Ailing war hero may miss royal audience this year

Some of the office bearers from the PVATM paying a visit to Awang at the Sarawak General Hospital.

Some of the office bearers from the PVATM paying a visit to Awang at the Sarawak General Hospital.

OFTEN, survivors of war are left with mental and physical scars, whether they are soldiers or civilians.

It is unfortunate many soldiers, whose job it is to follow orders, suffer long-term effects of psychological trauma from combat.

But it is not the case with 86-year-old Awang Raweng, one of the war heroes who received Britain’s George Cross (GC).

He may be sick but his sickness has nothing to do with combat.

Awang said he got a form of stomachache since August 21 but had only gone to the Sri Aman Hospital and got admitted.

“I have endured the pain for three days but on the fourth day, I could no longer stand it as it was so painful. So I was brought to the Sri Aman Hospital on Monday evening (Aug 24) before being transferred to the Sarawak General Hospital.”

A visit by officials from the Veteran Association of Malaysian Armed Forces’ (PVATM) on August 29 seemed to have cheered him up and lifted his spirit.

His grandson, who was looking after him at the Hospital, said he had shown some improvement — being jovial and recovering well.

Awang is supposed to have an audience with Queen Elizabeth II in England on September 6 but is still not sure if he could make it to London this year.

“It all depends on my health. If I can recover in time, I will go, otherwise I will have to miss the audience with the Queen this year,” he said.

To him, even if he cannot make it, it is no big deal. This is because the war veteran from Nanga Skrang village in Sri Aman has been to London almost every year since the 1960’s with all expenses paid by the British government.

During that period he had met Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and British national leaders.

The British government has also been paying him a monthly pension of about £100 (RM680) since 1963.

Awang, a former tracker, is one of only 25 surviving war heroes in the world to have received the coveted George Cross for valour, introduced by the King of England in 1940.

He received the George Cross for bravery in fighting the communists.

During one encounter, he risked his life to save an injured British soldier, suffering wounds to his arm and thigh.

According to an article in http://www.victoriacrossonline.co.uk, Awang was attached to the 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment when his platoon was ambushed by about 50 communists in Malaya in 1951. He was 26 years old back then.

The leading scout was killed instantly and the section commander fatally wounded. Awang was shot through the thigh. At the same time, a member of his platoon, Private Hughes, was hit below the knee.

Although wounded and exposed to the heavy automatic fire, Awang collected his own weapon and that of the wounded Hughes and dragged the latter into the cover of the jungle.

Because of the impending attack and disregarding his own wound, he took up position to defend his wounded fellow soldier.

He opened fire at every attempt made by the insurgents to subdue them, successfully fending off several attacks.

The awards for gallantry Awang received from the British government.

The awards for gallantry Awang received from the British government.

In the exchange of fire, he was wounded again — a bullet shattering his right arm and rendering further use of the weapon impossible.

Despite loss of blood, he dragged himself over to Hughes and took a grenade from him. Resuming his position on guard, he pulled the pin with his teeth and, with the grenade in his left hand, defied the bandits to approach.

He is the only Malaysian to win the GC to date.

The GC is second in the order of wear in the United Kingdom honours system and takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals, except the Victoria Cross.

It is the highest gallantry award for civilians as well as members of the armed forces in action for which purely military honours would not normally be granted.

The George Cross was instituted on 24 September 1940 by King George VI. At that time, during the height of the Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage.

The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Cross and the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.

The GC, which may be awarded posthumously, is granted in recognition of, among others, acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.

About 64 years had passed but the spirit of 1951 is still high in Awang.

Speaking from his hospital bed, he spoke softly on the importance of preserving national unity and harmony.

He said Malaysians of all races must continue to live in unity to protect the nation’s interest and sovereignty.

He reiterated that every Malaysian, especially the younger generation, should be fully committed to preserving harmony, goodwill and unity, adding that relentless efforts must be made by everyone to promote a culture of peace, harmony and unity.

“It’s not easy to achieve sovereignty and freedom from the communists. I am one of those who had fought for our national freedom and sovereignty.

“I know the suffering the veterans had gone through during that time. The veterans have defended our great country, many have lost their lives in the process. We should be proud they had fought so well.”

He added that the supreme value the veterans had fought and died for — with some tragic exceptions — was freedom. “My hope is that what we have achieved through our efforts in the early days will be preserved till the end.”

History tells us that war in Malaysia was against the communist threat. Communism was spread in Malaya since 1924.

The Malaya Communist Party (MCP) was established in 1930 with the objective of forming Republic of Communist Malaya.

It had recruited a lot of cadres (new members of a political party trained to become loyal followers) and even seeped into most of the labour unions. The MCP had also tried to spread communism to Sarawak.

Its attempts became more violent in 1935 when more and more strikes and labour unrest occurred.

The communist threat in Malaysia, however, had been extinguished ever since the Thai government helped broker a peace accord between Chin Peng and the Malaysian authorities.

Chin Peng and his fellow CPM colleagues laid down their arms in 1989, following the signing of the Hat Yai peace accord with the Malaysian government.

Under the terms of the accord, Chin Peng and other former communist members were given the option of returning to Malaysia, an offer valid for a year.

Chin Peng subsequently lived in Thailand after being denied the opportunity to return to Malaysia, even in death.

Awang belonged to the elite Iban trackers who served during the Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960 and were recruited as scouts, attached to British units to help in the defence against the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

According to an article in Winged Soldiers re-enactment group website, on August 8, 1948, six weeks after the Malayan Emergency was declared on June 16 that same year, the first group of 49 Iban trackers were sent to Malaya to assist the Commonwealth forces fight and track down the communist insurgents in the thick jungles of Malaya.

Initially, their term of service was three months only. Some chose to stay longer.

Twenty-four of this original group of 49 trackers were attached to the newly-formed Ferret Group No. 4, a unit comprising Gurkhas and ex-members of Force 136.

The remaining 25 were attached in small groups to the various Gurkhas, British and Malayan battalions already deployed in Malaya.

By the end of August 1948, a further group of 55 Ibans had arrived, and by October 1948, there were some 170 Ibans at Seginting Camp, Port Dickson.

On completion of their three months service, each group of these trackers was flown back to Kuching.

By mid December 1948, all, except 29 who had agreed to extend their service for an additional three months to meet a special request by the British Guards Brigade, returned to Sarawak. This last group finally returned home on March 7, 1949.

However, the Malayan government again requested for the service of the Iban trackers. In April 1949, a new group of 40 trackers was raised and sent to Malaya on a six months service.

With more demand, this number was increased and by December 1952, it had reached 301 Iban trackers. By this time too, some 1,168 Ibans had completed a tour of active service with the various security force units in Malaya. Eight were killed in action and 10 wounded, of whom five were invalidated.

The first fatality occurred on March 12, 1951, when tracker Jaweng anak Jugah of Ulu Gaat, Kapit, who was deployed with A Troop 42 Commando Royal Marines, was accidently shot by a special constable who mistook him for a CT.

In that same year, tracker Awang anak Rawing of Skrang was awarded the George Cross, the civilian equivalent of Britain’s highest military award, the Victoria Cross and Malaysia’s equivalent of the Seri Panglima Gagah Perkasa (SP).

The award recognises Awang’s exemplary courage and devotion to duty by saving the life of Private Hughes, a member of 10 Platoon, D Company, 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment, after the platoon was ambushed by CTs on 27 May 1951.

This award was the first in history to be awarded within the Malayan archipelago and the only one awarded during the Malayan Emergency.

File photo of the first platoon of Iban trackers taken from the ‘Winged Soldiers’ website.

File photo of the first platoon of Iban trackers taken from the ‘Winged Soldiers’ website.

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