ON the morning of Aug 29, the sun was shining directly on the seats reserved for the VIPs under the shed. Two years ago, about this time of the year, the guests outside that shed were soaking wet.
We were gathered at the War Memorial Gardens, a quiet spot sandwiched between the Sarawak Club and St Joseph’s Cathedral in Kuching.
This year’s Commemoration Day saw participation by contingents from the associations of war veterans from Malaysia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Australia.
The veterans from overseas had dropped by at Kuching before they proceeded to KL for the National Day parade.
Two High Commissioners, New Zealand and Australia, a Sarawak Minister, other local dignitaries, and service advisers graced the occasion.
This year, it’s the commemoration of the 53rd anniversary of the ceasefire and the dedication of the end of the Indonesian Confrontation (1962 to 1966).
As a guest sitting among the gentlemen with chests bedecked with gallantry and service medals, I was feeling out of place. The only uniform that I ever wore in my life was that of the New Zealand Railways; and that was during peace time. The service was rather long but it was as solemn and as moving as ever.
Speeches delivered on an occasion like this are about comradeship, shared values, sacrifice, bravery, and dedication to duty in the course of freedom. Plenty of those tributes that day.
This year’s event saw the participation by a contingent of war veterans from Australia for the first time, and the unveiling of a plaque of the Royal Air Force.
The plaque donated by a former flight engineer based in Sarawak (1964 to 1966), Andy Muniandy, MBE, was dedicated by the Very Revd Kho Thong Meng of the Anglican Church.
The theme for this year’s ceremony is most fitting for Sarawak because we bore the brunt of an undeclared war with Indonesia in the early 1960s.
Local history buffs would have learnt a lot had they attended the ceremony. According to a retired colonel from NZ, Kim Hoskin, “Confrontation occurred in the shadow of the Cold War; the contest between the Western powers and Communist governments of the Soviet Bloc and China. Western powers feared that Indonesia, with Soviet support and a strong internal communist party, would become a communist state … The war in Vietnam was intensifying. The ‘Domino Theory’ held sway. Laos, Cambodia, and northern Thailand were considered at risk from communist forces.
“Because of the Cold War background and regional tensions, Confrontation had a wider significance than it would have had, had it occurred in different circumstances. At the time, British, Australian, and New Zealand forces were based in Malaya and Singapore as a contribution to regional security, both under bilateral arrangements and to support the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (Seato).”
Sarawakians who have been debating the pros and cons of the creation of Malaysia may like to take into consideration the security situation prevailing at the time, and will realise why Malaysia had to be formed fast.
According to Col Hoskin, ‘‘The process of forming Malaysia was put at risk when, in late December 1962, dissident elements in the oil-rich Sultanate of Brunei and nearby parts of Sarawak and Sabah erupted in revolt.”
Led by Sheik Azahari of Brunei, the aim of the rebellion, “was to create a Unitary State of North Kalimantan comprising Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah; an objective supported by Indonesia”.
If I may add, this was the Indonesia of President Sukarno, known for his regional aspirations and his political ideology called Nasakom (nationalism plus communism).
Historians should look at Konfrontasi (the word coined by Sukarno’s foreign minister Dr Subandrio) from this angle. Everybody should stop talking about a ceasefire of the undeclared war. Rather, we should be talking more about permanent peace between all nations, Malaysia and Indonesia included. The theme for consideration for the next commemoration ceremony, if I may suggest.
From some speeches at the ceremony, I discerned a slight deviation from the theme of this year’s event. Among other topics, speakers were touching on the liberation of Kuching by the Allies led by the Australian troops in September 1945; reference was also made of the role of the Iban Trackers during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1957).
Yes, Sarawakians must be grateful to the Australians; on that hot day we duly paid tribute to them for their role during the Japanese Occupation as well as during the Confrontation.
Sarawakians must also be grateful for the help from the other Commonwealth countries and its allies.
Yes, I should think that the Malaysians in the peninsula are grateful to the Iban Trackers. However, I do not know if a symbolic invitation was ever extended to Tracker Awang Raweng, GC, for the parades in KL last week. Awang, the Bujang Berani to the Iban, holder of the George Cross, the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross, is still around. It would have been wonderful to see him at the Malayan Merdeka Celebrations, or at least, during the commemoration ceremony in Kuching.
He would have come, if invited, or if he was well enough to travel to Kuching.
In paying tributes to the service men and women in uniform, it is customary to say, “Lest We Forget.” But we often forget about the civilians who were killed in the course of duty during the Japanese Occupation and during the Confrontation. I found mention of them missing. I hope that in future, Malaysian speakers praising the uniformed members of the armed forces, will spare a thought for those who were not in uniform. They too contributed to both wars; they were no less gallant and patriotic as those in uniform.
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