Story of a British veteran’s Pingat Jasa medal from Malaysia

In the past two months, my blog was transformed into a Jungle Warfare zone for a brutal war that happened before I was born. My posts about Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960 since the death of the Communist guerrilla leader Chin Peng received interesting feedback. In How much was Chin Peng worth? my reader Ruby left this comment:

“My father fought in the Malaysian uprising (on the British side). Well, he spent his National Service in Singapore; not sure he did much actual fighting. He got a medal for it recently – from the Malaysian government.”

From the comment by Ruby on 20 September 2013.

This comment was too good to believe for any blogger. With Ruby’s help, now I’ve got an intriguing story from a British veteran who served in Malaya in 1955.

Ruby’s father, under the pseudonym Cockhorse, shared with us his time in Malaya and the medals he recently received, including the prestigious Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal from the Malaysian government. The term Pingat Jasa means Service Medal in the Malay language.

The Government of Malaysia introduced the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal in 2005 and awarded it to British and Commonwealth veterans who served in the conflict in Malaya/Malaysia between August 1957 and August 1966. Since 2011, the Pingat Jasa Malaysia can be worn on all occasions with Her Majesty the Queen’s permission. The veterans wore the medals for the first time in the 2011 Remembrance Sunday Services and Parades in November. In the UK, Remembrance Sunday is held on the second Sunday in November.

Pingat Jasa Malaysia, service medal given by given by the King and Government of Malaysia.

Pingat Jasa Malaysia, service medal given by the King and Government of Malaysia.

The medal came with the following citation:

This medal is awarded to the peacekeeping groups amongst the communion countries for distinguished chivalry, gallantry, sacrifice or loyalty in upholding Peninsular of Malaya or Malaysia sovereignty during the period of Emergency and Confrontation.

Below is my interview with veteran Cockhorse, who served in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.

Pingat Jasa colours

1) Where were you in Malaya? What was your particular memory?

Cockhorse: I was in Malaya for about a year. In 1955 I was conscripted to two years’ National Service. I spent the first nine months training as a wireless fitter (servicing wireless transmitters and receivers), and then was posted to Seletar (Singapore) which, amongst other functions, was a large maintenance base.

It was in many ways a dream posting as Singapore was so different from Britain – and don’t forget that in those days, in U.K. food rationing had only recently ended in July 1954, and we were in a period of austerity. Overseas travel was a rarity, so the opportunity to venture to the Far East was great.

Royal Air Force medical orderlies of 81 Mobile Field Hospital disembark at Singapore to open a hospital at Seletar. This was the first Royal Air Force hospital established after the Japanese surrender. © IWM (CF 1003)

Royal Air Force medical orderlies of 81 Mobile Field Hospital disembark at Singapore to open a hospital at Seletar, Singapore. © IWM (CF 1003)

We flew out in a Hermes, and the journey took eight legs. We landed at Paya Lebar – Changi was then a large R.A.F. station.

A Consolidated Catalina Mark I of No. 205 Squadron RAF taxies past another aircraft of the Squadron moored in the Strait of Johore off Seletar, Singapore. © IWM (K 1117)

A Consolidated Catalina Mark I of No. 205 Squadron RAF taxies past another aircraft of the Squadron moored in the Strait of Johore off Seletar, Singapore. © IWM (K 1117)

My involvement was at R.A.F Maintenance Base at Seletar on Singapore Island. When I was there, in 1955, the Emergency was nearing its end, but there was still trouble across the Straits in Johore.

Pingat Jasa colours

2) What do you mean by “trouble across the Straits in Johore?”

Cockhorse: At that time the ‘Malayan Emergency’ was being contained, and most of Malaya was a White Area (unrestricted travel) but there was still CT (Communist Terrorist) action on the state of Johore, and travel there was restricted, with villages contained within fences and restrictions on travel with searches of cars and people entering and leaving the villages.

I also recall seeing (not necessarily in Johore) deserted villages where the inhabitants had been resettled in New Villages, to stop food and equipment getting to the CTs. There was a groundswell for Merdeka (independence), and there were demonstrations (largely by students) and the occasional riot in Singapore (and probably elsewhere).

A watch tower manned by the Malayan Home Guard protects a railway bridge from sabotage by Communist guerrillas. © IWM (K 14430)

A watch tower manned by the Malayan Home Guard protects a railway bridge from sabotage by Communist guerrillas. © IWM (K 14430)

Pingat Jasa colours

3) Tell me something more about Seletar of Singapore please.

Seletar was a large station – almost two stations separated by the runway across which the connecting road ran (useable only when planes were not taking off or landing). Each camp was more or less self-contained with its own dining mess, NAAFI, cinema, etc. There was a Radio Repair Squadron, and Air Repair Squadron, the planes themselves, a photo intelligence unit, a flying boat (Sunderlands) squadron, a bomb dump, etc. There was also a golf course and a swimming pool!

An aerial view of Seletar airfield, Singapore, with Royal Air Force Mosquito and Dakota aircraft parked up. © IWM (CI 1735)

An aerial view of Seletar airfield, Singapore, with Royal Air Force Mosquito and Dakota aircraft parked up. © IWM (CI 1735)

We had a generous local pay allowance, so were relatively well off, and visits to Singapore town were easy when we had time off. We could enjoy the joys of eating genuine local food – Malay, Chinese and Indian (which had barley spread to UK) and drink Tiger beer (superior to Anchor beer)!

View of the city of Singapore as it appeared at the time of the 5th Indian Division's arrival on 5 September 1945. © IWM (IND 4817)

View of the city of Singapore as it appeared at the time of the 5th Indian Division’s arrival on 5 September 1945. © IWM (IND 4817)

Whilst stating the above, I am conscious that soldiers were patrolling in the jungle on the Mainland, and, indeed, the son of my neighbour was killed in an ambush whilst on a jungle patrol.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment (possibly C Company) cross a stream in the middle of a jungle swamp whilst on a patrol during the Malayan Emergency. © IWM (BF 10373)

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment (possibly C Company) cross a stream in the middle of a jungle swamp whilst on a patrol during the Malayan Emergency. © IWM (BF 10373)

Pingat Jasa colours

4) Did you read about the Eurasian writer Han Suyin? If so, what was she like? She was in Johore Bahru at that time and was married to Leon Comber, a Special Branch officer.

Cockhorse: Han Suyin, as an author, is known to me. The famous book and film ‘A Many Splendid Thing’ (with the song Love is a Many Splendoured Thing) is of my era, and I remember seeing the film at the Cathay cinema in Singapore. I may have read her autobiography, and I will certainly read it again.

Pingat Jasa colours

5) Please tell me something about your medal from the Malaysian government. What was the ceremony like?

Cockhorse: The medals I showed you are the British General Service Medal with clasp Malaya (this is the one with the purple and green ribbon). Service in Singapore/Malaya was classed as ‘active service’ and we were awarded the medal for this.

Pingat Jasa Malaysia, service medal given by given by the King and Government of Malaysia.

Pingat Jasa Malaysia, service medal given by the King and Government of Malaysia.

The other medal is the Pingat Jasa Malaysia, which was recently awarded by the Malayan authorities to commemorate those who served in the country after Independence until British Forces finally withdrew. On a technicality, I think that I was not strictly entitled to this medal!!

The Malayan Medal was presented by the Malayan Military Attaché in London at a gathering at a local RAF station in Stamford.

My Related Posts:

40 thoughts on “Story of a British veteran’s Pingat Jasa medal from Malaysia

  1. trophos

    Fascinating, thanks for sharing. I don’t know how I’ve missed your Malayan history posts, but I look forward to catching up on them when I have some time, now that I know they’re out there.

    Reply
  2. janet weight reed

    Very interesting. I was born in London in 1946 and so I was a child when all of this happened. I certainly remember young men having to do the two year National Service programme.
    How fortunate that through your blog you have been able to connect with Cockhorse. Thank you. Janet.

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear Janet,

      It’s my privilege to receive so much support from readers. Cockhorse’s story is very endearing — I got to see the life of a fresh-faced serviceman in Singapore, against the backdrop of austerity in the UK. It is also interesting to see some ‘normal’ aspects of life: drinking Tiger Beer, eating lovely oriental food, swimming and watching ‘A Many Splendid Thing’. Thank you for your kind comment.

      Reply
  3. Hazel Bateman

    How interesting, Janet. Born in 1953, I do not remember having a ration book, but my husband, born in 1950, still has his. There was very little money about when I was a child. Cockhorse mentioned the NAAFI(Navy, Army, Airforce Federation Institute). As my mother was part Swedish, she was not allowed to join the armed forces, but served in the WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) and in 1945/6 she was running the NAAFI in Southampton. When the ships came in to the docks loaded with troops, people would go down and cheer and wave. My mother went down to greet a ship bearing soldiers who had been Japanese prisoners of war. These men were in a dreadful state when they disembarked and were greeted with stunned silence. My mother never bought anything which had been manufactured in Japan for the rest of her life.

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear Hazel,

      Strangely, I seem to get more and more people volunteering their age on my humble blog! I hope you have enjoyed using your Free Bus Pass!

      Please show me the ration book — I have seen them in the museums before, but it would be nice to touch one.

      Your mother’s story will be fascinating to us. Please tell me more. Running NAAFI at the home of Titanic (Southampton) near us was remarkable! I’ve seen many pictures of the British who were held Japanese prisoners of war. Changi now features the world’s most glamorous airport, but Changi Prison was such a notorious Japanese prisoner of war camp.

      I understand your mother’s boycott of Japanese goods. However, Japan has a fascinating culture, and though Chinese people tried boycotting Japanese goods at times of conflicts, it doesn’t last. For young people, the Japanese pop culture, animation, cartoons, computer games and general good manners of the Japanese people make this culture and its people very attractive.

      Reply
      1. Hazel Bateman

        My father served in the coal mines in Scotland during the war. It was a reserved occupation so he was not called to fight. I know three ex-servicemen at St Martins – two soldiers and a navy man – all now in their eighties. When I am next up at St M for worship I will ask them if they have anything to say about Changi prisoners of war. I believe the navy man was taken prisoner in Egypt himself for a while.

        Did you ever watch the television series ‘Tenko’ about English female prisoners of war in Malaya in the Japanese camp? It was ages ago – you may not have been in England when it was screened. I’m sure it would be available on DVD if you were interested to watch it.

      2. Ruby

        Tenko is a long time ago. I remember seeing about it, but not actually seeing it. It would have been about the time I read A Town Like Alice at school, which also starts with a story about female POWs in Malaya.

        It is available on Amazon – just under £40 for the box set, but individual DVDs may also be available.

    2. Janet Williams Post author

      Hazel,

      We spoke with Brian from the church this morning, and he mentioned that when the POWs returned from The Burma Railway and he saw them getting off the train and these men looked like ‘yellow skeletons’ — they were already being looked after for a few weeks on the ship and still looked dreadful. Brian said many people in Cambridgeshire refused to buy Japanese cars for a very long time. This conversation echoed what your mum had felt.

      Reply
  4. plumerainbow

    I have been quietly following your Malayan posts. Although not I’m not a big fan of battles, I have recently been on a modern Malayan history binge, so your posts are interesting reads.

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for quietly following the posts. I like your description of this phase as a Malayan History Binge! How appropriate! I’m also joining you on this binge of Malayan history. I binge on the Malayan jungle warfare, which is so closely linked to Singapore, China……and we can throw in a bit of Indonesia too. What a time it was! It seems that my reading list has no ends.

      Reply
  5. Ruby

    I’ll never hear the end of his stories now!!

    I sent Cockhorse’s notes to another friend who (more recently) grew up in Singapore: she writes:

    “What jungle there is left is not by any means deep (though still impressive, and always gives me pause for thought when I am there, to remember that more or less the whole island used to be as densely bejungled as Bukit Timah still is these days).

    Also amused to read that your Dad considers Tiger Beer to be superior to Anchor Beer – I remember my Dad holding a similar view in the 80’s and 90’s!! Which is to say, I remember Mum telling me, as a fairly little girl, that Anchor Beer made Daddy sick. I don’t think that was through over-indulgence, but who knows…

    “I think the Cathay cinema is the one I would have referred to as “Orange Julius” (it had an Orange Julius stand/concession just outside) – I think it’s where I saw the Jungle Book, aged about 7 – it was my first time at the cinema, and I cried buckets when Baloo died! Mind you, there are a lot of Cathay cinemas now.”

    Reply
  6. 国樑 KL

    It is a very nice gesture for this blog author to pull the curtain of Malayan Emergency Period with Pingat Jasa. Whether to toast it with Anchor beer or Tiger is equally tasty. Otherwise these local brands would not last for 80 years. The difference between them is German taste for the former and Netherlands’ for the latter. My memory told me ordinary folks who drank in coffee shops in the good old day preferred Anchor because of cheaper price. Tiger Beer is dominating the local market although Anchor beer is making a return thanks to Oktoberfest.

    Although we do not know the actual reasons behind the Malaysia Government for awarding Pingat Jasa at a time of 40+ years after the end of Malayan Emergency, nevertheless it was a very kind move to commemorate the unsung heroes who risked their lives in a foreign land called the British colony.

    In the picture titled the “view of the city of Singapore”, it was taken from Cathay building and we could see Beach Road at the far end. Today the beach no longer exist at Beach Road. However, the colonial building at the street corner directly in front of Cathay remains. It is Rendezvous Grand Hotel Singapore.

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear 国樑 KL,

      Thank you for such an insightful feedback with your wonderful historical references!

      Is this the Cathay Building that you mentioned? Cathay Building was the headquarters for the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation. I read that Cathay Building was the first and tallest skyscraper in South-East Asia.

      Reply
    2. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear 国樑 KL,

      Please also tell me something about those Tiger Beer Girls. I remember they were everywhere and they were extremely young. Is there a minimum age to become a Tiger Beer girl?

      Reply
      1. 国樑 KL

        Tiger Beer Girls added spices into neighbourhood coffee shops in Singapore for those shop owners who prepared to spend extra. These girls were like whirlwind, came fast and disappeared fast from the local scene. Some coffee shops still have them to attract old uncles though.

        Comparing with Tiger Beer Aunties, the girls are more daring in revealing their bodies. They are from a mixed of places, including local, neighbouring countries and China, well educated and mostly working part time ($ per hour) to generate extra pocket money. It is legal as long as they are above 16 years old.

        I have written a blog post on this and planned to release on 10 Jan 2014. Please visit me.:)

      2. Janet Williams Post author

        Those Tiger Beer Girls indeed wear very revealing clothes (to my eyes, not to some of their male clients.) I haven’t seen any Tiger Beer Auntie though. Do the girls get commission by how much they sell (I mean, the drinks)?

        In the UK, if you go to the pub, you have to go to the counter yourself, try to get the attention from the bartender from many people around you, then you have to pay, wait for your drinks, and bring your drinks to your own table (if you can find one). There is no Lady or Auntie who wears a XX Beer uniform to entice you or chat with you.

        In a British bar, if you just find a table, sit down and you think someone will come to you to take your order, well, you’ll just be sitting there the whole night without a drink.

  7. Behind the Story

    What a treat for people to be able to share their stories! I always enjoy the photos you display. I love the view of the city of Singapore. It must have been pleasant to walk its streets. What a change!

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear Nicki,

      As a blogger, the interaction with the readers is the best reward. Such a wonderful account from Cockhorse is a great bonus to all of us. We now get to hear the voice of Cockhorse and get to delve deeper into the history of the colonial time in Malaya.

      Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear Naomi,

      Thank you for reading. I’m grateful for the story from Cockhorse. Now I’ve learnt a lot more about a veteran’s life and their preference for alcohol!

      Reply
  8. Helen Williams

    What a lovely post. Thank you Janet (and Cockhorse). I am fascinated by the history of Singapore and love to see the old photographs…it’s a little bit different now! When I used to walk around Singapore, I would try to imagine tigers roaming around, but the city is now so clean and civilised that it’s difficult to imagine it as a humid, malarial, unwelcoming forest!

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you Helen. Indeed, Singapore has changed quite a bit, and my mum couldn’t recognise many new places now, as many old buildings are disappearing fast in Singapore due to its fast development. I also love the civilised aspect of Singapore, however, the city is getting very crowded these days. Walking in England is more leisurely.

      Reply
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