat to our developing nation. We had to stop them from destroying our country and our people to ensure a prosperous and peaceful future for all Malaysians.
I still remember very well the nervous smile of Officer Cadet Elias Ramli, a vertically challenged but stout fellow from Kangar, Perlis who was to be posted to 1 Ranger Battalion in Sarawak, the hotbed of the CTs at that time as well as the sour face of Officer Cadet A. Rahman Koya, a tall and dapper fellow from Rantau Panjang, Kelantan who was posted to 4 Ranger Battalion also based in Sarawak. Officer Cadet Sallehuddin from Penggerang, Johore who joined the Royal Malay Regiment, was another graduating cadet who I noticed was feeling very nervous. About an equal number of officers from our graduating class were sent to units operating near the borders of Malaysia/Thailand and Malaysia/Kalimantan to join the respective fighting units we were posted to. Two hundred graduating cadets were posted to the fighting units and the remaining number of newly commissioned officers was posted to the services and administrative units. I was posted to the 3rd Artillery Regiment in Kuching, Sarawak which was our temporary base and I was there for just over one year. My parents were less than happy when I told them about it. My second stint there, for about one and a half years, was between early 1974 and mid - 1975. Our permanent base was in Kamunting in Taiping, Perak.
Lt. Muda Elias Ramli, Lt Muda A. Rahman Koya and Lt Muda Sallehuddin as well as a few others did not enjoy the privilege of the four-day break we were given between the time after accepting our commissions as 2nd Lieutenants and joining our respective units. They had to pack up immediately and were flown or sent by train or Land Rover trucks to Kuching and to other destinations like Ipoh, Perak, Sungei Petani, Kedah and Bentong, Pahang that afternoon itself upon completing the ‘Passing-Out Parade’. They were to join their colleagues to fight in the country’s jungles due to a shortage of officers, especially in the infantry units, at the front lines in both theatres.
On 15th April 1972, the very first day of active service, we received a very sad news about our first casualty, Lt Muda Sallehuddin, then only 18 years old; the youngest to be commissioned, died after drowning in Rejang River near Sibu during one of the pursuit of terrorists in his unit’s area of operations. Over the years, there were many more casualties, all young men, who were killed, injured, paralysed, maimed or crippled fighting the communist terrorists (CT’s). Some died or injured from gunshot wounds or accidents and some from air crashes after the Nuri helicopters they were in were shot at, all fighting for the country to wipe out the communists. Later, a classmate at RMC Cadet Wing, Lt Fuad Chong from the Engineers Corps, had to have one of his legs amputated after badly injuring it upon stepping on a booby trap in an operation to clear booby traps set up by the CTs in one of the jungles of Perak. A colleage, Lt Raja Musa lost an eye and one of his legs after stepping on a booby trap whilst carrying out his duties as an Artillery FOO (Forward Observation Officer) attached to an infantry platoon. My very good friends, Trooper Suandy, a soldier from the elite Commando Unit (MSSU) and Lt Muda (U) Wee Kong Beng, a co-pilot of a Nuri helicopter, perished in one of the crashes with seven others including the helicopter’s Captain after their aircraft was shot at. In one of the major operations which I was involved in, the Bentong airstrip was even busier than Subang Airport with various types of aircrafts such as the Caribou, Cessna, Nuri and Alloutte aeroplanes and helicopters regularly landing and taking-off every day.
One officer from our batch, 2Lt Basri, an infantry officer from 4 Ranger Regiment, was awarded the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) for bravery after successfully leading his platoon to defeat a group of CTs in 1973. This guy had burning red eyes and he always was full of spirit; though he was among the quieter ones at RMC, from his determination and passion shown when competing in team contests and games during our training sessions, I knew that one day he would be a hero. Another officer who was a classmate also by the name of 2Lt Basri from the Royal Engineers Corps, a very affable fellow, was also awarded the PGB for his bravery in clearing mines whilst under enemy fire. He retired last year with the rank of Lt Kol.
I myself had the bad luck of getting involved in an ambush when our supply convoy was attacked not far from our base at Maung Gajah Camp, Gubir in Kedah in 1974 not very far away from the Thai border. It was very rare for an Artillery Gun Troop to be engaged in a fire fight with the enemy. We suffered six casualties comprising soldiers who were assigned as drivers and escorts for the convoy that was attacked. We retaliated with artillery fire after the infantry troops from the camp engaged them and the Recce Escort Unit who were with the convoy also fired their machine guns, their 25mm cannons and their 90mm guns from their Ferret Scout Cars and the V150’s APC’s respectively, but a search and destroy mission carried out by the infantry troops after the last shot was fired rendered nothing except for several blood trails. There was no way to tell whether there were any casualties suffered by the communist’s troop, they must have either escaped via tunnels or to the Thai border.
Another incident was something that happened near Kampung Lallang in the Sungei Siput area in Perak, a small group of CTs, three of them actually, were sighted on a small hill near LP 121 and the field commander ordered to cordon the area with a two-layer shoulder-to-shoulder man-to-man ring surrounding the ‘target’ with the aim to capture the enemies alive instead of killing them. When we closed into the target, the enemies were nowhere to be seen and we were all puzzled. We were very sure that the sighting, based on our ‘intelligence’ report which was categorised as A1 and was accurate. That led to many theories and one was that they escaped via a tunnel somewhere in the jungle and the other was that these people had special powers and could hide behind leaves. We searched but did not find any tunnel. Many of us however, believed in the latter theory.
'An Artillery Troop equipped with the M102 105mm Howitzer in the 'Position Ready' position'. Firing starts upon orders received from the GPO'..
'An Artillery Troop Command Post showing the Gun Position Officer
(GPO) giving Firing Orders using a Megaphone'.
Life in the Army then was very tough and in my case, I spent most of my active military service in the country’s jungles in Sarawak, Sabah, Perak, Kedah and Pahang, sometimes at a stretch for as long as six months. Of course, there were many like me. We young officers who were still bachelors and were considered by our superiors that leaving us in the jungle for a long stretch of time didn’t really matter. The married officers who had families had shorter stints. Sometimes, I did feel angry with myself with a tinge of regret for joining the Army instead of one of the universities like many of my classmates in secondary school did, and be able to sleep on very comfortable Dunlopillo latex foam mattresses, enjoy good food, the girls and the bright lights of the city.
We slept on makeshift tents created using our rubber ‘poncos’ from branches of small trees and depending on the duty roster, we either slept during the day or at night. Sometimes, when there was not enough time, we just slept on the ground with the ponco used as a ground sheet. As we were always on the move, the tents had to be dismantled and the area cleared after every short stay of between two and three days. Our food was the dry rations supplied to us and sometimes, when we camped near rivers, we did manage to get fish and fresh vegetables. There were, among the soldiers, some very good cooks who were able to prepare delicious dishes from these fish, vegetables and some other fresh leaves eaten fresh like ‘ulams’. It was quite normal for us to camp on high ground near flowing rivers as the clean waters allowed us to bathe and do plenty of cleaning, cooking and washing. During the annual but short Hari Raya Aidil Fitri periods, the food spread was quite large and we had lemangs, ketupats, rendangs and a good variety of kueh raya and that could last up to a week. Sometimes we found photos of young girls of about our age; they were volunteers who helped prepare the food packs who must have cheekily placed them in those packs just to cheer us up and that actually did the trick. However, morale of the soldiers was high and we were always supporting and comforting each other particularly when we received sad and devastating news about casualties and deaths of our friends and colleagues. Every time I heard news like these, I felt very angry, frustrated and most vengeful. I felt like, if I ever happened to encounter them, I would catch them, wring their necks until they cannot breathe; hang them by their feet and make them suffer enough before shooting them. I had books and past newspapers delivered to me by my very considerate Commanding Officer, Lt Col. John Hew Deng Onn (the late Maj. Gen. Dato' Johan Hew), of and on and I read them all from cover to cover over and over again; including all the advertisements and notices in the case of newspapers, until the next delivery. The news I read were sometimes a week old at best. Other reading materials included the Quran and some kitabs.
The mode of operations those days required each infantry brigade involved in the search and destruction of CTs in both East Malaysia and the peninsula to have one three-gun M102 105 mm Gun Howitzers equipped artillery troop attached to them in the many operations to flush out CTsfrom their hideouts and we were engaged in many harassing fire missions and fired hundreds of rounds of high explosive ammunitions, normally at night, at all the areas suspected to be CTs hideouts but we never knew if there were any casualties amongst them. However, all the time, search and destroy operations carried out after the guns ceased firing rendered zero findings. Our jungles are very thick with severely undulating grounds and many meandering big and small rivers taking water from the mountains and hills down and it was very difficult and dangerous to carry out search and destroy operations. The situation was a lot worse when it rained and we had to face inclement weather quite regularly. The Air Force also assisted in the operations either by providing airlifting operations using Nuris to fly in the troops, guns and supplies to the designated gun positions in the heart of our jungles in Perak, Kedah, Pahang, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak which were not accessible by road or foot as well as ‘Air Observation Posts’ (Air OPs), an air reconnaissance artillery gun control operations using the smaller Alloutte helicopters. Communications were by means of fairly obsolete equipment and the PRK 55 mobile signal units. Most of the times we took turns to crank the batteries by hand continuously to provide power for the signal equipment because communications had to be maintained uninterrupted for twenty four hours everyday. Despite the shortcomings, we still managed it. Orientation was assisted by accurate topographical maps, compasses, rulers and protractors.
Only the CPM members would know the number of casualties they suffered.
In all of our further and advanced training sessions, courses, briefings and debriefings, we were told and reminded that our enemies were members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their two illegal organisations viz. the Malayan National Liberation Army MNLA, a group formed for their armed struggle and the Malayan National Liberation League (MNLL). Another organisation was the CPM Marxist-Leninist Faction (CPMML) was which was responsible for the constitutional struggle and certain aspects of the illegal or ‘militant’ struggle and there was also the Malayan Communist Youth League (MCYL) recruited from youths aged between fifteen and thirty years of age. In East Malaysia, we were fighting against the North Kalimantan Communist Party (which had no direct links with the Malayan Communist Party), an offshoot of the Clandestine Communist Organisation, that was waging a guerrilla campaign against the government. Names like Chin Peng, the CPM Secretary General, Rashid Mydin, Abdullah CD, Wahi Annuar, Shamsiah Fakih, Siu Cheong alias Ah Soo, P. V. Sharma, Ah Hoi alias Chen Jui, Sun Chek, Lim Chau, Soh Chee Peng alias Shi Meng and Musa Ahmad were regularly mentioned. They were not fighting to liberate the country, which they claimed, but their aim was to form a communist republic to be known as the Malayan Peoples Republic and anyone who went against them, regardless of race or religion, shall be killed. We lost many soldiers, mostly young Malay soldiers (there were very few Chinese, Indian and people of other races in the Army then), and we also received news that some civilians were also killed. I also remember reading a report about the communists and in the early 50’s, not long after the Japanese surrendered, and the 60’s, where killings were also carried out in towns like Muar, Kluang, Ipoh and Sungei Petani, among others. In 1971, the then IGP Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim was assassinated at the junction of Lorong Weld and Jalan Tun Perak Kuala Lumpur on 4 June 1974; his driver was also killed and about sixteen months later, another senior police officer, Perak CPO Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong was gunned down together with his driver at midday in Ipoh, Perak. These assassinations were carried out by members of the 1st Mobile Squad of the CPMML, a squad formed to carry out assassinations. Two other planned assassinations of the then Chief of Armed Forces Staff, General Tan Sri Ibrahim Ismail (now Tun) and the then Singapore Commissioner of Police, Tan Sri Tan Teik Khim, were thwarted after two of their members were arrested and sentenced to death for the murders they committed earlier.
I was promoted to Captain in 1976 and left the Army in 1979 to pursue other interests after feeling fully satisfied and my ambition fulfilled and that I have done my duty and contributed in whatever miniscule way to the continued peace and prosperity of our most beloved country. In my relatively short tenure in the Army, I served the 1st Brigade, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Brigade, 4th Brigade, 5th Brigade, 6th Brigade, 8th Brigade and RASCOM, Rajang Security Command and my last attachment was with the 3rd Field Ambulance in Kinrara, Selangor.
Many of my colleagues from the Royal Military College, Sungei Besi April 1972 graduating class remained and made the Army or the Air Force their career but now, most have retired leaving only a very small number left and are holding very senior ranks and positions either in the Army or the Air Force and they are my very close friends who are still flying our flag such as Lt. Jen. Dato’ Seri Bashir, the Deputy Chief of the Air Force, Lt. Jen. Dato’ Wan Abu Bakar, Army, Maj Jen Dato’ Mokhtar Parman, Army, Maj. Jen Dato’ Che Yahya, Air Force and Brig. Jen. Dato' Che' Hasni, Army. The others who are still in active service are holding ranks no less than full Colonels either in the Army or the Air Force.
The communists were trained, both physically and mentally, to be brutal, ruthless and unsympathetic and they’d kill just anyone whom they wanted to and who had come in their way. Killing, to them, was a duty and it was like food for them and they did it without feeling even an iota of guilt. They not only caused havoc in the jungles but also in our cities. They were a terrible lot!
God save us if they were to take over and rule this country.
No, for whatever reasons, we must never allow Chin Peng or any of the still surviving members of the CPM to return to this country. We must not give them even a modicum of a chance, they are a single minded people and ferocity and atrocities are nothing to them. Please do not let the peace and harmony we Malaysians are now enjoying be spoilt. They are still a terrible lot and they are all traitors!
We, former members of the security forces, can still feel the hurt and pain both physically and emotionally whenever we recall the terrifying years dealing with them.
Now Chin Peng has apologised. BUT IT’S STILL JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE!